20 Mar 2023

Going Festive in March-April in Bhutan


Kick off the new year with some thrilling experiences of Bhutan in festive mode. Be here in March and April to do a deep dive into its rich culture as showcased by some of the iconic festivals witnessed by hundreds of visitors from home and abroad. Head to Paro and Punkaha region for the wonderment of their annual tshechus. It’s a time when visiting the monasteries and dzongs becomes even more rewarding for their cultural moorings.

Paro Festival

From 2-6 April the annual celebrations at the Paro Festival open up the casements to a vivid connection with the region’s past. The gorgeous Paro valley is a magnet for the annual festivities of the Paro Tshechu, which is held in the forecourt of the historic Rinpung Dzong. Celebrated on the 10th day of a month of the lunar calendar corresponding to the birthday of Guru Padmasambhava also revered as Guru Rimpoche, the festival is one of the most important religious and cultural events in the country.

The brisk spring breezes and the air of rejuvenation after a bleak winter add to the uplifting vibe to the experience of the entire repertoire of activities which mark the pomp and pageantry of the event. It is not unknown that even the King of Bhutan could make an appearance, adding to the general buzz of the celebrations. Dressed in the vibrant costumes and extravagant headgear that add to the exotic flavour of the show, monks and laymen enact episodes culled from the annals of Bhutan’s vibrant history and rich legacy of myths and legends.

The masked dances are the showstoppers with the deities both good and evil represented by lavishly designed benign and fearsome masks.  Steeped in symbolism, these dances are the highlight of the event. Comic relief is provided by of eccentric clowns, called atsaras, who are accomplished dancers in their own right and do, in a way on a more serious level, play the role of the narrator of the dance sequences. On the first day, all mask dances are held inside the courtyard of Rinpung Dzong. On the following days of the 5-day festival events are held in the courtyard outside the dzong.

Citizens and visitors alike are wonderstruck by the ceremonial public unveiling of the humongous, over 350-year-old thangkha (Guru Throngdel), in the early hours of the fifth day of the festival—which coincides with the full moon of the second lunar month. The precious tapestry is rolled up again sequestered once more in the monastery confines, before any damage to it is done by the rays of the sun. The beautifully embroidered scroll features Guru Padmasambhava and his eight avatars, his consorts and his spiritual gurus.  Blessings are said to be acquired by those who come to witnesses the dances and the unveiled thangka. The festival finds its roots in the original ceremony of consecration held for the Paro Rinpung Dzong back in the 17th century.

Punkaha Drubchen and Tschechu

Celebrated over 5 days, the Punkaha Festival devotes two of these days to Drubchen (the practice of deep meditation to rid the world of evil); the following three days focus on the Tshechu itself. Both festivals are celebrated at the historic Punakha Dzong, the second largest and the second oldest dzong in Bhutan; it was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1637-38.

What is unique about the Punkaha festivities is that the 2-day period of the Drubchen puts the spotlight on a historical event– the invasion of Tibet of Bhutan to steal a precious relic – the Ranjung Kharsapani. To misguide the invaders Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal pretended to throw this relic into the river, causing the Tibetan army to leave in frustration. Having led the Bhutanese a victory over the Tibetan invaders he introduced the Punkha Drubchen as a mark of triumph over the enemy.  The festival offers a dramatic replay of this episode in Bhutanese history of the throwing of the relic in the river to fool the Tibetan army. It is symbolically revived by an act in which the procession of monks heading out for the river throw a handful of oranges into the flow of water.   Local militiamen accoutred in traditional battle dress play out other scenes from the battle with the Tibetan army.

Though the Drubchen ceremonial activities are more private and closed to tourists, the 3-day Tsechu, held between 1st-3rd March 2023, offers a fulsome exploration of Bhutanese cultural richness for visitors from around the world. In fact, the Punakha Tshechu was introduced by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and the then Home Minister His Excellency Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinel in 2005, to better preserve Buddhist teachings and keep alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Rinpoche. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal is important for having unified Bhutan as a nation state and giving its people the distinct cultural identity that distinguished Bhutan from the rest of the world. Visitors get to imbibe deeply of the cultural performances and mask dances held at the festivals.

Rhododendron Festival

Held from 14th-16th April in the Royal Botanical Park, Lam Pelri, in Punakha District the Rhododendron Festival of Bhutan is a visual treat for visitors and nature buffs. The Botanical Park is important for its rich biodiversity and the fact that it serves as a s biological corridor between Jigme Dorji National Park and the Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park. The Park, which falls in the Dochula Conservation Area, has been delineated for protection and development into a site for eco-tourism and nature education. At least 40 out of 46 Rhodo species of Bhutan grow here.

Visitors can take back enduing memories culled from the three leading themes of the event, which put the spotlight on the ecology, culture and cuisine of Bhutan. Quite obviously the ecological factor highlights the magical delights of the rhododendron which is in full bloom all over Bhutan during this season. The event will also offer insights into the beautiful connect between Bhutanese culture and Nature. A series of colourful dance performances add their own layers of cultural splendour to the festival.

In case you can’t make it in March and April, Bhutan has plenty of festivals to indulge the culture buff in you all year round. Planning a holiday around Bhutan’s festivals adds that very special ingredient to spur you on to return to this Shangri La on Earth again and again…

Explore More Inspirations From Bhutan

We use cookies to improve your website experience. By navigating our site, you agree to allow us to use cookies, in accordance with our Cookie Policy

close button