Attending a festival in Bhutan is the best way to see the kingdom’s culture. It is like an all-in-one experience that features the heritage, traditions, crafts, and art forms of Bhutan. Once an isolated, landlocked country in between Tibet, China, and India, Bhutan is now displaying its unique, seemingly untouched culture for the rest of the world to see. A festival is one of the best treats when you come to visit. It is a visual representation of just how distinguished the Bhutanese way of life is.
Every district in Bhutan celebrates a tshechu. A tshechu is a religious celebration held every year on the 10th day of the month as part of their Tibetan Buddhist practice. The month of the celebration depends on the place. So, most likely, whatever month you’ll be arriving in Bhutan, one of its districts is sure to be celebrating a tshechu. They are so important that schools and offices halt all activity to make way for preparation. The Bhutanese believe that attending a tshechu will let you gain religious merit, brownie points if you will, in your next life. Most of the people of Bhutan pay their respects by dressing their best during the festival.
All of the tshechus follow the months of the Tibetan calendar, so there are no fixed dates. What is celebrated in June last year may be celebrated in July this year. So, if you plan to visit the kingdom during a particular month to catch a specific festival, be sure to confirm which month the tshechu will be held that year.
1. Nomad Festival
Travelers can especially relate to this festival. The Nomad Festival celebrates the communities in Bhutan, mostly pastoral, who move from place to place, depending on the migratory patterns of their flock. The nomads are mostly highland herders whose lifestyles are unique, mysterious, and unchanged even with modernity continuing to infiltrate itself in all parts of the kingdom. At the festival, you’ll get to witness and even try activities such as herding and riding yak, grinding maize, tilling fields using oxen, and husking rice. You can also try the highlander’s traditional wear including the headgear, hand-woven aprons, and an outerwear made from yak hair and adorned with colorful ribbons. The festival is held in Bumthang, Central Bhutan.
Nomad Festival Tour
Duration: 12 Days
Website: Nomad Festival Tour
2. Jomolhari Mountain Festival
The Jomolhari Mountain Festival is one of the newest festivals in Bhutan. It started in 2013 as a conservation effort of the people of Paro to protect and save the endangered snow leopard. This only shows just how serious Bhutan is for their tourism to be sustainable, instead of detrimental, to their environment. The Mountain Festival is held at the base of Mount Jomolhari, one of the most popular trekking routes in Bhutan because of the view and an immersive experience into the yak-herding tribe of Soe Yutoed. At the festival, you’ll experience plenty of snow leopard-themed songs, chants, and dances. You can also try native Bhutanese delicacies and crafts.
Jomolhari Mountain Festival Tour
Duration: 14 Days
Contact: +975 77 66 90 95
Website: Jomolhari Mountain Festival Tour
3. Monggar Tshechu Festival
Monggar is a district in Eastern Bhutan, and is considered the fastest developing area in the Eastern Hemisphere. It has several economic activities, but is still particularly famous for cottage industries like wood carving. Monggar is famous for being the “Bastion of the Zhongarps.” The Zhongar Dzong is a storied fortress in the area between the Lingmithang and Thidangbi village in Monggar proper. Held every November, the tshechu is both a celebration to give thanks and appease the demons that used to surround Zhongar Dzong, which infested the villages with malaria and unexplained earthquakes. Many Bhutanese from as far as Trashigang and Lhuentse come to Monggar to join the festival.
Monggar Tshechu Tour
Duration: 4 Days
Website: Monggar Tshechu Tours
4. Nimalung Festival
Nimalung is a small village in Bumthang, Central Bhutan. It has one of the most spectacular views in Bhutan, offering a large variety of flora and fauna. Most especially though, it is rich in religious history. The revered Buddhist Master, Guru Rinpoche, as well as the long line of treasure finders, such as Terton Pema Lingpa, lived in Bumthang, and consequently, he built over 40 temples in the valley. The celebration of the festival every year is meant to bring better harvest and greater happiness to the people of Bumthang. This day is marked by dancing, and passing on of oral narratives through stories and songs. A scroll painting of Guru Rinpoche is also displayed for the crowd to see.
Nimalung Tshechu Tour
Duration: 3 Days
Website: Nimalung Tshechu Tour
5. Paro Tshechu
Paro Tshechu is one of the most popular and most accessible festivals in Bhutan. It traces its history all the way back to 1644 when the founders of the state of Bhutan, Zhabdrung Namgyel and Ponpo Nyingpo, founded the festival along with the founding of Paro’s fortress. Paro Tshechu’s tradition follows many other tshechu traditions such as the display of a large painting of Buddhist masters called thangka. In Paro’s case, the portrait is that of Guru Throngdol. A viewing of the sacred thangka means absolution of sins for the Bhutanese.
Paro Tshechu Tour
Duration: 8 Days
Website: Paro Tshechu Tour
6. Sakteng Festival
The Sakteng Festival focuses on the semi-nomadic group in Eastern Bhutan, the Brokpas. Like many of the nomadic and semi-nomadic groups in the kingdom, the Brokpas’ lifestyle has remained unchanged throughout the years. They migrate together with their herd. The highlight of this event is witnessing the Brokpas come out in all their traditional wear, drinking ara (fermented rice wine), and a number of traditional dances. There is a rare dance that is performed in this festival called the Ache Lhamo, or the Yak Dance. This is quite different from the other tshechu mask dances, and was developed by the Brokpas themselves.
Sakteng Festival Tour
Duration: 3 Days
Website: Sakteng Festival Tour
Have the energy to join in the celebration
Just a small tip when you are joining these festivals. Make sure that you are healthy. You can fly in a day earlier so that your body can get acclimatized to the altitude. Most of these festivals are held in settings with elevations of around 3,000 meters above sea level. So be sure to bring your celebratory spirit and energy. And go ahead, immerse yourself fully. Cliche as it may seem, a festival is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
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