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"No trip to Tibet is complete without attending at least one festival!"
Tibetans love to gather, dance, sing, and celebrate. Many of their festivals are planned according to the lunar calendar. The most colorful and electrifying sights in Tibet are its varied exotic festivals. These festivities have their origins rooted in folk traditions, religious celebration or traditional cultural activities. The celebrations are often rituals, farming events, horse-trading, races and competitions, commemorations, celebrations, social gatherings or simple amusement. You will see the reflection of Tibetan historical roots, their religious mores and love of nature in their colorful entertainment. These festivals include the Tibetan New Year and Shoton Festival, Butter Lamp Festival, Ganden Festival, Saga Dawa Festival, Horse Racing Festivals, Yarlong Cultural Festival, Harvest Festival, Ongkor Festival, Bathing Festival, Losar Festival or Tibetan New Year and Shoton Festival. Festivals vary but most include traditional dance, song and prayer. Please review the festivals below and include a festival or two in planning your itinerary. Festivals really allow you to see and hear the traditional, sometimes ancient rituals, Tibetan pastime activities, and lots of costumes!

It is interesting to note that many walls of Tibetan monasteries are covered with paintings and masks of ghosts and demons. For novice travelers, these deities belonging to Tibetan Buddhism might seem scary. Some masks have dark faces and ferocious teeth, horrific facial expressions, and are topped by miniature skulls and horns. It's not what it seems. The masks are used to scare away evil spirits when worn by dancing monks and lamas during festival times.

Tibetan Buddhists believe that the arrival of Buddhism to their land transformed these threatening gods of the old Bon religion into benevolent protectors. So leave your western ideas behind and join in another world as a world traveler and observer, understanding that even though other traditions are odd, our traditions are odd to others. With this is mind, observing these marvelous Tibetan traditions are a joy to behold. No one here asks you to believe or change or accept. Tibetans accept all sentient beings as possible previous relatives which gives them an aura of love not often found.



Gyantse Horse Racing Festival Litang, Ganzi
Horse Racing Festival

The horse racing festival celebrated in Gyantse in usually held in either May, June or July. Horse racing and archery began in Gyantse in 1408. During the popular festival which includes horse races, archery, and shooting on galloping horseback you will see how much fun Tibetans can have. Keep in mind that entertainment and picnicking usually go on for a few more days after the festival itself. Ball games, track and field events, folk songs and dances, and barter trade are all extremely entertaining for the visitor. Check out more about Ghantse attractions.

Popularly held in early August each year, the Litang Horse Racing Festival in the South-western part of Ganzi, Litang is called the "High Town" due to its average altitude of 4133 meters. The Maoya grassland where the town and festival are situated means "flat place as a bronze mirror" in the Tibetan language. However, the tradition of the festival is to "pray around the mountain", thus thousands of Tibetans wait for the grass to become its greenest and just when the wildflowers are in full bloom over a 10 day period they hold this marvelously colorful festival. The folk attire alone is more than the eye can hold, with full headdress of precious gems, gold and silver. To celebrate the end of the harvest season, white summer tents dot the lush green landscape, delicious taste treats and yak butter tea are in abundance. Some even bring their finest colorful tents, solar panels and decked out horses. The racing horses often wear scarlet colors, embroidered belts and decorated saddles with bronze bells. There are varied races including, trekking, riding skills, long distance bearing, and others, the most thrilling being the riding skills when they almost jump off their horses or hang under the belly of the horse upside down, or trying to shoot off the side with one hand at a target, or picking up a hada, or standing on the back of a horse. These competitions are truly stunning and breath-taking extravaganzas, not to be missed!

Not only are the horse races extravagant, the cultural presentations, the Tibetan opera and Tibetan folk dancing and singing, fashion shows and food are a must-see event. It's standing room only, so come early, get your tent set up, bring your tripod and your best camera. These photos will be worth framing.

Jyekundo (Yushu)
Horse Racing Festival
Nagqu, Nakchu
Horse Race Festival

In July, colorful race horses and riders come from all over Tibet to this ancient Tibetan town of Jyekundo/Yushu to the world's greatest equestrian event - the Yushu Horse Racing Festival. This traditional event dates back to the glorious Kingdom of Kham.

