If you’ve done some research about Bhutan already, you’ve probably already learned about the delightful local religious festivals held in the major cities and towns of Bhutan-Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Bumthang. If you really want to get off the beaten path and experience the authentic Bhutanese culture, you have to take the trips that coincide with the festivals which are joyous and vibrant. The festivals are held various times of the year, Bhutanese people of towns and villages congregate to witness the mask dance festivals known as tsechus. These colorful events draw thousands of locals, some of whom walk for days in order to attend. While the underlying purpose is spiritual, dances are more often like plays where good triumphs over evil or depict significant historical events, especially surrounding the life of Bhutan's patron saint, Padmasambhava (also known as guru Rinpoche). There is inevitably a great deal of socializing. It is an opportunity for people to relax and forget the daily routine, to dress in their finest clothes and jewelry but, more importantly, it is an occasion for prayer and blessings.
Tsechus mainly comprise of mask dances in addition to some folk dance entertainment in between. Festivals are not pageants or entertainment events and definitely not held as tourists’ attraction. They are genuine manifestations of religious traditions thousands of years old, which outsiders are given the privilege to attend.
The dances, each aspect of which has a symbolic meaning, are performed by trained monks and laymen wearing ornate costumes, and, in some cases, impressive masks. At Paro, Wangdu, Mongar and Tashigang, among other places, a large 'thanka' scroll known as a Tongdrol is exhihited for a few hours, at day break of the final day of the festival, enabling the people to obtain its blessing, since such scrolls 'confer liberation by the mere sight of it' (tongdrolin Bhutanese).
Of these festivals the Paro Tsechu, in the spring, and the Wangue and Thimpu Tsechus, in the fall, are the most impressive. These festivals are very popular with western tourists. The festivals in Bumthang and East Bhutan attract fewer tourists and those who want to get a more authentic flavor of Bhutan's cultural and religious extravaganza will be well rewarded.
These festivals attract many western tourist and hotels and flights are sold out months in advance to organized tourist group. Anyone who wishes to visit Bhutan during these festivals should plan and make their tour arrangements well in advance.
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