Bhutan: Holidays, Events, and National Customs
|8th August||Independence day|
|November 11||His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk’s birthday|
|December 17||National holiday|
Source: Countryaah – Bhutan Holidays
Photography is not allowed during Buddhist festivals.
Buddhist festivals with traditional dances, mask shows and rites are held regularly in the dzongs, the monasteries and administrative offices of the spiritual and secular powers of the individual Bhutanese provinces. There are over 40 different dances depicting Buddhist history and legends, performed by monks in disguise. Tsechus is the most colorful festival in Bhutan and lasts for five days.
Archery is the Bhutanese national sport. Trekking through the Himalayas is a special experience. However, it is only allowed in groups and must be booked or clarified in writing with the trekking manager at the Bhutanese tourist office. There is a 9-hole golf course in Thimphu, the only one in Bhutan.
In Bhutan you should meet the people – where not? – approach with restraint, friendliness and openness. Here, too, observation is more important than any expression of displeasure about cultural differences. This includes, at the top of the list, respect for the king and the royal family, who enjoy the highest esteem in the country. Critical opinions and comments of any kind should therefore be avoided.
State religion of Bhutan is the Vajrayana – Buddhism, a tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism. Culture, jurisprudence and everyday life are strongly influenced by this religion and also require visitors to the country to observe some important rules of behavior: Whoever visits religious buildings (e.g. stupas, dzongs or mani stones) bypasses them clockwise, i.e. in a way that that they are always to the right of you. Please do not rely on stupas and mani stones. Anyone wishing to visit temples inside should do so without shoes and headgear. Appropriate (i.e. not too revealing) clothing is mandatory and shows respect. When visiting monasteries one should be prepared for small donations. They are not mandatory, but show generosity and respect.
Due to the hesitant and cautious opening of Bhutan to other countries, old ways of life have been preserved unaltered. The traditional center of life is the extended family that lives under one roof. Compared to neighboring countries, the status of women is comparatively high. In some regions of the country, the eldest daughter inherits the family farm, her husband moves in with her, which gives the woman a relatively high level of security and a position of power. There is a strong sense of family and a strong sense of community unites the residents of the valleys.
The Bhutanese men traditionally wear a gho, a long robe that is held together at the waist with a belt, the kera. The women’s ankle-length dress is called Kira. It is made from colorful woven fabrics following traditional patterns.
Almost all Bhutanese houses are painted with symbols that are said to bring fertility or to deter evil spirits. Every Bhutanese house has a room for prayers, the chosum. In general, the whole architecture of the country – and completely independent of its actual purpose – must correspond to the traditional construction method.
Photography should be an important topic for every visitor to Bhutan: It should be noted that you are not allowed or should not take photos everywhere. If photography is not allowed during the Buddhist festivals, it is simply not (always) appropriate in (certain) temples and monasteries. If you want to photograph people, they should definitely be asked for their permission. A gesture is often enough.
On December 17, 2004, Bhutan declared itself the first nicotine-free country in the world, and tobacco trade was banned. There is a general smoking ban in the country, but this does not fully apply to tourists. You should definitely refrain from smoking in public, even if it will be difficult for some. Nobody is (understandably) allowed to smoke in monasteries and temples.
It is also interesting that television was only introduced in Bhutan in 1999. Thus, television was the last country in the world to find its way into the small kingdom in the Himalayas. But even today, television is still not a free medium, its content is mainly determined by the royal family and is largely used for health issues. Mobile phones have only been allowed in Bhutan since 2004.
The ideas of what is meant by a particularly favorable travel climate depend on a number of factors. For example, cultural travelers see the climate very differently than people who want to spend a pure beach holiday, for example. The state of health or age can also play an important role. Therefore, our travel time recommendations are divided into the following two categories:
For people who are more used to the sun
For people who like to enjoy a lot of sun and for whom higher temperatures do not cause problems, the following seasons are particularly suitable for a stay in the country: Summer
For people who prefer a temperate climate
People who prefer a moderate climate and lower temperatures should better use the following seasons to stay in Bhutan: winter, spring and autumn.
|Month||Average number of rainy days||Mean maximum temperatures in (°C)||Mean minimum temperatures in (°C)|
- Abbreviationfinder.org: Presents the way that BT stands for the nation of Bhutan as a two-letter acronym.
About 15,000 people live in this small western town, which extends at an altitude of about 2400 meters. One of the reasons why the city is so important for tourism is that Bhutan’s only airport is located here. But the great attractions (including the monastery Taktshang, Temple Dungtse Lakhang, Temple Kyichu Lhakhang) are worth a visit to the Paro Valley necessarily.
This border town to India in the south of Bhutan is home to around 30,000 residents and fulfills an important transit function for Bhutanese imports and exports. Since phuentsholing remains the only way for most non-Indians to reach Bhutan, it is also of enormous importance in this regard. The main attraction of the city is the Karbandi Monastery.
About 69,000 people live in the capital of Bhutan. The city spreads out along the Wang Chu River and is at an altitude of 2,736 meters. It is the seat of the government, parliament and administration of Bhutan and offers some interesting sights such as the Trashi Chhoe Dzong monastery, which is now used as the seat of government, the Dechenchoeling Palace and the memorial chortens for King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk.
The small town of Tongsa in the center of Bhutan is an estimated 2,800 meters high and offers interested visitors such sights as the monastery fortress Tongsa Dzong, the observation tower Ta Dzong and the birthplace of King Jigme Dorje Wangchuk.
Buddha Dordenma statue
The largest statue of the Buddha has been in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu since 2008. It rises on the Kuensel Phodrang mountain and overlooks the entire city.
Dechenchoeling Palace in Thimphu
The imposing Dechenchoeling Palace in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu is the official residence of the country’s king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. The palace can be found in the north of the city.
