23-25 March 2024

Bhutan hosts several annual cultural festivals. One of the most popular and significant is the Paro Tshechu. Tshechus are religious festivals celebrated in various districts across Bhutan. However, the Paro Tshechu remains particularly enjoyable because of its grandeur and cultural significance.

The Paro Festival occurs on the tenth day of the month of the lunar Tibetan calendar. The month depends on the location. In Paro, it usually takes place in the spring, March or April. The Tsechu celebrates Guru Rinpoche, A.K.A. Padmasambhava, the honored saint who brought Buddhism to Bhutan. The festival also commemorates the birth anniversary of Guru Rinpoche. 

It appears everyone comes to Paro for this festival. Considering the roads (pardon, road), that is quite the achievement for some. Local communities take this opportunity to come together to socialize and celebrate their cultural identity and religious faith. 

I haven’t seen this many people since I left India. 

The tshechu lasts for five days with various religious ceremonies, rituals, and cultural performances. It is a time of bright costumes, music, and dance. During the festival, monks in colorful costumes perform traditional masked dances and performances that tell religious stories and legends. 

What are Chams?

The series of colorful masked dances known as cham highlight Paro Tshechus. Cham are lively masked and costumed dances associated with the sects of Tibetan Buddhism. Monks and laymen preform in elaborate costumes representing various deities, demons, and legendary characters from Bhutanese folklore. A particularly popular dance is the Shana or Dance of the Black Hats usually followed by the Sha nga ngacham or Dance of the 21 Black Hats with Drums. 

Another highlight is the mask dance of the “Great Demon.” Purportedly, this dance drives away evil spirits and brings good luck and prosperity. This dance, also known as the “Dance of the Lord of Death and His Consorts,” holds great religious and cultural significance in Bhutanese Buddhism.

During the Great Demon Dance, dancers adorned in elaborate costumes and intricate masks represent various deities, demons, and celestial beings from Bhutanese mythology. The main focus of this dance is the depiction of wrathful deities, particularly the fearsome deity known as “Dorji Drolo” or the “Lord of Death.”

The dance symbolizes the triumph of good over evil and the subjugation of negative forces. Highly synchronized, performers dance in intricate movements to traditional music and chants. The meticulously crafted costumes and masks feature vibrant colors and intricate designs. According to belief the performance of the Great Demon Dance helps dispel obstacles, purify negative energies, and bring blessings and protection to the community. 

The ever-present “clowns” keep things moving with comic relief

The dances are often dramatic and sometimes humorous, offering people an opportunity to experience the teachings of Buddhism and deepen their own spiritual practices. Adults enjoy the festivities as much as the children. 

Cultural Performances

In addition to the religious ceremonies, the Paro Festival also features traditional Bhutanese cultural performances, including songs and theatrical presentations, showcasing the country’s cultural heritage, foods and traditions. Throughout each day, a participants perform a number of choreographed stylized and synchronized dances . Some of the more interesting sounding ones were  Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds,  Dance of the Stag and Hound, and Dance of the Terrifying Deities.

Unfurling of Thongdril

On the final day of the festival, we wake before sunrise! We have decided not to join the thousands of pilgrams who march in a procession to witness the ritual of the Unfurling of Thongdril. Instead, we wait and join the crowd and festivities after the unfurling.

The Thongdril is a giant religious banner (98×148 feet) depicting Shri Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche and his two consorts.  The banner unfurls before dawn for a brief time, offering attendees the opportunity to receive blessings by witnessing the sacred image. Before sunrise, the painted banner is rerolled and stored in the Paro Dzong for another year.

A hint about the crowds at this festival: there are thousands of people and almost no seating. There is a hill you can climb and hopefully get a view of the dances and ceremonies occurring on the square below. Otherwise, you sit on the ground or mingle with the shoving crowds.

If you are tall you might see over heads of those in front. Otherwise, you see heads. There is a schedule of events and dances so you can time the part of day you want to attend, or avoid. You can hear some explanations in English.

Paro Festival is a vibrant and spiritual event. It attracts huge crowds of locals and tourists alike, offering a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in Bhutanese culture, religion, and tradition. The Bhutanese and their children dress for the occasion and are as colorful and interesting as many of the singers and performers.


Retired. Have time for the things I love: travel, my cat, reading, good food, travel, genealogy, walking, and of course travel.


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