Luckily these riders don't come alone. In fantastically colorful attire, the women can be more thrilling to look at than the horse racing! The wonderful celebration of culture, music and dance begins with an ancient religious sacrificial ritual, a plant-burning ceremony to honor the gods. The lama dance and prayers before the horse racing begins is a rare treat. You'll really enjoy meeting monks dressed in their red and golden robes from the local monasteries.

Riders with guns strapped across their shoulders and long knives swinging from their waste belts walk around the platform three times. Then the celebration really takes off. With horse teams, dance, song, traditional sports, archery, mounted-shooting, hada presentations on horseback, riding tricks, long distance racing, yak racing, special rituals, and honor guards, this presentation is dazzling, a must-see for any visitor to Yushu. As the Bartang grassland becomes dotted with thousands of white tents as the families and royals of Kham did for centuries, visitors can experience the awesome flavor of this culture by staying in a nomad tent. There are hotels in town, but they are booked a year in advance, so make reservations very early. Remember to carve out some time to enjoy the stunning limestone and sandstone cliffs while hiking along a pilgrimage route through Reshur Gou Valley, nearby.

In August each year there is an important festival held in to golden grasslands of Nakchu at Nagqu. Thousands of herdsman ride their horses packed with goods to trade at the Nagqu Horse Race Festival. A city of tents sets up a temporary town just outside (north) of Nagqu for entertainment, competition, horse trading, recreation and more. The local people call this area "Zhong Yin Ka Duo" grassland.

As tens of thousands of nomads gather to watch the thrilling horse racing, archery and other demonstrations of unusual horsemanship, visitors can mingle and "live" the culture of these fascinating Tibetan people.


Dance troupes come from all over Tibet bringing their best talent for their fascinating presentations of dance, opera and song. The opening ceremony will take your breath away before you are captivated by yak races, horse races, tug-of-war contests, rock-lifting competitions, sgor-gzhas (Tibetan group dance) and more.

Celebrating the heroes of the Tibetan past, you will also enjoy the Tibetan drama performed during the festivities. All in all, Nagqu is truly one of the grandest of all horse racing festival in Tibet proper. During this week of celebration, take a break and enjoy Nam-Tso Lake nearby. Learn more about Nagqu and this Nakchu.



Monlam Chenmo
(Great Prayer Festival)

It is the most colorful festival of Lhasa. Monlam (als call the Great Prayer Festival of Lhasa). Monlam means "wish-path" - the Buddhist path of helping others through kind prayers.  The Great Prayer Festival, from January 8 through 14 on the Tibetan calendar (sometime in Feb, please verify), is the grandest religious festival in Tibet. It has its origin in a prayer meeting structured at Jokhang Temple by the honored Tsong Khapa, founder of the Gelukpa Sect, in 1409. Thousands of monks from far and near will gather to perform rituals, chanting, prayers, theological debates and examination for Geshe, a doctoral degree in Buddhist theology. Pilgrims will come from everywhere to listen to sermons and do prostrations.  The main purpose of the Great Prayer Festival is to pray for the long life of all the holy gurus of all traditions, for the survival and spreading of the Dharma (Tibetan Buddhism doctrine) in the minds of all sentient beings, and for world peace.

During this very important celebration, the exhilarating festivals and entertainment range from dance, folk activities like wrestling, weight throwing, horse racing and even tug-of-war. Every city and town puts on celebrations well worth attending. Also known as the 'Great Prayer Festival', this is held midway through the first lunar month.

Also remember, this festival is also held at the Kumbum Monastery a few miles from Xining. The Kumbum (Ta'er) Monastery located in Rushar Township about 30 minutes from Xining, was founded in 1560 to commemorate the birthplace of Tsongkhapa (founder of the Gelukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism). It is also one of the six great lamaseries practicing the Yellow Sect (Gelukpa) of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Great Prayer Festival at Kumbum begins on Feb.2, through Feb.12.,2009

The highlights:
Feb. 8: Masked Dances (Dharmaraja Dances)
Feb. 9: Butter Sculpture Display


An image of Maitreya from the Jokhang is carried around the Barkhor, attracting enthusiastic crowds of locals, visitors and pilgrims. With happy faces all around, it's a great way to bring in the Tibetan New Year! 


