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BHUTAN

Paro Festival:  The Paro tshechu is a one-of-a-kind festival, featuring the world’s biggest ceremony of unfurling a throngdel. (Throngdel means “confers liberation by the mere sight of it” in Bhutanese.). A throngdel is believed to provide a seed of enlightenment to those who see it. The throngdel of Paro Tshechu is considered one of the most sacred objects in all of Bhutan. The huge thangkha (silk painting) featuring the throngdel covers the face of the dzong. It’s displayed only for a few hours, at daybreak on the final day of the festival, to allow people to obtain its blessing. As a tourist visiting the festival, you’ll witness a celebration that’s been held for centuries. The Paro festival only happens once a year. Thimpu Tshechu Festival:  The Tshechu is a religious event celebrated on the tenth day of a month of the lunar calendar corresponding to the birthday of Guru Rimpoche (Guru Padmasambhava). However the exact month of the Tshechu varies from place to place and temple to temple. Tshechus are grand events where entire communities come together to witness religious mask dances, receive blessings and socialize. In addition to the mask dances, tshechus also include colorful Bhutanese dances and other forms of entertainment. It is believed that everyone must attend a Tshechu and witness the mask dances at least once to in order to receive blessings and wash away their sins. Black Necked Crane Festival:  The Black -neck Cranes, commonly known as “thrung thrung karm” have a sacred identity in the Bhutanese culture. It is often cited in the folklore, dances and other historical texts. The crane festival is organized annually by the local communities in Phobjikha. Phobjikha is the winter home of black necked cranes after they migrate from the arid plains in the north to pass the winter in milder and lower climates. Phobjikha, at an altitude of 2900 m, lies on the periphery of the Black Mountain National Park. Jambay lhakhang Festival & drup: The annual Jambay Lhakhang Drup is a fertility blessing ceremony and is one of the most popular religious festivals in Bumthang. It takes place every year, in October or November, at Jambay Lhakhang, one of the oldest and most sacred Buddhist temples in Bhutan. Infertile women who wish to conceive come from different parts of the country to get blessed at the ceremony. The main monk or chief lama at the ceremony, sporting a colourful mask, prays to the fertility gods and deities, and blesses the women with a symbolic wooden phallus.

CAMBODIA

The Khmer New Year, or ‘Bon Chol Chhnam Thmei’ in the Khmer language, is commonly celebrated on 13th April each year although sometimes the holiday may fall on the 14th April in keeping with the Cambodian lunar calendar. This marks the end of the harvest season when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labor and relax before the start of the rainy season. The New Year holidays last for three days.During this time, people engage in traditional Khmer games; the Bas Angkunh ‘seed throwing’, Chaol Chhoung ‘twisted-scarf throwing’, Leak Kanséng ‘twisted-scarf hide’, tug of war, shuttlecock kicking, etc. Throughout the country, people dance the traditional Khmer forms of the Ran Vong, Ram Kbach, Saravan and Lam Leav. Pchum  Ben – Running for 15 days, usually from the end of September into October, this festival is dedicated to blessing the spirits of the dead and is one of the most culturally significant in Cambodia. The exact date defers year to year as determined by the lunar calendar.  Each household visits their temple of choice and offers food to the monks. Offering of food is a meritorious act and is one of the oldest and most common rituals of Buddhism. During the Pchum Ben festival, people bring food to the temple for the monks and to feed hungry ghosts who could be their late ancestors, relatives or friends. The Water Festival is probably the most exorbitant festival held each year in November. It is usually celebrated for three days, i.e. the 14th and 15th of the waxing moon and the 1st of the waning moon of the month of Kadek. The 15th of the waxing moon is the last full moon day. The festival ushers in the fishing season, marks a change in the flow of the Tonlé Sap and the ebbing-water season, and is seen as thanksgiving to the Mekong River for providing the country with fertile land and abundant fish. At the height of the rainy season, the water of the Mékong River forces the Tonlé Sap to reverse its current and to flow up to the Tonlé Sap Lake. As the water of the Mékong River begins to subside, the swollen Tonlé Sap Lake flows back to the Mékong River through the Tonlé Sap and empties into the sea, which leaves behind vast quantities of fish. This, indeed, is a remarkable phenomenon of the Tonlé Sap.

INDIA

Being a highly spiritual country, festivals are at the heart of people’s lives in India. The numerous and varied festivals that are held throughout the year offer a unique way of seeing Indian culture at its best. The following popular festivals in India will provide you with a truly memorable experience.

Diwali is a five day festival that represents the start of the Hindu New Year. It’s known as the “Festival of Lights” for all the fireworks, small clay lamps, and candles that are lit during the celebrations. These lights are said to represent the victory of good over evil, and brightness over darkness. The candlelight makes Diwali a very warm and atmospheric festival, and it’s observed with much joy and happiness. Held October / November. Holi is a two day festival that also celebrates the victory of good over evil, as well as the abundance of the spring harvest season. It’s commonly referred to as the “Festival of Colors”. People exuberantly throw coloured powder and water all over each other, have parties, and dance under water sprinklers. Bhang (a paste made from cannabis plants) is also traditionally consumed during the celebrations. Holi is a very carefree festival that’s great fun to participate in if you don’t mind getting wet and dirty. Holi is held in March each year. The spectacular eleven day Ganesh Chaturthi festival honors the birth of the beloved Hindu elephant-headed god, Lord Ganesha. The start of the festival sees huge, elaborately crafted statutes of Ganesha installed in homes and podiums, which have been especially constructed and beautifully decorated. At the end of the festival, the statutes are paraded through the streets, accompanied by much singing and dancing, and then submerged in the ocean. Held August / September each year. An astonishing 50,000 camels converge on the tiny desert town of Pushkar, in India’s state of Rajasthan for the Pushkar Camel Fair. For five days, the camels are dressed up, paraded, shaved, entered into beauty contests, raced, and of course traded. It’s a great opportunity to witness an old, traditional style Indian festival.  Held October / November each year.

