The Kingdom of Bhutan, witnesses a plethora of events and unique festival, at various times of the year. While there are numerous unique events such as a literary festival, an international marathon, international biking race and more, however, the most important event takes place in the form of Annual Festivals or Tshechus.
The Tshechu are celebrated to commemorate ‘good triumphs over evil' or to depict significant historical events especially surrounding the life of Bhutan's patron saint, Guru Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche). The colorful event draws as much as 3000 people and there is inevitably a great deal of socializing. It is an opportunity for people to relax and forget daily routine, to dress in their finest clothes and jewelry but, more importantly, it is an occasion for prayer and blessings. Bhutan's artistic culture is also at its best during these events, where religious prayers, satire, etc are depicted via the famous mask dances. Almost all the districts have their own Tshechu, however, the most important Tshechu are Punakha festival, Paro Festival, and Thimphu Festival. These events are undeniably the most important events of the year, where Bhutan's colorful and in-depth culture is manifested. Families get together and picnic by the festival grounds.Festivals in Bhutan are held in a solemn atmosphere and while there is much merriment, however, visitors are reminded that it is still a religious festival of great importance to Bhutanese people hence appropriate behavior and a proper dress code is required.
Festivals and events are spread across the year. The list below highlights, plethora of events and activities in the kingdom, around which, a tour to Bhutan can be built. Besides the festivals, the Tourism council of Bhutan also organizes specialized events such as Nomads festival, Matsutake Festival, Jumolhari mountain festival, Tour of the dragon bicycle race and Rhododendron Festival. Scroll through our events lists to find a suitable program.
The “Royal Highlander Festival” takes place in Laya, Gasa District. The festival coincides with the annual offering festival of Auley, known for rich traditional epic poem recitation. Besides the numerous highlights, the festival also features one of Bhutan's most challenging races, the " Snowman Run". The race spans 53 km amidst the pristine natural beauty of the trail. The race starts from Gasa Hot Spring 2231 meters and end after 28 km. The Second day of the race is 25 km and ends at Langothang (4000) meters, festival venue.
The Black-necked Crane Festival is held every year on 11th November in Phobjikha. The festival was initiated by the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) in 1998 as part of the community-based sustainable tourism. The festival is now organized and managed by the local community, showcasing cultural programs such as folk and masked dances performed by the local people, crane dance and environmental drama and songs by the school students.
Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival’s venue features two of very impressive modern Bhutanese monuments. Including the works on the powerful mural paintings, the temple took almost four years to build. The temple was built under the personal supervision of Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangcuck, a year after she built the 108 Druk Wangyel Chortens. Druk Wangyel Lhakhang was consecrated in June 2008. Following Bhutanese tradition, the Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival is named after its location. The Dochula pass is one of the most spectacular passes in Bhutan and is about 45 minutes’ drive (22km) from the capital city, Thimphu.
The Nomad festival provides a close prevue of the fascinating life of the highlanders, which has virtually remained unchanged for ages. The festival offers an opportunity to engage with proud communities of the upper Himalayas, partake in their traditional food recipes, understand their way of life as demonstrated in the festival in a village setting, or perhaps ride a yak or try their traditional attire. Their dress are very unique and made from Yak wool adorned with colorful motifs of flowers and animals. An annual festival, it takes place in Bumthang, dubbed the spiritual heartland of Bhutan and is approximately eight hours drive from Thimphu.
The Punakha Drubchen commemorates the historic win of the Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal's army over Tibetan invaders, who were trying to steal a very sacred relic, the Ranjung Kharsapani. Since the introduction, it has become an annual event and features, the unique dramatic recreation of 17th century battle with the Tibetans.
Drubchen is a unique practice of meditation and considered to have a powerful effect on eradicating the world of evil. Prayers are performed for 24 hours a day and the duration may vary between 3-10 days. The prayers are followed by mask dances and other ceremonies associated with the Drubchen being performed. The power of the ceremony is said to be amplified when the event has full attendance.
