Tibetan Holidays and Festivals in 2015: Should I Travel or Not

 

For any traveler who is considering travel to Tibet to attend some of its many festivals, alongside native Tibetans, we recommend that you begin by looking over the various events and deciding which attractions interest you the most. Next, study the available travel itineraries. The most popular package tours are road trips involving an average of 5-6 hours driving a day after sightseeing in Lhasa. Popular destinations in Tibet are the Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple (sites in Lhasa), Yamdrok Lake and the trip to Everest Base Camp (EBC). Most trips include all the most popular sites; but prices are highest during the tourist season of the summer months. If EBC is not an essential destination for you and if you don’t mind cold weather, visiting festival events during November and December is a bargain.

Tibetans celebrate many festivals and holidays throughout the year. Most Tibetans are Buddhist, and almost all of these are directly related to giving praise and honor to Buddha. Though Chinese national holidays celebrated in Tibet are noted on the Western calendar, Tibetans also follow a strict Buddhist luni solar calendar, dependent on the phases of the moon and the solar year, with the time of the full moon being the most auspicious. For example, the Saka-Dawa festival usually falls at the time of the full moon in mid-May; it is the celebration of Lord Buddha’s birth, his enlightenment, and his passing into the state of nirvana. Tibetan astro-science’s heavy dependence on the lunar cycle creates a confusing calendar (with the addition or deletion of days, or even months); thus dates for the same festival vary from year to year. For instance, the Tibetan New Year, 2014, (the year of the wood horse) was on March 2nd, and in 2015 (the year of the Wood Sheep), it will be on February 19th.

Tibet is a sensitive subject for China. During festival dates, the government tends to impose strict policies limiting the access of international travelers to some historical sites. It is common practice for the government to make major changes to how permits may be obtained, making travel impossible for small free independent travel (FIT) groups. For example, last year many had to postpone trips due to new travel policies in Tibet. The government mandated that, in any group of foreign travelers, there must be a minimum of five nationals from any country represented. However, this year, according to our sources, this minimum has been lowered to three.

When you travel to Tibet, it is in your interest and ours that the experience is a rich one for you. We understand that you have invested time and money in making your Tibet adventure all that it can be. We can promise you that we will do all in our power to make your travel with us to Tibet an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience!

On our list of Tibetan Festivals and Holidays, you will find that we have laid out for you the advantages and disadvantages of each event on this array of off-season travel opportunities, so that you can make a well-informed decision as you plan your trip. Enjoy searching through these materials; we hope you will come travel with us!

As always, we welcome your thoughts and comments on our website and our offerings.
[READ: 2014 MOUNT KAILASH TOUR: AN AUSPICIOUS YEAR FOR PILGRIMS AND TOURISTS]

1. Sonam Phey Losar: Farmer’s New Year

SonamPhey-Losar

Western Calendar (mm/dd/year): 01-19-2015          Tibetan Calendar (mm/dd/year): 12-01-2141

Week-long celebration marking the end of harvest season and the beginning of pre New Year holidays, popular in Shigatse and rural areas. Locals wear traditional dress, exchange gifts and visit each other’s homes.

Weather: High: -10°C/ 45°F        Avg.: -2°C/ 28°F          Low: -10°C/ 14°F           PPT: 0.019”

Advantage:

  • No crowds
  • Interaction with locals
  • Best deals
  • Disadvantage:

  • Freezing temperature in the morning and at night
  • Everest Base Camp (EBC) closed
  • Icy and snowy roads, expect road closures or detours
  • Snow in western/ southern Tibet
  • [Click Here: Start Sonam Phey Losar Tour]

    2. Gu-thuk Festival

    guthuk-festival

    Western Calendar (mm/dd/year): 02-17-2015          Tibetan Calendar (mm/dd/year): 12-29-2141

    Locally known as the “Noodle Festival”, celebrated on a night before New Year’s Eve. Locals prepare special soup noodles which are made of nine different grains. They leave left-over outside for the spirits to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. Monasteries hold ritual mask dance and prayer services for a good year.

