Bhutan is rich in cultural diversity and this richness is further enhanced by the wide variety of elaborate and colourful religious festivals that are celebrated throughout the country. Every village is known for their unique festival though the most widely known is the annual Tshechu, meaning a religious festival.

As the Tshechu begins, the villagers and the general populace dress in their finest clothes and congregate at their local temples and monasteries where these festivals take place. Tshechus are usually occasions to mark important events in the life of the second Buddha, the Indian/Pakistani Tantric master known as Guru Rinpoche or Guru Padmasambhava. Various mask dances are performed together with songs and dances for three days.

These religious celebrations are lively, high-spirited affairs during which people share meals of red rice, spicy pork, Ema Datsi, and Momos (pork dumplings) whilst drinking the heady traditional rice wine known as Ara. These occasions provide the villagers a respite from the hard labour of their day-to-day lives and gives the community an opportunity to catch up with family and friends.

During 17th century Bhutan was invaded several times by Tibetan forces seeking to seize a very precious relic, the Ranjung Kharsapani.  Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal led the Bhutanese to victory over the Tibetans and to commemorate the triumph he introduced the Punakha Drubchen. Since then Punakha Drubchen (also known as Puna Drubchen) became the annual festival of Punakha Dzongkhag. The Punakha Drubchen is a unique festival because it hosts a dramatic recreation of the scene from the 17th century battle with Tibetan army. The ‘pazaps’ or local militiamen dress in traditional battle gear and reenact the ancient battle scene. This reenactment harkens back to the time when in the absence of a standing army, men from the eight Tshogchens or great village blocks of Thimphu came forward and managed to expel the invading forces from the country. Their victory ushered in a period of newfound internal peace and stability.

In 2005 another festival known as Punakha Tshechu was introduced by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and the then Home Minister His Excellency Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinley. The Tshechu was introduced in response to the requests made by Punakha District Administration and local people to host a Tshechu in order to better preserve Buddhist teachings and keep alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Rimpoche.

These two festivals not only play an important role in preserving Bhutan’s rich culture and traditions but also provide devout Buddhists with an opportunity for prayer and pilgrimage. They reflect the richness of the Bhutanese cultural heritage and are very special in the eyes and hearts of both Bhutanese and tourists who visit Bhutan.

Tharpaling Thongdrol festival is held annually at Tharpaling Monastery in Bumthang. Tharpaling festival is mainly a display of the giant Thongdrol (large tapestry), preceded by prayers and ceremonies. It is a very popular festival in Bumthang.

Local people and Dakpa people from Arunachal Pradesh (India) gather in February/March for Dakpa Kora Festival to circumambulate the chorten. A similar festival in Gom Kora takes place 10 days later.

Further, a legend states that a young girl from Tawang, believed to have been a Khando (Dakini) agreed to be buried alive inside the Chorten.

Gomphu Kora lies in the heart of the agrarian belt of eastern Bhutan. Gomphu means “Meditation Cave” and Kora means “Circumambulation”. The name is derived from a cave formed out of a rock-face next to a temple that has been built as a tribute to this sacred site.

The story of Gomphu Kora goes back to the 8th century AD. Legend has it that an evil spirit named Myongkhapa escaped from Samye in Tibet when Guru Padmasambhava was spreading the Dharma in the Himalayas. Myongkhapa followed the course of the present-day Kholongchhu stream and concealed himself inside a rock where Gomphu Kora stands today. The Guru followed the evil, mediated for three days inside the rock cave and finally vanquished it.

The biggest attraction of Gomphu Kora is the circumambulation. The place comes alive, once every year in late March, when people all over eastern Bhutan descend upon the narrow valley, dressed in their finery, to partake in the festivity, to worship and to reaffirm their connection with the past. The sanctity of the three-day religious festival even draws the Dakpa tribe from neighboring Arunachael Pradesh (India). They endure days of travel on foot through rugged environs with entire families in tow. Some say the Dakpas have done this for more than a millennium, beginning shortly after Guru Padmasambhava sanctified the place in the 8th century A.D. The Guru is attributed to have said that devotees will flock to Gomphu Kora for eons to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. There couldn’t be a more accurate prophecy.

