Festivals in Bhutan are many, spread across time and space.  The year begins with what Bhutanese call ‘losar’ or New Year. It does not coincide with 1st January, though. Then there is regional based celebration of New Year.

For people of Paro and Haa, their new year begins on the first day of the 11th Bhutanese month (roughly around January); later in the same month, it’s the new year of the people of Punakha, Wandue and Gasa. They call it ‘nyilo’ or ‘return of the sun’. The eastern Bhutanese people celebrate their new year on the 1st day of the 12th Bhutanese month (roughly around February).

However, by far, the most popular kind of festivals in Bhutan is the Tsechu. These are festivals extolling the great deeds of the Buddhist Saint, Padmasambhava, popularly known as “Guru Rinpoche”. All of Guru Rinpoche’s great deeds are believed to have taken place on the 10th day of the month, which is the meaning of the word tsechu, and all tsechus do in fact take place/begin on 10th day. All the districts, dzongs and a large number of villages in the east, hold annual tsechus, which attract people from far and wide.

Some tsechus end with display of thangkha, called a “thongdroel”. The thongdroel is unveiled at dawn to bring enlightenment to all who view it. Festival goers believe that by simply viewing this thongdroel, they can be delivered from the cycle of birth and rebirth, which is the ultimate aim of Buddhism.

One of the most memorable experiences of watching a tsechu can be the sight of Atsaras. Atsaras are clowns whose expressive masks and postures are an indispensable element in any religious festival. They confront the monks, toss out salacious jokes, and distract the crowd with their antics whenever the religious dances begin to grow tedious. Believed to represent Acharyas, religious masters of India, they are the only people permitted to mock religion in a society where sacred matters are treated with the highest respect

Some religious festivals include only a few dances and consist mostly of readings from a particular text. On these occasions, villagers assemble in a temple and participate in the prayers while at the same time drinking strong alcoholic beverages. Each village takes pride in its annual religious festival, and any villagers who have gone to live in the city are usually expected to come back home for it. Such villagers will themselves sponsor a large part of the cost of mounting the festival.

Then there are also village level festivals. For instance there is a 1 day festival called ‘Nangka Daw’ which is held at the village temple of Nangka, Paro. Here mask dances, some dedicated to the great saint Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, are exclusively performed by the residents of the village.

Please see Festival dates below for 2014 in order to help plan your holiday. The dates for 2015 cannot be ascertained at this juncture but it will be more or less around the same time this year, at the most deviating by a few days due to the difference in Roman and Bhutanese calendar.