Bhutan has a score and more festivals throughout the year. Most of them are religious events known as tsechus, and they are celebrated on the 10th day of a month of the lunar calendar corresponding to Guru Rimpoche’s (Guru Padmasambhava’s) birthday. Strangely enough, the date varies from temple to temple and district to district. These teschus are held in the courtyards of monasteries and dzongs.
One such festival is held on January 7 in central Bhutan, specifically in Kurjey of Chokhor valley in the Bumthang district, a region rich in palaces, temples, and monasteries. The beautiful valleys of Bumthang are the heart of central Bhutan. Four major valleys, Chokhor, Tang, Ura, and Chhume are located here. The Chokhor valley predominates both in size and in the number of important temples and dzongs that are found here. The name is derived from the fact that the valley is shaped like a bumpa, a vessel containing holy water (thang means a ‘flat place’). The region has some of the most significant temples in the country. The Ura valley is situated at the highest point in the region and it is believed to have been where the earliest Bhutanese first lived.
The Kurjey festival takes place at Kurjey Temple, in Kurjey, a 15-minute drive from Chamkhar town. There’s an interesting story behind the origin of the name Kurjey. A long time ago, the region was plagued by evil spirits that brought grief and sorrow to the inhabitants living there. The local ruler, Sindhu Raja, decided to invite the revered Guru Rimpoche from neighboring Nepal to drive away the spirits. The Guru accepted the invitation, and on arrival, immediately began to meditate in a cave in Lhakhang that resembled dorjis (symbolic thunderbolts) piled atop each other. He succeeded in getting rid of the evil spirits, and as he left the cave, he left behind an imprint of his body on the rock face. Such had been his concentration. The locals then named the place Kurjey, meaning, “Imprint of the body”. A temple war built at the site by the first Trongsa Penlop (Trongsa’s governor), Minjur Tempa, in 1652. There are two more temples nearby, both built in the 1900s.
It is to celebrate the Guru’sbirthday as well as his remarkable deeds that the Kurjey festival is held every year in the first week of January, and it as an occasion where you can see ancient mask dances and other kinds of spectacular entertainment. Thousands of locals and Bhutanese from other parts make it a point to join in the celebration every year, and you can be assured of a grand time delving into Bhutanese culture and history. You can plan a tour to coincide with the festival during which you can visit other places and see many interesting sites such as the Taktshang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest), the Kila Goenpa nunnery, and Phdoding Monastery, as well as places of interest like the national library, the traditional painting school, and the traditional paper factory. You can take in a tour of the Punakha and Wangdue valleys as well. If you are in Bhutan long enough, you should not miss out on the Trongsa Dzong, the Jakar Dzong (Fortress of the white bird), the Tamzhing Monastery, and Kumenchosum Lhakhang.
All in all, you are assured of a grand spectacle at the festival, and a comprehensive tour of some of the best parts of Bhutan. Well worth spending a fortnight or so, what do you say?