Talo Tshechu was started by Zhabdrung Rinpoche with the unique mask dances. The people of Talo also display folkdances to pay homage to Zhabdrung.

The Gasa Tshechu is the biggest festival in the small district of Gasa in northwest Bhutan. Gasa is home to highlander communities. While many mask dances are performed, the local folk dances performed are very unique and distinct adding to the festive mood of the celebration.

Zhemgang is one of the remote districts in the country. The annual tshechu is the biggest festival in the district and was introduced after the inception of the Rabdey in 1966. Different mask dances are performed during the festival. The highlight of the festival is the unfurling of the huge Thongdrol (large tapestry) of Guru Rinpoche. It is believed that the mere sight of the Thongdrol cleanses one of all sins.

The Tsechu is a religious festival that is celebrated in all the Dzongkhags. The performances last for three continuous days. There is a sequence of dances at Paro Tshechu. Most dances are the same as other Tshechus, but the sequence varies. The Paro Tsechu is one of the most festooned festivals in the whole of the country. Tourists are allowed to witness the festival at the courtyard.

Chukha is a hot, wet region of dense Sub-Tropical forests located in South Western Bhutan. With one of the newer Dzongs in the nation, the Tshechu in Chukha is a spectacle of different mask dances and a congregation of traditional folk songs and dances from the district.

The festival is set in the Lamperi Botanical Gardens near Dochula Pass that has over 46 species of rhododendrons.

Domkhar festival is hosted in Chumey Valley of Bumthang district. Domkhar was established by Lama Kuenkhen Longchen Rabjampa of the Nyingmapa sect in the 16th century. Longchen Rabjampa (1308-63), pre-eminent scholar of Dranang, Tibet was exiled in Bhutan towards the end of his life. He founded eight monasteries throughout the country. The festival is observed every year on 10th -12th day of 3rd month of Bhutanese calendar at Domkhar village Temple. The three days’ festival also coincides with the death anniversary of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Sacred dances such as Black Hat Dance, the three Ging and the drummers of Drametse are performed.

A small Thngdrol representing the future Buddha Maitreya (jampa) is unfurled for the public to receive blessing and it is the highlights if the festivals.

Ura valley in Bumthang is known for the famous dance known as the Ura Yakchoe. The dance is performed during a festival that is held every May. During the festival a sacred and important relic is put on display so that the people can receive blessings from it.

According to legend an old woman sitting outside her house was visited by a lama asking for a drink of water. When she came out with the water, the lama had vanished leaving behind only a sack. Out of curiosity, she checked the bag and found the statue that is now displayed annually. This relic has been passed on from generation to generation and is still owned by the descendants of the woman.

Nimalung Lhakhang is located in Chumey in Bumthang. The Lhakhang was co-founded by Dasho Gonpo Dorji and Doring Trulku Jamyang Kunzang, the third mind-aspect reincarnation of Terton Jigme Lingpa in 1935. The monastery is decorated with murals of the Nyingmapa and Drukpa traditions. There are also paintings of Guru Padmasambhava and his disciples, the lineage of Terton Pema Lingpa, and several Buddhist masters affiliated with the monastery. One of the most important festivals held at the Lhakhang is the Kaling Zhitro Drubchen. It was initiated by Doring Trulku and he was the first person to have started the rite in Bhutan. It is held on the first fifteen days of the first month of the Bhutanese calendar.

The local Tshechu is held once a year in the 5th month of the Bhutanese calendar. During the Tshechu an awe-inspiring Thongdrol (large tapestry) of Guru Padmasambhava is put on display for attendees. A series of colorful and spectacular mask dances are performed during the Nimalung Tshechu.

Situated before Jambay Lhakhang, Kurje Lhakhang consists of three temples. The one on the right was built in 1652 on the rack face where Guru meditated in the 8th century. The second was built on the site of a cave containing an imprint of Guru’s body and is therefore considered the most holy. The third temple was built in 1990s by Ashi Kesang, the Queen Grandmother. This is the final resting place of the remains of the first three kings of Bhutan. The three temples are enclosed by 108 Chortens. Also, a large tree behind one of the temple buildings is believed to be a terma that was left there by Padmasambhava. A short distance beyond a small ridge is a spring believed to have been taken out by Guru Rimpoche’s walking stick.

