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 are 14 Asian celebrations that are well worth the detour.
JANUARY

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 purify the devotees’ inner-selves – and that is when Kumph Mela takes place.

When: 2 January – 13 February 2018

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 2018

Where: Harbin, China


MARCH

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: 2 March 2018

Where: Pingxi, Taiwan


Holi festival

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: 1 March 2018

Where: India, Nepal and popular in many parts of South Asia.

APRIL

Songkran

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 16 April 2018

Where: celebrated all over Thailand, but the most reputed Songkran festivity takes place in Chiang Mai

Thingyan

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: 13 to 16 April 2018

Where: Myanmar


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: 26 April 2018

Where: Thrissur, Kerala, India

JULY

Naadam

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 horseback 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 Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

When: 11 to 15 July 2018

Where: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

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: July – August 2018

Where: Bali, Indonesia


AUGUST

Obon Festival

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, and candles and dance on the 15th day of the 7th month, a day when the gateways to Heaven and Hell are believed to open, enabling spirits to visit the living world.

When: 13 to 15 August 2018

Where: Across Japan


Esala Perahera

Dancers dressed decadently, the constant thumping of drums and elephants decked in their finest clothes 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 is believed to have been smuggled into Sri Lanka. Esala Perahera honours this tooth during a 10-day-long incense-infused festival.

When: 16 to 26 August 2018

Where: Sri Lanka


SEPTEMBER

Thimphu Tsechu

Tsechu (‘day ten’), are annual religious Bhutanese festivals held in each district in the country, on the tenth day of the Tibetan lunar calendar. Thimphu 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: 30 September to 2 October 2017

Where: Bhutan


NOVEMBER

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: 4 November 2017

Where: Amritsar, India


DECEMBER

Mevlana Whirling Dervishes

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 2017

Where: Konya, Turkey


To include one of these festivals in your next holiday, contact Lightfoot Travel

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