Truly a major celebration, beginning on New Year's Day on the Tibetan Lunar calendar Tibetan homes will open their doors with prayers, then fetch their first bucket of drinking water of the year. From early morning people greet each other with good wishes like "tashi delek" (long life). Families get together for a celebratory dinner, prayers and festivities.

To commemorate and celebrate the advent of a new and hopefully better year, Losar is celebrated for 15 days during the months of December and January of the Tibetan calendar. The main celebrations are held on the first three days. On the first day of Losar, a beverage called Changkol or Chhaang, a  homemade rice wine is drank from bowls. The second day of Losar is known as King's Losar. Losar is traditionally preceded by the five day practice of Vajrakilaya.

Vajrakilaya is one of the most popular deities when it comes to destroying the obstacles. Vajrakilaya, or kila, means something sharp, and something that pierces--a dagger, basically. A dagger that is so sharp it can pierce anything, while at the same time nothing can pierce it. Guru Rinpoche achieved enlightenment through practicing Yangdag Heruka, but he first practiced Vajrakilaya to clean, or to clear the obstacles, and then, through that, he achieved whatever he wanted to achieve. So, Vajrakilaya is known for clearing the obstacles.

The Losar is a colorful festival marked with numerous activities including ancient rituals, Tibetan drama, incense offerings, folk activities like wrestling, weight throwing, tug-of-war and horse-racing - the stage fights between good and evil. The dance of the Ibex deer and the dramatic battles between the King & his ministers add to the joyous atmosphere. Tibetans dress in their finest, meet their friends and relatives and indulge in prayer and celebration. This festival is full of music, dancing and merry-making. Truly this is the best time to be in Lhasa, and the best time for your budget, too.

The Festival of Banishing Evils

On December 29th on the Tibetan calendar, Tibetans get together to drive away evil spirits. Although this sort of activity is not unique to Tibet, the sorcerer's dance performed in monasteries is truly astonishing. Tibetans all around the land use this specific day to do a through general house cleaning to get rid of the misfortune of the past year, and sweep all the evil spirits out the door. There are prayers for new blessings during the day and every household will have a traditional dinner of Guthuk. Torches and incense light and clean the patios and compounds. Howling is heard everywhere, all Tibetans praying together aloud for a new year free of bad spirits and misfortune. If your guide is willing, this is a great opportunity to meet the family and experience this phenomenon at the local level. Check other festivals that take place in winter and plan your winter adventure.

Ganden Monastery Festival

On the 15th day of the 6th Tibetan calendar month, during the Ganden Festival, 25 precious articles belonging to the Ganden monastery in Lhasa, which are normally locked in their treasure house, are taken out and displayed in the main shrine hall. (Check to make sure this monastery is still open - it was closed in 2008 by Chinese authorities.) These articles consist of the images of the sixteen arhats, akshobhya, the secret assembly, the four great kings, the upasaka and hashang image. A grand offering ceremony accompanies the display and it is extremely interesting to see all these treasures. Seeing the monks in their religious activities, the dedication so virtuous and genuine, visitors often feel spiritually uplifted.

Rekong Shaman Festival

Three hours from Xining, over a 12,000 foot pass is Tongren (Rekong in Tibetan). Passing by fields of yellow canola blossoms is breathtaking, but not near as exciting as this festival. Held at varies times of the year, depending on the Tibetan calendar, the temple at Rekong hosts a festival-of-the-eyes extravagant religious celebration. Over 100 dancers in colorful and unusual traditional garb of silk and otter fur and fabulous Tibetan boots performed a ritual for two days, beckoning the temple deity, Shachung, to predict the future through two shamans.

The shamans stroll among the crowds at the most unexpected moments, catching people with too much drink and scolding many about bad habits. To prove their points, the shamans sometimes throw barley at the locals, order others to stoke the fireplace with offerings of food and drink. The great smoke that puffs out of the two chimneys in a harmony of muted color, creates huge clouds over the temple gate, right up to the gods.

