The mystical land of Bhutan is home to fascinating nomadic people, an undiscovered way of life and a plethora of mesmerising traditional festivals.
Almost every village has their own festival, celebrating everything from reigning monarchs to local harvests.
To help you discover Bhutan in a way that gets you immersed in the local culture, we’ve put together this guide to festivals in Bhutan.
1. Jambay Lhakhang Festival, Bumthang
One of Bhutan’s most well-known festivals is Bumthang’s Jambay Lhakhang Festival. In mid-November each year, this festival brings the ethereal landscape of Bumthang to life. It takes place at the Jambay Lhakhang temples, a 7th century homage to Buddhism, built by a Tibetan King named Songsten Gampo. Today, the Jambay Lhakhang Drup – as it’s known in Bhutanese – is renowned as one of the most spectacular celebrations across the kingdom. The festival opens with rich pageantry and a buzzing atmosphere, all celebrating the sacred Guru Rinpoche, who is thought to have brought Buddhism to Bhutan.
This festival is no quiet affair – lasting five days, the festivities see villagers gathering around the temple in a spirit of festivity, celebration and deep worship. Jambay Lhakhang has also evolved over the years to include unique masked dances performed by monks and laymen draped in colourful costumes. The pièce de résistance though, is the fire ritual – held in the evening, this extraordinary event involves crowds gathering to witness a devotional naked dance, thought to purify sins and guarantee a good harvest.
2. Coronation Day Festival, Thimphu
In Bhutan’s capital Thimphu, the local festival is devoted to celebrating His Majesty the King. Usually held in early November, the Coronation Day Festival marks the coronation ceremony of Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Bhutan’s current reigning monarch. An annual celebration, Coronation Day is a public holiday in Bhutan, and festivities usually last for three days. The festival begins with the offering of a spiritual lamp before the portrait of the King and the singing of the national anthem. Dancing, games and cultural activities performed by locals in colourful costumes then follow, making for a delightful show.
3. Paro Tshechu Festival, Paro
One of Bhutan’s most iconic valleys, Paro is one of the kingdom’s most fertile landscapes. Impressive architecture perches atop hillsides and the valley is crisscrossed by a beautiful meandering river. It’s a spectacular place at any time of the year, but this fertile valley is at its best during the Paro Tshechu festival.
Taking place for five days at the beginning of the 2nd Bhutanese lunar month – usually in April each year – this festival is an annual celebration with its roots in the 17th century. Paro Tshechu celebrates the founder of Bhutan consecrating the Paro Dzong fortress in 1644. Today, the festivities involve displays of intricately embroidered Buddhist art, dance performances and laidback social gatherings.
3. Haa Summer Festival, Haa
A lively and uplifting celebration of all things Bhutanese, the Haa summer festival involves nomadic lifestyles, local cuisine, traditional sports and devotional performances. The exact dates differ each year, but this festival is spread over a fun-filled two days in July. The whole community gets involved, with everyone from schoolchildren to village elders taking part in the celebrations.
The major highlight of the festival though is the bike marathon from Thimphu to Haa via Bondey, Paro and Chèlèl – a distance of around 104 kilometres. Haa is considered one of the least visited places in Bhutan, so this valley’s summer festival is a wonderful way of meeting the locals and experience the authentic Bhutanese way of life.
Where to Stay in Bhutan
Six Senses Paro$$$$$The beautiful Six Senses lodge is perched above the Paro National Museum and offers sweeping views of the Paro Valley. It is affectionately known as the ‘Stone Lodge’ as it sits within 12th-century ruins. There are 16 suites as well as four villas with either one, two or three bedrooms. Decor is elegant with neutral colours and wooden and stone walls, floors and ceilings. There is a living room and restaurant, with both idoor and outdoor seating, as well as a small library and bar. Guests can also choose to dine at secluded spots within the ruins. The Six Senses spa features a gym, outdoor sauna, yoga rooms and relaxation room, and there is also an indoor swimming pool.
Amankora Punakha$$$$$Wrapped in lush rice fields and fruit orchards by Mo Chhu River, with views to the seventeenth century Punakha Dzong, is a former traditional Bhutanese farmhouse: the Amankora Punakha hotel. Intimate and exclusive, this stand-out property provides just eight classically designed suites. Each boasts heaps of space and comfort, plus a traditional wood burning ‘bukhari’ stove for a peek into local life. Dining, pampering and adventure are all well catered for, from the communal dining room, tea pavilion and alfresco courtyard to the two-story spa and meditation room, to exciting white-water-rafting tours.
Taj Tashi Thimphu$$$$$Blending Bhutanese Dzong architecture with the highest of modern international standards, Taj Tashi is a grand property in the heart of the Thimphu Valley. Ringed by the Himalayas, its enchanting surrounds are echoed in the hotel’s style with classical hand-drawn Buddhist murals decorating the walls, signature Asian treatments at the spa and many local, elegant touches throughout. Rooms and suites look out to breath-taking views with some boasting private sit-outs that open out to green mountains rising high above the valley. All of course enjoy the finest amenities, though opt for a suite if you fancy the further luxuries of canopy beds, pillow menus, walk-in closets and stand-alone bathtubs. The food here is also superb. Don’t miss a chance to savour the fiery flavours at Chig-ja-gye, the hotel’s Bhutanese restaurant, while three more eateries ensure those with a taste for European and Tibetan dishes are catered for too.