Festivals of Bhutan

Bhutan’s festivals are extremely lively and vibrant. Its people clad in colorful traditional Bhutanese attire, its spicy and zesty cuisine, various mask dances and dramas, makes it an eye-catching ambience in Bhutan.

Tshechus, held on the tenth day of a month of the lunar calendar, are among the most celebrated festivals, particularly the Paro Tshechu (Spring Festival) and Thimphu Tshechu (Fall Festival). With at least 1 festival taking place every month, one does wonder how they manage it all. But each festival comes with its own unique identity, history and diverse themes. Out of the numerous festivals Bhutan has to offer, let’s take a look at few of the popular ones.

1. Paro Tshechu
Held every spring, Paro Tshechu is one of the most colorful and significant events in Paro district. The Tshechu is considered a major attraction and people travel from neighboring districts to participate in the festivity. At dawn on the last day of the celebration the monks display a gigantic thangkha (embroidered painting), the Guru Throngdel, inside the dzong. Thongdrols are impressive examples of Buddhist art and keep spectators in awe. Simply viewing a Thongdrol is considered so pure, it is said to wash one’s sins away.

Paro Tshechu Dates: April 7 – 11, 2017

2. Thimphu Tshechu & Thimphu Drubchen

One of the biggest festivals in the country is the Thimphu Tshechu. Several days prior to this grand festival, the Thimphu Drubchen takes place where thousands of people travel to the capital city and offer prayers and rituals to invoke the gods. Held at the Tashichho Dzong, both these festivals are among the extremely popular festivals in Bhutan.

When it was initiated by the 4th Desi, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay in 1867 the Tshechu consisted of only a few dances being performed strictly by monks. Later in the 1950s, the third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, introduced numerous mask dances performed by lay monks that added color and variation to the festival without compromising on its spiritual significance. Mask dances like the Guru Tshengye (Eight Manifestations of Guru), Shaw Shachi (Dance of the Stags) are enjoyed because they are similar to stage-theater. Short skits are also performed to spread health and social awareness messages.

These festivals are also a break for farmers from their farm life who celebrate, receive blessings and pray on this happy occasion.

Thimphu Drubchen Dates: Sept 26 – 29, 2017
Thimphu Tshechu Dates: Sept 30 – Oct 2, 2017

3. Punakha Tshechu

After several requests made by Punakha District Administration and local people, Punakha Tshechu was introduced in 2005 by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and the then Home Minister His Excellency Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinley. This Tshechu was established to better preserve Buddhist teachings and keep alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Rimpoche, the unifier of Bhutan.

This festival not only plays an important role in preserving Bhutan’s rich culture and traditions but also provides devout Buddhists with an opportunity for prayer and pilgrimage. They reflect the richness of the Bhutanese cultural heritage and are very special for both Bhutanese and tourists who visit Bhutan.

Punakha Tshechu Dates: March 7 – 9, 2017


4. Black Necked Crane Festival

The Black-necked Crane festival is celebrated annually in the courtyard of Gangtey Gonpa, in Phobjikha valley. Unlike other festivals, this festival is celebrated to mark the arrival of this endangered and majestic bird which becomes an inseparable part of the locals’ daily lives during winter.

Organized to generate awareness on the importance of conserving the endangered Black‐necked cranes, the one day festival includes cultural programs such as folk songs and dances (some with black-necked crane themes) and mask dances performed by the local people, crane dances and environmental conservation-themed dramas.
The festival has become a part of the local culture in Phobjikha valley ever since it was first initiated by the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) in 1998.

Black Necked Crane Festival Dates: November 11, 2017

Lhosar Tashi Delek!


Pola & Mola (Tibetan for grandfather and grandmother) are an old Tibetan couple living in Nepal. Originally from Lhasa, Tibet, they migrated to Kathmandu in the late 1950’s to begin a new life in Nepal. A young 20 year old Pola had on his shoulders, the responsibilities of educating his younger siblings and taking care of his parents. Despite cultural and language differences, he set foot exploring the streets of Kathmandu.

Initially, he bought Nepalese spices, tobacco and candles; and exported them to Lhasa. He recalls those days when there were no roads and they had to send men on foot till the border carrying the supplies for days. “The Nepalese people are very hard working and with a Khukuri attached to their shirts, they carried goods on their backs,” he recalls. This went on till 1969, after which the highway was built and the Tibet – Nepal trade flourished. Since then, he traveled back and forth for 48 years between Nepal and Tibet, importing raw wool, musk, Tibetan thermos, campus shoes and later the famous Tibetan carpets from Lhasa to Nepal and likewise, exporting herbs, cotton, jute, ghee etc. to Lhasa.

While Pola sold Nepalese imported goods in the popular Barkhor Street in Lhasa, Mola stayed in a small retail shop they opened in the busy streets of Ason in Kathmandu selling all types of clothes, shoes, accessories, etc. “I made a lot of friends in Ason”, she says. “Those were the carefree days; chitchatting and drinking tea with fellow shopkeepers is how I improved my Nepali.

After 57 years in Nepal, Pola & Mola share fond memories of Tibet and Nepal comparing similarities & differences between the two places they call home. “The same astounding landscape, mountains, hard-working people yet so distinct in culture and language.

