The Cultural Events of Bhutan – Festival Tours

Map of Bhutan“Map of Bhutan” by Bhutan-360 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Seeing the best of a country once closed off from the world, Bhutan tours can introduce you to a culture of vibrant colour, deep spirituality, and flourishing tradition. Like any ancient nation, Bhutan has a host of sights and events to dazzle its visitors.

The Spring Festival at Paro

The Paro Festival (known as a Tsechu) is the principal Buddhist festival of Bhutan, taking place over a period five days each Spring. The event is set at the spectacular riverside monastery at Paro. Here, the local monks bring stories, myths and characters from Bhutan s past alive in a series of dances and shows. The cast of characters includes masked dancers and naughty clowns all dressed in colourful and elaborate costumes.

Local Man Keeps Bhutan's River Immaculate“Local Man Keeps Bhutan’s River Immaculate” by United Nations Photo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The highlight of the festival is the unfurling of a three story high Thangkha. You need to be up early to witness this unique sight though as the ceremony ends before dawn to prevent sunlight touching the giant image a portent of bad luck. To take part in this feast of theatre, colour and barley wine, choose a Bhutan tour that coincides with the festival in the spring; this event is the focal point for many itineraries.

Festivities in the Capital, Thimphu

Of the many tsechus in Bhutan, Thimphu, hosts probably the only one to rival the Paro festival in size. Thimphu Tsechu takes place later in the year, and is filled with colorful dancers spinning and leaping in flowing capes and skirts; often yellow or orange in color. Bhutan tours that pass through the capital during September or October will join the huge crowds of Bhutanese people that have traveled from remote villages for the festivities. They come to socialize, celebrate and witness the choreographed dance troupes, accompanied by trumpets, horns, cymbals and drums. It s quite a spectacle.

Bhutan - Thimphu“Bhutan – Thimphu” by Göran Höglund (Kartläsarn) is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Of the many tsechu festivals, the capital city of Bhutan, Thimphu, hosts probably the only one to rival the Paro festival in size. Thimphu Tsechu takes place later in the year, and is filled with colorful dance formations, with the participants spinning and leaping in flowing capes and skirts, often yellow or orange in color. Bhutan tours that pass through the capital during September or October will join the huge crowds of Bhutanese people that have traveled from remote villages for the festivities. They come to witness large figurines and floats, the choreographed dance troupes, and the accompanying trumpets, horns, cymbals and drums. It’s quite a spectacle.

Archery Tournaments

Archery is a big part of life in Bhutan. As the national sport, archery is played across the towns and villages of the country. Many villages have their own target ranges, and there are frequent inter village competitions matters of pride and regional bragging rights. If you pass through one of these events on a Bhutan tour, you will see something akin to how we imagine a Robin Hood tournament: rows of entrants in traditional costume with tall banners and standards, all shooting to the applause of a watching crowd.

The archers in Bhutan use a mix of traditional bows and modern sporting equipment with advanced weighting and synthetic strings; but the majority of bowmen will wield wooden or bamboo bows, often carved and decorated. An interesting thing to consider is that because Bhutan is a Buddhist nation it is frowned upon to hurt any form of life. As a consequence no one hunts any longer with a bow and arrow, and the feathers used to fletch the arrows have to be found rather than hunted for.

If you encounter an archery event on a Bhutan tour, you will be in for a treat of ceremony and showmanship. The participants are not shy and gamesmanship is a big part of in team events; apparently, planned distractions and taunts are integral to the competition. It has even been known for rivals to interfere or walk in front of the target in order to distract the bowman taking a shot.

The annual national archery tournament in Bhutan coincides with the Buddhist New Year called Losar, which is calculated with the Tibetan Calendar and doesn’t match with our Western calendar. The date of Losar changes each year, and there are even regional variations; it is expected to fall on February 14 in 2010, but there are a number of smaller archery tournaments set throughout the year.

09 Losar 2140 - Offering Katag to HH“09 Losar 2140 – Offering Katag to HH” by Palyul is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

If any of these cultural events grab your imagination, there are festival focused Bhutan itineraries and cultural Bhutan tours that visit the country during February and March, as well as later in the year.

Author Resource:-> Jude Limburn Turner is the Marketing Manager for Mountain Kingdoms, an adventure tour company.

By: Jude Limburn