    Weather: High: 48°C/ 70°F       Avg.: 1°C/ 34°F        Low: -7°C/ 19°F        PPT: 0.019”

    Advantage:

  • No crowds
  • Possibility of interaction with locals in their homes
  • Best deals
  • Disadvantage:

  • Cold weather
  • Everest Base Camp (EBC) closed
  • Icy and snowy roads, expect road closures or detours
  • Snow in western/ southern Tibet
  • [Click Here: Start Gu-Thuk Festival Tour]

    3. Losar: New Year

    losar-new-year

    Western Calendar (mm/dd/year): 02-19-2015 (10-15 days)        Tibetan Calendar (mm/dd/year): 01-01-2142

    Week-long celebration of the New Year. Honor and respect is offered to Buddha on the first day, followed by gatherings of family and friends and exchanging of gifts. Concerts, equestrian events, and city parades are held. Locals flock to the Potala Palace, the Jhokhang Temple, and nearby monasteries for prayers and blessings.

    Weather: High: 9°C/ 48°F         Avg.: 1°C/ 34°F        Low: -7°C/ 19°F           PPT: 0.019”

    Advantage:

  • No crowds
  • Interaction with locals
  • Best deals
  • Disadvantage:

  • Cold weather
  • Everest Base Camp (EBC) closed
  • Icy and snowy roads, expect road closures or detours
  • [Click Here: Start New Year Tour]

    4. Monlam Tsenpo: Great Prayer Festival

    shutterstock_88244479

    Western Calendar (mm/dd/year): 02-22-2015 (7 days)         Tibetan Calendar (mm/dd/year): 01-04-2142

    Started by Je-Tsongkhapa, the founder of Gelug pa sect. Great Prayer Festival is held in monasteries and temples; special prayers, ritual offerings, and mask dances are performed. Monasteries draw hundreds of worshippers and a giant thangka (painting or embroidery depicting Buddha or deity covered with silk) is unveiled. Temples and monasteries are lit with yak-butter lamps and lights. Locals throng to the Jokhang Temple, and the Sera, Drepung, and Gandhen Monasteries.

    Weather: High: 9°C/ 48°F         Avg: 1°C/ 34°F         Low: -7°C/ 19°F           PPT: 0.01”

    Advantage:

  • No crowds
  • Interaction with locals
  • Best deals
  • Disadvantage:

  • Cold weather
  • Everest Base Camp (EBC) closed
  • Icy and snowy roads, expect road closures or detours
  • Snow in western/ southern Tibet
  • [Click here: Start Great Prayer Festival Tour]

    5. Saka Dawa Festival

    Saka-Dawa

    Western Calendar (mm/dd/year): 05-19-2015 (28 days)          Tibetan Calendar (mm/dd/year): 04-15-2142

    Remembrance of Buddha Shakyamuni’s birth, enlightenment and passing away (nirvana). Devotees circle monasteries, temples and pay honor and reverence to Buddha. For weeks, locals throng to the Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple, and surrounding monasteries. The Festival marks the first day of the pilgrimage that devout Buddhists make to Mount Kailash. Candles and yak butter lamps are lit everywhere in temples, streets and houses. This Festival always takes place at the time of the full moon, an auspicious sign to Buddhists.

    Weather: High: 15°C/ 59°F          Avg.: 6°C/ 42°F         Low: -3°C/ 26.6°F          PPT: 0.98”

    Advantage:

  • Medium crowds
  • Interaction with locals
  • Good weather: Central Tibet
  • Disadvantage:

  • Possible snow in western Tibet
  • Note: Those wishing to take the Mt. Kailash tour will find it spirtiual because of the large number of local pilgrims

    [Click Here: Start Saka Dawa Tour]

    6. Tashi-Lunpo Thangka Festival

    tashi-lungpo

    Western Calendar (mm/dd/year): 07-02-2015          Tibetan Calendar (mm/dd/year): 05-13-2142

    Shigatse’s Tashi Lunpo monastery becomes a Mecca for pilgrims for three days as a giant Thangka is unveiled and monks lead prayers and perform ritual mask dances. Locals flocked to the scene with prayer wheels and incense and seek blessings.

