Explore Tibet Offers Seasonal Guide to Tibetan Holidays and Festivals
2013-01-23

Tibet has hundreds of cultural celebrations year-round, fortunately for travelers most of them fall in the high tourist season. Explore Tibet, a Lhasa-basedTibet tour agency that focuses on responsible tourism, has put together a guide to help travelers understand the historic and religious significance of Tibet’s major holidays, including where and how they can participate in them this year.

The main summer holiday celebrated in Tibet is Saga Dawa, which honors the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. It falls on the full moon of the fourth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, and it is one of the most important festivals for Buddhists all over the world. This year the festival will take place on June 4th.

Buddhists believe that the karmic merit of prayer and good deeds is multiplied during Saga Dawa. Pilgrims from all over Asia will journey to holy sites in Tibet this June, where they will perform rites such as prostration, circumambulation of holy sites and stupas, abstaining from eating meat, giving alms to the poor, and praying and spinning prayer wheels. The best places to participate in Saga Dawa activities are Lhasa in central Tibet, and Mt.Kailash tour, a pilgrimage site in remote western Tibet.

On July 20th thousands of Tibetan nomads will flock to Gyantse for the Horse and Archery Festival and Competition. Gyantse is located about 260 kilometers southwest of Lhasa. The festival and competition take place in the valley fields surrounding the city.

The summer festival dates to the beginning of the 15th century, and includes competitions in horse racing and archery, as well as performances of traditional folk singing and dancing. As participants gather for the festival families erect their traditional nomadic tents, forming a lively temporary city where people barter, trade, and socialize.

The Tashilhunpo Thangka display occurs every year during the second week of the fifth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar at the Tashilhunpo Monastery in the town of Shigatse. The monastery is the traditional home of the Panchen Lama, considered to be the most important spiritual leader in Tibet after the Dalai Lama himself. This year the activities and displays will begin on July 3rd and last for three days.

Over the course of these days three different thangka paintings will be displayed on a special wall outside the monastery for two hours, and pilgrims from all over the region will attend the ceremony. The three paintings represent the past, present, and future, and attendance at the ceremony brings blessings to the visitor for the coming year.

The annual Shodun Yogurt Festival will take place this year from August 17-22 in Lhasa at Norbulinka Palace and park in Lhasa. Before the end of the 16th century the Shodun festival was purely religious. Monks would stay secluded indoors for about a month in the summer to avoid killing the newly-born insects and small animals. They would focus on meditation and spiritual practice. At the end of the summer they would leave seclusion and the lay people would bring them yogurt.

This religious observance turned into a celebration where many people gather in the park around the palace for picnics and musical performances.

Starting in the middle of the 17th century Tibetan opera became a common feature of the Shodun festival. Opera and theatrical troupes would travel from different regions of Tibet to Lhasa to pay their respects to the Dalai Lama, whose traditional summer home is the palace at Norbulinka. During the festival the park is decorated with banners and traditional-style rugs. People spend the day there picnicking, and often build bonfires and celebrate late into the night.

Explore Tibet is a Tibetan-run travel agency focused on responsible tourism, Tibet permit and sustainable practice.

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