Although Bhutan is one of the most spectacular wilderness on earth, the country is actually most famous for its exuberant religious festivals known as Tshechus.
Every temple and Dzong in the country holds one Tshechu every calendar year. Tshechu actually means ‘10th day’ and, although each temple hosts their Tshechu on different months, every festival is held on the 10th of their chosen month as this corresponds to the birthday of Guru Rimpoche in the 8th century.
Tshechu’s are exceedingly important events in the Bhutanese calendar and entire villages and cities come together to sing, dance, drink and receive blessings. It is believed that every single Bhutanese person must join in at least one masked dance to wash away their sins. The large Tshechus like Paro and Thimphu are spectacular sites to witness as thousands turn up for the event!
Below we have listed the most incredible Tshechus in Bhutan!
The Paro Tshechu is a massive festival and by far the biggest spring time event in Bhutan. Like Thimphu, thousands of people gather in the city to socialise and dance. Monks and Layman dress up in dazzling brocade costumes and re-enact famous legends in Buddhism Bhutan. Visitors will love the vibrant feel of the festival, not to mention the incredibly intricate face masks that many people wear. At the end of the festival a four storey high thangkha (Buddhist religious scroll) is unrolled in celebration. The scroll is said to be over 350 years old!
The Thimphu Tshechu is without doubt the mightiest of all Bhutan festivals. The festival is held in Bhutan’s capital and, as such, draws thousands upon thousands of attendants, creating an atmosphere that is unforgettable. If you fancy a visit, the festival runs annually from the 10th – 13th August. The festival is a public holiday for Bhutanese people and huge dancing stages are erected in the courtyard of the Tashichho dzong. The three day Tshechu is actually followed by many days and nights of prayers.
The Jambay Lhakhang Drup festival is simply spectacular as it plays host to what is known as the ‘fire ceremony’. The 5 day Tshechu is incredibly flamboyant and entertaining, consisting of locals running underneath large flaming gates and nude masked dances in the middle of the night! If you want something truly weird and unforgettable, then the Jambay Lhakhang Drup festival may just be for you.
A fairly recent addition to the festival calendar, the annual Wangduephodrang Tshechu is already one of the largest Tshechus in Bhutan. The festival was begun shortly after the new Dzong was constructed and draws people from all over Thimphu and Punakha. The event is a welcome respite for locals who come together to drink, dance and socialise. The festival is now known for its Raksha Mangcham or ‘Dance of the Ox’. Like other Festivals, the Wangduephodrang Tshechu concludes with the unfurling of the Guru Tshengye Thongdrol.
Not only is the Haa Summer Festival one of the most spectacular festivals, it is also set within one of the most spectacular settings! Gorgeous lakes and lush valleys are the backdrop to this fantastic festival. The festival is slightly different in that it celebrates the nomadic and traditional-living lifestyles of the Bhutanese. The festival is perfect for visitors who want to get a better understanding of this old-world culture and history. Join in the festivities yourself and take a drink or two and get singing!
The Punakha Drubchen is a fascinating Tshechu as it celebrates the famous victory by Bhutan when the armies managed to supress the invading Tibetan forces in the 17th century. Local military and village volunteers re-enact the battles in glorious costumes of bright colours. The festival is held directly after Drubchen and offers a dazzling array of masked dances for visitors to enjoy. The Tshechu is also held within one of the most beautiful Dzongs in the country – Punakha Dzong.
This is the festival for nature lovers! The Black-necked Crane festival is an annual event held to celebrate the arrival of the endangered black-necked cranes to the Phobjikha Valley. The birds arrive in the valley each winter from their northern summer grounds and the festival honours their arrival with a series of crane-themed dances and songs. Throughout the festival locals are made more aware of the cranes struggle for survival and local conservation spirit is renewed.
If you have any questions about any of the festivals in Bhutan, please just leave a comment below and we will get back you as quickly as possible.
Photo credits: Arian Zwegers
Burnham started his career as a professional tennis player before retiring due to injury. Since then Burnham has thrown himself into adventure travel. He has hiked some of the most iconic and obscure trails across the planet!