The Best Festivals in Bhutan; When, Where & How to Attend
Bhutan is more than just a trek up to the Tiger’s Nest monastery (although that is one of the best experiences of my life too, and a great Instagram shot!). Usually, trips here are lined up around one of the particular festivals in Bhutan. There is at least one every month almost ensuring that you have an opportunity to experience one.
Personally I don’t plan too much! And because my trip to every country in the world involved me constantly fighting for visas, when it came to this hidden Himalayan nation, I didn’t even think about the best time to visit Bhutan, or what festivals in Bhutan may be on.
Thankfully however, my Bhutan tour company were slightly more organised. I managed to attend the Jambay Lhakhang Drup festival. Where naked, novice monks jump through fire in the middle of the night. What an experience.
But what other festivals in Bhutan are worthwhile planning your trip around? Here we go!
The BEST festivals in Bhutan
What makes Punakha Drubchen different is the dramatic recreation of a scene from the 17th century battle with the Tibetan army. The local militia men (pazaps), dressed in battle gear, reenact the encounter.
It’s to remember when the village districts in Bhutan came forward and managed to drive the Tibetan forces out of the country, bringing newfound internal peace and stability. The Punakha Tshechu is held immediately afterwards.
March 23 – 27
The most popular spring festival, monks and laymen dress up in vibrant, brocade costumes. While wearing masks representing wrathful and peaceful deities, they re-enact the legends and history of Buddhism in Bhutan. The culminating moment of the festival is the viewing of the four storey high, 350 years old thangkha (Buddhist religious scroll), celebrating the deeds of Guru Rimpoche.
Haa Summer Festival
Set in a stunning location in the wilderness with views of the Himalayan landscape, the 3rd Haa Summer Festival gives visitors an in-depth picture of the lives and culture of the nomadic herders living in Haa Valley.
It’s a happy and lively celebration of traditional Bhutanese culture, sports, and religion. Tourists can participate in some of the local sports (such as yak riding), try the local cuisine, or dance to their ancient folk songs.
September 14 – 16
Tshechu, meaning “day 10” are yearly religious Bhutanese festivals held in each district of Bhutan. Tschechus are held to honor Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), who brought a Tantric form of Buddhism to Bhutan in 8th century.
Those who witness a Tshechu are thought to earn merit, be bestowed great luck, and will have their wishes come true. Besides that, it is also an occasion to socialize and be merry. Before the Tshechu begins, prayers and rituals are done beforehand in order to invoke the deities.
The Thimphu Tshechu is one of the biggest festivals in Bhutan as thousands of people flock to the capital in their finest garments. This three+ day festival is a welcomed reprieve from work. During the festival, people pack into the courtyard of the Tashichho Dzong (fortress), a dancing stage is erected, and mask dances, often with a religious significance, are performed.
Jambay Lhakhang Drup
Bhutan Life Exposure organized my tour around this festival, Jambay Lhakhang Drup. And it was epic.
Traditional and mask dances are performed to honor Guru Rimpoche and to celebrate the establishment of the Jambay Lhakhang Monastery.
The fire ceremony, Mewang, is considered the highlight. During the fire ceremony, locals sprint underneath a large flaming gate made from dry grasses.
The other notable event is the Tercham (Dance of Treasure), where masked dancers perform naked in the middle of the night. They believe this dance will bless infertile women so that they may bear children.
Final thoughts on the best festivals in Bhutan?
You’ll hear a lot of people promote various festivals in Bhutan to try to sell their tours. Speaking from experience, and with no tour to sell you, I would recommend the night time fire gauntlet of Jambay Lhakhang Drup. Although to sample any festival in Bhutan is a true travel experience like no other, so don’t overthink it if the dates don’t work. Enjoy!
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