When to Experience Local Culture – Buddhist Festivals & Events

Best Time to Experience Tibetan Local Culture - Buddhist Festivals & Holidays

Planning an unforgettable trip to Tibet?

Many travelers seek out Buddhist festivals and events. You might get lucky and see a local cultural event without advance scheduling. But if you really want to feel and experience a traditional Buddhist celebration, it’s essential to check the schedule and plan your travel accordingly.

There are many events held across the Plateau. But some of the festivals are more well-known, legendary, and coveted by world explorers than others.

In this article, we’ll go over the best Buddhist festivals and events in Tibet. After reading this quick lowdown to local happenings, you can better plan for your epic sojourn in the Tibetan world.

What is the most important festival in Tibetan Buddhism?

Important is a relative term. You could say that Saga Dawa Festival is the holiest event, which encompasses the whole Tibetan region. But Losar, the Tibetan New Year, together with the Shoton Festival are just incredibly popular.

There are other notable events held in Tibet, including Nagchu Horse Racing, Gyantse Damar, and Sakya Cham. Visiting any of these events makes for a great highlight of your Tibet culture tour.

Let’s look at these top Tibetan events and festivals in-depth.

#1: Losar or Tibetan New Year

Tibetan New Year is a time period full of colorful celebrations and unforgettable spectacles. The festival starts in February or March, depending on the particular year.

While the festival is linked to Tibetan Buddhism, part of these traditions predate Buddhism in the region. For example, some of the ceremonies focus on the fight between good and evil.

The most important celebrations take place during the first three days. Dancing, singing, and lighting firecrackers fill the streets of Lhasa Old Town and other major destinations in Tibet.

#2: Saga Dawa Festival

The holiest festival in Tibet remembers and celebrates Buddha Sakyamuni. Saga Dawa actually lasts for a full Tibetan month; however, the day of peak importance is the 15th day of the fourth month in Tibetan Calendar.

Here are some of the top activities you can enjoy during the 15th day:

  • Have an early evening picnic in Dzongyab Lukhan Park
  • Witness people circling around Tsekhor, Lingkhor, and Barkhor
  • Hear about the donations being given out to people in need
  • See pilgrimages carried out to various sacred spots in Tibet

The most important celebrations take place during the first three days. Dancing, singing, and lighting firecrackers fill the streets of Lhasa Old Town and other major destinations in Tibet.

#3: Shoton Festival

Did you know that a Yogurt Festival exists in Tibet? Sho stands for yogurt and Ton means a banquet. Usually, this celebration lasts from several days up to a whole week.

 

The Shoton Festival isn’t all about eating delicious local yogurt, though. You can see loads of people singing, dancing, and playing various traditional games. And you are able to enjoy classic Tibetan operas all over the Plateau’s hotspots.

#4: Nagchu Horse Racing Festival

This isn’t the only horse racing event in Tibet, but it’s definitely the most spectacular. You need to take a six-hour drive from Lhasa to reach Nagchu. It’s well worth it.
This event worthwhile to visit because there is…

  • Horse trading
  • Participants show off their best skills
  • An amazing opening ceremony

#5: Ongkor Festival

Ongkor Festival celebrates a bumper harvest season. The festival is usually celebrated in May and June. Many traditions and activities surround this farming holiday season. Expect lamas, singing, and plenty of butter tea!

Participating in this festival is a perfect window of opportunity to witness the rural life of Tibet. Note that Ongkor Festival dates aren’t set in stone. You’ll see regional variations in timing as well.

#6: Tsurphu Cham Festival

Cham dance is a traditional dance incorporated into the events of some Buddhist sects. While you can see cham dances in many Buddhist festivals, the Tsurphy Cham is a particular event held at Tsurphu Monastery.

Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet
Tsurphu Gonpa Monastery in Tibet. Photo by Reurinkjan (2009) https://flic.kr/p/3J13g6

These dances are often seen as a type of meditation. Captivating melodies produced by traditional folk Tibetan music instruments accompany these spiritual dances.
Tsurphu Cham usually takes place around May or June. Enquire with us for the latest information on Tsurphu Cham or any other Cham Festival organized in a Tibetan monastery.

In a nutshell: Tibetan Buddhist Festivals & Holidays

Do you want to maximize the potential of your Tibet tour experience? Feeling the enigmatic power of a traditional Tibet festival will surely elevate your trip of a lifetime.
Here are our top picks:

  • Losar / Tibetan New Year
  • Shoton / Yogurt Festival
  • Saga Dawa Festival
  • Nagchu / Nagqu Horse Racing Festival
  • Ongkor / Bumper Harvest Festival
  • Tsurphu Cham Festival