If you are planning a visit to Bhutan it is well worth considering coming during one of the tsechu (religious festivals) held annually at most dzongs and monasteries throughout the country. The largest teschus are in Paro and Thimphu and during these dates hotels will usually get booked up so it is best to plan your trip well in advance.
|Photo: mask dance at Paro Tsechu|
The colourful religious dances of the tsechu festivals commemorate Guru Rinpoche responsible for bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. Many of the dances were started by Shabdrung, a Tibetan Buddhist lama, who unified Bhutan in 1634. The dances are performed by monks as well as lay people and will bring blessings to the onlookers as well as instructing them about the Buddhist Dharma.
The Bhutanese people attend tsechus to gain merit and to reduce the chance of misfortune in their lives. At the same time tsechus are large social gatherings and in more remote areas it is a chance for people to get together as a community with everyone dressed in their finest clothing and jewellery. During most tsechus a fair is set up outside the dzong with gambling, fortune telling and shops.
|Photo: Cham dance at Paro Tsechu|
A tsechu typically lasts for three or four days. The dates of the tsechues will vary at different dzongs throughout Bhutan and also year to year however always take place around 10th day of the month in the Bhutanese calendar. The highlight of the festival is the sacred Cham Dances where the dancers are masked taking on the wrathful and compassionate deities, heroes and demons. During the festival there are also clowns (known as atsaras) who mimic the dancers and harass the onlookers for donations to the dzong.
On the last day of the festival a large religious painting (known as a thondrol) depicting Guru Rinpoche will be unfurled in front of onlookers. The thondrol will be only seen before dawn and by sunrise it is rolled up until next year’s tsechu. It is believed that everyone who views the thondrol will have all of their sins cleansed and washed away.
|Photo: thongdrol at Thimphu tsechu|
For your information I have listed the main Bhutan festival dates for 2014 below:
March 6th to 10th: Punakha Tsechu
April 11th to 15th: Paro Tsechu
September 28th to October 2nd: Thimphu Drubchen
October 1st to 3rd: Wangdue Tsechu
October 3rd to 5th: Thimphu Tsechu
October 3rd to 5th: Gasa Tsechu
November 28th to December 1st: Mongar Tsechu
November 29th to December 2nd: Trashigang Tsechu
December 30th to January 1st: Trongsa Tsechu
The Mountain Company organises several different tours of Bhutan where you will have opportunity to visit one of these tsechu festivals, please get in touch if you are interested in joining one of our groups.