The remarkable Punakha was once the old capital of Bhutan where the historic events, coronation of the first king and the first national assembly session were accounted to have held here. Still today, Punakha serves as the winter resident of central monastic body and the chief Abbot. Punakha has been a critical important sincethe time of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 17th century until date.
The historical Punakha Drubchen or Festival is one among the popular festival held in the country. It not only gives you a chance to witness the mask dance and other religious folk dance and songs, but more importantly, this unique festival plays the dramatic recreational scene from the 17th century battle with Tibetan army. During the festival the ‘pazap’ or traditional military armies dressed in traditional military gear plays the important role as they override in proving their authority and power. This festival provides more insights into the ancient historical culture traditions and the biographical scene of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and his activities in bringing the people together as one unified nation. The festival is witnessed by thousands of people both from the region and from the neighboring districts like Wangdue, Thimphu and Paro. It is also one of the noted events for the international visitors. The Drubchen reflect the richness of the Bhutanese cultural heritage and plays an important role in preserving its rich culture and traditional values.
The unique Punakha Tshechu which falls after Punakha Drubchen was introduced very recently as 2005 by 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and the then HomeMinister His excellency Lyonpo Jigme Y Thinley. The tshechu was introduced in response to the requests made by Punakha District Administration and local people to host better preserve Buddhist teachings and keep alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Rinpoche. Today it is one of the most popular festival in the country. The tshechu is held right after the popular recreational drubchen. Te festival is witnessed by thousands of people from all around the country and most importantly the final and last day is the most highlights of the festival, where the giant unfurling of thongdrol (a large tapestry) of Guru Rinpoche is hung on the wall of Utse where thousands of people come to pay respect and receive blessing. It is believed that the mere sight of the thongdrol liberates an outlooker and cleanses him or her from their sins. The festival plays an important role in preserving the country’s rich culture and traditions. It reflects the richness of the Bhutanese cultural heritage and is very special in the eyes and hearts of both Bhutanese and tourists who wish toexplore the grand Punakha Tshechu. The tshechu also provides devotees with an opportunity for prayer and pilgrimage.
Thimphu Drubchen, held inside Trashichhoe Dzong in the capital Thimphu, is one of the most popular three-day festivals. The popular Thimphu Drubchen precedes the grand three-day Thimphu Tshechu festival. During the Thimphu drubchen people from all around Thimphu comes to witness the festival. The Drubchen highlights the sacred dances dedicated to the protecting deity of Bhutanm Pelden Lhamo.
Among numerous festivals celebrated in the country, the Thimphu Tshechu (Festival) stands as the grand festival giving you the clear insights of the traditional colorful festival of Bhutan. This colorful festival is held in Tashichhoe Dzong (Tendrelthang) for three days and it was witnessed by thousands of people both local and tourist alike. During the festival both religious monks and layman join together to perform mask dances and other religious activities to commemorate the life of 8th century saint Guru Rinpochhe and other religious masters of the past who played the key role in creating the religious history of Bhutan. During this grand event the entire community both young and old religious minded people come together to witness the three day religious mask dance and to receive blessings and more over it’s time for the local people to socialize. Beside this mask dance other religious folk song and dances were also performed. This grand Thimphu festival is seen by the local people of Thimphu and other neighboring district people as a means of receiving blessing and pray for their health and happiness.
The Paro Tshechu is one of the biggest and most crowded festival in the country. The duration of Paro festival last for five days, with two days held in Paro Dzong and the last three days is celebrated in the open courtyard ground of Paro. It has been held annually since the 17th century when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the founder of the state of Bhutan, and Penpo Rigzin Nyingpo initiated the festival together with the consecration of Paro Dzong in 1644. During this five days festival, several sacred mask dances were displayed to the people along with numerous cultural dances and songs. Thousands of people witness this festival from Paro, Thimphu and Haa and even from faraway neighboring districts. Bhutanese from all walks of life joins the resident of Paro in the best finery to attend the five-day festival of Paro. During the last day, the giant Thongdrol (gigantic scroll painting) was displayed for the people to receive blessings.
Wangduephodrang in western Bhutan is located in the southern part of Punakha. The region of Wangdue is known for its bamboo work, slates and stone carving. It is an important gateway to the far-flung province of central and eastern Bhutan. The magnificently stretched fortress atop the hillside above the confluence of Dang Chhu River and Punatsang Chhu River built in 1639 is the center of the government and the religious center of Wangdue district. Wangdue is the region known for ‘Lozay’ or the ornamental speeches. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel initially introduced the three-day annual festival held in the autumn month after the completion of the dzong in 1639. This festival is known for Raksha Marcham or the dance of the ox. There are many other mask dances and religious folk dances were performed both by local monks and nonprofessional from the region. This popular festival of Wangdue is witnessed by people from all over the region and attended by people from neighboring districts of Punakha, Thimphu and Paro. In the final day, the festival is concluded with the unfurling Thongdrel of Guru Tshengye where people come to receive blessing and pray for the wellbeing of their life.