The Kurje festival is an important occasion not only for the local people of Bumthang but for all Bhutanese. The festival brings together tourists and Bhutanese from all over as it presents the perfect occasion to not only receive blessings by witnessing age-old mask dances but also to enjoy this unique culture whilst basking in the natural beauty of Bhutan’s spiritual heartland.

Set among pristine lakes and high alpine valleys, the Haa summer festival is a lively and uplifting celebration of traditional living-culture, nomadic lifestyles, unique Bhutanese cuisine, traditional sports and religious performances. It provides unparalleled insight into the lives and traditions of Bhutan’s nomadic herders. Immerse yourself in this one of a kind experience by playing the local sports, sampling the delicious home-cooked cuisine and enjoying traditional songs and dances all while imbibing the heady local liquor (Ara).

At the Haa Summer festival you will be able to see the rare White Poppy (Meconopsis superba). This flower typically grows to 1-1.5m in height at high altitudes around 4000m. The White Poppy is endemic to Haa and cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

Masutaki Mushroom Festival takes place in beautiful Ura valley. Ura is renowned for being one of the most picturesque valleys in the entire kingdom. Ura provides one of the most authentic experiences of traditional rural Bhutanese life available. At the festival, visitors will be learn to identify these fabled mushrooms as they embark on mushroom picking excursions around the pristine forests and hills. They’ll be able to sample delicious Matsutake recipes, engage in songs and dances together with the locals, hike through the stunning Himalayan landscape and even relax in traditional open-air mineral baths.

Tour of the Dragon is an extremely challenging mountain bike race that takes participants through central and western Bhutan. The race was initiated by His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel U. Wangchuck, President of the Bhutan Olympic Committee and an all around sportsman and keen biking enthusiast.

Considered one of the most challenging one-day events in the world, the race covers 268 kilometers of absolutely stunning Himalayan landscapes as it takes cyclists from central to western Bhutan. Bikers will traverse indomitable mountains, travel through pristine, virgin forests, over babbling streams and raging rivers of crystal clear water and across four high mountain passes.

Please click here for more information and to register.

The annual Wangduephodrang Tshechu was introduced by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal after the completion of the dzong. The three-day annual Tshechu is attended by people from Punakha and Thimphu and provides the people with an occasion for merrymaking and revelry. The Tshechu is known for the Raksha Mangcham or the Dance of the Ox. It concludes with the unfurling of the Guru Tshengye Thongdrol where people throng to receive blessings.

Please note that Wangduephodrang Dzongkhag Dzong was burnt to the ground in 2012.  During current renovations, the Tshechu is being held at the nearby Tencholing Army ground in Wangduephodrang.

Situated atop a hill at an altitude of 2800m, Gangtey Monastery, also known as Gangtey Sanga Choeling Goemba, offers a stunning view of Phobjikha valley. This venerable monastery was founded in 1613 by Peling Gyalsé Rinpoche or Gangteng Trulku, Rigdzin Pema Tinley (1564–1642). The first Gangtey Trulku was the grandson of the great Bhutanese “treasure revealer” Tertoen Pema Lingpa (1450–1521). The earliest historical background relevant to this monastery is traced to establishment of the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism, by Guru Rinpoche, who was instrumental in making Bhutan a Buddhist nation.

Both the Gangtey tsechu and the Black-necked Crane Festival are held here.

Tamzhing Lhakhang is remarkable for its direct connection to the Bhutanese tertön or treasure reveler and saint, Pema Lingpa (1450-1521) and his incarnations.The monastery is headed by the Venerable Lhalung Sungtrul Rinpoche who is considered to be the 11th direct reincarnation of Terton Pema Lingpa. The monastery has very ancient religious paintings of 1,000 Buddhas and 21 Taras (female form of Buddhistava). The temple was restored at the end of the 19th century.

The Tamzhing Phala Choepa festival is held at the Tamzhing monastery in Bumthang. The Tamzhing monastery follows the Peling tradition established by Terton Pema Lingpa.

