Festival Tour

Anywhere in Bhutan, the most celebrated festival would most definitely be the local tshechu. The word, tsechu, is derived from the Dzongkha terms for date (tshe) and the number 10 (chutham). Appropriately, a tshechu is conducted on and around the auspicious tenth day of a selected month (according to the lunar calendar), once every year.

Like festivals everywhere the world over, a tshechu is a social affair. People gather at the local dzong or lhakhangin the Western equivalent of their Sunday best with packed lunches and make merry.It is important to remember that a tshechu is essentially a religious affair. That is why the high-points of such festivals are the masked dances that both monks and lay men perform according to steps meticulously choreographed by Buddhist masters in the distant past. Following narrative structures, these dances are loaded with religious symbolism that the non-Bhutanese will find hard to comprehend without a guide’s explanation.

The numbing clash and blend of colours as well as the symphony of traditional gongs, horns, cymbals and drums, however, make tshechus especially memorable auditory and visual experiences. For the Bhutanese, though, no tshechu is complete without atsaras (clowns). Performing seemingly lewd but symbolically philosophical antics, these clowns pass on divine blessings and ensure that smiles and laughs do not run short. The atsaras are not the clowns as they are perceived to be at the tshechufestival; they were supposed to be the acharyas, the learned ones, who pass on wisdom to the viewers through their jokes, often verging on vulgarity.

The best known tshechus are those of Paro and Punakha, which are held in spring, and that of Thimphu, which is held in the fall. As these are the most popular traveling seasons, visitors may see other camera-toting tourists, some much too eager to encroach upon performers’ space. While the generally polite, Bhutanese may not admonish such trespassing. But respectful behavior more appropriate to religious occasions will go better appreciated.

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