JAPAN

Sapporo Winter Festival – Held every February since 1950, this festival features hundreds of statues and ice sculptures, snow slides and mazes, regional food and artistic performances. Winter in Japan is truly amazing – and the Sapporo Winter Festival celebrates this magically. Hanami is an important Japanese custom and is held all over Japan in spring. Hanami literally means viewing flowers, but it generally indicates cherry blossom viewing. It’s said that the origin of hanami dates back to more than one thousand years ago when aristocrats enjoyed looking at beautiful cherry blossoms and wrote poems. Cherry Blossom Festivals take place all over the country. Most of them are held between March to May, though other regions have them in January, February, and June, based on their location. Festival dates are usually determined with reference to cherry blossom forecasts and vary from year to year.

MYANMAR (BURMA)

Water Festival and Myanmar New Year – The Myanmar New Year is celebrated in April with a 4 day water festival. During this time the streets become crowded with Burmese washing away the bad sentiments of the previous year by pouring water over each other. Major cities such as Yangon and Mandalay become very crowded with many erecting stages to soak passers by and the streets become crowded with cars filled with both young and old enjoying what is the most fun filled festival in Myanmar. All businesses close during this four day period. Thadingyut , Festival Of Lights is celebrated at the end of Lent (September/October). Houses and state buildings in Myanmar are ablaze with lantern, candles, or electric bulbs. Young people show their respect for elders by formally presenting them with gifts of food or longyi. This festival observes the event when the Buddha came down to the earth after the end of Lent. At the festival, there are concerts and zat (Myanmar traditional theater) in every city. The Waso Festival – commemorating the Buddha’s first sermon, this festival also marks the beginning of Buddhist Lent. Monks are given new robes and other requirements to tide them through the months ahead. Phaungdaw Oo Pagoda Festival, Inle Lake – Phaungdaw Oo Pagoda’s Buddha images are ferried from village to villages for people to pay homage. Fairs, dances, the leg rowers’ boat races and general festivities counterbalance the more austere ceremonial aspect. This is the biggest celebration in the Shan state.

SRI LANKA

The colorful Thai Pongal Festival celebrated by the Hindu devotees of Sri Lanka is celebrated on 14 of January. Houses are adorned in colourful kolam, intricate drawings done on the floors using flour. Special Pujas (prayer ceremonies) are held in Kovils to worship the Sun God. It is customary to cook the Pongal meal and share it with neighbours, especially non-hindus. Maha Sivarathri – This important religious festival is held end February or beginning March. Poojas are held through out the country all night and vigils are held in the households. Sinhala & Tamil New Year – Celebrated by all Sinhalese and Tamils, the traditional New Year celebrations fall on between 12 to 14 April and is the celebration of Sun God’s passage from Pisces to Aries. It is a harvest thanksgiving and is mainly celebrated by the villagers in true traditional style. A colourful and extravagant festival, this season is usually a holiday for the whole country. The Aluth Avurudu (New Year) is a time for friendships and family and many traditions are observed according to the litha (A strological time). New clothes are worn, milk boiled and traditional ricemilk with sweets fill the tables. The youth spend the day engaged in various traditional games such as climbing a greased poll, pillow fighting, breaking a pot blindfolded and the girls plating swinging. The women also fill the air with Raban padha ( traditional drum instrument) dressed in their new year costume. Wesak, the most hallowed of Buddhist festivals commemorating the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha is held on the full moon day in May and the day following it. Starting at dawn, Buddhists dressed in white start to make their way to the temple to observe sila , in which they spend the day meditating, reading religious texts, and listening to sermons. At night the temples are crowded with devotees bringing flowers and offerings. Among the many striking decorations are intricate Wesak paper lanterns of different shapes and sizes, and the thousands of little clay coconut oil lamps ( pol-thel pahana ) that flicker throughout the island. The Esala Perahera in Kandy – one of the most glamorous cultural processions in the world. The procession takes place on 10 consecutive nights, where the first six nights are known as Kumbal perahera and the last four nights is the much more glamorous Randoli perahera with the final night having a 100 elephants adorned in elegant costumes parading. The event has been celebrated once a year since the 3rd century AD to allow pilgrims to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic carried by the Diyawadana Nilame, selected to be the trustee of the temple.

VIETNAM

Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) – As the most important date in the Vietnamese calendar, Tet is a time of traditional ceremonies, special foods and paying respects to ancestors (which lasts for 3 to 7 days). Visitors will be able to see streets, shops and homes decorated with trees, fruit, paper flowers, calligraphy and lanterns.