There are many celebrations around the world where the actual origins of the festival become a bit fuzzy, but in China you can be certain that they’ve kept track of their traditions over time. Sunny Liu, former Intrepid Group Leader, helps us learn about the history behind one of China’s most important national holidays…
“The Chinese farmer’s calendar really makes you appreciate the passing of time. With their year divided into 24 segments, the calendar is more sensitive to seasonal changes, such as when the insects are normally on the move or when to expect the first spring rain. It felt like only yesterday that on 20 March I was introducing the spring equinox customs to my Intrepid group on our way to the Great Wall, then all of a sudden I’m in southern China telling them stories about Qingming, or grave-sweeping day, on 5 April.
It’s always a wet start to the year in Thailand – not due to the weather, but because Thai celebrations to see in the new Lunar year include ancient cleansing rituals, that have developed into a national water fight! The Songkran Festival takes place from 13-15 April, 2013, and during this time of family reunion, houses will be cleaned, Buddhas bathed and kids will sprinkle water over the hands of monks and elders. But this is also no time to wear your best outfit, as Judie Turner explains…
“The first day of my 3-month Asian journey was spent in Bangkok. Unknown to me, it was Songkran, the New Year holiday. I decided to walk along the canal track and was most surprised when several children started to squirt water pistols at me. Having visited Thailand prior, I thought this behaviour was strange, especially all the giggles that accompanied the water jets.
Tibetan New Year, or Losar, is the most significant festival on the Tibetan calendar. Starting on 11 February in 2013, it’s a celebration of ancient traditions and rituals, accompanied by a sense of fun, and Megan Hassett loved being swept away by the experience…
“Hundreds of the oldest Tibetan pilgrims imaginable were dressed in their annual best to circumambulate Jokhang Monastery. Smelling of years-old yak butter, they intently spin prayer wheels, some with tea cosy-like covers, some silver, some as ornate as the 5th Dalai Lama’s quarters, all at a constant steady spin speed, not for just one minute, not for just an hour, but some all day and days on end.
Essaouira hosts a festival that celebrates the mysterious music of the Gnaouas, brought to Morocco centuries ago via the African slave trade. The drums of the Gnaouas are the true soul of the festival, but as Summer Davis explains, it’s a musical melting pot of experiences…
“The Festival de Gnaoua et Musiques du Monde (Gnawa and World Music Festival) was without question my most amazing concert experience! The festival boasts non-stop performances from afternoon until after midnight on six separate stages and thousands flock to the charming seaside port for four days in June. People flood the streets, squares and cafes, filling in time between acts and wandering from gnaoua ritual performances to hypnotic trance music.
Everyone knows that to compete in a marathon you need to do a lot of training. But unfortunately for Intrepid’s Alex Kewley, he had no prior warning that he was about to undertake an unusual Slavonian style festival-cum-sporting event…
“I had timed my arrival in Osijek perfectly. I stepped off the train from Zagreb and was greeted by my good friend Ivan, with news that I was in time for Surduk. What’s Surduk? Imagine my pleasant surprise when he explained that it’s a kind of wine marathon. Baranja is a small region 40km north of Osijek, famous for its wine production (most notably its shiraz), and for the past 8 years has hosted an event called the ‘Vinski Maraton’ or Surduk.
There are those precious moments on our travels when we stumble across an amazing local festival. For Angela Greco that powerful experience remains one of her fondest memories…
“The most unforgettable festival experience I have had was Maha Shivaratri Festival in Nepal. A Kathmandu friend took us southwest of Boudhanath to the great Pashupatinath Temple, where devotees flock from all over Nepal and India. They come to celebrate Shiva’s birthday, which falls in February or March on the new-moon of the month of Falgun. The festival is filled with surprises, beauty, spirituality, depth and peace, and one feels the deep devotion that the Hindu people have for their faith.
Barcelona’s biggest festival reaches its crescendo on 24 September, which is a public holiday to coincide with the pre-eminent annual event. In the preceding 3 or 4 days the city celebrates its regional culture, traditions and arts and you can expect there to be over 600 events and 2000 performers taking part. So you can see why Intrepid’s Jacqueline Donaldson was so excited to be amongst it all in Spain…
“I arrived in Barcelona in late September and immediately fell for this remarkable city. Its mixture of historical and modern, city and coast, tradition and avant garde and its energy and beauty captured me completely. That and the amazing 4-day festival I happened across.
When your visit coincides with a festival, not only do you get to join in the fun, but as Intrepid’s Paul Chea explains, it’s a special opportunity to enjoy a real taste of local life…
“I would like to invite you to my home – Cambodia – in October for one of the most important festivals in the Khmer calendar. We call this celebration Pchum Ben, and its literal translation is “gathering and offering of food”. This is when we spend time with our families preparing food and offering it to the spirits of our ancestors, and the hungry ghosts who walk the earth during this time.
In an unusual religious twist, the 12th month of the Hindu Brahmin lunar calendar heralds a time of celebration in Thai Buddhist culture. Although its roots lie in India’s Diwali ritual, the practice has evolved over time to become the Thai’s annual festival of Loy Krathong.
Every year, under the glow of the full moon, Thai people carefully place lights, flickering candles and ornate lanterns on lotus and swan-shaped krathongs (floats or rafts), and release them in the canals of Bangkok. These beautiful offerings to the Thai Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha, drift throughout Bangkok’s waterways evoking an extraordinary atmosphere in this usually chaotic city.