This annual Buddhist festival is held in the premises of the 17 th century Tashi Chhodzong. It is Bhutan’s biggest religious festival, held over three days, and comprises mainly of mask and folk dances. The mask dances memorialize significant Buddhist milestones and remind devotes of spiritual faith and devotion, while the folk songs and dances are mostly celebratory in nature. Usually observed in September or early October each year, Thimphu Tshechu is an opportunity for visitors to see the full splendor of Bhutanese culture, and interact with local people from all walks of life and ethnic background. The capital city comes to a virtual standstill during the festival.
The serene Paro valley transforms into a beehive of activity once every year in early April as its inhabitants leave their homes in droves to participate in the 5-day festival of religious rites, and mask and folk dances performed at the formidable medieval fortress, the Paro Dzong. It is an occasion for the local people to renew spiritual bonds with the valley’s deities, seek blessings, and socialize with family members and friends. The festival is also a showcase of the finest garments and ornaments that womenfolk in particular adorn themselves with as they watch dancers wearing terrifying masks swirl in tandem with music from religious trumpets, cymbals, horns and oboes. The highlight, whoever, is the unfurling of Thongdrol – an applique art depicting Buddhist deity on a gigantic canvass – from the fortress wall, a mere glance of which confers profound spiritual merits and cleanses sins. A visit to Bhutan coinciding with the Paro festival is considered to be among the best in tour itinerary.
The Great Circumambulation at Gomphu Kora
What is otherwise a barren patch of land on the banks of Drangmechu wakes up to an
upheaval-of-sorts, come March every year. People from all over eastern Bhutan gather
here to partake in a religious event that began some 1,300 years ago. Unlike other
festivals in Bhutan, here the devotees circumambulate (go around) an ancient temple all
night long for three nights while during day they watch mask or folk dances, or, visit
numerous sacred sites strewn along the river bank. Today, Gomphu Kora is also
notable for bringing young people together who seek and find love/romance in this
Gomphu Kora became famous after Guru Padmasambhva subdued a malevolent spirit in the 8 th century AD. It is believed that the large rock nearby the temple has embedded inside it the famous vase containing the nectar of immortality. For tourists, apart from the festivity, the place provides a colorful insight about eastern Bhutanese culture and traditions.
Jambay Lhakhang Drup
This event in November every year is unlike many other Bhutanese religious festivals.
Here, at a designated time around midnight, stark naked men emerge out of nowhere
and perform a dance routine which appears as intriguing as it is sacred and an integral
Buddhist heritage. The dancers are masked and apart from a sparse silk brocade as
upper garment, they wear nothing. The religious symbolism is however profound: the
dancers are supposed to consecrate the ground and keep evil spirits antagonistic to the
Dharma at bay.
This dance tradition is nearly 1,000 years old. It is solely performed at Jambay Lhakhang which was built in 640 AD, making it one of the oldest temples in Bhutan. There is also a fire and phallus blessing during this festival but no photography, especially of the naked dancers, is allowed lest the camera is seized and the photographer chastised. The festival creates an opportunity for visitors to explore the beautiful Bumthang valley renowned as Bhutan’s spiritual heartland.