Must See Festivals in Nepal

Posted by Crooked Compass

Nepal is an amazing land of diverse sights, incredible landscapes, intriguing but captive traditions and beliefs, character filled people, bold passion, core values, striking dress and unique experiences.  Local and traditional festivals engage all your senses, with their colours, scents, tastes and passion – the sheer rawness and spontaneity epitomise the whole experience while your curiosity to understand, experience and be involved draws you in.

Nepal has a rich culture and strong connections to Hindu traditions and festivals. Below are our top three picks for you to tie in with your travels when venturing to this spectacular part of the world!

Maha Shivratri festival in Nepal
Maha Shivratri festival in Nepal

Maha Shivaratri, Kathmandu, Nepal

This transcendent Hindu festival (Maha Shivaratri) with a carnival like atmosphere in the lowlands of the Himalayas is one of the more culturally fascinating events in the world.

Hosted at the Pashupatinath Temple on the bank of the sacred Bagmati River, Maha Shivaratri is an elaborate celebration of the Hindu god of destruction, Shiva, and his marriage to the goddess Pavrati. Thousands flock to honour Shiva and discourage bad karma by fasting, lighting the lamp of knowledge, making offerings of fruit and betel leaves and cleansing the Shiva Linga with milk, water and honey.

Aside from the immense crowds, it’s a happy and welcoming festival. Looking down on the temple from the opposite side you’ll witness cremations, blessings, people taking a holy dip in the river, as well as throngs of people who stay up all night lighting bonfires.

There’s also a celebratory flavour to Maha Shivaratri, with musicians playing sitars and table drums, dancers in vibrant colours lyrically surrounding the temple and street vendors hawking religious wares.

However, it’s the Sadhus (wandering monks) that make Pashupatinath that extra bit special during the festival. Dressed in ochre and saffron coloured robes, many of the Sadhus have dreadlocks, painted faces and their bodies covered in ash to give it a pale complexion.

During the festival the Sadhus, as well as locals, openly smoke hashish in and around Pashupatinath, as well as drinking bhang (milk spiced with marijuana leaves). Interestingly, Nepal is one of the few countries in the world that makes it legal to consume and carry hashish, but only during the period of the Maha Shivaratri.

Maha Shivaratri is a once in a lifetime experience that allows visitors to witness and participate in a culture celebrating one of its most important events.

INSIDERS TIP: Only believers in Pashupatinath (mainly Hindus) are allowed to enter the actual stone temple, so it’s best to position yourselves out of the way of worshipers but close enough to watch, as they present marigold lei, coconut and other offerings to Shiva. There’s a terrace above the temple that can give you a great view.

Also, book your accommodation early given the masses of people that make the pilgrimage to the festival. Crooked Compass can help you with this.

When: The Maha Shivarati Festival falls annually on the fourteenth day of the waning moon in the month of Phalgu (i.e. dates vary each year and usually falls in the second half of January or early February in the English calendar).

Where: The festival is held at the Pashupatinath Temple which is located between the Kathmandu Airport and the Kathmandu City Centre, about 4km east of the city.

How to get there: Kathmandu has an international airport and is easily accessed via flights with Jet Airways, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Lufthansa.

How Much: The festival is free to attend.

World Polo Championships Nepal
World Polo Championships Nepal

World Elephant Polo Championships, Badia National Park, Karnali, Nepal

The World Elephant Polo Championships is a sport which has always punched above its weight and a sport that is fondly known as the biggest sport in the world. So if you are looking for adventure or just curiosity, you will certainly not be disappointed.

Teams from Nepal and India, as well as Europe, Asia, USA and Australia usually compete in the annual World Elephant Polo Championships which are held at Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge.

The rules for elephant polo are similar to horse polo, though the pace is obviously slower. A team comprises four elephants, with each elephant carrying a mahout (the person who works with and rides the elephant) and the player. Smaller elephants are used for attack and the larger elephants block or defend the goal.

One of the player’s main difficulties seems to be staying on the elephant’s back, with the elephants often becoming more excited than the players. They can take over the game, run away with the sticks or stand on the balls, which can take minutes to dig out.

The ultimate aim of the World Elephant Polo Championships is to raise awareness about elephant conservation, anti-poaching efforts and to promote engagement with the local communities.

