Learn Tibetan Culture through Their Festivals
January to February
The snowy area in winter is really cold from high places, but Lhasa with plenty of sunlight is not as cold as imagined. The Tibetan New Year is very lively, but if you are not good at playing with the locals, you will feel depressed and boring, because even shops that specialize in tourist business will no longer take you seriously.
- Tibetan New Year
One of the most important festivals in Tibet, Lhasa celebrates the New Year on the first day of the first month in the Tibetan calendar. To avoid delaying spring ploughing, the industrious Shigatse people celebrate the New Year one month in advance (the first day of December in the Tibetan calendar). The form of the festival is similar to that of the Han Chinese New Year, with enjoying delicious food, visiting relatives and friends, and a grand “Great Dance Party”. In contrast to the strong festive atmosphere, the doors of the shops on the street are closed.
- Yak Butter Lantern Festival
On the fifteenth day of the first month in the Tibetan calendar, there is a Yak Butter Lantern Festival at the Galden Jampaling Monastery and Tholing Monastery. The colorful flowers, trees, gods, birds and beasts made of yak butter are like works of art, as well as extra-large butter flowers. The monks collectively chanted sutras, performed dances, and ordinary people participated in the celebration by dancing the Guozhuang dance.
- Gutu Qiangmu
Gutu Qiangmu, a religious ritual extended for more than 1,000 years in the Qude Temple of Geelong, is a kind of dance performance. The dancers wear exaggerated masks and the dance steps are mysterious. This ritual is usually held on December 29 in Tibetan calendar.
March to April
Lhasa and the area to the west of Lhasa are still desolate or covered with snow and ice, while Nyingchi has already ushered in spring when all the flowers blossom, which is the most beautiful season of the year. Only when you visit Nyingchi at this time will your kinds of cameras be useful, and the 318 national highway is not at the dangerous time.
- Nyingchi Peach Blossom Festival
The only place in Tibet that does not leave people the impression of indifference will be Nyingchi, and it is the first place to rejuvenate from winter. The hillsides on both sides of the Niyang River are like a pink fairyland. Against the backdrop of the green wheat fields, peach blossoms are everywhere, and the snow-capped mountains in the distance are clearly visible. Mid-to-late March is the best time to enjoy flowers. You can appreciate flowers in Suosong Village, Basum Lake, Songzong Town, and Demu Temple.
May to June
The rhododendrons in the mountain valley of Shannan are blooming brightly. The snow and ice in Namtso has just melted, but you may still encounter unexpected blizzards. If you happenly come across it, don’t complain that you have a bad luck. The “quick freezing” and “quick melting” modes of Namtso are not an ordinary phenomenon that people can see as long as they want.
- Saga Dawa Festival
This is a festival to commemorate the birth, enlightenment, and death of Sakyamuni who is the founder of the Buddhism. There is “turns around after the sunrise and stop before the sunset” in the Linkuo turning scripture road in Lhasa. The festival reached its climax on April 15th in the Tibetan calendar.
- Dama Festival
From April 10 to 28 in the Tibetan calendar, people in costumes gathered at the foot of Zongshan mountain in Gyantse. There were horse racing and archery competitions, as well as modern football, basketball, tug-of-war competitions and other exhibition matches.
- Chubu Monastery Dance Festival
Chubu Monastery has lasted for nearly a thousand years of traditional festivals, held on April 11th in the Tibetan calendar. The religious dance called “Qiangmu” is very interesting. People dance with masks on their heads and colored knives on their waist with the accompaniment of cowhide drums, chants, and suona.
- Ceremony in Samye Monastery
From May 15th to 17th of the Tibetan calendar is an important ceremonial ceremony in Samye Monastery. The monks will perform the Vajra dance that has been passed down for thousands of years. On the tenth and eleventh day of the first lunar month of the Tibetan calendar, the temple also has a ceremony.
- Wenbunan Village Farming Festival
This is an important day for farmers to release water for cultivation, and the seasoned “farm leader” calculated according to ancient methods, and the time varies from year to year.
July to August
In the season with the most festivals, locals begin to enjoy the garden (Linka), which is also the most popular tourist season in Tibet. Although the 317 and 318 National Highways are flooded with rain, and the consumption index has reached a new high every year, it can’t stop people’s determination to enter Tibet.
- Shoton Festival
A unique festival in Lhasa, and also a favorite local festival for travelers, is held on June 30th of the Tibetan calendar. Climbing up to the mountainside of Drepung Monastery in the dark, waiting for the huge thangka to unfold slowly after sunrise, and going to Norbulingka in the afternoon to watch Tibetan opera performances. Those who have participated are all have a very unforgettable memory: there are too many people. During the Shoton Festival, Lhasa has a 7-day holiday and some temples or shops will be closed.