It dominates the entire skyline of Thimphu and is dedicated to the third Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, after his sudden death while sailing abroad. Major renovations have been started to make the building shine on the occasion of the monarch’s century in 2008.
The National Library in Thimphu was established in 1967 and built in the style of traditional temples. In addition to a large collection of religious books, the library also has countless manuscripts in Dzongkha, classical Tibetan and English. The most famous gem of the library is the copy of the world’s largest published book on earth.
National Post Office
The National Post Office on Chang lam in Thimphu is a fantastic institution because one of the most important Bhutanese exports can be seen and bought here: the postage stamps. Philatelists around the world know that Bhutan is the first country to design and export quality postage stamps.
Bell Tower Square
This recently renovated square in Thimphu is lined with shops and restaurants and features fountains and traditional Bhutanese mani lhalhor (= wheels of prayer). This is also where the luxurious Druk Hotel rises.
Drukyel Dzong in Paro
This former Buddhist monastery fortress is located in the Paro district. It was built in 1647 on a rocky plateau in the upper Paro valley. The fortress, 18 kilometers from Paro, burned down in part in 1951 and has unfortunately been falling apart since then. But you can visit the ruins.
Kyichu Lhakhang (also Kyerchu Lhakhang) in Paro
This Bhutanese temple was founded in the 7th century and designed in the Pagon style. This temple is one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in the country, and the Boddhisattwa statues in the chancel are particularly well worth seeing and famous. Incidentally, the sacred building was furnished by Songtsen Gampo.
Punakha Dzong in Punakha
The Punakha Dzong, built in 1637 by Ngawang Namgyal at the confluence of the Mochu and Pochu rivers, was supposed to offer effective protection against the invading Tibetans. The outstanding example of Bhutanese monastery architecture was damaged in a fire in 1987, but it was quickly restored. After a flood caused further damage to the Dzong in 1994, the monastery was equipped with a three meter high river wall after its renovation.
Rinpung Dzong near Paro
This large Buddhist monastery fortress in the Paro district was built in the 15th century. It served as the backdrop for the US feature film Little Buddha (1993), some of which was shot on the premises of the dzong.
Taktshang (German Tiger’s Nest Monastery) near Paro
As one of the most famous and popular photo opportunities in the country, the wonderful Tiger’s Nest Monastery rises 700 meters above the Paro Valley. It was built in 1692 on a rock that (nowadays) can only be reached on foot or with the help of a mule. According to legend, an empress transformed into a flying tiger and carried Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) – the founder of Buddhism in Tibet in the 9th century – there on her back.
Trashi Chhoe Dzong in Thimphu
This fortress-like monastery complex dates back to the 13th century, but was expanded in the 1960s. Since 1952 it has served as the seat of the state government and, in the summer months, also for Je Khenpo, the religious head of Bhutan.
Museums and galleries
National Folklore Museum
Behind the National Library at Chhopel Lam in Thimphu is the Folklore Museum, which offers interesting insights into the traditional agricultural life of the Bhutanese.
At the end of the Norzin Lan in Thimphu is the city’s textile museum. It exhibits numerous Bhutanese textiles that reflect the wealth and tradition of the country’s culture. It also features colorful and rare kiras (traditional clothing for women) and ghos (clothing for men).
VAST (Thimphu’s Voluntary Artist’s Studio)
This busy place is on Chang Lam, where artists teach children to draw and paint after school and on weekends. On the top floor there is a gallery with traditional and contemporary works. There is also a library and a café where artists are encouraged to meet and get to know each other.
Jigme Dorji National Park
The largest national park in the country extends over 4,300 square kilometers in northwest Bhutan. It covers the entire Gasa District and the western areas of Thimphu and Paro Districts. The park is the habitat of many wild animals, including snow leopards, the Himalayan black bear and the red panda. But also a wide range of herbs and plants grow here. They are used for traditional medicine.
Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park
This national park in central Bhutan measures 1,400 square kilometers. In addition to the impressive tree population, there is plenty of wildlife to see such as red pandas and many species of birds.
Royal Manas National Park
Also in the central part of Bhutan is the Royal Manas National Park, which extends to around 1,000 square kilometers and is home to a wide variety of wild animals. These include tigers, leopards, bears, and elephants.
Trumshingla National Park
This national park, which was founded in 1998, extends over 768 square kilometers in Eastern Bhutan.
Bomdeling Game Reserve
Those who want to see such natural curiosities as blue sheep, red pandas or snow leopards should come to Bhutan’s Bomdeling Game Reserve, which covers a large part of the Trashi Yangtse district. The reserve of 1,550 square kilometers was established in 1995.
Khaling Game Reserve
In the Samdrup Jongkhar District of Bhutan is the Khaling Game Reserve, which extends over an area of 273 square kilometers. Elephants, rabbits and pigs are represented among many other wild animals.
Phibsoo Game Reserve
Located in the Sarpang District, this game reserve is 278 square kilometers.
Sakteng Game Reserve
The Sakten Game Reserve in the Trashigang district extends over a total of 650 square kilometers. The area consists of dense forest with conifers and rhododendrons. Legend has it that this is also the home of the Yeti, the most famous of all snow people.
Toorsa Strict Nature Reserve
Between the Haa and Samtse districts in western Bhutan, this approximately 650 square km game reserve is located.
The Gangkhar Puensum is the highest mountain in Bhutan and at the same time the highest mountain in the world that has not yet been climbed. Four expeditions have already tried to climb the 7,570 meter high monster since it was released in 1983. Unsuccessful! Since 1994, climbing mountains over 6,000 meters has been prohibited due to local religious traditions; since 2003, mountain climbing has even been utterly impossible in the country.