Put on your best clothing, learn about the culture and history of this beautiful place and join in the festivities, says Avril-Ann Braganza.
If you’re in Bhutan between 25th February and 2nd March this year and enjoy festivals, you might want to attend the Punakha Tshechu and Drubchen in Punakha.
Located in western Bhutan, Punakha has been important since the 17th century during the days of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Known as the unifier of Bhutan as a nation state, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal gave Bhutan and its people the distinct cultural identity.
Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal led the Bhutanese to victory over the Tibetans, in the 17th century when Bhutan was invaded several times by the Tibetans, who sought to seize a precious relic, the Ranjung Kharsapani. He introduced the Punakha Drubchen (also known as Puna Drubchen), which has become the annual festival of Punakha Dzongkhag to commemorate this defeat.
With a dramatic re-creation of the 17th-century battle against the Tibetan army, the pazaps or local militia men, dress in traditional battle gear and re-enact the ancient battle scene, which goes back to the time when in the absence of a standing army, men from the eight Tshogchens (great village blocks) of Thimphu managed to expel the enemy.
Mask Dances are an integral aspect of Bhutanese culture and folklore and are prominent in every celebration.
While some families enjoy cooking special dishes like ‘shakam paa’ and ‘sikam paa’ and then have a picnic at the festive site, these dishes are also served in all the restaurants.
In 2005 another festival known as Punakha Tshechu was introduced by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and the then Home Minister Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinley.
The Tshechu was introduced to preserve Buddhist teachings and keep alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Rimpoche. The two festivals also provide devout Buddhists with an opportunity for prayer and pilgrimage.