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Bhutan's Festivals: A Guide

| Words by Ellena Johnstone |

Find out about Bhutan's incredible religious festivals, and what you can expect to see during these special festivities.

Perched high in the Himalayas lies the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan. Known for its fluttering prayer flags, cliff-top monasteries and soaring mountains, Bhutan is also the stage for some of the most vibrant and unique religious festivals in the world.

With a Royal visit on the cards from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge this April, we share everything you need to know about the festivals that make Bhutan so incredibly special.

Why are Bhutan’s festivals so significant?

Festivals play a crucial role in preserving Bhutan’s unique culture and traditions. Religious festivals in Bhutan are known as tshechus, and are a means for citizens from Bhutan’s remote communities to come together and celebrate, socialise and pray. With worshipers traveling many hundreds of miles from neighbouring Dzongkhags (districts), the festivals are a unifying and bonding force. To ordinary Bhutanese citizens, tshechus are seen as a chance to take a well-earned break from their everyday lives and indulge in country-wide celebrations.

Colourful 'mask dances' are an important element of Bhutan's religious festivals

Here are some of the key festivals to witness in Bhutan:

Thimphu

Thimphu Festival is normally held in the autumn, and is one of the largest festivals in the country. Festivities are spread over three days, with time dedicated to prayer and ritual in the days before and after. Thimphu Festival is famous for its elaborate ‘mask dances’, like the Guru Tshengye (Eight Manifestations of Guru) and Shaw Shachi (Dance of the Stags). In modern times, dances are interspersed with short skits relaying public health and social awareness messages to spectators.

The Dance of the Stags is one of the better-known traditional dances during Thimphu

Paro

Paro Festival is normally held every spring and, alongside Thimphu, is one of the most vibrant and significant of the tshechus. On the first day, rituals are held inside the Paro Dzong, the famous monastery and fortress, with the rest of the celebrations taking place outside in the open. Festivities include colourful dances and the display of a giant Throngdrol (religious picture).

Jambay Lhakhang

Jambay Lhakhang is normally held every autumn, and named after one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, founded by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th Century AD. The highlight is a mesmerising fire ritual held in the evening.

Festivals in Bhutan are a cause for country-wide celebration

Punakha

Punakha Festival is normally held in early spring to celebrate a Bhutanese victory over neighbouring Tibet whose forces invaded several times during the 17th century. The festival centres on a dramatic recreation of a scene from the battle.

Why not witness Bhutan’s incredible religious festivals for yourself? Find out about our small group journeys to Bhutan today to see our full range of festival departures.