Happy Yoghurt Festival

Explore Tibet wishes a Happy Yoghurt Festival to all of our dear friends around the world! 

The giant thangka on display at Drepung Monastery for Shoton Festival

This week in Lhasa one of the biggest Tibetan festivals of the year is being celebrated: the annual Yoghurt Festival. Beginning on the 20th of August and continuing for seven days, the Yoghurt Festival is a week-long event that showcases Tibetan Buddhist rituals and traditional Tibetan culture.

It all begins at Drepung Monastery, one of the largest monasteries in Lhasa and a must-see for any Tibet tour, with the unveiling of a giant thangka on the mountain at sunrise. Pilgrims and tourists gather together in the pre-dawn darkness to watch the ceremonial unveiling, accompanied by monks chanting and beating drums.

Thousands of people crowd the mountainside behind Drepung Monastery to offer white silk ceremonial scarves and receive blessings from the giant Buddha image. It is one of the most iconic Tibetan festivals, and one that a summer tour to Tibet should be sure to include for a real taste of Tibetan culture.

The Yoghurt Festival, called in Tibetan language “Shoton”, is a tradition that has lasted for many centuries, and has two distinct parts to it: the Buddha thangka display, and the Tibetan Opera (“Lhamo”) performances. “Shoton” means “Yoghurt Feast”, referring to the way the festival originated with yoghurt being offered to monks as they came out from their summer retreat period.

Watermelons carved to say “Lhasa’s Shoton” on display at the Norbulinka

After the first day’s Buddha thangka displays at Drepung Monastery and Sera Monastery – Lhasa’s two largest monasteries – the festival continues at the Norbulinka park in western Lhasa.

On the second day of the Yoghurt Festival, traditional Tibetan Opera performances begin at the Dalai Lama’s summer palace, the Norbulinka. Traditional Tibetan Opera has a unique dramatic style, featuring masks, simple drum beats, and stylised song and dance routines to tell the story. Plays are long, beginning at 9am and often not finishing until late in the afternoon.

Crowds of people gather to watch the Tibetan Opera performances

While some enjoy the performances, many more crowd into the Norbulinka’s gardens for a week-long picnic. Hundreds of local Tibetan people head out with their families and close friends to spend the warm summer days picnicking and playing games beneath the trees.

The Yoghurt festival is one of the most joy-filled Tibetan cultural celebrations, and a great opportunity for visitors to taste Tibetan culture in Lhasa and experience real Tibet. Explore Tibet welcomes you to join us next summer for a Yoghurt Festival tour, or contact us to find out which other festivals are coming up for you to be a part of.