Celebrated in the honor of Guru Rimpoche, Tsechu is a religious event celebrated on the 10th day of a month of the lunar calendar. It is generally celebrated in autumn and spring. Tsechu consists of five days spectacular pageantry, masked dances and religious allegorical plays. It is a time when local communities come together to witness religious mask dances, receive blessings and meet people. Besides mask dances, Tshechus also include colorful & vibrant Bhutanese dances and other forms of entertainment. It is said that everyone must attend a Tshechu and witness the mask dances once to wash away their sins. While in monasteries, the mask dances are performed by monks, in remote villages, these dances are jointly performed by monks and village men. Here’s a list of festivals celebrated in Bhutan for your kind perusal.
Also known as the “Bastion of the Zhongarps”, after the well-known Dzongpons of Zhongar, Mongar has played a significant role in the history of Bhutan. Tshanglas and Kurtoeps are the main inhabitants of this region. They speak distinct languages such as Kurtoepaikha and Tshanglakha. The annual three day Tsechu is the most exciting event that is held every November. There are numerous local Tsechu know for their own unique dance forms and traditions.
Co-founded by Dasho Gonpo Dorji and Doring Trulku Jamyang Kunzang, Nimalung Lhakhang houses a brilliant statue of Guru Rimpoche with a two-storied building. There are also paintings of Guru Rimpoche and several other Buddhist masters associated with the temple. Kaling Zhitro Drubche is an important festival that took place at the Lhakhang. The festival was started by Doring Trulku. It is held during the first fifteen days of the Bhutanese calendar.
The Nomad Festival is organized in Bumthang Dzongkhag district in Central Bhutan, the religious heartland of the country. Bumthang is just 8 hour drive from the capital city of Thimpu. The festival will give you an opportunity to witness the grand procession of the Chipdrel, a traditional procession generally reserved for royals. Adventurous souls would definitely like to try their hands at yak riding. You can also visit some of the most exquisite Buddhist temples in Bhutan.
The Tshechu is considered as a major attraction and people travel from neighboring districts to participate in the wonderful festival. Early morning, on the last day of the celebration, the monks displayed an embroidered painting with Guru Throngdel, inside the Dzong. Throngdrols are impressive examples of Buddhist art and never fails to astonish viewers.
Pema Gatshel Tshechu
Situated in Eastern Bhutan, Pema Gatshel Dzongkhag is home to Tshanglas who are found living on animal husbandry and agriculture. The district is known for its numerous festivals and folk songs. The most popular folk song is the Ausa, which is sung during the departure of family members, relatives and friends. The Dzong was constructed in the early 1980’s and since then it also celebrates the annual Tshechu for over a three day period. Cham and Mask dances are believed to confer blessings upon the spectators and teach them the ways of the Buddhist Dharma’s.
Punakha Tshechu and Drubchen
Located in the western part of Bhutan, Punakha is the winter home of the Je Khenpo, the chief Abbot of Bhutan. The historic significance of Punakha dates back to the 17th century since the time of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. The festival Punakha Drubchen is celebrated to commemorate his victory over the Tibetans. It is a unique festival as it hosts a dramatic recreation of the scene from the 17th century battle with Tibetan army. This recreation dates back to the time when in the absence of armed forces, men from the great village blocks of Thimpu came forward and managed to expel the invading forces from the country.
In 205, another festival by the name of Punakha Tshechu came into being. It was introduced by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra. The festival was introduced in response to the requests made by Punakha District Administration and local people to preserve Buddhist teachings and keep alive the righteous actions of Zhabdrung Rimpoche.
Located in Eastern Bhutan, Sakteng Valley is situated at an altitude of 3000 meters. The town is inhabited by the Brokpas, a semi-nomadic tribe. Every year, the Sakteng Festival took place for three days at the Sakten Lhakhang situated just next to the village. In addition to these religious functions, the Tshechu offers Bropkas with an opportunity for revelry and merry making. Like all Tshechus in Bhutan, the festival is a time when the entire community can come together for celebration and engage in worship.
The Takin Festival is celebrated to bring people face to face with Bhutan’s national animal, the Takin. Despite of being an endangered species around the world, there are still thriving populations of this majestic animal in Bhutan. The festival is set up within the Jigme Dorji National Park, the second largest national reserve in the country. At the festival, you’ll have the finest opportunity to engage in some of the finest trekking anywhere in the world, bathe in the hot water springs and purchase exquisitely crafted local handicrafts.
