Nepal’s geographic diversity brings diverse customs and traditions and people. With numerous ethnic groups and around 123 languages, Nepal is full of festivals. Nepal probably holds more yearly festivals and holidays that any other nation in the world. There is no way anyone (including Nepalese) can celebrate all the festivals of Nepal, but we will be talking about the major ones that you as a tourist can celebrate in Nepal. So, check your calendar and see if the following dates fall in your travel itinerary.
Note: Dates of most festivals of Nepal change every year as they are lunar based. This is the list of festival dates for 2018/19. We request you to check a Nepal Calendar, or check this page before going to Nepal. Also, please ignore any tour companies trying to sell these in the package. Most of the events are free, all you need to do is some little digging for the events ;). However, you might have to pay a few bucks for visiting the heritage sites – Patan, Bhaktapur, Kathmandu Durbar Square.
Date: 5th Feb, 2019.
Best Locations to Visit: Boudhanath, Swayambhunath, any other buddhist places.
Price: Usually Free to Attend
About: The term Lhosar is derived from two words ‘Lho’ – which means year and ‘sar’ – which mean new. Thus, it is basically a new year festival for Tibetan-Nepali people and is celebrated over three days (starting from the day of New Year’s Eve). You need to visit any Tibetan monastery and ask what they will be doing to gain the most out of it. It is amazing how the monasteries are decorated and see the rituals.
Date: 4th March, 2019/21st March, 2020
Best Location to Visit: Pashupatinath, Kathmandu.
About: Shivaratri is a Hindu festival and is celebrated annually in honor of the Lord Shiva. This festival is solemn and marks a remembrance of “overcoming darkness and ignorance” in life and the world. Maha Shivaratri also celebrates the night when Lord Shiva performed the cosmic dance, tha “Tandav”. Tandava is the dance of passion, anger and intense energy. Sadhus often make long pilgrimages to Nepal at this time. The environment is fun with a lot of worshippers and bonfire in the evening and all around Nepal. Also, this is the only day where Hashish is legal in Nepal. So, smoke all you can! 😉
Date: 1st March 2018.
Best Locations: Basantapur, Kathmandu, any holi event, streets, nationwide.
Price: Free. Events might take upto Rs. 500 to Rs. 3000 (USD 5 to 30)
If you are looking for serious fun in a festival, Holi is the one Nepali festival not to miss. Holi is also known as the ‘Festival of Colors’. Colored water or powders are thrown at people in celebration. People come out of their houses and get together to celebrate on this day. If you are in Terai, Holi is celebrated a day after this date. If you are in Pokhara, Holi around Lakeside area doesn’t start until 1 PM. Don’t forget to wear old clothes and sunglasses with you. Also, if you are going out with your DSLRs and other cameras, be careful as colors might ruin them.
Festival: Bisket Jatra and Nepali New Year
Date: 14th April, 2019.
Best Locations: Bhaktapur for Bisket Jatra, Nationwide for Nepali New Year.
Price: Free for Bisket Jatra. New Year events price varies.
Nepal follows a different calendar from rest of the world, a lunisolar based Hindu Calendar. Nepal is currently on year 2075. If you are in Kathmandu, you can be Thamel to see people celebrating in streets. The restaurants are all packed and there are numerous concerts all over the nation. If you are visiting around April, don’t miss this day.
Bisket Jatra is another festival of Nepal that is celebrated wildly. It starts on the day of New Year for 9 days and is the only festival of Nepal that does not follow the lunar-based Nepali Calendar. The jatra commences after a special Tantric ritual in the Bhairab temple in Taumadhi Tole in Bhaktapur. Large chariots with ‘Bhairab and Bhadrakali’ – the Gods, are placed on it and is pulled through crowds with literally thousands of people watching. During this, the chariots pause as residents of upper and lower side of Bhaktapur compete to be the first to worship the Gods. A vertical pole (called as lingam locally) which is a sign of god Bhairab has to be pulled down to the ground in this tug of war. When the pole crashes, the new year officially begins. There is also a drama that is passed over for centuries played during the festival.
Bisket Jatra is also celebrated in Thimi and Balakhu with Jibro Chhedne Jatra (Tongue piercing festival) and Sindoor Jatra respectively.
