Thangbi Lhakhang is one of the historically significant temples in Bumthang. It is situated in the north of Kurje at an altitude of 2730m and is surrounded by the beautiful village of Thangbi. The Lhakhang (temple) was built by the 4th Shamar Rimpoche called Chhoki Drakpa (the Red Hat Karmapa: 1453-1524).
Towards north of Thangbi lies two clustered villages of Goling (2740) and Kharsath (2750m) within the radius of 2 km. Further north on a higher elevation Shukdak Monastery (2950m) founded by Guru Pema Sambhawa is perched on a mysterious cliff overlooking the beautiful Thangbi valley. A very pleasant one-hour walk from road head takes one to the secret place.
Thangbi Mani is a four – day festival which is a display of the rich tradition and celebrates the cultural heritage of this ancient Lhakhang. It is held annually from 14th to 17th of the eighth month of the Bhutanese calendar. The people from the three villages of Thangbi, Goling and Kharsath have been organizing the annual festival since its inception. The tradition which prevailed a long time ago is now gradually fading away. In earlier days people of all walks of life in that community actively participated in making this festival a great success. But now, due to changing social values and out migration of some of the sponsoring households, this valuable tradition is being threatened. The contribution from the community is not sufficient to meet the expenses of the festival. As a result, the festival is losing its original grandeur and significance. In order to revive and sustain the festival, a committee is being formed to coordinate the organization of the festival.
The Gomchens (lay monks) of this monastery perform ritual for the entire festival, while some young men and women perform mask and folk dances.
Thirteenth of the eight month of the Bhutanese calendar is preliminary day when all the people in that community flock together to witness the rehearsal of mask dances at the courtyard. The next day starts the main event of festival by making offerings to the local deities. On the same day at around 7:00 pm all the mask dances scheduled for the following day is presented to public and guests as well which perhaps lasts till midnight. The days event is flagged off by performing burning ceremony (Ginsek) thus driving away or subduing evil sprits.
On the following day i.e 15th (Full moon) of the eighth month of Bhutanese calendar
At around 10:00 a.m. a ceremonial procession from the Temple marks the start of the festival. Mewang ceremony (Fire Blessing) is performed in an open ground. The Gomchens performs purification rituals while all the people and guests jump over the flames to get themselves purified from their sins and evil deeds. It is believed that if one is able to jump over the flame three times he or she is protected from ill luck and misfortunes are removed for that entire year. That is why people of all walks of life attempt to jump across the flame three times to be blessed for the whole year. Then mask dances and folk dances are performed as scheduled in the enclosed courtyard of the temple. Of all the dances Goem Bernak is believed to be the most secret Dance (Tercham).
The Legendary says when Karma Pakshi, (1204-1283) the 2nd Karmapa was tortured by one of the kings in China by hanging him by his beard. The Mahakali (Lham Rangjungmo), the female protecting deity of Karmapa reported this incident to Goembernak (Black Mahakala) the male protecting deity who remained undisturbed. When Goembernak knew that his master Karmapa was on the verge of dying he came down heavily on the Chinese king. He manifested himself to a giant sized-figure, stretched his one foot and placed in front of the palace of the king of China while his other foot was firmly pegged in Tsurphu (Tibet). Goembernak’s trouser on one foot was folded up to knee level while he had no time to fold the other trouser. He shoved his sword under the palace of the Chinese king and caused tremor to the palace threatening him to destroy his palace if his master is not released. The King of China, frightened of the consequences, freed Karmapa along with hosts of valuable items offered to Karmapa as forgiveness.
It is said that Karmapa flung all the valuables into the lake in front of the king’s palace in China to be transported to the lake in Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet from were he would retrieve them. The Goembernak dance is then performed to commemorate victory over the king of China and the uniqueness of this dance is that dancers perform this dance with one trouser folded up to knee level while the other trouser is let loose.
There are significant traditions which are worth mentioning. These events take place simultaneously while dances are being performed:
The Temple is in the form of U shaped in design. At the tow projecting courtyards mates are laid and two tiny tables with jug of Chang and a cup remain filled all the time on both side. Some men drink the Chang occasionally and refill. The cup is supposed to be full all the time. The designated place on the right belonged to the senior men of Kharsath while the Left side belonged to the men of Goling. They are supposed to be the Chiefs of the community. Around the men sits the ladies and children of the respective villages. In olden time if outsiders step on the mate they are imposed nominal fines.