Thimphu Tshechu is one of the biggest festivals celebrated in Bhutan. This festival is celebrated in the capital city for 3 days. It starts on the 10th day of the 8th month of lunar calendar. This Tshechu is witnessed and attended by thousands of people, most of which travel from neighboring districts. The actual Tshechu is preceded by days and nights of rituals to pray to the gods. Until 1950s, Thimpu Tshechu comprised of only a few dances being strictly performed by the monks. Post 1950s, the king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck introduced numerous Boed Chhams (mask dances performed by lay monks) such as Shaw Shachi and Guru Tshengye.
Apart from Thimphu Tshechu, there is Thimphu Dromchoe, which is a 1 day long festival that dates back to the 17th century. The Dromchoe is celebrated 3 days earlier to the Thimphu Tshechu. It was introduced by Kunega Gyltshen, who was considered as the reincarnation of Jampel Dorji.
A two day journey from Thimphu, Trongsa is the sacred and temporal heart of the country. It is situated in Central Bhutan and was once ruled over central and eastern regions. It is customary for the crown prince to serve as the Trongsa Penlop prior to ascending the throne. The Trongsa Tshechu is a three day grand annual festival. It brings together people from all walks of life and falls sometime in the month of December. Besides traditional mask dances, visitors receive blessings from high-ranking monks.
Long time ago, a lama visited an old woman. This Lama asked for a glass of water from the old lady. The old lady went to fetch the water and when she returned the lama had vanished leaving behind a sack at her doorsteps. Out of curiosity, she opened the bag and found a statue. From that day onwards, the relic has been passed down from one generation to the other. During the festival, it is the same statue that is displayed to the public.
The Wangduephodrang Tshechu was introduced by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal after the completion of the Dzong. This 3-day annual festival is attended by the natives of Thimphu and Punakha and provides an opportunity to enjoy festival with zeal and enthusiasm. The Wangduephodrang Tshechu is also known by the name of Raksha Mangcham (Dance of the Ox). It concludes with the unraveling of the Guru Tshengye Thongdrol where people visit to receive blessings.
Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival
Established in 2011, the Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival is the commemoration of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and the Armed Forces. The festival takes place on 13th December at the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang Festival Ground located at Dochula Pass. The Dochula Druk Wangyal Tshechu is a true representative of Bhutanese cultural traditions.
The Trashigang Tshechu is a three day annual festival that is held in Trashigang Dzong during the 7th and 11th days of the 10th month of the Bhutanese Calendar. The festival is attended by the Brokpas, a semi-nomadic tribe that inhabits the valleys of Sakteng and Merak. The preparations of the Tshechu begin two days prior to the actual festival. On the 7th day, the monks perform ceremonial purification. On the 8th day, these people rehearse for the preparation of Tshechu. On the 9th day, the Tshechu starts. On the 10th day, the Thongdrol of Neten Chudrug is unfurled amidst a flurry of mask dances. On the final day, the old Thongdrol of Guru Tshengyed is displayed.
The Black-necked Crane Festival
Organized in the courtyard of Gangtey Gompa, the annual black-necked crane festival aims to create awareness and understanding on the importance of conserving the endangered Black-necked cranes, economic welfare and sustainable development of the community. Besides, this festival also involves cultural programs such as folk songs & dance and mask dances performed by the local people. The program generally starts by 9.30 AM and lasts till late afternoon.
Chorten Kora Festival
Situated in Trashiyangtse, in the easternmost district of Bhutan, Chorten Kora Festival took place on the 15th day of the 3rd month corresponding to 15th March every year. The Drupka Kora, a Bhutanese circumambulation, took place on the 30th day corresponding to 15th March every year. The Chorten (Stupa) was built so that pilgrims could visit the temple in Trashiyangtse.
There is a legend associated with this festival, which says that a young girl from Tawang, decided to be buried alive inside the Chorten. That’s why a ritual known as Dakpa Kora is organized every year where people of Arunachal Pradesh partake in circumambulation around Chorten Kora.