If you are travelling to the Chitwan National Park, Bardia National Park or Nawalparashi around November – December, make sure you do not miss this spectacular event.

INSIDERS TIP: Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge is a world away from the chaotic hustle of Kathmandu. An area of extraordinary beauty and abundant wildlife, so why not incorporate a stay at Karnali Lodge during the Championships which offers a journey of adventure and an opportunity to reconnect with nature.

When: Held annually in late November over 7 days.

Where: Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge, on the edge of Bardia National Park, Karnali.

How to get there: There are buses from both Pokhara (approx. 12hrs) and Kathmandu (approx. 17hrs) directly to Bardia.

Another option is to take a forty five minute flight from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj Airport. From Nepalgunj, you can take a bus to Bardia which takes a couple of hours. Hiring a private taxi from Nepalgunj Bardia is also possible.

If you have accommodation at Tiger Tops Karnali Lodge, a Tiger Tops vehicle will meet you at Nepalgunj Airport and transfer you.

How Much: Whilst there are numerous fund raising events held during the Championships, a small entry fee is also usually charged.

Kathmandu has an international airport and is easily accessed via flights with Jet Airways, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Lufthansa.

Holi Festival Nepal
Holi Festival Nepal

Holi Festival, Kathmandu, Nepal

Holi is a Hindu festival, celebrated at Phalguna Purnima (Full Moon) at the end of winter's last lunar month and is all about celebrating the start of spring and the victory of “good over evil” with lots of coloured powder and water.

The Holi Festival is also known as the Festival of Colours with the event lasting 24 hours from sunset on the day before the festival (when Holika bonfires are lit and people congregate to dance and sing) until sunset on the day of the festival.

The main event on the second day is when people paint each other’s faces and bodies with coloured powder and then throw coloured powder at each other. Besides the people in the street who throw colour powder around, it is quite common for people to also throw buckets of ice cold water from their windows onto the celebrating crowd or simply throw water balloons at each other. It’s all in good fun and almost everyone finds themselves participating one way or the other.

If you want to experience one of Nepal’s most lively and colourful festivals, you should think of planning your visit to Nepal at the same time as the spring festival of Holi.

INSIDERS TIP: Be sure to wear old clothes if you are going out, as you will not be asked before you are pelted.

When: The Holi Festival is held annually, usually in March and occasionally at the end of February.

Where: Durbar Square, Kathmandu.

How to get there: Kathmandu has an international airport and is easily accessed via flights with Jet Airways, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Lufthansa.

How Much: There is no fee to either watch the festival or become part of the festival.

Bisket Jatra, Bhaktapur, Nepal
Bisket Jatra, Bhaktapur, Nepal

Bisket Jatra, Bhaktapur, Nepal

Bisket Jatra is a spectacular nine day festival which heralds the start of the Nepali New Year and is celebrated with the most assurance in Bhaktapur.

The festival centrepiece of one of the most exciting annual events in the Kathmandu Valley is a huge golden chariot, carrying images of the god Bhairab being hauled by dozens of villagers around the town. Along the journey, the chariot pauses to enable a tug-of-war to take place between the inhabitants of the east and west sides of Bhaktapur.

Once at Khalna Tole, a 25 metre-high phallic symbol is installed on a stone platform that is demolished the following day in the aftermath of yet another tug-of-war. As the phallic symbol crashes to the ground, the New Year officially commences.

There is much music, dancing and revelry over the duration of the festival.

INSIDERS TIP: Bhaktapur is just 14km from Kathmandu and accommodation options are limited, so you might prefer to stay in the capital.

When: The festival is an annual event which takes place in mid-April (i.e. the beginning of the Nepali month of Baisakh).

Where: Khalna Tole, Bhaktapur, Nepal.

How to get there: Local buses run from Kathmandu to Bhaktapur (approx. 40 – 60 minutes) and cost about 25 NRS. Taxis are also available and cost around 800 NRS.

Kathmandu has an international airport and is easily accessed via flights with Jet Airways, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Lufthansa.

How Much: There is no fee to view the festival.

 

Looking for more information or more unique festivals? Download the Crooked Compass Travel App for more details or contact our team to organise your travels including a festival for your next adventure!