Huge turnout, outlandish outfits, and peculiar rituals, a dazzling array of outdoor events, plus tasty local delicacies, etc. traveling in Tibet during its bountiful festivals promises a mesmerizing experience beyond description.
For discerning travelers who long to soak up the authentic Buddhist culture in Tibet, do double check the Tibetan festival calendar and time your visit at your favorite Tibetan festival. Of all the Tibetan festivals, the top five festivities, we believe, are the must-dos for your festival tour in Tibet.
Watch the Buddha Thangka Unfolding during Shoton Festival
The Shoton Festival, also known as the yogurt-eating festival in Tibetan, falls on July, 1st and lasts around 4-5 days in Tibetan calendar. If you happen to travel in Lhasa in summer, never miss the chance to gain the first-hand experience of incredible Thangka Buddha unveiling ceremony in Drepung Monastery.
For cultural explorers, it’s a perfect chance to learn more of traditional Tibetan customs and taste home-made local snacks. Meanwhile, do follow the locals to Norbulingka where the dramatic Tibetan opera is performed before the eyes of the world. You may also enjoy your leisure time by mingling with locals for a panic under the lush trees. The air will be filled with laughers, singing, and exhilaration.
Of course, the most exciting event in the Shoton Festival is the Buddha Thangka Unfolding. You will see hundreds of thousands of Tibetans gathered to see the famous unfolding of the Buddha Thangka.
If you want to receive blessings, arrive at the Drepung Monastery at 4 am or 5 am and touch the Thangka of Buddha, before it is carried to the exhibition stage at the back of the Monastery. The grand ceremony begins at 8 am when the Thangka is unfolded along with the sunrise which is according to Tibetan tradition.
You won’t believe your eyes once the Thangka is unfolded! You will see a beautiful Thankga painting of Sakyamuni, which is another name for Lord Buddha. You can join in with the locals in throwing Hada which are long narrow scarves and money onto the Thangka. By 2 pm the Tangka is folded and carried back into the Drepung Monastery where you can join in the parade again.
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Enjoy the Nagqu Horse Racing Festival
The Nagqu Horse Racing Festival is the grandest annual event in Tibet with herdsmen arriving on their horses that gallop majestically. You can join in and spend the day and night with the herdsmen in their tents listening to their stories of Tibet while gazing at the stars.
You will notice the Nagqu Horse Racing Festival more of a social gathering where the locals engage in conversation, dance, sing and even flirt.
The main event is where the horses get involved. You will see a range of activities from horse racing, to horse riders performing tricks and displaying their horsemanship. Don’t miss the wrestling matches which is bound to get your adrenaline juices flowing.
The Nagqu Horse Racing Festival takes place for 3 to 7 days and takes place around August. The event is a tourist favorite, so if you want to spend some time in the event do book in advance by reaching out to the travel agency.
Follow the kora route of Mt. Kailash during Saga Dawa Festival
Wanna experience the most fervent Buddhist festival in Tibet? Come and Visit Tibet during the Saga Dawa Festival, a grand celebration observed to commemorate the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. The entire festival lasts for an entire month, while it culminates on April, 15th in Tibetan calendar, which is believed to be one of the most auspicious days for kora in Tibet.
By then, a sizeable number of Tibetan pilgrims will flock to Namtso Lake and Holy Mt. Kailash for kora. They believe the heartfelt prostration around these sacred sites during this particular time will help them gain multiple blessings from the Lord Buddha than normal days.
It is said that a circumambulation around Mount Kailash helps you gain merit to the path of enlightenment. Every circumambulation you take will multiply the merit by a 100,000 so try to make as many as you can for a lifetime of goodwill and positivity.
The respect is shown in the holy Mount Kailash where animals such as worms, crickets, and fish are bought and released into the natural habitats as a sign of Life release. If you want to live longer, this religious belief is said to give you a longer lifespan with more positivity.
You will sense spiritualism and a feeling of respect for the Buddhist religion with the activities during the Saga Dawa festival drawing you to happiness and fulfillment.
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Light Butter Lamps for Tsongkhapa Butter Lamp Festival
The Tsongkhapa Butter Lamp Festival is a commemoration to the founder of Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism, the parinirvana of Tsongkhapa. It is the festival of lights with butter lamps lit in every Tibetan house and temples and falls either in December or January just before the Tibetan New Year – Losar.
Be part of a bright day in front of the Jokhang temple where you will witness butter lamps everywhere. Don’t miss the roof of Jokhang Monastery which is spectacular because of all the twinkling lamps.
Light up your butter lamps and keep it in your favorite place. Watch your butter lamp bright up the Tibetan atmosphere. Hear the Buddhist chanting of the Mantra which will give you peace and a sense of enlightenment. Taste delicious Tibetan food and drinks during this day.
Join the Celebration for Tibetan New Year—Losar
Get out your cameras, be ready to eat and witness one of the most important and greatest celebrations you will ever be part. It’s not your typical New Year which lasts only one night. The Tibetan New Year continues for two weeks and usually begins in the January or February. Tibetan New Year of 2018 was celebrated on the 16th of February.
Take blessings with the ceremonies and chanting, dance with the locals like you never danced before and eat delicious soup served with dumplings called Guthuk. It is a time of merrymaking and fun!
Get invited to a Tibetan’s house for the reunion dinner on the second day of the New Year. Drink Chang, a local Tibetan alcoholic drink which will make you feel refreshed. Chat it up with the locals and hear tales that will get you swinging from laughing at their jokes to being surprised at some of the events spoken about.
The third day of the Tibetan New Year is the most religious day. Follow the devout Tibetan pilgrims to do kora around Jokhang temple and burn branches pine and cypress as an aromatic offering to mountain gods.
In addition, don’t forget to join the crowds to toss auspicious Tsampa high above air while erecting the colorful Tibetan prayer flags on the mountain passes. Local Tibetans are deeply convinced that the blessings written on these prayer flags will be spread into infinite space with the continual blow of the wind.
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If you are fascinated with Tibetan culture and profound Buddhist tradition that remained unchanged and want to most of your Tibet tour, do consider timing your visit during one of the exiting festivals in Tibet. Planning ahead and consulting our travel consultants can be fairly helpful for your visit.