Festivals or tshechu are a major part of Bhutanese life and offer a unique cultural insight into this Himalayan Kingdom.
They are colorful affairs with lots of masked dancing and bright costumes offering wonderful photo opportunities.
During the larger festivals Bhutan is very popular with tourists and some of its charm can be lost, so visiting the smaller festivals is advisable.
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Drubchen is a fascinating practice of meditation in Tibetan Buddhism.
The practice of this deep meditation (often associated with a retreat for seven-ten days) is thought to have powerful effects in ridding the world of evil, especially when the festival is in full attendance.
These prayers will be chanted for 24 hours a day for eight days. You will also see masked dances and other rituals related to the Drubchen being performed.
Jakar Tshechu, Bumthang
This thrilling five-day event is a relatively new festival begun by the Monastic Body of Jakar. It is held within the Jakar Dzong and it includes celebratory masked dances and folk songs.
Jambay Lakhang Drup
This festival is held over four days in one of the most ancient temples of Bhutan, built in the 7th century. The festival honors Guru Rinpoche (the man held responsible for spreading tantric or Tibetan Buddhism) as well as the founding of the temple itself.
This festival is well known for the sacred naked dance performed in the courtyard of the temple at midnight — although it is not permitted for tourists to attend. A fire dance is also held in the evening to bless infertile women, hoping that this will help them to bear children.
This small festival is held in the Prakhar Monastery in the Chumey Valley, about 30 minutes’ drive from Jakar. It is more low key than most other festivals but can be a nice addition to a trip to Bhutan, especially if you are traveling through to Trongsa from Jakar because you can stop here en route.
This festival is held in the Tamshing Monastery in the Bumthang Valley. The festival itself celebrates the temple’s link the Bhutanese Saint Pema Lingpa.
This is one of the most popular festivals in Bhutan, famous for the fire dance held in the courtyard of the monastery as well as the purification rituals performed here.
Punakha Dromache and Tshechu
This celebration lasts for five days with two days, devoted to Drubchen (the practice of deep meditation thought to rid the world of evil) followed by three days for the Tshechu.
The Drubchen is unusual because it seeks to re-enact the Tibetan invasion of Bhutan to steal its most precious relic. A man named Shabdrung pretended to throw this relic into the river, making the Tibetan army retreat.
During the festival, a procession of monks walk down to the river and throw a handful of oranges into the running water to symbolize the relic and to re-enact this important event in Bhutanese history.
This is held in a village in the hills above Punakha at an altitude of 9,180 ft (2,800 m). You will enjoy stunning views over the mountains as well as experiencing the joy of a local festival.
Paro Tshechu is one of the most popular events in the Bhutanese calendar, as well as being one of the most well attended by tourists and local people.
The festival is held over four days, with the first day beginning in the courtyard of the Dzong and the last day ending with the unveiling of the sacred Thanka (silk painting).
This is unveiled before dawn to ensure that it is not damaged by the sunlight. It is considered a blessing if you are able to see the sacred Thanka with your own eyes.
Throughout the festival there are masked dances and songs, creating a lively atmosphere.
The annual Thimpu Drubchen is famous for the masked dance performed here to appease and protect one of the key deities of Bhutan, Pelden Lhamo.
This is a well-attended festival that will light up the atmosphere of this otherwise quiet capital.
This festival is held over a four-day period and it is held to commemorate Guru Rinpoche (a figure known for the spread of Tantric or Tibetan Buddhism).