Check out this YouTube video of Bisket Jatra.
Festival: Buddha Jayanti (Lord Buddha’s birthday)
Date: 18th May 2019 (might sometimes fall in April).
Best Locations: Lumbini, Devdaha, Swayambhunath, Boudhanath, Patan.
A special festival for both Hindus and Buddhists of Nepal, this day celebrates the life of Lord Buddha. This festival is celebrated by gentle and serene fervour, keeping in mind the very nature of Buddhism. Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha where he spend first 29 years of his life, Devdaha, his maternal home, and Swayambhunath, Boudhanath (the two great Stupas) other monasteries all over Kathmandu and Nepal are crammed with worshippers from in and out Nepal on this day.
Among the Newars (an important caste), Shakya (a Newar subcaste) celebrates this day as it is of great importance because they consider it as a continuation of the sage of Śākyas- the clan that Lord Buddha’s family belonged to. Thus, this festival is also greatly celebrated in Patan. Be around in any of these places if you are in Nepal this time of the year. It’s amazing!
Festival: Ropain (Rice Planting Festival)
Date: June 29, 2018. Asar 15 (according the Nepali calendar).
Best Locations: Village areas of Nepal.
This annual rice planting festival and is also the start of monsoon in Nepal. Although this is an off season for tourists in Nepal, but if you are here during this period, you can not only watch but also take part in this festival. This is a free festival and you can visit a local farm around the outskirts of Kathmandu or any village area. There’s also a local festival for tourists organized by the The Nepal Tourism Board which has a free bus to take you to the rice planting ceremony. You are likely to get very muddy, thus bring old clothes. Here’s a video of a famous Nepali Vlogger celebrating this day. It’s on Nepali language, so fast forward to around 4 minutes of the video. Starting from 5 mins of the video, Sisan Baniya describes what the festival is all about, obviously better than I can! 😛
Festival: Gai Jatra
Date: 27th August, 2018
Best Locations: Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.
GaiJatra (the festival of Cows), is celebrated with depictions of families whose family members died during that year, but is done in humorous way rather than tragic. This tradition started in 18th century, by a king to cheer up his queen after the death of their son. Families (especially kids) dress up all colorful as cows, jogis, and other different avatars and march around the city as the people watch and feed them. You can be in any of these places to witness the festival but are celebrated in different manner.
See this Video of Gai Jatra in Nepal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YJPZ5gHTCA
Date: 2nd September, 2018
Best Locations: Pashupatinath, Kathmandu Durbar Square.
Teej is a festival of Women. Women conduct a whole day fasting (some even without water) in this day. All dressed in Red Saris, married women worship Lord Shiva for long lives of their husband and unmarried women perform rituals wishing for ‘a good husband’ – somewhat like the Lord Shiva. Women sing, dance, and perform praying rituals to celebrate this day. Prior to this day, there is also a day of ‘Daar khane Din’, where women get together in one place in their finest attire and sing, dance in the devotional songs. The unusual thing about this day is there is a huge feast hosted by men for women as a way of thanking them of working for their family all year. You as a tourist, might not be able to see the insides of this day, but you can visit to Pashupatinath to see the excitement about this day.
Numerous new ‘Teej Songs’ are released during this time every year.
Festival: Yenya (Indra Jatra)
Date: 23rd September – 30th September, 2018
Best Location: Basantapur, Kathmandu.
Yenya also commonly known as Indra Jatra is the biggest religious festival in Kathmandu, Nepal. Indra Jatra is celebrated in the honor of Hindu God ‘Indra’. Indra Jatra starts off with Kumari Jatra, where the Living Goddess (Kumari) is pulled around the chariots through a specific route in Kathmandu (everyday for 3 days with different routes). The third day of Kumari Jatra is pulled by all women only. Different exhibitions and masked dances are performed in these eight days each holding different cultural value. Basantapur is amazing, but also very crowded throughout the week with hundreds of people watching.
Read more about Indra Jatra at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yenya
Did you know that the best time to visit Nepal is from mid-September to November? But it all comes down to why you are travelling to Nepal; read it for yourself on Best Time to Visit Nepal.