Bhutan international Marathon is an annual event organized by Bhutan Olympic Committee. The 42 km race takes one through the countryside of Punakha and finishes at historic Punakha Dzong. 100 percent of event profit goes to support Bhutan Youth and Sports program.
The Punakha Tshechu was introduced in 2005 by Bhutan’s chief abbot, the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra, in response to the appeals made by locals residents to host a Tshechu/Festival, so that the rich cultural heritage and history of the valley was preserved, in addition to keeping alive the Buddhist teachings and noble deeds of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal.
The Tharpaling festival is an event of prayers and ceremonies, followed by the unfurling of an enormous Tharpaling Thongdrol/ Buddhist Tapestry or applique. It takes place in at Tharpaling Monastery, located in a quaint village in Chummy in Bumthang. The temple sits on a hillock overlooking the valley of Bumthang and It takes approximately an hour’s drive from Bumthang through the dirt road. The monastery is highly revered in Bhutan, as it is a place of Longchen Rabjampa retreat (1308-1564), who is one of the most important teacher in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.
The word Gomphu Kora stands for meditation cave (Gomphu) and Circumambulation ( Kora). Located in eastern Bhutan, the monastery is approximately 24km away from Trashigang Town and is undeniably one of the most revered monasteries in Bhutan. The history of Gomphu Kora dates back to 8th Century, mired in myth and mystery, legend has it that evil spirit called Myongkhapa escaped from Tibet when Guru Padmasambhava was preaching the Buddhism in the Himalayas. Myongkhapa followed the course of the current-day Kholongchhu stream and buried himself inside a rock where Gomphu Kora stands today. The Guru followed the spirit, meditated for three days inside the rock cave and finally defeated it. Hence the cave found out of rock face next to the temple was instrumental in giving it the name “meditation cave”
The festival takes place in the quaint village of Talo at Talo Monastery, approximately one hour drive from Punakha and situated at an elevation of 2800 m. The three-day festival is particularly popular for its mask and atsara dances. Indigenous to this festival is the classical dance ( Zungdra) by Talo dance group. The three songs of Mani sum, which includes the Zungdra set is performed at the end of each day. The festival besides its religious significance is an opportunity for villagers and families to come together and celebrated.
The Zhemgang festival takes place in Zhemgang, one of the remotest districts in Bhutan, with very fewer tourist footfalls. Located in central Bhutan, Zhemgang is an ecotourist's paradise and bio – diversity hotspot, with 22 endangered species of birds and animals known to be endemic to this area. The festival is an opportunity for the common folks, to come together and engage in fun and frolic, in addition to days of prayers. The district also has well development eco-trails for nature lovers, in addition to eco-camps such as Panbang eco-camp, Gomphu Eco camp, and Shilling Toe Eco Camp. Another festival unique to the area is the Ngangla Choedpa, which is a Bon festival in practice in Zhemgang.
A trip to Gasa, is one of its kind, with unmatched natural beauty, hot springs and majestic Himalayan vistas standing tall. Located at an altitude, traversing elevation of 1500 to 4,500, they valley is home to Bhutan's highlander and nomadic community. Thus the Gasa festival has unique attributes of nomadic life, rituals, and dances, in the upper Himalayas, in addition to various mask dances and other rituals. The festival takes place in Gasa Dzong at Khatey village.
It is held annually in Paro, the cultural hub of Bhutan. Undeniably, the most famous and significant Tshechu, Bhutan has ever staged. The last day of the festival incorporates the display of a giant appliqué, the Guru Throngdel, which is only displayed once in a year during Paro Tshechu. A typical program of Paro Tshechu may constitute events listed below.
