Want to add a twist to your holidays and experience a new adventure? What better way to immerse yourself in a country’s culture than by celebrating their festivals? Here’s are 14 Asian celebrations that are well worth the detour.
Magh Mela Festival India
The Magh Mela is one of the most sacred Hindu festivals, which takes place annually. Millions (up to 30) of devotees make their way to the confluence of three sacred rivers (the Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati) with the belief that the holy waters will wash away their sins. Every 12 years, the positions of stars and constellations make the rivers all the more sacred, enabling them to cure illnesses and purifying the devotees’ inner-selves – and that is when Kumph Mela takes place.
When: 14 January – 7 March 2016
Where: Triveni Sangam, India
Snow and Ice Festival
China’s coldest city plays host to the annual Harbin Snow & Ice Festival, which showcases jaw-dropping works of art, sculpted with ice from the Songhua River. This ephemeral art show is the ultimate Winter Wonderland and will delight kids just as much as adults. But make sure to bundle up, as temperatures in this northeast Chinese city can fall as low as minus 30 degrees centigrade!
When: opens January 5 2016
Where: Harbin, China
Pingxi Lantern Festival, Taiwan
Celebrating the Lantern Festival doesn’t get any better than in Pingxi. Every year, this city located north of Taipei, welcomes throngs of tourists and locals, inviting them to release lanterns into the sky, each inscribed with the owner’s wishes for the upcoming year. Thousands of lanterns floating into the night sky make for some pretty stunning photographs!
When: 4 February 2016
Where: Pingxi, Taiwan
Another Hindu festival not to be missed is the Holi Festival (aka Festival of Colors), which celebrates the end of winter and beginning of spring. Prior to the street dancing and colour water fights, a Holika bonfire takes place the night before, symbolising the burning of the devil (Holika). From there begins a day-long carnival of colours. Don’t forget to bring your own dye to partake in the festivities!
When: 23 March 2016
An important date in the Buddhist calendar, Songkran marks the beginning of the traditional Thai New Year. Locals celebrate by soaking anyone in the vicinity by any means possible (buckets of water and water guns are often the weapons of choice). Processions of Buddhas also take place on the first day of the festival (Songkran Day), followed by Wan Nao (Buddhists going to the temple) on the second day. On the third and last day (the Thai New year), offerings are left at temples.
When: 13 to 15 April 2016
An off the beaten track alternative to Songkran, is Thingyan, the Burmese New Year Water Festival, which takes place over 4 to 5 days. The sprinkling of scented water in a silver bowl marks the washing away of sins from the previous year. Everyone is fair game – with the exception of monks and pregnant women – and you can expect to be soaked to the bone!
When: 12 to 16 April 2016
Thrissur Pooram Elephant Festival
If there was an Olympic medal for World’s Greatest Temple Festival, the Thrissur Pooram Elephant Festival would win hands down. Every year, 30 or so elephants dressed to the nines, parade in the streets of Kerala and head to Vadakkunnathan temple, where Hindus then pay their respects to Shiva.
When: 8 April 2016
Where: Thrissur, Kerala, India
Naadam (“games” in Mongolian) is a traditional festival which shows off male participants’ strength. Referred to as the ‘Manly Games’, the festival pits contestants against each other in three different disciplines: wrestling, archery and horse-back riding. Women also take part in the festivities – but do not wrestle. Naadam dates back centuries – pre Genghis Khan, who later strategically used the festivities to scout top-notch talent for his army- and is now inscribed on the Representative List of the Intagible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
When: 11 to 15 July 2016
Where: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Photo by @irablockphoto (Ira Block) A Mongolian archer and his wife before a competition in Tsonjin Boldog, Eastern Mongolia. The winners of this event will compete in the National Naadam games on July 11. @thephotosociety #mongolia #naadam #archery #sonya7ii Une photo publiée par National Geographic (@natgeo) le
Bali Kite Festival
This is not your typical kite festival… the Bali Kite Festival, in addition to being an international event boasting each teams’ kite-flying skills, also has religious connotations, as the kites serve a purpose: sending messages to the Hindu Gods for an abundant harvest.
On the ‘Islands of the Gods’, you will discover the art of kite-flying, Balinese style, that is to say, the bigger the better! Teams consist of 70 to 80 people, 10 of which are needed to fly the kite. The competition is intense as are the festivities.
When: 3 to 5 July 2016
Where: Bali, Indonesia
Every August, a 3 day festival takes place across Japan to honour ancestors’ spirits, more specifically remembering and appreciating their sacrifices. Their spirits are brought back with lanterns, candles and dance on the 15th day of the 7th month, day when the gateways to Heaven and Hell are believed to open, enabling spirits to visit the living world.
When: 13 to 15 August 2016
Where: Across Japan
Dancers dressed decadently, the constant thumping of drums and elephants decked in their finest cloths make Esala Perahera one of Sri Lanka’s not-to-be-missed celebrations. According to legend, one of the Buddha’s teeth was stolen from his grave 1700 years ago and believed to have been smuggled into Sri Lanka. Esala Perahera honours this tooth during a 10 day long incense-infused festival.
When: 3 to 17 August 2016
Where: Sri Lanka
Tsechu (‘day ten’), are annual religious Bhutanese festivals held in each district in the country, on the tenth day of the Tibetan lunar calendar. Thumphu Tsechu is the country’s biggest social gathering, filled with Cham Dances, colourful national costumes and lots of laughter to go around. The festival commemorates the birth of Bhutan’s patron saint, Padmasambhava, who introduced Buddhism to the country.
When: 11 to 13 September 2016
Guru Nanak Jayanti
Celebrating the birth of the first Sikh Guru (Guru Nanak), this is one of the most sacred festivals for Sikhs. The festivities are not only a wonderful submersion into Sikhism, they also offer beautiful sights to behold, namely the lit up Golden Temple, the lake illuminated by twinkling lights, Sikhs in their finest turbans and silks.
When: 14 November 2016
Where: Amritsar, India
Following the death of Mevlana Calaledin Rumi (Persian poet and philosopher) in 1273, his disciples founded a Sufi order, known as the Whirling Dervishes. Every year, the Whirling Dervishes remember their spiritual leader by seeking to achieve ecstasy and unity with God by controlled trance-like spinning.
When: 07 to 17 December 2016
Where: Konya, Turkey