From these tow sides there is a time that the men throw buckwheat dough balls on the spectators with screaming noise. This is to eliminate the harmful desired of the evil sprits and warding them off from the auspicious gathering. Quite often it happened that the spectators reacted and threw back the dough balls. When such things happened in the past, it was considered bad omen and sometimes the community leaders imposed fines on the culprits. The fine usually consisted of a bottle Chang (locally brewed wine) and an apology to the community leaders.
Another interesting age old tradition which is still very active is offering of Chang and Puta (buckwheat noodles) by the community girls to our honored guests. The Girls offer Chang and noodles even to the strangers. If you get such treats whether you enjoy or not is customary that you give some cash present to them (Today the money they collect by entertaining guests goes to the community fund). There is a significant historical background that the community in this valley produced quality buckwheat noodles. During the reign of the Second King, His Majesty Jigme Wangchuk, he always ordered Puta from the households of Shukda Gompa quite frequently to fetch Puta when he desired for a change or when he had Royal Guests.
The festival finally comes to an end by performing closing ritual where all the people of that community gather to receive blessings and pray for the well being of all sentient beings for the year to come.
Jampa Lakhang Drup
It is believe that the Jambay Lhakhang was built on the same day as 108 other Lhakhang (Lhasa in Tibet and Kichu Lhakhang in Paro) by the Tibetan king Songsten Gampo to sub due an ogress.The temple has had restorations and renovations carried out by Guru Rimpoche, Sindhu Raja as well as the first King of Bhutan. Inside the main chapel there are three stone steps, which represent the three stage ages. The first step signifies the age of the Buddha of past. This step has sunk into the ground, as the age is past. The second step represents the present age Sakyamuni or historical Buddha. The highest step represents the new age. It is believed that when a step sinks into the earth the age it represents also passes.
Jampa Lhakhang Drup (Festival)
Although the origin and purpose of the festival cannot be exactly determined, the Jampa Lhakhang Drup is regarded as one of the most ancient and sacred of all festivals in the region. The tradition of people from this area is to congregate in a spirit of piety and festivity on the 15th day of the ninth month of the Bhutanese calendar. The well-known historian on Bhutan, the late Dr. Michael Aris, pointed out that this ancient festival retained some remnants of the old Agricultural New Year, which falls at the winter solstice and which has almost disappeared from this part of the country.
Black Necked Crane Festival
Nestled in the inner Himalayas of the Kingdom of Bhutan at 3000 metres above sea level, is the wide alpine wetland valley of Phobjikha. Often cited for the harmonious co‐existence of its inhabitants with nature, the valley is also culturally significant. From times immemorial, the local people’s tradition and respect for sentient beings have ushered the valley into the most significant wintering ground of the rare and endangered Black-necked cranes in Bhutan. Every year, over 350 of the estimated 500 cranes that migrate to Bhutan spend their winter months in this valley. Additionally, the highly revered Gangtey Monastery that overlooks the wetlands surrounded by subsistence farms and natural forest areas makes Phobjikha a stunningly beautiful and sacred valley. Today, this glacial valley is an attraction not just to tourists but also pilgrims.
Hence, RSPN initiated the integrated conservation and development program with the sole objective of establishing a strong linkage between environment conservation and economic welfare of the local people. Amongst many other components, Ecotourism (now Community based sustainable tourism) was initiated to promote local economic welfare through nature based tourism programs. The Annual Crane festival is one integral part of the ecotourism component.
The Annual Crane Festival
The Black‐necked crane festival is held every year in Phobjikha on 12 November. The festival was initiated by the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) in 1998 as part of the community based‐sustainable tourism, wherein appreciation and corresponding payment by visitors and tourists will serve as incentives for strong environmental and cultural heritage of the valley. The objectives of the festival are to:
– Fosters awareness and understanding among the local communities and visitors on the importance of conserving the endangered Black‐necked cranes.
– Institute economic incentives (payment) for the festival to strengthen the linkages between conservation and economic welfare.
– Provide avenue for the local community to renew their commitment to conservation of the cranes, and to showcase their cultural heritage, and skills.