Day 1: ( Inside the Dzong)
Located in Trashiyangtse, the easternmost part of Bhutan, the Chorten kora is one of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan; built in 1740 by Lama Ngawang Loday in honor of his uncle Jungshu Pesan; history also has it that it was also built to subdue the demon that lived, where the Chorten stands today. It has close resemblances with the Boudhnath Stupa in Nepal when it comes to design and architecture and many say that it is a replica. Village legend also has it, that a young girl from Tawang believed to be a “Khando” (Dakini) agreed to be buried alive inside the chorten, for this very reason a ritual called “Dakpa Kora is ordered every year, which is witnessed by 1000 of people from Bhutan and neighboring areas like Arunachal Pradesh in India. Dakpa Kora is held on 28th February and Drukpa Kora (circumambulation by the Bhutanese) is held on 15th March every year (Recommend to confirm regional listing for dates). Trashiyangtse is accessible after a two-hour drive from Trashigang and from the capital, Thimphu a break-up journey is recommended with overnight halts in Trongsa and Mongar. One of the biggest congregations which eastern Bhutan witnesses each year, the Chorten Kora festival brings in the colorful aspect of Bhutan which is manifested via the rich colorful textile and brocades worn by the locals, the mask dances and off course the triumphant atmosphere of the festival.
The three-day annual festival takes place in Royal Botanical Park in Lamperi. Which is approximately 30 minutes’ drive from Thimphu, via the Dochula pass. The festival is divided into three sections; Education and sensitization Culture and entertainment and food and beverages, besides other opportunities such as bird watching, Horse riding, and camping. Rhododendron is found at an altitude of 800 - 5200 meters. Close to 46 species has been found in the country, of which 29 species is endemic to the park. The festival is a good opportunity to interact with the local, understand Bhutanese cultures besides education on the rare medical plant.
Domkhar Lhakhang was built by Serkhong Truelku during the 18th century and it is said that the lhakhang is the residing place for the Trulku. Domkhar Tshechu is a 3 days festival, which includes chams and dances which are performed by the local people of Domkhar village. The chams include mainly the Peling Chams (composition of Terton Pema Lingpa). On the last day of the festival, the lhakhang displays large thongdrols to bless the people of Domkhar village.
The festival takes place in Ura valley in Bumthang, the spiritual hub of Bhutan. The festival showcase’s religious mask dances, of which, the most popular one is called the Ura Yakchoe. Sacred relics are also displayed, from which locals take blessings. Legends has it that a monk visited a house of old lady asking for water. When she returned, the monk had disappeared leaving behind a sack. Upon opening the sack she found the statue, which is displayed at the festival and has been passed on from generation to generation and still owed by her family members.
The Nimalung festival in one of the most popular festivals in Bumthang valley. The three-day event, showcase many religious dances common to this monastery and a giant tapestry of Guru Rinpoche in also displayed in the course of the event. The Nimalung Temple in Chumey village was built in 1935, by Doring Tulku and Dasho Gonpo. The Temple houses a magnificent statue of Guru Rinpoche and old paintings and tapestry’s belonging to him and his disciples.
The Kurje festival is held annual during July. The festival takes place in Kurje Lhakhang, which comprises of three temples. The oldest being built by Lama Minjur Tenpa in 1652, the second temple was built by Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck in 1900 and the third temple was built by queen Mother Ashi Kezang Choden Wangchuck.The Kurje Lhakhang is located in Chokhor valley in Bumthang. The Kurje area remains one of the most sacred sites in Bhutan, as imprints of Bhutan’s patron saint, Guru Rinpoche is said to exist here.
Haa previously was off limits for tourists. Opened in 2002, it is now a thriving touristic destination in Bhutan. The Haa summer festival offers an experience of Bhutanese culture, nomadic lifestyle, Bhutanese cuisine, processing of local brew "Ara", traditional sports like archery, religious performances, dances and songs and most importantly an exhibition on NUBLANG (Scared unique cattle of Haa)
Dubbed the “Tour de France of Bhutan”; The Tour of the Dragon is an annual event in Bhutan encompassing some of the best laid Himalayan cycling trails. The race starts in Bumthang, Central Bhutan(2610m), and takes you toThimphu across four mountain passes. The one-day event is one of the most grueling cycling races in the world; however, the breathtaking view and pristine natural surrounding is the icing on the cake.