If you're interested in truly experiencing Tibetan culture at its epitome, this would be the festival. Still able to practice these rituals, the Rekong festival actively engages in its ancient beliefs and rituals. Come, be a witness, before all this is gone or turned into just a tourist show.

Tsong Khapa Festival

On the 15th of the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar, the anniversary of the passing  of Tsong Khapa, the founder of Gelukpa Sect gives cause for both celebration and respect. Tsong Khapa, whose name means "The Man from Onion Valley" was a great scholar and teacher after he studied from all the great masters. His main inspiration came via the legacy of Atiśa. This celebration is called Ganden Angchuin in Tibetan. On this day, butter lamps are lit and placed on the roofs of monasteries and homes to honor this hero. Pilgrims chant sutras in praise of Tsong Khapa. It's delightful to hear.

Saga Dawa Festival

There are several central events in the Sakyamuni Buddha’s life that Buddhists always celebrate. These include his birth, his enlightenment, his first sermon and his death and release into nirvana. Saga Dawa means ‘fourth month’, and it is on the 15th day of this month on the Tibetan calendar that Tibetan Buddhists celebrate both his birth and the day when he died and attained Nirvana.

Held on April 15th,  pilgrims and secular folks will visit Lhasa to honor Buddha's birth and Nirvana. The observance is done by turning prayer wheels, having vegetarian lunch and a picnic by the Dragon King Pond. It is the holiest celebration in Tibet.  Almost every Tibetan person within Lhasa joins in circumambulations round the city and spend their late afternoon by enjoying a picnic at at "Dzongyab Lukahng", the park at the foot of Potala Palace that was constructed by the Chinese after the invasion. Folk entertainers perform in marvelous costumes, with mile-long sleeves, or so it seems. They pay their respect and homage to their Buddha in many ways, including eating only vegetarian foods and giving alms to needy pilgrims and the poor.



The Shoton (Xuedun) Festival

Shoton, a strictly religious observance before the 17th century, takes place during the full month of June. Thirty days of meditation and self-development was observed by all monks. In fact, they didn't even leave their monasteries until the following month. On the first day of July local citizens presented alms to the monks in the form of yogurt, which is sho in the Tibetan language. Local operas were added to the event around the 17th century. Held on the periphery of monasteries like Drepung and in Lhasa, many pilgrims came to enjoy the opera and other festivities. The main location of the celebration was moved in the 18th century to Norbulingka.

Activities by celebrants include shining of the Buddha's portrait, mending and polishing prayer wheels, folk amusement and entertainment like performances of Tibetan operas at the local park.   

The Butter Lamp Festival

January 15th of the Tibetan calendar, to honor the victory of Sakyamuni in a debate against heretics, the streets of the Barkhor in Lhasa is packed with throngs of pilgrims, many bringing yak butter lamps for the occasion. As dusk sets in you can watch the candles being lit by the faithful to honor their Buddha father. At nightfall, the entire kora around the Jokhang temple is bright with the lights of precious butter lamps carved and shaped in thousands of intriguing designs. Throughout the night the celebrants walk the kora whispering their praises and prayers, twirling their prayer beads, and many doing prostrations in front of the Jokhang. If you're considering a winter trip be sure to include Lhasa's Butter Lamp Festival. It is truly a sight and a sense you will never forget. Also try the annual Lantern Festival at Kumbum Monastery in Qinghai.