The annual Haa Tshechu is one of the biggest festivals in Haa districts and was newly introduced in the year 1990s. The festival last for three days and during these three days numerous unique mask dances, cultural traditional dances and other religious activities were performed by both lay monk and community people. The main highlight of the festival is on the third and final day where the illustrious thongdrol (large tapestry) of Guru Rinpoche is unfurled for the people to receive blessings. Thousands of people come to witness this annual festival of Haa and people from neighboring districts like Paro and Thimphu comes to attend the festival.
The annually held Gasa Tshechu is one of the most important and biggest festival held in Gasa Dzong in Gasa. The region is one of the small districts in the country with few habitants. It is the region of the highlanders’ communities. During this annual festival the people of Gasa, along with the nomadic people of Laya and Lunana come together to celebrate this grand event. The festival displays numerous mask dances, highlanders’ cultural dance and local cultural folk dance. Visitors wishing to participate in this festival can also experience the medicinal Gasa Hot Spring (Tshachu).
The Talo Tshechu in Talo Goemba, is one of the well known Spring festival in Punakha, western Bhutan. The festival last for three-days and is well known for its mask dances and atsara (clown) dances performed by religious lay monks. The festival displays many sacred religious mask dances along with cultural folk dances performed by the local people. An equally popular attraction, which has a deep religious and historical significance is the Zhungdra(classic dance). During these three days of festival there will be a classic religious dance (three songs of Mani Sum) performed by the local people and are performed as the closing item on each day of the three days of the Tshechu. The three songs are; Samyi Sala (performed on the closing day of the first day), Drukpa Dungey (performed on the second day), and Thowachi Gangi Tselay (on the final day). These three dances are the pride of the Talo community.
The annual Black-necked Crane festival is held in Gangtay Goemba in glacier Phobjikha Valley under Wangdue Phodrang. The glacier Phobjikha Valley is one of the most visited tourist site in the country, which adds the natural charm with the visit of Black-necked Crain in the winter months. The region is the winter home of the Black-necked Cranes that migrates from the arid plains of Tibet. The annual Black-necked Crane festival is celebrated on the occasion for the locals to rejoice and celebrate the arrival of this endangered and majestic bird, which becomes an inseparable part of their daily lives during the winter months. The festival celebration is organized to generate awareness and understanding on the importance of conserving the endangered black-necked crane; 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 display their cultural heritage and skills. With the theme of black-necked crane, the festival portrays various colorful mask dances, cultural folk dances and songs.
The Druk Wangyel Tshechu, held in Dochu La, under Thimphu district, is the newly established festival in the country. It was formulated in 2011 in commemoration of the Fourth King His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuk and the Armed Forces’ victory over the Indian insurgent forces residing in the southern bordering districts of Bhutan in 2003. The festival takes place every December 13th at the Druk Wangyel Lhakhang in Dochu La. During the festival visitors will not only enjoy the mask dances performed by the lay monks and the exemplified cultural Bhutanese traditions, but also get to enjoy the majestic and panoramic view of the eastern Himalayan mountain range. Regarding the history of the temple, it was built in 2004 under the super vision and patronage of Her Majesty Queen Ashi Dorjy Wangmo, to honor the courageous service of the fourth king and the armed forces.
The annual Haa Summer festival is one of the notable festival in Haa. This grand festival brings together the local community and other people from neighboring districts like Paro and Thimphu to celebrate this unique festival. During the festival many unique mask dances, cultural dances, and songs were performed. More interestingly, the festival is a lively and uplifting celebration of traditional living-culture, nomadic lifestyle, unique Bhutanese cuisine, traditional sports and other religious activities. Visitors can also participate in playing the local sports, sampling the delicious home cooked cuisine and enjoy traditional local liquor (Ara).
The Gangtay Tshechu is held at Gangtay Goemba, Phobjikha Valley, under Wangdue Phodrang district. This festival is one of the grand religious events in the region, gathering thousands of people from all occupations. During the festival several secret mask dances were performed along with cultural dance and folk songs. The interesting part of the festival is on the final day where it concludes with Nguedup Langwa (receiving of spiritual wisdom/power) which is a special ritualistic blessing given to the audience participating in the festival.
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. You won’t want to miss this chance to admire their unique physique and natural agility. The festival is set in Gasa Dzongkhag within Jigme Dorji National Park, the second largest national preserve in the country. The park encompasses areas that are rich in temperate biodiversity and medicinal plants. This picturesque area offers spectacular views of awe-inspiring natural beauty where you find a treasured heritage that has nurtured environmental conservation for generations. At the festival you’ll have the opportunity to engage in some of the finest trekking available anywhere in the world, bathe in soothing mineral hot-spring baths, see and purchase exquisitely crafted local handicrafts including yak wool tents, dresses and carpets, bamboo and leather products and much more. Sample some of the delicious local cuisine as you sit around a traditional stone hearth used by the nomads for generations.