The race was conceived by His Royal Highness, Prince Jigyel U. Wangchuck- President of Bhutan Olympic Committee who is a leading biking enthusiast and an all round sportsman himself. His Royal Highness led the race with a group of an enthusiast in the year 2010 and was one of the few that completed in record time. The race is held on the first Saturday of every September, right after the monsoons and just when autumn sets in.
The race is not only the most challenging one-day event in the world but also one of the most beautiful when riders can take on pristine natural surrounding including some of the last virgin forests in the world. It is the most scenic race, taking one through high mountain passes that open up views of some of the highest peaks in the world.
The Thimphu Drubchen is one of the most popular festivals in Bhutan. The 3-day festival is the cultural hallmark of Bhutan and dates back to 17th Century. Introduced in 1701 by Kuenga Gyeltshen, the event features the religious dances dedicated to the protecting deity of Bhutan, Palden Lhamo. Popular folklore has it that the goddess Palden Lhamo appeared before Kuenga Gyeltshen and performed the dances whilst he was in meditation. Based on these dances the Drubchen was initiated.
The Wangdue festival is a yearly event, held at Tencholing Army ground. Previously, it used to be held at the majestic Wangdue Dzong; which is currently being reconstructed, since the fire in 2012 razed it to the ground. The festival was introduced by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel post completion of Wangdue Dzong. The 3-day event offers fantastic opportunities for prayers and merrymaking and attracts locals from as far as Thimphu and Gangtey, in addition to Punakha and Wangdue. The event is particularly popular for Raksha Mangcham or the Dance of the Ox.
The Tamzhing Phala Choepa festival is held annually in the beautiful valley of Choekhor, Bumthang. The festival features various religious dances related to famous treasure revealer Terton Pema Lingpa. The Tamzhing monastery dates back to 15th century and follows the Peling Buddhist tradition.
The 3-day Thimphu festival is the biggest of its kind in Bhutan. It is held annually in the courtyard of Tashichodzong, a landmark of great importance housing the ruling political party's office and the office of the King of Bhutan. The festival was introduced by 4th Desi, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay in 1867. The event offers a rich insight into numerous religious dances such as Dances of the 21 Black Hats, Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Ground, Dance of the Terrifying Deities; in additional to mask dances performed by lay monks such as Eight Manifestations of Guru and Dance of the Stags.
The Gangtey festival takes place in the picturesque Gangtey valley. Held annually at Gangtey goemba, the 2-day festival features a special blessing ritual for the devotees called Nguedup Langwa (receiving of spiritual wisdom/power). In addition, the festival also comprises of a myriad of colorful mask dances. The Gangtey monastery is one of the oldest and most important seat of Nyingmapa school of Buddhism dating back to 17th century and associated with renowned treasure revealer Terton Pema Lingpa.
Tangsibi Mani festival takes place at Tangsibi monastery, in ura village. The festival is undertaken to bring peace and prosperity to the local community and is associated with the famous Tibetan treasure revealer Terton Sherab Mebar.
The Thangbi Mani festival dates back to 13th Century. The 3-day event is organized by local people of Thangbi, Goling and Kharsath, and is one of the most important events in Choekhor valley. It is believed that the festival will bring a bountiful harvest, harmony, and wealth to the community. Besides the religious and cultural significance, one of the most important features of the festival is the Mewang ceremony (Fire blessing). The blessing is performed in an open ground, admits monks performing a purification ceremony, while people jump over the fire to eradicate sins and purify themselves.
The Jakar Tshechu is held at a beautiful rural village of Choekhor in Bumthang. An annual event at the Jakar Dzong, a fortress dating back to 17th Century, sits mystically on a hillock overlooking the Choekhor town. The festival brings color to the, otherwise sleepy village, with its colorful and myriad scared mask dances, Buddhist rituals and ceremonies. The 2-day festival concludes with the unfurling of the scared Guru Thongdrel.