Yarlung Cultural Festival Lhokha Barter Fair
One of the most important folk cultures of the world is found right here in the Yarlung culture of Tibet. Lhokha Festival, TibetOpening ceremonies for this festival is conducted and presented by the farmers and herdsman from surrounding areas, who demonstrate in utter breathlessness the same entertainment their ancestors enjoyed for thousands of years. This festival combines Tibetan art, traditional Tibetan sports, Tibetan dance, song and contests. Additionally, there is no place better to witness the magnificent Tibetan opera in all its color and pomp. Held in October, the beautiful landscape of Nyingchi is dramatized by the backdrop of snow covered mountains and fall-shaded landscapes. To get here tourists will enjoy the diversity of landscape, the glaciers and endless forests. Started in 1981, the Lhokha Barter fair is an annual event held during the first week of December. During this week the local residents, merchants and inhabitants of communities nearby all gather together to exchange goods in a unique but very traditional way. All throughout Tibetan history goods and services have been traded. No "money" was needed to survive if you could grow a crop or weave a blanket. All throughout their thousands of years Tibetans have survived without starvation in their communities because they loved and cared for the poorer among them. Bartering was a logical way to make their world work. Come witness history relive itself. Bring something to trade!
Zamling Chisang - Universal Prayer Festival
To commemorate Padmasambhava's Subjugation of evil spirits, Tibetans go to monasteries and burn juniper branches. This day is also referred to as "Incense Offering Day", Tibetan's, as is customary, offering thanks to their saint for keeping evil spirits at bay. With their current situation so bleak for Tibetans, visitors cannot help but wonder if a few evil spirits didn't get past Padmasambhava. Check with your guide to see what days this festival is held in the area of Tibet you are visiting.


International Women's Day in Lhasa, Tibet
Started by a group of neighborhood women, The International Women's Day is celebrated in the Tibetan old city of Lhasa in the Barkhor. Tibetan women of the Cuomeilin community decided it was time to celebrate the contribution of women to both the Tibetan and world communities. In traditional dress they demonstrate how rich a heritage the Tibetans offer to the world by giving free demonstrations in dance and song. Held the first week of March in Lhasa, there are many reasons to plan your Tibet experience around this time, to join these Tibetans in supporting their ancient traditional culture.
Belha Rabzhol
Heavenly Maid Festival
Belha Rabzhol in Tibetan or Heavenly Maid Festival is better known as "The Celestial Mother Festival." Held annually on the 15th of the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar, religious activities are held in temples throughout Tibet. Tibetans believe in a Heavenly Mother as do many other religions worldwide. On this day, Tibetans, especially women who otherwise get very little recognition for anything great, celebrate the mother of the firmament who partnered to create the souls on earth. Sentient creation in almost 100% requires male and female, so why should only the male counterpoint be considered holy? These are questions women around the world should ask themselves, whatever their religion. Tibetan woman take this opportunity to honor the mother of mankind, knowing it is women who have given birth to us all, the ultimate creation.


Farmers from Lhasa, Gyantse and Shangnan celebrate the harvest with festival. After all the work is done, or before, depending, the people finally get to stop working and enjoy relaxation, horse racing, games, fashion shows, prayers of gratefulness, songs and dance, archery and luxurious Tibetan picnics.

The Wongkor (Bumper Harvest) Festival
Longing for a good bumper harvest, Tibetans set aside a time to dress in their best, most colorful clothes and unfold their precious flags. Wishing each other the best harvest ever, they parade their flags, make pagodas of barley and wheat ears, beat drums and gongs and sing Tibetan harvest odes while encircling their fields to pray. Following all the pomp, their is a fabulous horse festival where everyone enjoys the antics and contests. As soon as the festivities end, they begin the autumn harvest. Ask your guide about joining the fun if you are arriving in Tibet in August.

Ongkor Festival
The Ongkor Festival is a traditional festival in farming areas of Tibet. In the Tibetan language “ong” means field and “kor” means rotating. So, “ongkor” means walking around the field or surrounding the farmland, such as is done at harvest time. Each August, to celebrate the agricultural harvest, and to show their wishes and gratefulness for a fine harvest. It's a time of rest among the arduous days of labor. For three days, the Tibetans entertain the gods and themselves, not to mention visitors. Dressed in their best festival wear, they strut their fields, carrying colorful flags, making sometimes large piles of wheat as temples. Presenting hada to their gods by hanging the white silk around the temporary temples, they beat drums and gongs, sing great operas, meet in song, partake of barley wine and tsampa. There are also fun activities like horse and yak events, shooting competitions, talent contests, stone holding and wrestling. There is always a lot of laughter and joking around, especially when visitors happen by. Tibetans are good natured and enjoy meeting new people. Be prepared to drink barley wine and hot salted butter tea (3 cups makes you a lifetime friend). When Tibetans love, they love forever. Making a friend in Tibet will last a lifetime or several lifetimes, depending on your outlook.