Date: Starting October 10th 2018/September 29th 2019
Best Location: All around Nepal.
Lasting for 10 straight days, Dashain is more off a festival solely for Nepali. Most people simply go home to celebrate with their family during this time. This festival is celebrated to remember goddess Durga’s victory over the Rakhsha (devil). Kite flying is most popular during this time. There is not much for a Tourist during this festival, but If you have a Nepali friend (or make one in Nepal during your stay), ask them to take them to celebrate this festival to closely witness how this festival is celebrated. The Taleju temple of Kathmandu Durbar Square is only opened in main day of 10th day of Dashain (Tika Day) and early in the morning. You can go see the crowd of devotees to worship the Taleju God. One this to keep in mind is the Transportation during this festival in Nepal. Most buses and other national transportations are booked beforehand and local transportations do not run during the main days of Dashain (5-6 days).
Festival: Tihar and Newari New Year
Date: 5th November to 9th November, 2018.
Best Location: All around Nepal.
Nepal is the most beautiful at Tihar. Also known as the ‘Festival of Lights’, Tihar is celebrated with candles, lanterns, diyos and colored tinsels. Almost all Hindu houses are cleaned and decorated with lights throughout Tihar.
Day 1 is the ‘Crow Festival’
Day 2 is the festival where dogs are worshiped (Dog Festival), applied Tika and venerated with a garland.
Day 3 is the festival where Laxmi (the goddess of wealth) is worshipped and welcomed to their homes for prosperousness. This is the day where the National holiday starts for 4 days.
Day 4 is the Newari New Year and also ‘Mha Puja’, which literally means ‘worship of the self’. Newars worship their own body to purify and empower the soul as a part of New Year Celebrations followed by a grand feast (Bhoj). Non-Newars celebrate this day as Govardhan Puja (worship of the Oxen).
Day 5 is Bhai Tika which is translated as “Brother Tika”. Bhai Tika is the most important day of Tihar. Sisters apply “Tika” in their brother’s forehead and perform a special ritual (puja) as a thank you for the protection they provide and also wishing their long life. Gifts are exchanged between brothers and sisters. This festival provides a great cultural significance.
You might not be able to witness the cultural part of the festival unless you have a Nepali friend and ask them to be a part of it. But what you can definitely see is the beautifully lighted houses, lots of fireworks, and also groups of boys and girls roaming around city at night for ‘Deusi-Bhailo’. They go to different houses door to door as one person tells the story of the festival as a song and rest narrate the chorus. The owner of the houses welcome them, listen to them and provide them with fruits, sweets, money and much more.
There are lots of one stop ‘Deusi-Bhailo’ program that go on these days where a location is selected and a program is organized which you as a tourist can surely witness. You just need to ask the locals or do a bit of research.
Date: 13th November, 2018 / 2nd November, 2019.
Best Location: Janakpur, mostly around Terai area of Nepal / Rani Pokhari, Kathmandu.
The Chhath is an ancient Hindu festival that celebrates ‘Surya’ – The Sun God. Chhath is the festival of bathing and worshipping, that follows a period of abstinence and segregation of the worshiper from the main household for four days. The devotees offer their prayers to the setting sun and then the rising sun; celebrating the truth that circle of birth starts with death. The devotees believe that the Surya promotes well-being, prosperity and progression. Visit the above mentioned locations to witness Chhath puja.
Festival: Christmas, New Years’ Day.
Date: 25th Dec – Christmas. 31st Dec – 1st Jan – New Years’ Day.
Best Location: Kathmandu, Pokhara.
Price: Varies from the Location.
Most Nepalese celebrate Nepali New Year, but there are a lot of younger generations starting to celebrate the New Year’s’ Day and Christmas. Different groups go clubbing or party on these days with friends. If you are in Kathmandu, stay in Thamel and visit Lake Side if you are in Pokhara. These places are beautifully decorated with plenty of events and concerts going on around the city.
There are a lot of other small festivals in Nepal being celebrated throughout the year. Read the complete list in Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_festivals_in_Nepal
Visiting Nepal for the first time? See the Visa Procedure in Nepal and Arriving at Nepal Airport.