One of the biggest festivals in the country is the Thimphu Tshechu. This festival is held in the capital city for three days beginning on 10th day of the 8th month of lunar calendar. Thimphu Tshechu is witnessed by thousands of people many of which travel from neighboring Dzongkhags (districts) to attend the festivities. The actual Tshechu is preceded by days and nights of prayer and rituals to invoke the gods. Read more about Tshechu here

Located beyond Kuje Lhakhang, Thangbi Lhakhang is an easy 2 hour walk through the beautiful upper Chhoekhor Valley from where the motorable road ends. It was founded in 1470 by the 4th Shamar Rinpoche (the red hat Karmapa), Chokki Drakpa, an important lama of the Karma Kagyudpa sect. Pemalingpa later took over the monastery under the Nyingmapa sect. The iron curtain at the entrance is said to have been cast by the saint himself.

Thangbi Mani festival is one of the most popular festivals held in Chhoekhor Gewog in Bumthang. The festival is organized by the people of three villages in Bumthang, Thangbi, Goling and Kharsath. The festival is an ancient tradition and dates back to the 13th century. The highlight of the festival is the fire blessing (Mewang) ceremony, performed in an open ground. The lay monks perform purification rituals while people jump over flames to purify themselves. Several mask dances are also performed. It is believed that the festival would bring peace and prosperity and ensure better harvest for the entire community.

Jomolhari Mountain Festival is an exquisitely themed two-day event celebrated at the base of Mt. Jomolhari, by communities located along one of the most scenic trekking routes in Bhutan. The festival celebrates the culture of the communities living together with the natural wonders that surround them: one in particular, the elusive, yet elegant, snow leopard! This endangered cat thrives in the region; several camera trap photos and definite signs have established the region as one of the best snow leopard habitats in Bhutan.

The communities of Soe Yaksa and Soe Yutoed, located along the Jomolhari trek, in collaboration with Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) and the Nature Recreation and Ecotourism Division (NRED) – with support from the Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC) and Bhutan Foundation – bring together this festival as a community based initiative towards the conservation of snow leopard; to create awareness on the importance of conservation; engage and build on the perception and attitude to create harmony between this endangered cat and the people; provide a platform to bring in opportunities for sustainable livelihood, and promote their culture.

The festival includes snow leopard themed folk songs and dances performed by the local people, JDNP staff and the school children, traditional sports such as Khuru (darts), shot put, horse and yak riding, sampling of local delicacies and boutique handicrafts, and various picturesque guided hikes in and around Jomolhari. It also showcases various stalls set up by both local

The Jakar Tshechu Festival is held at the Jakar Dzong, a majestic fortress located over a hilltop overlooking the beautiful Chamkar town in Bumthang. Like other tshechu festivals, several mask dances, and traditional songs and dances are performed and the jesters, called atsaras, keep the crowd thoroughly entertained.

Dechenphu Tshechu is dedicated to Gay Ngyen Jakpa Melen, the guardian deity of Thimphu. Some of the sacred dances performed during the festival include the Zhananga Cham, Genyen Kunchaam, Shazam Cham, and Nga Cham. Many traditional and classical dances are also performed.

Jambay Lhakhang is one of the oldest temples in the kingdom. It was founded by, Songtsen Gampo, a Tibetan King in the 7th century AD. The king was destined to build 108 temples known as Thadhul- Yangdhul (temples on and across the border) in a day to subdue the demoness that was residing in the Himalayas. The temple is one of the two of the 108 built in Bhutan (the second is Kichu Lhakhang in Paro also built on the same day).

Legend has it that Guru Rimpoche visited the site several times and deemed it exceptionally sacred. Chakhar Gyab, the King of the Iron Castle of Bumthang renovated the temple in the 8th century AD. The first king of Bhutan, Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck constructed the Dus Kyi Khorlo (Kala Chakra- Wheel of Time) inside the temple, to commemorate his victory over his rivals Phuntsho Dorji of Punakha and Alu Dorji of Thimphu after the battle of Changlimithang in 1885.

