One of the biggest festivals in the country is the Thimphu Tshechu. This festival is held in the capital city for three days beginning on 10th day of the 8th month of lunar calendar. This Tshechu is witnessed by thousands of people many of which travel from neighboring Dzongkhags (districts) to attend the festivities. The actual Tshechu is preceded by days and nights of prayer and rituals to invoke the gods.
When it was initiated by the 4th Desi, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay in 1867 the Tshechu consisted of only a few dances being performed strictly by monks. These were the Zhana chham and the Zhana Nga chham (Dances of the 21 Black Hats), Durdag (Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Ground), and the Tungam chham (Dance of the Terrifying Deities).
The Thimphu Tshechu underwent a change in the 1950s, when the third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, introduced numerous Boed chhams (mask dances performed by lay monks). These additions added colour and variation to the festival without compromising its spiritual significance. Mask dances like the Guru Tshengye (Eight Manifestations of Guru), Shaw Shachi (Dance of the Stags) are enjoyed because they are similar to stage-theater.
Equally important are the Atsaras, who are more than just mere clowns. The Atsaras are the dupthobs (acharyas), who provide protection. The dances and the jesting of the Atsaras are believed to entrance evil forces and prevent them from causing harm during Tshechus. Modern Atsaras also perform short skits to disseminate health and social awareness messages.
To farmers, the Tshechu is also seen as a break from farm life. It’s an occasion to celebrate, receive blessings and pray for health and happiness.
Day 1: Paro-Thimphu (September 29, 2017
Driving distance: 65km
Driving time: 1 to 1.5 hours
Fly into the Kingdom amid a breathtaking vista of the world’s highest mountains like Mt Everest, Kanchenjunga and other peaks revered by the Bhutanese as the “Abode of the Gods”. Finally, land at Paro International airport, an adrenaline-rushing experience as we take a hair-raising descent onto a narrow strip of flatland flanked by the mountains. A short respite after the landing, we begin our Bhutanese culinary adventure. On arrival, you will be received by your tour guide at the airport. After lunch, you will drive to the capital city, Thimphu. In the evening you can either relax at the hotel or take a stroll around the Norzin Lam which remains closed during the Thimphu Tshechu. Overnight stay at Thimphu.
Day 2: Attend Thimphu Festival (September 30,2017)
After an early breakfast you will attend the Thimphu Tshechu festival the whole day. Held outside the courtyard of Tashichhodzong, it is a festival in honour of Guru Rinpoche, the saint who brought Buddhism to Bhutan.Today will be the first day of the Tsechu. You will see the Sha Chham (dance of the four stages), Pelage Gingsum (dance of the three kinds of Ging), Pachham (dance of the heroes), Shawo Shachi (dance of the stags and hounds) and Dranyen Chham (dance with the guitar). You will have a choice to be dressed in traditional Bhutanese attire. You will take off sometime from the festival to visit Tashichhodzong, a fortress of the glorious religion. Built in 1641 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel it houses the secretariat building, the throne room and the office of the King, and the central monk body.
Overnight stay at Thimphu.
Day 3: Thimphu Tshechu and sightseeing (October 1, 2017)
Today, you will attend the second day of the Thimphu Tshechu. You will get to watch the Shana Chham (the black hat dance), Shanga Ngachham (dance of the 21 black hats with drums), Pholey Moley (dance of the nobleman and ladies) and Shawa Shachi (dance of the stag and hounds).
After the festival you will visit the following:
Watch Archery match: Bhutan’s national game
Memorial Chorten: it was built in the honour of the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, also known as “The Father of Modern Bhutan”.
Kuenselphodrang: A place for refreshing with a huge statue of Buddha on the top of the Kuenselphodrang. The area also gives a very good view of the Thimphu valley from the west.Overnight at a hotel in Thimphu.
