Anywhere in Bhutan, the most celebrated festival would most definitely be the local tsechu. The word, tsechu, is derived from the Dzongkha terms for date (tse) and the number 10 (chutham). Appropriately, a tsechu is conducted on and around the auspiscious tenth day of a selected month (according to the lunar calendar), once every year.
Like festivals everywhere the world over, a tsechu is a social affair. Populaces gather at the local dzong or lhakhang in the Western equivalent of their Sunday best with packed lunches and make merry. It is important to remember that a tsechu is essentially a religious affair. That is why the high-points of such festivals are the masked dances that monks 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 tsechus especially memorable auditory and visual experiences. For the Bhutanese, though, no tsechu 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 best known tsechus are those of Paro and Punakha, which are held in the spring, and that of Thimphu, which is held in the fall. As these are the most popular traveling seasons, visitors may see other camera-sporting tourists, some much too eager to encroach upon performers’ space. While the generally polite Bhutanese may not admonish such tress passing, respectful behavior more appropriate to religious occasions will go better appreciated.