Bhutan’s religious festivals form a particularly important part of the local and tourist calendar. The best known are tshechus, typically three- to five-day events staged at different times of the year by every village in honour of Guru Rinpoche, a popular 8th century sage credited with bringing Buddhism to the region.
The Bhutanese have elevated tshechus into a distinctive combination of social gathering, morality play and spiritual instruction. It is a time for locals to dress in their finest clothes, eat, drink and be merry, but at its heart it remains a profoundly spiritual event overseen by senior monks, nobility and officials. Traditionally, mere attendance at a tshechu is believed to bring merit. The riotous colour – in particular the fantastically-attired masked dancers – and general atmosphere of bonhomie tempt many foreign visitors to time their itineraries to coincide with the two biggest tshechus at Thimphu (typically September or October) and Paro (typically March or April).
Extravagantly-named dances, or cham, such as ‘The Dance of the Fearsome Deities’ and ’The Dance of the Four Stags’ not only entertain but serve varying purposes. And perhaps the oddest aspect of these gatherings are their notably bawdy ‘clowns’ whose slapstick antics lighten proceedings.