Choekhor Duechcen Chamdo Festivals
Tibetans are always paying homage to holy mountains, lakes, monasteries. saints and gods, but this festival on the fourth day of the sixth Tibetan month, also referred to as "Holy Mountains Festival" is held to commemorate Sakyamuni's first sermon. Dressed in the best material they possess, Tibetans flock to their monasteries to pay homage to the Buddha and if possible they walk the kora of one of Tibets holy mountains. During all this prayer and sacrifice Tibetans take time to smell the roses, to prepare picnics, enjoy friends and family, and, as is customary, sing and dance to show their appreciation to the Buddha for bringing the news of enlightenment to the world. Khampa Art Festival
Time: October
Place: Chamdo
This is a gathering of literary and artistic performance and trade. Come ready to collect some Tibetan treasures!

Zhongque Festival
Time: July
Place: Chamdo
A Tibetan religious ceremony, fashion show, and Tibetan opera performance - quite amazing.

Although festivals in prettier cities can be enjoyed, if you're in Chamdo during these months be sure to catch these festivals.

Buddha Unfolding Festival Kongpo God of War Festival
The Buddha-unfolding Festival at Tashilhunpo Temple was created by the first Dalai Lama, Gengdu Zhuma, some 500 years ago.
The festival goes one for three days. A variey of portraits of the Buddha are exhibited each day. Many of them are hand-embroidered on silk or satin. The Buddha-unfolding Festival is an important religious activity at Tashilhunpo. Scripture chanting, prayers for rain and harvest, and many other activities are enjoyed. This festival is  usually held in June in Shigatse.
During the rough and rocky history of Tibet, there was a time when Tibet feared a large scale invasion. At that time the Kongpo tribe prepared and sent an army to defend their homeland. To acerbate the problem, this happened during the New Year celebration time when Tibetan's typically celebrate the new year with barley wine and festivities. To avoid missing this gay affair, they decided to hold their new year celebration on ahead of time on October 1st. Since that time Tibetans honor those Kongpo soldiers who fought to save their land with three sacrifices and by staying up all night on this special festival day. In addition, the festival has taken on the likes of many Tibetan festivals with Kongpo dancing, horseracing, archery and shooting contests, song and dance. Check the current calander for either October or November.
Six Four Prayer Festival
On the fourth of the sixth month in Tibetan calendar, held in the Lhasa area. Tibetans in new clothes flock into temples and monasteries to present hada and offerings. As they present their offerings of coin, hada, tsampa and yak butter to Buddha, they pray for blessing in soft murmurs, beseeching his ear. After their prayers are finished they join friends and family for special dinners, yak butter tea or barley wine, a bit of dance and song.

Oddly enough, traditionally Tibetans don't take showers or baths. Living in transient conditions in tents, there are no facilities for such affairs, thus it had not come to mind. They wash the hair and braid it, but the rest goes "natural". With the recent western influence and hygiene awareness, this trend is beginning to change. They bath more often in the rivers, lakes and streams nearby their camp sites. Some even brush their teeth, but this is not common, which accounts for the many gold teeth. The yellowish teeth are likely from drinking hoards of butter tea, which they need to keep warm.

However the Bathing Festival is celebrated in Lhasa when Venus rises over the Holy Bottle Mountain down in the southeastern area of Tibet. This star only appears seven nights out of the year, and the Bathing Festival goes on during this time. Held on the 6th day to the 12 th day of the 7th Tibetan month, it is believed that Venus purifies the water of the rivers so that it can cures diseases. At this time Tibetans take a ceremonial bath in their local rivers or natural springs to be cured of disease and to stay healthy. This holy bath does wonders if done every night for seven nights. After doing this they believe they will stay free from disease or plague, keep healthy bones, have a longer life and generally be happier. After the bathing is accomplished, Tibetans sit around their campfires, happily drinking barley wine or tea under the willow trees. To crown the enjoyment someone pulls out a six-stringed Tibetan guitar from their yak or horse pouch and plays for others to sing and dance. It's a wonderful affair to be a part of as long as you don't mind bathing!





































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