Bhutan offers more than a journey into a rugged, mountainous country that few travelers have seen. Travel to the Land of the Thunder Dragon can also be a life-changing cultural and spiritual experience, especially if you visit during one of the nation’s numerous festivals. As one of the Buddhist world’s most devout nations, Bhutan hosts roughly 30 spiritual festivals a year.
While most festivals commemorate the various deeds of Buddha, the festivals are also a lively way for the Bhutanese—who are the only people in the world to measure their wealth in Gross National Happiness — to celebrate their spiritual and cultural heritage. Dressed in their most elaborate attire, revelers and monks don vivid masks and costumes representing a cast of colorful deities. If these costumes don’t blow you away, the local outfits will!
Here’s a glimpse of Bhutan’s best—as well as quirkiest and most unique—festivals:
FOR PURE GRANDEUR: PARO TSECHU
A tsechu is a Buddhist festival held in every district of Bhutan on the tenth day of auspicious months throughout the year. The tsechu in Paro, which will take place from 11 – 17 April 2017, is one of the grandest and most popular (and crowded) gatherings in the nation. Festivities revolve around the masked cham dances, which reenact Buddhist legends. One unique aspect of the Paro Tsechu is the exhibition of the world’s largest embroidered thangka (spiritual art) of Guru Padmasambhava, one of Buddhism’s most revered ancient teachers.
FOR A “CAPITAL” EXPERIENCE: THIMPHU TSECHU
The tsechu in Bhutan’s capital city, Thimphu, is also one of the country’s most splendid. Taking place at Tendrel Thang, or the Festival Ground of Tashi Chhoedzong, from 11 – 13 October 2016, the 3-day costumed festival of merry-making and dancing is preceded by several nights of prayer and ritual. Attending the festival is believed to provide health and good fortune throughout the year, as well as conferring karmic merit to each festival-goer.
FOR SUPREME SERENITY: PUNAKHA TSECHU
Our “Revelry and Reverence at the Punakha Tsechu Festival” tour takes you to the historical town of Punakha to witness Punakha Tsechu, one of Bhutan’s most atmospheric spiritual festivals. Punakha, the stunning mountain town that Bhutan’s head abbot calls home, hosts an unforgettable tsechu from7 – 9 March 2017 in the magnificent grounds of Punakha Dzong. The festival offers opportunities to witness sacred dances and rituals far from the crowds of Thimphu and Paro. Surrounded by lush valleys, thick forests, and the wintering grounds of the Black-Necked Crane, Punakha is an ideal setting for serenity seekers!
FOR AN EXCLUSIVE EXPERIENCE: JAMBAY LHAKHANG DRUPCHEN FESTIVAL BUMTHANG
The Jambay Lhakhang Drupchen Festival, which will be celebrated from 14 – 17 November 2016, is unique for its fire rituals and naked dance in addition to the splendid cham dances. This festival is also considered more sacred than the tsechu, because only monks are allowed to perform, and the rituals take place in Jambay Lhakang, one of the oldest temples in the kingdom. Our “Discover Bhutan’s Jambay Lhakhang Drupchen Festival” tour makes access to this historical region easy and includes additional highlights, such as treks through the beautiful surrounding mountains.
For Thrill-Seekers: The Naked Dance of Jambay Lhakhang Drupchen Bumthang
This ritual is not for the faint-hearted: At midnight during the Jambay Lhakhang Drupchen Festival (14 – 17 November 2016), a band of naked men burst out of the doors of Jambay Lhakhang, one of Bhutan’s most ancient temples, and launch into an audacious performance meant to drive away evil spirits. The naked men dance, twirl, and perform outrageous antics. Putting on condoms and tying ropes to the male organ are all part of the ritual. Marrying spirituality with a sense of humor, the Naked Dance is a special spectacle for the thrill-seekers among us.
FOR THE CULTURALLY CURIOUS: DRUK WANGYEL FESTIVAL ON DOCHULA PASS
This unique festival takes place on Dochula Pass, just 22 kilometers outside of Thimphu, in one of the most scenic backdrops of Bhutan. Hosted and performed by the Royal Bhutan Army rather than by monks, the festival incorporates traditional dance, music, acrobatics, costumes, and other cultural treasures. Taking place each year on December 13, the festival commemorates Bhutan’s continued sovereignty and is a vibrant exhibition of cultural pride, drawing viewers from throughout the country.
Here are some of the basic logistics:
Travelers must book their travel through a recognised Travel Agency. The Bhutanese government requires tourists to pay a daily tariff which includes all travel costs (hotels, restaurants, transport, etc.). Flights to Paro International Airport are serviced by Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines; direct flights are available from Bangkok, Singapore and many locations in India.