The concept of Gross National Happiness, or GNH, was written into Bhutan’s constitution as an indicator of national prosperity in 2008. Challenging the more familiar measure of GDP as a way to quantify the success of the country, Bhutan proudly puts the happiness of its citizens first. Living in pursuit of national happiness has confirmed its almost mythical status as a real-life Shangri-La.
A guide to Bhutan's top festivals
Bhutan’s festival calendar is brimming with countless vibrant festivals. Integral to Bhutanese culture, festivals provide an opportunity for locals and visitors alike to come together, dance, socialise and receive blessings. Up and down the country, annual tshechus are held in the courtyards of monasteries, temples and dzongs, a colourful celebration of community spirit, played out to the tune of traditional dance and theatrical performance.
Held up and down the country on the tenth day of a month in the Tibetan lunar calendar, tshechus are religious celebrations which honour the dissemination of Buddhism in Bhutan. Depending on the district, tshechus take place throughout the year, increasing your chances of witnessing one of these incredible cultural events. Here, our specialists shortlist five of their favourite Bhutanese festivals.
Black Necked Crane Festival
Where? Gangtey Monastery
What? Coinciding with national celebrations which honour the birthday of His Majesty the King of Bhutan, the nine day Black-Necked Crane Festival is held every November to herald the arrival of the eponymous rare bird to the Phobjikha Valley. First held to help raise awareness of the black-necked crane, a bird native to remote parts of India and Bhutan, the festival now serves to reinforce the important links between the local people and their local habitat. Considered one of the important pillars of Gross National Happiness, conservation is at the heart of what has become one of Bhutan's most renowned festivals.
Jambay Lhakhang Drup
Where? Jambay Lhakhang temple, Bumthang
What? The Jambay Lhakhang Drup is one of the most flamboyant and spectacular festivals on the Bhutanese calendar. This five-day long festival is held in one of the most ancient temples in the country, said to have been built in the 7th century, and the focus of the festivities are twofold; to honour Guru Rinpoche, the master who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, and commemorate the building in which it is held.
Where? Paro Dzong, Paro
What? The Paro Tshechu is undoubtedly the most popular springtime festival in Bhutan. Both monks and laymen dress in superbly ornate and vibrant costumes and festival goers act out the legends and history of Buddhism in Bhutan. The festival culminates in the unveiling of a four storey high, 350-year-old thangka, or religious scroll, before dawn on the final day of the festival.
Punakha Tshechu and Drubchen
Where? Punakha Dzong, Punakha
What? Overall, the Punakha Tshechu and Drubchen takes place over the course of five days, with the first two days devoted to Drubchen, the practice of meditation, and the following three to the annual tshechu. The drubchen is an unusual affair, marked by a procession of monks who throw oranges into the river, symbolising the Tibetan invasion of Bhutan. The ritual is thought to be incredibly effective at ridding the world of evils and by engaging in a prolonged period of meditation, festival goers are said to round up the festivities with a clearer state of mind.
Where? Tashichho Dzong, Thimpu
What? Held in Bhutan’s capital, the Thimpu Tshechu is one of the country’s most famous and exuberant festivals. This three day holiday is marked with dancing, traditional clothes and played out in the courtyard of the spectacular Tashichho dzong. The festival is followed by many days and nights of prayers and rituals in order to invoke the gods and encourage good luck.