Festival Tour Bhutan

Festival TourAnywhere in Bhutan, the most celebrated festival would most definitely be the local tshechu. The word, tshechu, is derived from the Dzongkha terms for date (tshe) and the number 10 (chutham). Appropriately, a tshechu is conducted on and around the auspicious tenth day (on which Guru Rinpoche was born) of a selected month (according to the lunar calendar), once every year.

Like festivals the world over, a tshechu is a social affair. People gather at the local dzong or lhakhang in their best attires with packed lunches, and make merry. It is important to remember that a tshechu is essentially a religious affair. That is why the high-points of such festivals are the masked dances performed by both monks and lay men according to steps meticulously choreographed by Buddhist masters in the distant past. Following narrative structures, these dances are loaded with religious symbolism that the non-Bhutanese will find hard to comprehend without a guide’s explanation.

The swirl of colours as well as the numbing symphony of traditional gongs,cymbals,drums and horns, however, make tshechus especially memorable aural and visual experiences. For the Bhutanese though, no tshechu is complete without atsaras (clowns). Performing seemingly lewd but symbolically philosophical antics, these clowns pass on divine messages and blessings at the same time ensuring that smiles and laughter do not run short. The atsaras are not the clowns, as they are perceived to be, at the tshechu festival; they were supposed to be the acharyas, the learned ones, who pass on wisdom to the viewers through their jokes, often verging on vulgarity. Modern atsaras also perform short skits to disseminate health and social awareness messages.

It is believed that everyone must attend a Tshechu and witness the mask dances at least once to in order to receive blessings and wash away their sins. Every mask dance performed during a tshechu has a special meaning or a story behind it and many are based on stories and incidents from as long ago as the 8th century, during the life of Guru Padmasambhava. In monasteries the mask dances are performed by monks and in remote villages they are performed jointly by monks and village men.

The best known tshechus are those of Paro and Punakha, which are held in spring, and that of Thimphu, which is held in fall. As these are the most popular traveling seasons, visitors may see other camera-toting tourists, some so eager that they encroach upon the performers’ space. While the generally polite, Bhutanese may not admonish such trespassing. But respectful behavior more appropriate to religious occasions will go better appreciated.

We have presented here only six major festivals, particularly tshechus, and travel plans coinciding with each of them. There are other festivals, which are listed hereunder for the information of the clients. If interested, separate tour programmes based around these festivals can be designed. The other festivals are:

Testimonials Sometimes a packaged holiday comes so much with a predefined set of takeaways, but The Destination Bhutan offered so much freedom of choice that it did not feel like a packaged holiday at all.

KH Zaman
Buffalo, New York

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