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Must-see Cultural Events for a Tour to Tibet in 2014

November 19, 2013 Tour Operator No Comments Email Email

Tibet is widely believed to be a cultural kingdom on the roof of the world. Throughout the year, Tibet hosts many traditional festivals to celebrate its unique cultural identities, such as the Losar Festival (Tibetan New Year), Saga Dawa Festival, Gyantse Horse Racing Festival, Tashilhunpo Thangka Festival and Shoton Festival. Given the intensive cultural immersion opportunity from one or more such events, tourists will have a rewarding experience from a festival tour to Tibet.

Shoton Festival

Shoton Festival

1. Losar (Tibetan New Year)

A year consists of twelve (or thirteen) lunar months in Tibetan calendar. As the most important festival for local people, Losar begins on the first day of the year (in late January or early February in the western calendar). “Losar” is derived from two Tibetan words ‘Lo’ denoting ‘year’ and ‘sar’, signifying ‘new’. The celebration lasts fifteen days, but the highlight falls on the first three. Tibetans in their finest clothes gather together, singing and dancing. Religious activities are indispensable for such a significant festival. Locals hang prayer flags outside their houses and around the village. They also visit temples to worship Buddha and donate to monks.

2. Cham Dancing Festival

Cham is a religious dance performed by monks with lively masks, brightly colored robes and, sometimes, aprons and other ornamentation traditionally made of bones. The dance is always accompanied by music played with traditional Tibetan instruments. Cham dating back to the eighth century is actually a form of meditation and an offering to the Tibetan Gods. The Cham Dancing Festival is held in monasteries at different time to please the Gods, eliminate disasters and adore totems.

3. Saga Dawa Festival

Saga Dawa refers to the fourth lunar month in Tibetan calendar. The seventh day of this month is the birthday of Buddha. However, the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and entry into Nirvana at his death are observed together on the fifteenth day of this month. Thus, it is a sacred month, during which any merits obtained from the performance of good deeds or religious practices are doubled. Various religious ceremonies are held in monasteries, especially on the fifteenth day. Groups of pilgrims walk around Barkhor Street as they turn a prayer wheel and murmur the Six-Word Mantra (Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum) repeatedly. Some even perform full-body prostrations or long kowtows around monasteries, scared lakes and mountains.

4. Tashilhunpo Thangka Festival

Tashilunpo Monastery in Shigatse is known as the seat of the Panchen Lama. The Thangka Festival held in Tashilunpo from May 14 to May 15 in Tibetan Calendar is highly popular among local Tibetans and tourists. Unlike other monasteries, Tashilunpo unveils Thangkas of different Buddhas every day. Dipankara (Buddha of the Past) Thangka is unveiled on the first day, Shakyamuni (Buddha of the Present) Thangka on the second day and Maitreya (Buddha of the Future) Thangka on the third day. Interesting Cham dancing is also performed to celebrate the festival. Travelers can drop a visit to this monastery on the way from Lhasa to Kathmandu or Everest Base Camp.

5. Shoton Festival

Shoton Festival, a week-long event starting on the last day of the sixth month in Tibetan calendar, is one of the most popular traditional festivals in Tibet. It dates back to the 11th century and was originally a religious occasion. Local people would offer yogurt to monks who had finished their meditation retreats. Thus, it is also known as Yogurt Banquet Festival. Over time, the festival celebration has developed to feature both religious rituals and civil entertainments. It starts with unfolding a huge piece of Thangka on the early morning of the first day at Drepung Monastery. Then people watch performances of Tibetan opera, dancing and singing, and yak/horse racing, or eat yogurt.

6. Nagchu Horse Racing Festival

Nagchu Horse Festival held in early August is one of the top three grandest horse racing events on the Tibetan Plateau. It attracts hundreds of nomads eager to show off their horsemanship skills, or trade for tools and supplies. A few days before the festival, thousands of traditionally dressed Tibetans from different areas gather on Changtang Grassland. They set up their tents and wait for the exciting moments. The festival features horse racing, yak racing, tug-of-war, rock-lifting, archery shooting, Tibetan group dancing, Tibetan opera and commodity trading. It is absolutely a grand function for locals and visitors.

Besides the aforementioned, Tibetan people also celebrate many other festivals, like the Bathing Festival and Ongkor Festival. It is hard to list them all.

Source from Tibet Travel ORG (, the top online travel agency specializing in Tibet tour services.

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