The Chukha festival takes place in Chukha Dzong. The festival features a wide array of mask dances and other rituals, in additional to cultural programs. The two-day event brings people together from various parts of the district, over days of merriment and prayers. The last day of the festival is marked by the unfurling of Guru Rinpoche silk tapestry.
The Jambay Lhakhang festival is one of the most fascinating and intriguing festivals in Bhutan. The festival is organized in Jambay Lhakhang, located in a charming Choekhor village. The temple was built by a Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo and dates back to 7th Century. The festival features a unique fire blessing called Mewang, which is performed simultaneously with the famous naked dance. In addition a variety of other noteworthy traditional and mask dances are performed, which are attributed to famous, 15th Century treasure reveler Terton Pema Lingpa.
The Prakhar Festival commemorates the life of Lama Thukse Dawa, one of the sons of Bhutan’s famous 15th-centurytreasure revealer Terton Pema Lingpa. The festival takes place in Prakhar monastery, which is located at Prakhar village in Chummey. The festival in more of a close-knit community affair of Prakhar village and features some of the most spectacular and well-expressed mask dances, which are performed by monks of nearby Nimalung monastery.
Held annually during November or December in Mongar Dzong, the three-day festival attracts visitors from as far as Trashigang and Lhuentse. The festival offers numerous mask dances and is one of the most important events the area has to offer.
The 3-day Pemagatshel Festival is an opportunity for fun, frolic and merry making, amidst prayers and spirituality. The event takes place in Pemagatshel Dzong and brings people from the entire district. Besides the religious mask dance and rituals, the festival also showcase’s local folk dances and songs, such as Ausa, usually sung during the departure of members of the family, cousins, and friends.
The Trashigang festival is the biggest event in eastern Bhutan. The 3-day event takes place in Trashigang Dzong, a 17th-centuryfortress, which currently serves as the district administrative body. The event attracts locals from the entire district including the nomadic tribes Brokpas, who travel all the way from remote Merak and Sakteng village. The event features various mask dances such as Guru Tshengyed Chhams, in addition to the unfurling of the Thongdrol of Neten Chudrug and Guru Tshengyed.
The Nalakhar Festival is a small, intimate local community level affair. The festival takes place in Nga Lhakhang in Choekhor village. The 3-day event is conducted to bring good harvest, happiness, wealth and wellbeing to the village. Locals from the village and surrounding areas of Bumthang take on the 3-day event of prayers and fun.
The 1-day Jambay Lhakhang Singye Cham takes place in the renowned and revered 17th century Jambay Lhakhang in Bumthang. One of the most important features of the festival is the performance of Singye Cham or alternatively the Lion dance. The Cham or the dance is conducted to appease all the sentient beings and considered to wash away sins of people who witness it.
The 3-day Trongsa Festival is held at Trongsa Dzong, a 16th Century fortress, which was once a source of great of power and strategic importance. The event draws locals from the near and far away areas. One of the most important features of the festival is the blessing from sacred Nangtens, which is accessible to the public on the last day of the festival.
The 3-day Lhuentse Tshechu takes place in the majestic Lhuentse Dzong, which sits on a hilltop overlooking the Kyichu river. The 15th Century fortress, is of historic importance, as it was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, besides being the ancestral seat of power of the current Wangchuk Dynasty. Lhuentse also features other important sacred religious site, as the valley is the ancestral home of our Kings. The festival is privy to unique mask dances, rituals, and ceremonies and brings people together from across the valley. One of the notable aspects of the festival is the vibrant attire of Kushithara ( One of the most intricate and expensive women textile woven in Bhutan)
The Nabji Lhakhang festival, takes place in a charming little village, Nabji. A short trek from Reotala ( Located between Trongsa and Zhemgang) leads to Nabji Village. The highlight of the festivals includes the Tercham ( Dance of the treasure) and Mewang ( Fire Dance), in addition to other sacred mask dances related to Terton Pema Lingpa. The Tercham is believed to bless infertile women with a child and performed by naked dancers with a facial mask at night, over a bonfire.
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