The Festivals of Bhutan Part 3

Festival of Bhutan

A dance performance during a festival in Bhutan. Image: flickr/Jean-Marie Hullot

Bhutan tourism is replete with colorful festivals just as the country is full of ancient monasteries and forts (dzongs). Each monastery or dzong holds an annual festival (Tsechu) which has a dual purpose, one, as a social occasion, and two, as an occasion to keep alive the teachings and philosophies of Buddhism. Besides these Tsechus, there are many other festivals as well, including some to do with eco-conservation, and some to attain salvation for the soul. Therefore, no matter when you travel to Bhutan, you will surely get the chance to witness a colorful festival or two since they occur throughout the year. Here are some festivals you might be lucky enough to be part of during your Bhutan tour.

Chorten Kora Festival: If your travel to Bhutan in March, you will be in time to take part in a festival that has a pretty interesting background. This is the Chorten Kora Festival which will take place on March 16 and March 30 in 2014, and is held in the easternmost part of the country, that is, Trashiyangtse. Reaching this place takes you on a scenic journey along the banks of the Dangme Chu and Kholung Chu rivers, a two-hour drive from Trashigang. It should be mentioned here that ‘kora’ means a circumambulation of a religious site. The kora is done around the Chorten that was built in 1740 and is modeled along the lines of the famous Boudhanath Stupa in Nepal which is not only a world heritage monument but also one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the region. In fact, the Chorten in Trashiyangtse was built in this way so that people wouldn’t have to go to Nepal to pay their respects at the original stupa.

The first date (March 15) is when the Dakpa Kora takes place, while the second one is the day for Drukpa Kora. Legend has it that inside the chorten is the remains of a young girl, believed to be a dakini (a vengeful female spirit), who voluntarily offered to be buried alive inside the stupa. Many pilgrims from neighboring Arunachal Pradesh, known as Dakpas, travel to Bhutan to participate in the Drukpa Kora. You should too, since doing the kora is supposed to endow you with a lot of merit in this life. So, can you miss out on this during your Bhutan travel?

Gomphu Kora Festival: This is also another festival when hordes of Dakpas from Arunachal Pradesh in India travel to Bhutan to complete the kora. It’s held from March 23 to March 25 every year in eastern Bhutan, about 23 km from the famous Trashigang Dzong. Gomphu (Meditation Cave) is a cave that has mythical significance. During the time (8th century) when Guru Padmasambhava was propagating his Nyingma Buddhism in the Himalayan region, an evil spirit called Myongkhapa managed to escape from Samye in Tibet, and arriving in eastern Bhutan, took refuge in a cave. Guru Padmasambhava went into the cave, and after three days of meditation, emerged victorious, having subjugated the evil spirit. In later centuries, a shrine was built next to it. Interesting stuff, right? So, try and make it a part of your Bhutan tour.

Jambay Lhakhang Festival:  If you travel to Bhutan in November, you should know that there is a five-day festival that will take place from November 6 to November 10 in 2014 at the Jambay Lhakhang in Bumthang district. Built in the 7th century by a Tibetan king, Songsten Gampo, Jambay Lhakhang is one of the most ancient temples in Bhutan, and according to the legend, it is one of the two shrines built in Bhutan by the king to fulfill his destiny of building 108 Thadhuls-Yangdhuls (temples on and across the border) in order to defeat a wrathful Himalayan demoness. The other shrine so built was Kichu Lhakhang in Paro. Inside Jambay Lhakhang is said to be the relics of Jowo Jampa (Maitreya, the Future Buddha), hence the name. Various regal figures went on to renovate and refurbish the shrine in later years, including the installing of one hundred statues of the gods of Kalachakra in the 19th century. The Jambay Lhakhang Festival is celebrated in great style, with some pretty fiery performances such as the fire dance and the naked dance. These are the kind of things that make Bhutan tourism more interesting and your Bhutan travel more memorable.

Lhuntse Tshechu: This festival will take place from Dec 30, 2014, to Jan 1, 2015, in Lhuenste, another of the easternmost districts of Bhutan bordering Tibet. It an historically important region, being the ancestral home of the country’s rulers, and among a number of sacred monuments found there is the Lhuntse Dzong, the most significant of all. It is built on the top of a high ridge over the Kuri Chu river. There are many festivals unique to Lhuntse, with the annual three-day Tsechu being the biggest. People come to the festival in their best fineries, and you’ll see a lot of beautifully patterned kiras flaunted by the women. Just so you know, a kira is an ankle-length dress tied at the waist and clipped at one shoulder that is worn over a long-sleeved blouse called toego. Lhuntse is famous for its special brand of handloom fabric known as kushithara, and that’s what the kiras are fashioned out of.  The ladies will be adorned with plenty of ornaments too! Oh yes, it’s all a delight for the eyes, and therefore, it would be nice if it were to be part of your Bhutan tour.

Matsutake Festival:This festival is held on the last weekend of August in Ura valley of Bumthang Dzongkhag to celebrate the coming of the mushroom season. Some one hundred mushroom varieties are to be found in the Ura valley, with half of them being edible, and they grow at heights of 3000 m and above. Matsutake mushroom (Sangay Shamu), is the prized species that is found growing beneath pine trees (and thus also called ‘pine mushroom’) and these fetch pretty good prices in the international market, particularly in Japan. During the three-day festival, various kinds of mushrooms are put on display and people get to learn to identify them. Visitors also can go on a treasure hunt on the hillsides looking for the fabled Matsutake. In addition, you will be sampling many delicious mushroom delicacies prepared by expert chefs. For the connoisseurs of exotic gourmet, here’s one festival you shouldn’t miss in case you have plans to travel to Bhutan in the near future.

So, people, what say you give good consideration to what it is that would interest you the most during your Bhutan tour before you travel to Bhutan? Make some festivals part of your itinerary, and ask your travel agent to ensure the dates too, since the exact dates for festivals may vary from year to year. Indeed, festivals have become an important part of Bhutan tourism and no Bhutan tour can be complete without them.

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