Tucked into the folds of the mountains between China and India, Bhutan is a Himalayan country full of alpine grandeur and a rich, sustained Buddhist history. This tiny nation only opened its borders to the outside world in 1974 and remains difficult to access. As a result, their centuries-old cultures and traditions continue unaffected by outside influence, remaining unique and seen nowhere else on earth.
Every year, the Kingdom’s vibrant cultural heritage manifests in unique, colourful festivals that take place across the country, celebrating spring harvests, native ingredients and religious events – marking the passage of time by shared occasions.
Here we introduce seven Bhutanese festivals: how they started, what they’re about and the key dates for your diary so you can begin planning your journey to the Kingdom.
April 17th to 19th 2023 | Lamperi Botanical Gardens, Thimphu
What it is: A three-day event that marks the beginning of spring in all its fully bloomed, lush green glory. Bhutan is home to some 46 species of rhododendron and the Lamperi Botanical Garden houses most of them.
What to expect: Performances and plenty of enriching outdoor activities. There will be traditional song and dance by local communities in praise of the abundant flowers, as well as food stalls with simple, delicious snacks and beverages. You can also go boating on the Lamperi pond, hike along the botanic park trails or even camp under the stars among the flowers at night.
Haa Summer Festival
July 8th to 9th 2023 | Haa Valley
What it is: A lively two-day summer celebration that provides unmatched insight into the living culture of Bhutan. Celebrated under summer sunshine in one of Bhutan’s most beautiful valleys, the Haa Summer Festival showcases Bhutanese sport, craft, cuisine, music and nomadic herder culture.
What to expect: A fun blend of interaction and spectatorship with the warm people of Haa Valley. Watch them skilfully creating traditional arts and crafts, cooking classic dishes, enjoy folk performances and participate in friendly sports competitions. Haa Valley is also filled with paddy fields and alpine flowers for you to wander off and explore.
Matsutake Mushroom Festival
August 20th to 21st 2023 | Ura, Bumthang
What it is: A three-day event to learn about, celebrate and savour one of the world’s most expensive mushrooms. Matsutake mushrooms only grow in rare pine forest terrain and are impossible to grow artificially. They are highly prized in Japanese, Korean and Chinese cuisine for their distinct spicy, aromatic flavour.
What to expect: Observe, taste and partake in matsutake mushroom picking as well as engaging with locals in a variety of sports, songs and dances. Explore the pristine woods as you go on mushroom picking excursions, then try matsutake recipes of your own with the ones you’ve collected. Watch or join local song and dance performances before soothing tired feet in an open-air mineral bath.
Thimphu Tsechu Festival
September 24th to 26th 2023 | Tashi Chhodzong, Thimphu
What it is: Bhutan’s biggest celebration. The Thimphu Tsechu has been held over three days in the capital since 1670 and attracts thousands of people including locals and travellers. Tsechus are vibrant, happy affairs in Bhutan and – ‘Tsechu’ meaning ‘tenth day’ – are always celebrated on the tenth day of the month in the lunar calendar. They are a historical tradition through which mythology, values and spiritual beliefs are passed down – one of the best ways to experience Bhutanese Buddhist culture.
What to expect: Monks sharing stories of the life of Guru Rimpoche – a significant historical figure in Bhutan – through stylised dance, following weeks of meditation and prayer preparation. Locals dress in their finest traditional attire of Ghos and Kiras to attend, creating an unforgettable, energetic carnival atmosphere high in the Himalayas.
Jambay Lhakhang Drup
October 28th to 31st 2023 | Bumthang
What it is: A major annual celebration of the establishment of Jambay Lhakhang Monastery, held in honour of Guru Rinpoche. This monastery is said to be one of the 108 temples built by the Tibetan King Songtsen Goenpo in a single day to pin down the spirit of a demon who was threatening the land.
What to expect: A ‘Mewang’ fire ceremony, which features dances under a flaming structure of dry grass. The highlight of these is the ‘Dance of Treasure’, where masked performers – including monks – are entirely naked.
Black-necked Crane Festival
November 11th 20231 | Gangtey Gonpa, Phobjikha
What it is: An occasion for locals to celebrate the arrival of the black-necked crane, an endangered and beautiful bird that is a common sight during the winter months. Bhutan is the largest winter habitat of the black-necked cranes, attracting about 300 a year. The festival was organised to cultivate awareness and understanding of conserving these birds.
What to expect: A cultural programme performed by locals and monks, a highlight of which is a choreographed crane dance performed by school children. There is also a Black-necked Crane Information Centre to visit for more education about the birds and their environment, as well as many nature trails throughout the valley.
Druk Wangyel Tshechu
December 13th 2023 | Dochu La Pass
What it is: A festival performed by the Royal Bhutan Army instead of monks or citizens, as a tribute to the King. This festival also celebrates the military efforts of the army in protecting the country’s peace.
What to expect: Rigorously rehearsed performances by the soldiers, in the midst of 108 stupas – mound-like Buddhist reliquaries – and against a spectacular view of the Himalayan mountains.
Visit the festivals for yourself with COMO. From our two tranquil Bhutanese resorts, we can arrange local guides to take you to the festivities and explain the local cultures and practices. Just let us know you’re interested in visiting and we can make it happen.