Header image credit: Anja Disseldorp
One of the most interesting destinations in the world, Bhutan is a mysterious country wedged in-between India and China, in the high altitudes of the Himalayas. It is known for its rich cultural history; a remote region defined by majestic monasteries, fluttering prayer flags; and elaborate festivals.
While festivals in Bhutan are so frequent that you could easily happen upon one by accident, you can definitely plan ahead to make sure your trip coincides with attending. Bhutanese festivals are perhaps one of the most authentic cultural experiences left in the world.
The word “tsechu” translates literally to “ten-day,” and Bhutan’s annual tsechu festivals are held in honor of Guru Rinpoche, who is said to have brought Tantric Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. Tsechu are held in various cities throughout the year, so knowing about them in advance may help you decide the best time to visit Bhutan.
Bhutan Festival Season: Where to Go and When for the Best Festivals in Bhutan
Thimphu Tsechu generally occurs in late September or early October. Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city, goes through monsoon season from May through August, so the city’s biggest annual festival falls in the window of time between heavy rain and intense heat.
Historically speaking, some sources state that Thimphu Tsechu dates all the way back to 1670. Thousands of visiting tourists and native Bhutanese flock to the capital city in colorful traditional garb to dance and partake in the many religious ceremonies that take place during the festival.
Festival activities are most often held in dzongs (historical fortresses), or at monasteries. Thimphu locals practice dances like the Zhana Nga Cham, translated to the Dance of the 21 Hats, and the Tungan Cham, translated to the Dance of the Terrifying Deities.
Photo credit: Anja Disseldorp
Celebrated in spring in the city of Paro, Paro Tsechu is characterized by traditional masked dances and incredible feasts. Many of the masked dances recreate the legends and stories of the history of Buddhism in Bhutan. Like all of the Tsechu festivals, Paro Tsechu celebrates the life of Guru Rinpoche.
At Paro Tsechu, you’ll witness the annual unveiling of the 350 year old Thangka, or religious scroll. While monsoon season hits Thimphu hard every spring, the rainy season doesn’t affect Paro quite as severely because of the higher altitude.
For this reason, springtime in Paro is extra dreamy, with lush landscapes, colorful flower blossoms, and ripe fruit and vegetables aplenty. Because Paro is such a popular festival for springtime visitors of Bhutan, be sure to book your trip early, as resorts and tours often sell out.
Photo credit: Aditya Karnad
Trashigang Tsechu is an annual winter festival which occurs in late November and lasts anywhere between ten days and two weeks. Trashigang is a town in Eastern Bhutan, so this festival is a great excuse to explore new, less touristy regions in Bhutan.
This tsechu attracts various nomadic peoples, including from the communities of Merak and Sakteng, who come wearing unique dress and masks. During the festival, large ancient tapestries, called thongdrel, are unveiled to commemorate the work of Guru Rinpoche.
While you are visiting Trashigang, don’t miss the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, which features incredible mountain vistas, miles of trails, and protected areas for endangered wildlife. Be sure to also visit the beautiful temple of Gomphu Kora, where Guru Rinpoche is said to have meditated for extended periods of time.
Photo credit: Anja Disseldorp
Haa Summer Festival
For the perfect combination of traditional nomadic and Bhutanese culture with delicious food, beautiful costumes and dance, and aromatic alpine flower blossoms, the Haa Summer Festival should be high on your list of travel destinations.
The Haa Summer Festival is specifically held by and for the nomadic herder communities of Bhutan, and for this reason, many travellers find it appealing. Camp out or stay in quaint farmhouses with the travelling people of Bhutan.
At the festival, you’ll be able to see the processing of a traditional alcoholic beverage called Ara, participate in a photography competition, and join in on traditional sporting events played by nomadic Bhutanese (like Yak riding!).
Haa Summer Festival usually takes place during the first week of July. The Haa Valley is located just a two-hour drive from Paro, so it’s a great excursion to take on a summer adventure to Paro in Bhutan.
Photo credit: Ian Cochrane
The Black Neck Crane Festival
Held annually in the courtyard of Gangtey Goenpa, this festival celebrates the arrival of the migrating black neck crane. The endangered black neck crane fly through the Phobjikha Valley every winter.
At the festival, children dress up in crane costumes and people participate in choreographed dances to honor the elegant bird. Explore gorgeous nature trails as you take in the flocks of rare birds, found exclusively in isolated areas of Central and East Asia.
From the monastery where the festival takes place, you’ll be able to take in unique views of the glacial valley and rolling hills. Explore vast fields and bamboo forests in addition to visiting the Black Neck Crane information center for a history of the rare bird in Bhutan.
Coordinate Your Trip to Visit the Best Festivals
As you plan your trip to Bhutan, be sure to plan the best time to arrive in order to get to all of the festivals and tourist destinations that are on your bucket list.
Tour groups like GeoEx will help you plan your trip so that you hit all of the most sought-after Bhutan destinations.
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