Day 4: Thimphu to Punakha (October 2, 2017)
Driving time: 2.5 to 3 hours
After breakfast, you will visit the Centenary Farmers’ Market located at the bank of Thimphu river. This market scene is a good opportunity to take photographs and to mingle with the local people. After lunch, you will drive to Punakha. The drive takes you to Dochula pass (3,100m) which is perhaps the only stopover in the entire Himalayan region that affords a stunning view of the mighty and impregnable mountains on the roof of the world. We then begin a gradual descent through roadsides filled with rhododendrons, bamboo groves, other alpine flowers of all shades and hues, besides birds and numerous other fauna species along the way. Overnight stay in Punakha.
Day 5: Sightseeing in Punakha (October 3, 2017)
Today, we will visit the Temple of Fertility in Lobesa which is renowned for blessing infertile couples with children, and the 17th century monastery-palace-fortress called Wangduephodrang Dzong that is being rebuilt after destruction by a tragic fire. But our main place of interest for the day is Punakha Dzong, a huge 17th century monastery-fortress plus ancient capital on whose corridors of power walked Bhutan’s ancient leaders who defined much of the Bhutanese history. The monument is spectacularly built between two rivers and appears like a giant ship sailing on a huge mass of water. In the evening you will stroll around Punakha town. Overnight stay in Punakha.
Day 6: Punakha to Bumthang (October 4, 2017)
Driving distance: 190km
Driving time: 7 to 7.5 hours
After breakfast, we start our drive to Bumthang. We will head further interior, into the heartlands of medieval power and present-day spirituality. As we gently ascend through sub-tropical forests to the temperate and alpine belts, we reach our highest point at Pelela pass (3,140m) from where we see the Black Mountain range. From there, the gradual descent takes us to Chendebji Stupa where we will stop for lunch. After lunch, we will drive to the massive Trongsa Trong. This castle-fortress is the biggest, built without a single nail, and contains some 30 temples.The drive into Bumthang takes you into Chumey Valley known for its Yathra production. Overnight at Bumthang.
Day 7: Sightseeing in Bumthang (October 5, 2017)
Bumthang valley is a blend of the abstract and the concrete with innumerable legends surrounding the region. Our first trip will be to Kurje Lhakhang where Guru Padsambhava subdued a local demon and left his body imprint on a rock. Then we see Jamphellhakhang (7th century) built by SongtsenGoembo, the Tibetan Buddhist King, and the 17th century Jakar Dzong (the Castle of the White Bird). Other places to see include Tamshing Lhakhang built in 1501 by Terton Pema Lingpa who is renowned as one of the five king tertons (religious treasure discoverers), and Kenchosum Lhakhang. We also take a short hike to Mebartsho – the Burning Lake – where legend has it that Pema Lingpa took a dive into the depth of the lake with a butter lamp placed on his head and retrieved a religious treasure hidden by Guru Padmasambhava.
Day 8: Bumthang to Thimphu (October 6, 2017)
Driving distance: 270kms
Driving time: 8 to 9 hours
On the way back you will visit the Yathra weaving factory in Chumey. Yathra is a hand-woven fabric made from wool of yak and sheep. It is made in vibrant colours giving it a special and attractive look. The ride back will be long and tiring, so it is recommended that we travel directly to Thimphu. Overnight stay in Thimphu.
Day 9: Thimphu to Paro (October 7, 2017)
Today, after an early breakfast, you will drive back to Paro. On the way to Paro, you will visit the Wangsisna Heritage Home, a traditional Bhutanese house home to the 19th Druk Desi (Deb Raja) Druk Tenzin built before the 17th century. In Paro, you will hike up to Taktsang Monastery. This monastery edifice is precariously built on a sheer wall of granite cliff some 1,000 metres above the valley floor. Some say, it was built with the help of celestial nymphs in the 17th century for, otherwise, it is beyond human feat. Overnight stay at Paro.
Day 10: Departure (October 8, 2017)
Adios! Sayonara! Arrivederci! Ciao! Auf Wiedersehen! Bon voyage! Zàijiàn! Farewell Bhutan, farewell Happy Kingdom. We take a short drive to the airport for our next destination