The Ultimate Bhutan Fall Festival Guide

 

The first day of fall means festival season in Bhutan. The fall calendar is jam-packed with at least one festival a week. So if you haven’t booked a ticket to Bhutan, now is the time. 

Below are a few of our fall favorites.

Thimphu Tsechu, Thimphu

One of Bhutan’s biggest festivals is the Thimphu Tsechu. Three days of ritual dances, entertainment and general revelry awaits each visitor in Bhutan’s capital city. 

The festival falls on the 10th day of the 8th lunar month. Richly dressed crowds descend on Tashichho Dzong awaiting the start of the festival with atsaras, or jesters, performing antics that entrance any evil spirits lurking nearby. The following days brings about a different selection of age-old chham — from Dance of the Black Hats to the Dance of the Lords to the dramatic Dance of the Stags, where lay monks don fearsome wooden masks and dance barefoot with wild energy.

During the festival days, the main street of Norzim Lam becomes packed with vendors and game stalls (archery, kuru, etc). Music can be heard all day from concerts at the Clock Tower, and the entire downtown area fills with enthusiastically celebrating locals.

Jomolhari Mountain Festival, Mount Jomolhari

This unique community-run festival is held in honor of Bhutan’s most elusive resident — the beautiful snow leopard. Initiated in 2013, the two-day Jomolhari Mountain Festival takes place deep inside Jigme Dorji National Park at the foot of Bhutan’s third tallest peak, the stately Jomolhari (7,326m/24,035ft). The festival site can be reached by the popular Jomolhari Trek or the shorter Jomolhari Loop.

The festival focuses on conservation and education, with guided walks in the surrounding area as well as booths manned by various environmental NGOs working in this delicate ecosystem. Entertainment comes in the form of yak rides and traditional sports competitions, while the semi-nomadic local people provide food, drink and a selection of their homemade crafts for sale. 

Trashigang Tsechu, Trashigang

With their spider-like yak wool hats and red jackets, the semi-nomadic Brokpa stand out among the colorful crowds that fill Trashigang Dzong’s central dochey, or courtyard, for the annual tsechu. The festival draws hundreds of villagers from across the region to the dramatic ridge-top dzong.  

The buildup to the festivities starts on the 7th day of the tenth lunar month, when Trashigang’s monks perform their thrue, or ritual ablutions. Locals gather in the dochey on the 8th day to gossip and watch unmasked rehearsals for the following day’s chham. On the 9th day the festival kicks off, with atsaras (clowns) amusing the crowds around a program of folk and religious dances, every step of which is steeped in tradition.

The 10th and 11th days see the unfurling of two thangkas. The holiest of these — depicting Guru Rinpoche surrounded by all eight of his manifestations — is saved for the tsechu’s final day, when the festival reaches its climax as eight tantric masters perform the sacred Guru Tshengye Chham before a gilded image of the Guru himself.

The Black-Necked Crane Festival, Phobjikha

 
 

Every year on November 11, the Black Necked Crane Festival launches into a whirlwind of celebration. In the courtyard of Gangtey Goempa, on a ridge in the middle of Phobjikha Valley, the festival celebrates the arrival of the black necked cranes.

These huge, majestic birds spend their summers on the high-altitude plains of Tibet. During the winter months they migrate south to Bhutan. Phobjikha Valley and Bumdeling in Tashiyangtse (make link) are two of their most important roosting places. The cranes, considered to be heavenly creatures, dance in groups or pairs in their roosting areas.

At the festival, monks perform ancient, sacred masked dances. Schoolchildren from all around the valley dance as well, in order to welcome the cranes back to Phobjikha.

STORY BY SARAH CAHLAN

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATT DESANTIS, DYLAN HASKIN, AND VINCENT ROAZZI JR.

Learn more about Bhutan’s many festivals and how to book a trip to see one at mybhutan.com

 
StorySarah Cahlan