While the annual crane festival is essentially geared towards generating income for the community, it also offers the opportunity for individuals, community and organizations to renew their commitment to conservation of the black necked cranes. It is also an occasion for local people to rejoice and celebrate the arrival of cranes while providing the platform for the people to socialize for collective thoughts and actions.
The festival is now being organized and managed by the Phobjikha Environment Management. Committee (PEMC), a local community group composed of elected leaders and development sector representatives in the valley. The committee secures the cooperation and support of the local people and the schools in presenting a variety of cultural programmes including traditional masked and folk dances. The most amusing and entertaining part of the show that attracts the attention of the audience is the crane dance in which the school children enact the social behavior of cranes in the valley.
The success of the festival and its continuity depends entirely on the support and contributions of the visitors and well wishers of conservation. Continued appreciation and corresponding support are quintessential in maintaining strong linkages between conservation and economic welfare of the local people. Avoid free‐riding and reward the community for continued conservation stewardship. Funds mobilized through the crane festival and other activities of the committee are deposited in a community owned bank account and managed by this committee for activities of common benefit to the community.
Programmes for the 12th of November include Cultural programs such as folk and masked dances performed by the local people, crane dance and environmental drama and songs by the school students. Depending on the time availability, the following additional programs can also be tailor made to fit into the needs of the concerned Tour agent or an individual up to two days.
- Visit the Black necked crane information center.
- Visit Gangtey Monastery.
- Gangtey trail hiking (enroute Traditional tea reception and lunch can be arranged at local farm houses).
- Visit the Khewang lhakang.
- Village walks in Lawog valley (tea at Kingathang).
Paro Tshechu Festival
Paro Tsechu is the most popular in the country with its unique unfurling of the world largest Thangka or Thongdrel ceremony, the pageantry is a unique experience and quite unlike anything you have ever seen before. The festival commemorates the deed of the great saint Guru Rinpoche who brought tantric form of Buddhism in Bhutan in early 8th century. The local people attend the festival to gain merit; it is a festive event where the people are dressed in their finest colorful costumes to socialize the merry
Thimphu Tshechu Festival
Buddhist festival or tshechu are one of the prime example of the living culture of Bhutan that many have come to admire and treasure it. In almost every Dzongs (fortresses that house both the monastic & the Govt. administrative wings) there is an annual traditional festival (Tsechu) that normally spans 3-4 days. These vibrant, colorful & well choreographed mask dances are performed during the Tsechu.
The Tshechu is a festival in honour of Padmasambhava, “one who was born from the lotus flower”, popularly known as “Guru Rinpoche”, the Precious Teacher. This Indian saint contributed enormously to the diffusion of Tantric Buddhism in the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan etc. around 800 A.D. he is the founder of Nyingmapa, the “old school” of Mahayana Buddhism, which still has numerous episodes on the model of the Buddha Shakyamuni’s life. The festival of sacred dances is held annually. It was Drukpa Kuenley’s descendant, Tenzin Rabgye, the 4th Temporal Ruler, who established the tradition of Tshechu in 1670 on the 10th day of the 8th month of the Bhutanese calendar to commemorate the birth anniversary of Guru Rinpoche. The dates and the duration of the festival vary from one district to another but they always take place on or around the 10th day of the month according to the Bhutanese calendar. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Pema Lingpa established many of the dances performed during tsechus.
During tshechu, the monks as well as laymen perform the dances. The dancers take on the aspects of wrathful and compassionate deities, heroes, demons and animals. The dances known as cham, bring blessing upon the onlookers, instruct them in dharma (Buddhist teachings), protect them from misfortune and exorcise evil influences. The tshechu is a religious festival and by attending it, it is believed one gains merits. Deities are invoked during the dances. Through their power and benediction misfortunes may be destroyed, luck increased and wishes realized. It is also a yearly social gathering where the people come together to rejoice. People come for tshechu dressed in their finery. Apart from tsechus, folk festivals exist on a smaller, community scale that provides fascinating insight into the local belief.
A rite performed to appease the protecting deity Palden Lhamo(Mahakali , whose name translates as Glorious Goddess), is the only female dharma protector common to allfour schools of Buddhism and one of the main protecting deities of Bhutan, Drupchen was instituted sometime between 1705-1709, Thimphu Tsechu was instituted in the 1670 The Thimphu Tshechu reenacts the teachings of Guru Rinpoche through mask dances and is attended by thousands of local people.