    Weather: High: 22.1°C/ 72°F           Avg.: 15°C/ 59°F      Low: 7.6°C/ 46°F            PPT: 3.01”

    Advantage:

  • Medium crowds
  • Interaction with locals
  • Good weather: Central Tibet
  • Disadvantage:

  • Possible snow in western Tibet
  • [Click Here: Start Tashi Lunpo Thangka Festival Tour]

    7. Gyantse Horse Racing Festival

    gyantse-horse

    Western Calendar (mm/dd/year): 06-01-2015 (3-4 days)          Tibetan Calendar (mm/dd/year): 04-14-2142 

    A three-day celebration of equestrian events includes horse and yak racing, archery, concerts, and picnicking.  Increasingly, soccer, basketball, and track-and-field eventsare held as well.

    Weather: High: 20.6°C/ 69°F          Avg.: 13°C/ 55°F        Low: 5.6°C/ 42°F           PPT: 1.06”

    Advantage:

  • Medium crowds
  • Strong interaction with locals at Gyantse
  • Good weather: Central Tibet
  • Disadvantage:

  • Possible snow in western Tibet
  • [Click Here: Start Gyantse Horse Riding Festival Tour]

    8. Chokor Duechen: Dharma Wheel Festival

    Chokor-duechen

    Western Calendar (mm/dd/year): 07-20-2015          Tibetan Calendar (mm/dd/year): 06-04-2142

    Celebration of Buddha’s first teaching of Dharma. Chokor Duechen literally means turning of the dharma wheel in reference to Buddha Shakyamuni’s first sermon (Four Noble Truths) in Saranath, India. Locals jam temples and  monasteries. Yak butter lamps and lights are lit everywhere and locals walk clockwise circle around the Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple, and the Ramoche, Sera, Ganden and Dreprung Monasteries in Lhasa and other areas.

    Weather: High: 23°C/ 73°F          Avg: 16°C/ 61°F           Low: 9°C/ 48°F         PPT: 5.07”

    Advantage:

  • Local interaction
  • Disadvantage:

  • Heavy crowds (mass presences of mainland Chinese travelers)
  • Rainy season
  • Inflated prices
  • Note: Monsoon season in Tibet means rain twice a week.

    [Click Here: Start Dharma Wheel Festival Tour]

    9. Ganden Thangka Festival

    thangka

    Western Calendar (mm/dd/year): 07-31-2015          Tibetan Calendar (mm/dd/year): 06-15-2142

    Ganden Monastery holds special prayers and offering to Buddha Shakaymuni and Je-Tshongkapa, the founder of the Gelug pa sect. A giant thangka is unveiled and there is a special exhibition of holy relics. Devotees make a long queue to receive a blessing.

    Weather: High: 23°C/ 73°F           Avg.: 16°C/ 61°F         Low: 9°C/ 48°F         PPT: 5.07”

    Advantage:

  • Local interaction
  • Disadvantage:

  • Heavy crowds (mass presence of  mainland Chinese travelers)
  • Inflated prices
  • Rainy season
  • [Click Here: Start Ganden Thangka Festival Tour]

    10. Showton: Yogurt Festival

    Showton

    Western Calendar (mm/dd/year): 08-14-2015 (7 days)          Tibetan Calendar (mm/dd/year): 06-30-2142

    Week-long gala of Yogurt (favorite local food) parties. Picnics are held near rivers and parks. Norbulingka becomes a scene for local picnics, opera and dance. Picnic games, friendly wrestling and stone shot put provide entertainment for kids. Adults enjoy dice and mahjong games while indulging in the consumption of tons of yogurt. The thangka hanging celebration at Drepung Monastery draws large crowds.

    Weather: High: 22°C/ 72°F            Avg: 16°C/ 61°F           Low: 9°C/ 48°F       PPT: 5.43”

    Advantage:

  • Local interaction
  • Disadvantage:

  • Heavy crowds (mass presence of  mainland Chinese travelers)
  • Inflated prices
  • Rainy season
  • [Click Here: Start Yogurt Festival Tour]

    11. Karma Doeba: Bathing Festival

    bathing-festival

    Western Calendar (mm/dd/year): 07-01-2015  (10 days)        Tibetan Calendar (mm/dd/year): 07-15-2142

    Week-long celebration of bathing in rivers and streams in the belief that this will wash away sins and sickness. According to local myth, holy water flows through Tibet during this period. The banks of rivers, streams, and creeks become popular picnic spots. Its a PG rated family function, no skinny dipping!