One of the most spectacular festivals in the country, called Jambay Lhakhang Drup is hosted here. The festival lasts for five days. The highlight of the festival is the fire ritual that is held in the evening where crowds gather to witness the ritualistic naked dance. The main relics include the future Buddha, Jowo Jampa (Maitreya) from whose name the present name of the temple is derived.

The annual festival is held at the Prakar Lhakhang in Chummi gewog in Bumthang. Several kinds of mask dances are performed during the festival. The festival is celebrated to honor Lama Thukse Dawa, one of the sons of the 15th century Buddhist master, Tertön Pema Lingpa.

Nestled in the inner Himalayas at about 3000 m above sea level, Phobjikha is a wide alpine wetland valley that is considered the largest and the most significant wetland in the country. It is often cited for the harmonious co‐existence of its inhabitants with nature and the valley also holds great cultural significance. The valley is the most significant wintering ground of the rare and endangered Black‐necked cranes in Bhutan and has been protected since time immemorial by the local people’s traditional respect for all living beings. Every year, over 300 of the estimated 500 cranes that migrate to Bhutan spend their winter months in this valley. On arrival in the Phobjikha Valley in the last week of October, the black-necked cranes circle the Gangtey Monastery three times and also repeat the process while returning to Tibet. The highly revered Gangtey Monastery that overlooks the wetlands surrounded by subsistence farms and natural forest areas makes Phobjikha a stunningly beautiful and sacred valley. Today, this glacial valley is an attraction not just to tourists but also pilgrims.

Besides being the home to the cranes, Phobjikha is also the livelihood base for about 5000 subsistence farmers who have aspirations for economic development. Since the early 1990s, the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) initiated an integrated conservation and development program with the sole objective of establishing a strong linkage between environment conservation and economic welfare of the local people. This approach was instituted because the RSPN felt that an unguided pursuit for economic development by the local community could not only severely undermine the ecological significance of the area but may also adversely affect the local livelihoods.

The Annual Black-necked Crane festival is an integral part of the Ecotourism (now Community based-sustainable tourism) initiative to promote local economic welfare through nature based tourism programs. The festival is celebrated in the courtyard of Gangtey Gonpa, in Phobjikha valley. The festival is an occasion for the locals to rejoice and celebrate the arrival of this endangered and majestic bird, which becomes an inseparable part their daily lives during the winter months. It is organized to generate awareness and understanding on the importance of conserving the endangered cranes; to strengthen the linkages between conservation, economic welfare and sustainable livelihoods of the community; provide an avenue for the local community to renew their commitment to conservation of the black-necked cranes, and to showcase their cultural heritage and skills.

The festival includes cultural programs such as folk songs and dances (some with black-necked crane themes) and mask dances performed by the local people, crane dances and environmental conservation-themed dramas and songs by the school children.

The most exciting local event in Mongar is the annual three-day Tshechu that is held every November in Mongar Dzong. It is witnessed by people from as far as Trashigang and Lhuentse with displays similar to other Tshechus.

Since the construction of Pema Gatshel Dzong in the early 1980s, they have been celebrating the annual Tshechu over a three-day period. Many Mask Dances or Cham which are believed to confer blessings upon the spectators and teach them the ways of the Buddhist dharma are performed during the festival. People often travel great distances to be a part of the Tsehchu. The entire community rejoices together, dressed in their finest clothing whilst enjoying the company of friends and family.

Every village in the district has its own distinctive annual festival but the highlight is the three day Tshechu that is held in Trashigang Dzong during the 7th to 11th days of the tenth month of the Bhutanese calendar (December). The Tshechu is attended by the Brokpas, a semi-nomadic people that reside in the valleys of Merak and Sakteng, the Khengpa community and people from as far as Samdrup Jongkhar, Pema Gatshel and Trashiyangtse.

Preparations for the Tshechu begin 2 days prior to the actual festival. On the 7th day of the month the monks perform ceremonial ablutions or thrue. On the 8th they have rehearsals in preparation for the Tshechu. Then on the 9th of the month the Tshechu begins proper. On the 10th day the Thongdrol of Neten Chudrug (Sixteen Arhats) is unfurled amidst a flurry of mask dances.