Day 1: Arrive Paro International Airport
During the journey, one will experience breath-taking view of Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga and other famous Himalayan peaks including the sacred Jumolhari and Mount Jichu Drake in Bhutan. On arrival at Paro International Airport, you will be received by your guide from ER Tours & Treks and take you to Thimphu which is 54 km from Paro Airport and about 45 minutes drive. The drive to Thimphu takes you along the Paro Chu (Chu means water or river) downstream to the confluence with the Wang Chu, then turn upstream and travel along the Wang Chu to Thimphu. O/Nin Thimphu
Day 2: Attend Thimphu Festival
After an early breakfast attend Festival, which is held outside the courtyard of Tashichhodzong. This is the main Secretariat Building, where the government ministries, the office of His Majesty the King, the Throne Room, the offices and living quarters of the monk body and its Chief Abbot are housed. Lunch at the hotel and watch Thimphu Tshechu. Evening: relax at the hotel or stroll through Thimphu Town. O/N in Thimphu
Day 3: Attend Thimphu Festival
Attend full day festival.
Day 5: Thimphu – Punakha
After breakfast you will drive to Punakha, with a stop en route for tea at Dochu La (3,100 meters), where on a clear day you can get spectacular views of the Himalayas. After lunch you will drive to Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan, and visit Punakha Dzong, which is noteworthy both for being one of the most beautiful dzongs in Bhutan and also for having been built by the first Shabdrung in 1637. Check into the hotel. O/N in Punakha.
Day 6: Punakha-Thimphu with excursion to Wangdiphodrang
After breakfast drive to Wangdiphodrang. On the way, you will stop at Metshina Village and take a 20-minute walk through the rice fields to Chimi Lakhang, which is a fertility temple, where you may receive a special fertility blessing if you wish. Continue driving to Wangdiphodrang, and visit Wangdi Dzong, which is located on the spur overlooking the river below. After lunch drive to Thimphu across Dochula Pass. Check into hotel on arrival. Overnight hotel in Thimphu.
Day 7: Thimphu – Paro
After breakfast, you will hike to Tango Monastery, which was built by the “Divine Madman” in the 15th century. It’s a center of study for monks, and it affords a great view of the Thimphu Valley. On the grounds of the monastery is a “sin-testing” tunnel–it is said that if you have sinned, you will get stuck in the tunnel, and if you are without sin, you will go through with ease! After your picnic lunch, you can hike back to Thimphu. In the evening, you will drive to Paro. O/N hotel in Paro.
Day 8: Paro Sightseeing
In Paro, visit the following places of interest: The National Museum (Ta-Dzong). This was actually the Watch Tower of the Paro Rinpung Dzong. It was converted to the National Museum in l968. Visit the Rinpung Dzong, massive fortress which is located on a hilltop above the Pachu (Paro River) in the Paro Valley. It houses the District Administration Office and the District Monk Body. After lunch, visit the Drukgyal Dzong which is located 16 Km away from the Paro Town. The name Drukgyal means “Victorious”. Although in ruins, this Dzong is of great historical importance. It was here that the Bhutanese finally defeated the invading Tibetans and drove them back. From here, the peak of Jumolhari “Mountain of the Goddess” can be seen on a clear day (Alt. 7329m/24,029ft.). Evening: Take a stroll through Paro town. O/N in Paro.
Day 9: Hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery
After breakfast, hike to Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery, which is the most famous monastery in Bhutan. Guru Rinpoche, an Indian saint is said to have flown on the back of a tigress from Singye Dzong in Lhuntse to meditate in a cave where Taktsang Monastery now stands. It is perched on the edge of a steep cliff, about 900 meters above Paro Valley. The hike to reach the viewpoint to the monastery makes for a nice half-day excursion. Hike back to Paro. In the evening you can explore Paro town. O/N in Paro.
Day 10: Depart Paro
Drive to the airport for departure. Our guide will bid you farewellNOTE: This itinerary is a sample itinerary intended to give you a general idea of trip to Bhutan. We can tailor an itinerary to suit your requirements and interests.