    Weather: High: 21°C/ 70°F         Avg: 14°C/ 57°F              Low: 7°C/ 45°F       PPT: 2.20”

    Advantage:

  • Interaction with locals
  • Medium crowds
  • Disadvantage:

  • Chilly weather
  • [Click Here: Start Bathing Festival Tour]

    12. Lha-Bab Duchen: God Arrival Festival

    lhabab-deuchen

    Western Calendar (mm/dd/year): 11-03-2015           Tibetan Calendar (mm/dd/year): 09-22-2142

    This festival celebrates the arrival on Earth of Buddha Shakyamuni. Devotees circle the Potala Palace, the Jhokhang Temple, and surrounding monasteries. Numerous candles and butter lamps are lit in temples, monasteries, streets, and houses.

    Weather: High: 17°C/ 63°F         Avg.: 9°C/ 48°F               Low: 1.°C/ 34°F     PPT: 0.31”

    Advantage:

  • No crowds
  • Interaction with locals
  • Great deals
  • Disadvantage:

  • Chilly weather
  • Possible snow in western/southern Tibet
  • Everest Base Camp (EBC) closed
  • [Click Here: Start God Arrival Festival Tour]

    13. Pelhe Douchen: Palden Lhamo festival

    Pelhe

     

    Western Calendar (mm/dd/year): 11-25-2015          Tibetan Calendar (mm/dd/year): 10-15-2142

    Statues of Palden Lhamo, protectress deity of Tibet, are seen throughout the Lhasa. Special prayers and offerings are made in her honor and relics are exhibited. Locals flock to the temple and giving money to little sister in each family has become fashionable these days. Jokhang temple is lit with butter lamps and candles.

    Weather: High: 9°C/ 48°F            Avg.: 0°C/ 32°F               Low: -9°C/ 16°F        PPT: 0.019”

    Advantage:

  • No crowds
  • Interaction with locals
  • Great deals
  • Disadvantage:

  • Freezing temperature in the morning and night
  • Possible snow in western/southern Tibet
  • Everest Base Camp (EBC) closed
  • [Click Here: Start Palden Lhamo Festival Tour]

     

    14. Ganden Ngamchu Festival

    Ganden-Ngamchu

    Western Calendar (mm/dd/year): 12-05-2015          Tibetan Calendar (mm/dd/year): 10-25-2142

    This event honors the passing away of Je-Tshongkapa, the founder of the Gelug pa sect. Gelug pa monasteries hold evening prayers and locals pay tribute by visiting Sera, Ganden, and Drepung monasteries. Candles and yak butter lamps cover temples, streets and houses.

    Weather: High: 9°C/ 48°F            Avg: 0°C/ 32°F              Low: -9°C/ 16°F        PPT: 0.019”

    Advantage:

  • No crowds
  • Interaction with locals
  • Great deals
  • Disadvantage:

  • Freezing temperature in the morning and night
  • Possible snow in western/southern Tibet
  • Everest Base Camp (EBC) closed
  • [Click Here: Start Ganden Ngamchu Tour]

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    "In over 30 years of traveling for business and vacation my recent visit to Nepal and Tibet with Sonam was probably the best trip I ever experienced. Whether it was help with flights, suggestions about useful gear, or attention to the large and small daily details, Sonam was on top of everything. I would definitely travel with Sonam Adventures again and am already  recommending him to my friends and to professional colleagues.".
                                                          Donald J. La Rocca, New York, New York

     

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    About Sogyal

    Sonam Gyaltsen (Sogyal) is a Tibetan American and the owner of Sonam Adventures LLC. He is a Himalayan connoisseur and passionate traveler. He divides his time between US, Nepal & Tibet PRC.