Festivals, or Tshechus, are vibrant and happy affairs in the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan. Held annually in various temples, dzongs and monasteries throughout the country, Tshechus honour the birthday of Guru Rimpoche – the saint who first introduced the country to Buddhism in the 8th century. Although the exact month varies from place to place, with Tshechu translating to ‘tenth day’, these events are always celebrated on the tenth day of a month in the lunar calendar.
It’s believed that everyone must attend a Tshechu at least once in their lifetime. Watching the festivities is considered by many to be a blessing and essential in order to gain enlightenment. One of the most popular Tshechus in Bhutan is the Thimphu Festival, which was first established in 1670 by the fourth Temporal Ruler Tenzing Rabgye. Attracting thousands of people from all over the country, this colourful festival is arguably the best reason to travel to Bhutan.
What happens at the festival?
For weeks ahead of the festival, local monks prepare themselves with meditations and deep prayer. During the three-day-long celebrations, the monks then perform a series of highly stylised dances wearing colourful masks and costumes. Each masked dance has a story or special meaning behind it and is often based on stories of the life of Guru Rimpoche. Thimphu Festival is therefore a rich historical tradition through which the Bhutanese pass on their mythology, values and spiritual beliefs.
This grand event gathers the largest audience of all Bhutan’s Tshechus. And entire communities come together in their finest clothing to witness these mystical dances, socialise and receive blessings. Various other exciting cultural displays take place around the city of Thimphu, making this undoubtedly the highlight of the capital’s cultural calendar.
Why should I attend?
Thimphu Festival is one of the best ways to experience the Buddhist culture of Bhutan. Offering tourists a complete insight into the nation’s religion, it showcases the deep faith and devotion of the Bhutanese people. And with the locals dressed in their best Gho’s and Kira’s, you’ll feel a world away from home.
Thimphu is also located only an hour’s drive from the country’s only international airport in Paro. Therefore it’s possible to come to Bhutan just for four days to attend the festival. Tshechus taking place in other districts, particularly in the east, would require a much longer visit. In addition, the festival usually takes place at the end of September or early October. Thanks to the mild weather, autumn is one of the best seasons in Bhutan – adding all the more reason to visit during the Thimphu Festival.
These colourful displays of traditional culture attract both residents and tourists from across the world, often resulting in a carnival-like atmosphere. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join the Bhutanese in experiencing one of their most important religious and social occasions. And this unique spectacle is by far the best reason to travel to Bhutan.
Want to experience this festival for yourself? Check out our Thimphu Festival group tour.