One of the best ways to experience Bhutan’s unique Buddhist heritage and ancient culture is to attend the religious festivals of “tshechus” held all across the country at different times of the year.
These festivals, which last between three to five days, pay homage to Bhutan’s patron saint, Guru Rinpoche, who introduced Buddhism in Bhutan in the eighth century.
The Tshechus are a major social occasion as it is a religious one and the entire community comes out to attend the festival where monks wear colourful costumes and wooden masks, some of them ferocious looking, to perform sacred dances to the accompaniment of horns, drums and cymbals.
The festivals, which have a carnival like atmosphere, are like an open-air theatre with performances throughout the day as a religious teaching. It usually takes place within the courtyard of ancient fortresses or monasteries and is organised by the monastic community of the region.
Choosing a Bhutan festival package tour will ensure that you are in the country just in time for these age old festivals which form an important connection for today’s Bhutanese with its enriching past.
There are numerous festivals to choose from, from the small village festivals that take place at the community temple to the district level celebrations in the courtyard of the ancient fortresses.
Some of the more popular tshechus are the Paro and Thimphu festivals that fall in early spring and at the start of autumn. When these festivals are on it is difficult to get a seat on two airlines that fly to Bhutan with bokar and hotel rooms.
The Paro Tshechu usually takes place in March when the landscape starts greening and the agriculture season kicks in. It takes place in the courtyard of the 17th century Paro Rinpung Dzong (fortress), which today serves as the centre for civil and monastic governance in the district. A highlight of the Paro Tshechu is the unfurling of a giant Thongdroel (tapestry) on the final day of the festival at three in the morning. As the first rays of the sun touch it is rolled up and stowed away to be unfurled next year. The tapestry carries the image of Guru Padmasambhava and it is believed that viewing it is a blessing.
The Thimphu Tshechu normally takes place in September, sometimes October, when the monsoons have given way to blue skies and plenty of early autumn sun and the paddy stalks has turned golden, ready to be harvested by a handful. The Thimphu Tshechu is perhaps the most popular of the tshechu if one goes by the number of people it continues to attract with each passing year. The entire city bursts into a myriad colours as residents where there best weaves to attend the festival held on the grounds adjacent to the 17th century Tashichhodzong fortress, the seat of governance and political power in Bhutan.
You could also choose to attend the smaller festivals that take place in the Bumthang valley in central Bhutan, the spiritual heartland of Bhutan. The smaller festivals do have the rush of crowds like Paro and Thimphu but provide an excellent opportunity to get up and close with the local community. …