The Singye Cham (Lion dance) is held at the Jambay Lhakhang in Bumthang. The Jambay Lhakhang Singye Cham is performed once a year.

Nalakhar Tshechu is held in Ngaa Lhakhang in the remote rural village of Nalakhar village, Bumthang. The three-day festival is one of the popular festivals in the Choekhor valley and attracts people from all over Bumthang, dressed in their finest clothes. This festival is celebrated to bring happiness and prosperity to the village and the country as a whole. It is also a symbolic prayer for good harvest and for the well being of everyone.

Dochula pass at 3100m/10,170ft is located on the way to Punakha from Thimphu. The pass is a popular location among tourists as it offers a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of Himalayan mountain range. The view is especially scenic on clear, winter days with snowcapped mountains forming a majestic backdrop to the tranquility of the 108 chortens, known as Druk Wangyal Chortens, gracing the mountain pass. The construction of these 108 chortens were commissioned by the eldest Queen Mother, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck to honor His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

The pass is also popular spiritual destination for both locals and tourists because an important temple is located on the crest of Dochula pass.

The Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival was established in 2011 in commemoration of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and the Armed Forces’ victory over Indian insurgent forces residing in southern Bhutan in 2003. Druk Wangyel Festival is an annual festival held on December 13th at the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang Festival Ground in Dochula. Set amidst this breathtaking backdrop, the Dochula Druk Wangyal Tsehchu is an experience unlike any other and truly exemplifies Bhutanese cultural traditions.
The Druk Wangyal Lhakhang was built over a period of four years (2004-2008) under the vision and patronage of Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo. The Lhakhang honors the courageous service of the Fourth King, who personally led the troops against the insurgents, as well as the regular Armed Forces of the country.

Of the many festivals held in various parts of Trongsa, the grandest is the three day annual Tshechu. This festival bring together people from all walks of life and falls sometime in the month of December. In addition to traditional mask dances, visitors can witness the unfurling of the sacred Thongdrol and receive blessings from high-ranking monks. People also receive blessings from the sacred Nangtens that is opened during the last day of the Tshechu.

The Tshechu in Lhuntse is normally celebrated in the month of November and draws large numbers of people together for the religious celebrations. During the Tshechus attendees can cleanse their sins by watching masked dances and can also receive blessings from sacred relics that are publicly displayed.

One of the most interesting and visually appealing aspects of these Tshechus is the colourful attire of Kushithara that Lhuentse is famous for. You will come across various intricate and beautiful patterns of Kira and rich ornaments on display.

Nabji Lhakhang Drup is a festival performed in Nabji village of Trongsa. Nabji is accessed by trekking from Reotala, which is on the road between Trongsa and Shemgang. The festival is held in honour of Guru Padmasambhava considered the second Buddha who reinforced Buddhism in Bhutan. Among other the Ter cham dances of Pema Lingpa are performed during the festival. The highlights of the festival are a fire ceremony and naked dance.

The Takin Festival is your once in a lifetime opportunity to get an up close look at Bhutan’s national animal, the Takin (Budorcas taxicolor) in their native summer grazing grounds. Despite being a rare and endangered species around the world, there are still thriving populations of this majestic animal in Bhutan.

This annual gathering of Bhutan’s nomadic highlanders in Bumthang brings together the herders of the northeastern and northwestern Himalayan frontiers in an unforgettable celebration of their unique culture and traditions. You’ll gain an intimate glimpse into the proud communities that have survived virtually unchanged to this day and form a rich part of Bhutan’s ethnic and cultural diversity. The festival will give you the opportunity to witness the grand pageantry of the Chipdrel, a ceremonial procession usually reserved for royalty.

Dress like a Bhutanese highlander and try on an entire costume spun from yak hair, including the Brokpa black hat with five long fringes down the front or the conical bamboo Layap headgear. Ladies can wear the wide, beautiful hand-woven aprons decorated with colorful motifs of flowers and animals traditionally worn by women. They can even have their hair plaited and decorated with colorful ribbons in the traditional style of the region. Adventurous visitors will definitely want to try some yak riding.