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                    Buddhist Festivals in Nepal

                    The culture of Nepal is synonymous with its festivals. Myriads of festivals pertaining to different ethnic groups and religions are celebrated throughout the year. Nepal government, in the recent times, has declared national holidays for the chief festivals of major and minor tribal groups of the country, which once was the privilege of those who celebrated Dashain, Tihar and other petty ‘exclusively’ Hindu observations.

                    Buddhism is adhered by around 11% of the country’s population, especially by the highlanders (Sherpa, Bhotia), Tamangs , Gurungs and Buddhist Newars. These 4 different ethnic groups have their own specific festivals, dissimilar to other groups. The festivals observed by Sherpa and Bhotiya are almost , if not totally, similar to that of Tibetan while Newars, Gurungs and Tamangs have their own unique ways – some derived from the Hindu tradition and some passed down from generations.

                    Lhosar: Lhosar (New year in Tibetan) is the major religious day for Tibetan peoples, including Sherpa, which marks the start of the new year. The festival usually falls during the month of February or March, which is decided according to the lunar calendar. The fête is actually celebrated for 15 days, first 3 days being the chief period of festivity. Donning new clothes, adorning with jewelries, feasting and dancing are some of the features of the festival. Special noodles called “guthuk” are prepared during Lhosar. In Baudhanath premises of Kathmandu, a portrait of Dalai Lama is exhibited and paraded around the shrine while a multitude of pilgrims swarm there. Tamangs celebrate Lhosar as “Sonam” Lhosar and Gurungs as “Tamu” Lhosar, but at separate times and diverse manners.

                    Buddha Jayanti: Buddha Jayanti which celebrates the birth of Lord Buddha falls on the day of the full moon of Baisakha (April or May). Some texts also claim that the Shakyamuni attained enlightenment and left his worldly soul on the same day. Major Buddhist shrines belonging to Tibetan Vajrayana sect are embellished with prayer flags. Thousands of pilgrims, both Buddhist and Hindu, from all over Nepal as well as India throng Lumbini during this day. Amazing fact is that some Hindus also revere Buddha as the 9th reincarnation of lord Vishnu, though Buddha himself was an agnostic.

                    Dalai Lama’s Birthday (June 6): This anniversary is mainly celebrated by the Tibetan refugees dwelling around Baudhanath and different refugee camps of Nepal. Prayers are invoked for the long life and health of His Holiness. This day, apart from patriotic significance, is marked with religious importance as HH is considered to be the incarnation of Aalokitesvara, one of the bodhisattvas.

                    Mani Rimdhu: This festival is observed by Sherpas in Khumbu (Everest region) of Nepal during the full moon of either December or November, which sometimes may be scheduled at a more specific time other than the mentioned months. The monks perform masked dances celebrating the victory of Buddhism over Bon-Po religion in the region. This festival is also marked with merriment by monks as well as laymen.

                    Tiji festival: This festival is somewhat similar to Mani Rimdhu but celebrated in the restricted area of upper Mustang by Lhoba peoples. Tiji usually falls during May and Lamas perform colorful masked dances depicting a tale of demon being vanquished by his own son who thus was able to save Mustang and its dwellers from the evil intentions of his father. Tourists and locals gather annually during the festival which is celebrated for three days.

                    Yartung: Yartung means end of summer in Tibetan and is reveled in Ranipauwa, the gateway to Muktinath. Villagers from as far as Dolpo in the west gather to observe and participate in this 3 days carnival, usually feted during july, which also includes an exciting horse race competition. The first day is royal day which features the (now-ex) king of Mustang, second day is chiefly celebrated by the monks and third day is for the gala by the laymen (locals and tourists).

                    If you would like to have your travel coincide with one of the festivals and closely observe the unique cultural traditions and rituals of different ethnic groups following Buddhism, please fill up the inquiry form and get free information.

                    A Short Introduction to Air Transport of Nepal

                    The air transport service in Nepal began with the establishment of Tribhuwan International Airport (TIA) in 1949, just two years before advent of democracy in the country. Since then more than 40 airports have been founded all over Nepal, though TIA is still the sole international airport here. As major portion of the road network of this recently declared federal republic is still in the primitive and insufficient state, air strips provide a comparatively safer and reliable, although bit expensive, mode of transportation. Those who can spend a little prefer short, cozy and secure journey to the whole-day long bumpy ride on poorly-maintained highways. The gateways to the chief tourist attractions in Nepal like Lukla, Johmsom , Dolpa, Pokhara had airdromes before they were linked into the road network. The remote tourist district of Solu Khumbu alone, which seats the Mount Everest, consists of 4 airports!

                    Nepal Airlines, formerly Royal Nepal Airlines, is the flag carrier of Nepal operating both national and international flights to Delhi, Quala Lampur, Dubai, Bangkok, Doha and Hong Kong. There are about 18 private companies which are granted the license to operate air services by the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal. Due to the extensive air network and additional aircrafts from private companies, flights are operated in almost regular basis to the major parts of the country. These airlines also provide additional services like mountain flights and charters (both helicopter and airplane). The popular and preferred private airline services of the country are – Buddha Air, Yeti Airways, Simrik Air, Tara airlines etc.

                    Getting to Nepal from Europe, Australia and America requires two different flights since there is no direct air connection to these places from Nepal. Some of the popular international airlines in Nepal are: Air Arabia, Air Asia, Air China, Bahrain Air, Biman Bangladesh, China Southern Airlines, Druk Air, Etihad, Qatar Airways etc. The places in Asia to where the regular flights from Nepal are carried out are Bangkok, Seoul, Singapore, Hongkong, Kwala Lampur, Doha , Karachi, Dhaka, Guanghzhao (China), Paro (Bhutan) , New Delhi and few other cities. If you are flying from America or Canada, you may choose to travel either westward or eastward over the globe. From Europe, you need to make first stop at one of the Gulf airports from where regular flights to Kathmandu are operated. In case of Australia or New Zealand, the four options are Bangkok, Seoul, Singapore or Hong Kong.

                    TIA is not yet well-equipped and sophisticated like the big names in the international airports. However, basic airport facilities are available with additional services like money exchange, tourist information center, instant photo booth and also a communication stall from where you can buy SIM cards easily. Most domestic airports of Nepal are below standards, the aviation sector in Nepal has a long way to go and we can expect at least some decades to pass before a properly managed and well-facilitated airways service comes into effect in Nepal. Nevertheless, journey on air is still the first option for tourists as well as local passengers prioritizing time, safety ,comfort and aerial views of the Himalaya.

                    Quote of the Day…

                    You can travel the world and never leave your chair when you read a book.
                    ~ Sherry K. Plummer