Gomphu Kora Festival
The term Gomphu means ‘Meditation Cave’ and Kora means ‘Circumambulation’. The story of Gomphu Kora dates back to the 8th century AD. There is a legend which says that an evil spirit named Myongkhapa escaped from Samye in Tibet when Guru Padmasambhava was spreading the Dharma in the Himalayas. Myongkhapa took the route of the present day Kholongchhu stream and hided himself inside a rock where Gomphu Kora is situated. Guru Padmasambhava followed the evil for three days inside the rock and defeated him.
The main attraction of the Gomphu Kora Festival is the circumambulation. Every year, from 23rd March to 25th March, people all over eastern Bhutan descend upon the narrow valley; dressed in new clothes, partake in the festivity, to confirm their connection with the past.
Haa Summer FestivalLocated close to the international airport at Paro, Haa Valley is a two hours journey via road. The festival is celebrated for two days in July every year and showcases a lively traditional living culture, nomadic lifestyle, display of Bhutanese cuisines & local drinks, traditional sports, artifacts, dances, songs, natural alpine flowers and religious performances. During the Haa Summer Festival, you will be able to see the rare White Poppy. This flower grows at a height of 4000 meters, up to a height of 1 to 1.5 meters. The White Poppy flower is common to Haa.
One of the oldest temples in the kingdom, Jambay Lhakhang was founded by Songtsen Gampo, a Tibetan king in the 7th century AD. The king was destined to build 108 temples known as Thadul-Yangdhul in a day to suppress the demon that inhabits in the Himalayas. There is a legend which says that Guru Rimpoche visited the site several times and deemed it exceptionally.
Chakhar Gyab, the king of the Iron Castle of Bumthang, refurbished the temple in the 8th century. The Chorten Lhakhang was built by Ashi Wangmo, the sister of the second king of Bhutan. The main relics include the future Buddha, Jowo Jampa. The Lhakhang also houses over 100 statues of the gods of Kalachakra commissioned by the first king in 1887.
Jambay Lhakhang Drup, one of the most remarkable festivals in Bhutan is hosted here. The festival lasts for 5 days and the fire ritual held in the evening is its highlight.
The Kurjey Festival is an important festival not just for the local people of Bumthang but also for rest of the Bhutanese. The festival brings together tourists and Bhutanese from all over the world and it is perfect occasion to not only receive blessings by witnessing age-old mask dances but also to enjoy this unique culture while relaxing in the natural beauty of Bhutan’s spiritual heartland.
One of the easternmost districts in Bhutan, Lhuntse borders the autonomous region of Tibet. It is the ancestral home of Bhutanese kings and hosts a number of sacred monuments. Lhuntse Dzong is the majestic fortress that sits upon a high ridge overlooking the Kurichu River.
All villages in Lhuntse boast of festivals that are unique and distinct from those in other communities in Bhutan. The two most important festivals celebrated in Lhuntse are the Cha and Ha. They are celebrated to honor the deities and ward off misfortunes. The annual three day festival is the most important festival and is generally celebrated in the month of November. It draws large number of people together for the religious celebrations.
During the Tshechus, attendees can cleanse their sins by watching masked dances and seek blessings from the sanctified relics. Here you will come across various delicate and beautiful patterns of Kira and rich ornaments on display.
Ura Valley in Bumthang, central Bhutan is known for mushrooms and Matsutake is one that grows in profusion in this valley. It is celebrated to start another mushroom season alongside the people of Ura. The festival is scheduled during the 4th weekend of August and is organized in the picturesque Ura Valley. It is initiated by the Ministry of Agriculture. The farmers will display their mushroom products, other handicraft products and also a variety of dishes made of buckwheat. During the festival, tourists will learn to indentify different variety of mushrooms during mushroom picking excursions. The festival also involves participating in songs and dances together with the locals, hike through the Himalayan landscapes and even relax in traditional open-air mineral baths.
Situated at a height of 3000 meters, Merak Valley is located within the Trashigang Dzongkhag (district) in Eastern Bhutan. This unique valley is inhabited by a group of semi-nomadic tribe also known as the Brokpas. The Merak Tshechu is a 3 day event at the Merak Lhakhang and offers some much needed break from their daily cattle herding routine. Here Brokpas present their traditional dance forms known as the Yak Dance and the Ache Lhamo. These rare dances are exclusive to the Brokpas and have drawn a lot of visitors to witness the unique show.