As we celebrate #25YearsandBeyond and 10 years of tailor-making experiential travel in Asia, we asked our team of travel experts for a compilation of the 10 must-see festivals for your Asia bucket list.
Undeniably one of the most festival-loving places on the planet, South Asia has a vibrant energy like no other. From jovial street parties and grand festive feasts to sacred religious celebrations and eye-popping traditional dances, there is something to tempt wanderlust adventurers of all ages and backgrounds.
With its varied customs and ancient, time-honoured traditions, South Asia truly is the land of festivals and these annual celebrations prove that the culture is very much alive and passionately adhered to.
The dazzling displays and pulsing energy cause an explosion of the senses. The intricate, yet flamboyant costumes and the kaleidoscope of captivating colours are a feast for the eyes. Tastebuds are overwhelmed by the delectable South Asian flavours, from aromatic curries, fiery stir-fries and hot noodle soups, to golden buttered naan bread, flavour-bursting spring rolls and spicy Chai tea.
The local music and mesmerising dance displays often last long into the night and dramatic light displays and romantic lanterns and candlelight cast a warm glow on the festivities. There’s no doubt the infectious spirit and warm Asian hospitality will bring even the most sceptical bystander to life and leave them with memories to last a lifetime.
We invite you to join the crowd, feel the energy and share in the authentic experience … you only live once!
Here are just a few cultural celebrations in Asia that you won’t want to miss!
Holi, the festival of colours, India
Holi is a Hindu festival in India, more affectionately known as the Festival of Colours. This vibrant and energetic two-day celebration of love, colour and fertility takes place in February/March and marks the arrival of spring. In a grand display of the triumph of good over evil, massive crowds of merrymakers toss a kaleidoscope of colourful powders into the air, which coats everyone in a rainbow glow. Holi is also said to commemorate the enduring love between Lord Krishna and Radha.
The Poojas, Bengal, India
Across Eastern India, the Goddess Durga is the focus of this ten-day celebration, each day with its own traditions and local adaptations. One such tradition is the creation of images using mud brought down from the Himalaya and collected from the River Ganga and her tributaries. The images are created by different communities and displayed in tableaus in large tents (or pandals). Each pandal competes with one from a neighbouring community. When the festival comes to an end, the images are returned to the river and the mud dissolves and continues its journey to the sea.
Diwali, the festival of lights, India
Diwali is a Hindu festival in India, known to many as the Festival of Lights, and is arguably the most important festival in Hinduism. In October/November, millions of twinkling lights, candles and lanterns are lit all over the country in honour of Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity, and to commemorate the victory of light over darkness (and good over evil).
Kite festival, Jaipur, India
In January, the city of Jaipur springs to life as its citizens, young and old, commemorate the transition of the sun from Sagittarius to Capricorn in the Hindu calendar. The city literally shuts down for the day and families and children rush to the local parks and building rooftops to fly their colourful paper kites with pride.
Pushkar fair, India
Every November, in the seven days leading up to the full moon, thousands of farmers, herdsmen, villagers and curious onlookers gather near the sacred Pushkar Lake. It is primarily a livestock market that has become world-renowned for its camel trade. The fair attracts people from all over the world with its dazzling parades of prize-winning camels, horse show, herdsmen with the best moustaches, Acrobat displays, as well as tradesmen vying for attention at their various stalls selling everything from saddlery to handmade trinkets.
Kataragama Perahera, Sri Lanka
A lively and colourful festival procession of Hindu and Buddhist devotees that make their annual pilgrimage in July/August, on foot, to the town of Kataragama in honour of the God Skanda.
Vesak festival, Beira Lake, Sri Lanka
Vesak Day, also known as Buddha Day or the Celebration of Vesākha, is one of the biggest days of the Buddhist calendar. On the day of the first full moon in May, the edge of Beira Lake in Colombo, Sri Lanka comes to life with spectacular light displays to commemorate the birth, death and enlightenment of the Lord Buddha.
Unlike most Hindu festivals, which take place during the day, Shivaratri (also known as the Night of Lord Shiva) is celebrated at night. It is one of the most important Hindu festivals, which honours Lord Shiva (who is said to have saved the universe from darkness and ignorance) and the day he was married to Parvati Ma. Shivaratri takes place annually on the sixth night of the Phalgun (February or March) and is considered the holiest night of the year. Devotees observe a religious fast and keep a jaagaran (an all-night worship vigil). They flock to Kathmandu’s Pashupatinath Temple for a customary dip in the holy Baghmati River and then follow a long procession to the shrine.
Rato Macchendranath (Bhoto Jatra), Patan, Nepal
This month-long celebration is Patan’s most important festival. Dedicated to Machhindranath, the God of Rain, it is supposed to bring rain to the Kathmandu Valley. It starts with the construction of a massive chariot with a ten-meter spire (and no nuts/bolts to hold it together). The chariot is towed by eager devotees through the streets of Patan and is put to rest each day at one of the many venerated locations. The chariot’s journey ends in Jawalakhel, where a huge crowd gathers to watch the display of an ancient bejewelled vest called Bhoto (this festival is also called Bhoto Jatra). This event is attended by the Head of State, as well as the Living Goddess Kumari of Patan.
Thimphu Tsechu, Bhutan
Thimphu Tsechu is Bhutan’s most popular festival, attracting revellers from around the world during the month of October. It is a colourful celebration of the Bhutanese culture and faith, complete with ornate costumes, ancient rituals and sacred dances including the world-famous Dance of the Black Hats and Dance of the Terrifying Deities.