- Naqu Horse Racing Festival
The largest horse racing in northern Tibet will start on August 10 and last for 5 days. In addition to compete riding speed, also riding skills, playing guns on a horse, shooting, and standing upside down can all trigger bursts of cheers. There are also athletic events such as archery, wrestling, tug-of-war, and rock-lifting, as well as folk song and dance performances.
- Sea of grasslands in Ali
The grasslands in the Ali pastoral area are green like the sea, and there is a chance to see wild animals such as Tibetan wild donkeys and Tibetan sheep. The North line of Ali, which has few cars and few people and is difficult to pass, is the easiest for carpooling at this time.
- Buddha Exhibition Festival
Why bother to stick to the thangka at Drepung Monastery on the Shoton Festival. From May 14th to 16th in the Tibetan calendar, is the Buddha Exhibition of Tashilhunpo Monastery. It has a long history. The past Buddha, the present Buddha and future Buddha are exhibited for 3 days. One month later (from June 15th to 17th in the Tibetan calendar), the Buddha Exhibition Festival in Ganden Monastery also began, which also lasted 3 days.
- Vajra Dance Ceremony in Sakya Monastery
The 7-day Sakya Monastery Ceremony is held from the seventh to the seventeenth of the seventh month in the Tibetan calendar, and there is a grand celebration in South Temple for the first and last two days. You can join in the fun to watch the dance performances, or you can join the local family to experience the local lifestyle. Sakya Monastery also has a winter ceremony in November of the Tibetan calendar, where you can enjoy Buddhist music and dance.
- Yamdrok Lake Cycling Race
If you don’t have so much time to experience the long cycling road of 318 National Road, then in mid-August, challenge the Yamdrok Lake Inner Ring Road for a full 3-day ride. This event has been held for 3 consecutive years and is free of charge. All you have to do is sign up and bring your bike.
- Wangguo Festival
The Wangguo Festival is a festival for Tibetan farmers to celebrate the harvest. After the barley is ripe, it is held before the autumn harvest, usually at the end of August and the beginning of September. There is no uniform holiday time. Each township chooses auspicious days. After the Shoton Festival in Lhasa, you can go to the surrounding villages to try your luck. When you go to Shannan, don’t forget to inquire about it in Samye Town. If you are in the late Tibetan area, join in the fun in the village of Gyantse. There are usually horse races and other competitions and celebrations with singing and dancing.
- Basiba Cultural Festival
It will be held at the Sakya Temple from August 8th to 12th. You can see the Sakya Sok dance with a history of more than 700 years. This is the dance when celebrating the grand ceremony and welcoming the King. Now it has become an officially organized cultural tourism festival, with tug-of-war, Tibetan opera, Tibetan costume shows and other cultural performances.
- Zhong Que Festival
Held on June 15 of the Tibetan calendar, the traditional festival in Leiwuqi County has a history of nearly 700 years. It is said that the success rate of worshiping Buddha and doing business on this day is very high, so it is highly valued by merchants. There are wrestling, horse racing, tug-of-war competitions on the festival, and chanting, eating and drinking, singing and dancing are also indispensable. Some Tibetans will also go to Pozhang sacred mountain in Deqing to turn around.
September to October
Except for a small peak during the National Holiday period, other times there are fewer people and good scenery, which is the best time for traveling. A little later after that, the Lhasa River Valley and the Yarlung Zangbo Valley will be dyed into a golden fairy tale world.
- Everest Cultural Tourism Festival
Held in the first week of September, both Shigatse and Dingri have opening ceremony venues. The festival is very official, but you can enjoy singing and dancing of Lhazi Duixie, Dingri Luoxie and other Tibetan songs and dances, so you can join in the fun.
- The leaves of Shannan turn yellow
With blue sky, clear river water, and golden woods, the Yarlung Zangbo River Valley is as beautiful as a fairyland.
November to December
The Lebugou valley in Shannan is warm like spring. The 317 national highway no longer has the overall traffic conditions, but there are many festivals in Qamdo that are easily accessible.
- Gongbu New Year
Legend has it that a long time ago, due to the invasion of foreign enemies, the Gongbujiangda people organized an army to defend their home and the country, but because they were worried that they would not have the opportunity to go home for the New Year, they celebrated the New Year before they set out. Therefore, there is the tradition of celebrating the New Year in advance on the first day of October in the Tibetan calendar of Linzhi.
- Bahram Festival
There are also stories in Buddhism that parents prevent their children from freely falling in love, but the human world has a kind of emotion, so there is an annual “magpie bridge meeting(meeting each other across the milky way)” on October 15th in the Tibetan calendar. Today’s festival has evolved into a “Fairy Festival” for local Tibetan women, and there are new ways to play. What is certain is that the streets are full of Tibetan girls in costumes.
- Burning Lantern Festival
On October 25th of the Tibetan calendar, the festival to commemorate the passing of Master Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug Sect, is celebrated in different ways in places, but the time may be slightly different. The temples and households in Lhasa will light up yak butter lamps and become a city that never sleeps.