With 4 children and 6 grandchildren, they now live a happy retired life in Nepal. “Life has shown us so many phases, between being born and brought up in Tibet and retiring in Nepal. We love our life and are happy but what is important to us is that we do not forget our Tibetan culture and heritage, the place that defined our existence. We are proud of our traditional dress – Bakhu and our Tibetan language. Also, on this happy occasion, we would like to wish everyone a very happy Lhosar. Lhosar Tashi Delek!”

Learn Five Fun Facts

BHUTAN:

1. Bhutan is the only country that measures its progress by its “Gross National Happiness.” This tiny nation is arguably the happiest country on earth.

2. Bhutan’s people planted 108,000 trees to celebrate the birth of their new prince in 2016. Not to forget, plastic bags have been banned in Bhutan since 1999.

3. Bhutan is the only nation in the world where the sale of tobacco is banned. Those who bring their own tobacco products into Bhutan are subject to duties and customs at the Paro Airport.

4. Until the 1960’s, Bhutan had no roads, automobiles, telephone, postal system or electricity. Bhutanese had no access to TV or Internet until limited access was permitted in 1999.

5. The first foreign tourists were allowed into Bhutan in 1974.

NEPAL:

1. The flag of Nepal is the only National flag that is not rectangular in shape and is over 2000 years old.

2. 8 of the world’s 10 highest peaks are in Nepal, including the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest at 8,848 m (29.029 ft).

3. Nepal has the world’s densest concentration of World Heritage Sites.

4. Nepal has over 80 ethnic groups and 123 languages.

5. “Better to die than be a coward” is the motto of the world-famous Nepalese Gurkha soldiers who are an integral part of the British Army since 1815.

TIBET:

1. Titled the “Roof of the World”, Tibet is literally the highest place on earth with an average elevation of 4,500 m (14,764 ft).

2. Tibetan people by tradition place prayer flags around their houses & properties for spiritual protection. These prayer flags are made up of 5 natural elements each a different color of blue, white, red, green, yellow each symbolizing Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth.

3. Tibet is known as the world’s “Third Pole” as, after the North and South Poles, it holds the third largest quantity of glacially stored water.

4. Potala Palace, the chief residence of the Dalai Lama is exclusively constructed on “Marpori” that translates as “Red Mountain”. The 13-storied palace has no elevator with about 1,000 rooms to explore and houses 200,000 Buddhist images.

5. Namtso, ‘the heavenly lake’, is the highest saltwater lake in the world that leaves one spellbound by its glistening beauty, pure blue water, and spiritual element.

Nuwakot and The Famous Farm

A good three hours of bumpy ride, about 75 km north from Kathmandu, driving over a hill after another through the meandering Trishuli River brought us to the hills of Nuwakot. Embellished with rich history and traditional royal architecture, Nuwakot was once the capital of the valley. It is here that King Prithivi Narayan Shah, the unifier and the first king of Nepal formulated his strategy to conquer Kathmandu.

For the four of us, this was our first time to Nuwakot. Stories of the first king of Nepal and his beautiful palace, the famous Saat Tale Durbar, a seven-storey fortress built in 1762 were little details we had grown up hearing about. When we finally made it there last weekend, we were saddened to see the catastrophe caused by the April 2015 earthquake. While the seven-storey fortress still remained put, entering it was prohibited because the structure looked fragile. Little village houses and temples around the area were in ruins; and though slowly, there were signs of restoration. Big pictures of pre, and post-earthquake that now adorned the area gave us an idea of what life would have been here before.

With a heavy heart, we drove to our overnight destination, The Famous Farm which was a stone’s throw away from the durbar. At first glance, The Famous Farm was simply an oasis of tranquility. Built in a 100-year-old mud house, this place is an amalgam of old and modern. The Famous Farm beautifully combines village life with modern facilities like a clean bathroom, comfortable bed, hot shower and a scrumptious cuisine. We spent the night warm and cozy in the open courtyard by the fire as we sipped wine and sang along to old country songs. Later we walked to our rooms through small wooden stairs and doors and hopped into our bed waiting for dawn.

We watched the sun rise over the hills as we sipped coffee from our wooden balcony. The ambiance was spectacular as we breathed clean fresh air that is difficult to find in Kathmandu. Quickly we realized that day light accentuated the beauty of The Famous Farm as blooming bright pink bougainvillea adorned the building. Breakfast in the garden was a delight, one could spend hours simply basking in the sun or enjoying a drink but we wanted to make the most of our short trip so we decided to go for a quick hike around the village.

We walked through patchy settlements and terraced farms as little children waved at us while others went about their daily chores. We passed old men and women basking in the sun, looking up to smile at us before getting back into conversations that eluded us. The view from our highest trek point was exceptional as we overlooked hills of dense forests and the meandering Trishuli River flowing smoothly below.

As we returned from the hike, we had a chilled jar of lemonade waiting for us at the hotel. A surprise treat after the hike! Quenching our thirst and thanking the staff for their wonderful service, it was time to say goodbye. As much as we wanted to stay, we left The Famous Farm with tons of stories to tell and a promise to visit again.

Later we stopped at the bazaar for a hearty Nepali meal and left Nuwakot with bellies full and lots of memories to share.

That was a weekend well spent!