Nepali holidays and festivals are principally dated by the lunar calendar, falling on days relating to new or full moons. The lunar calendar is divided into bright and dark fortnights. The bright fortnight is the two weeks of the waxing moon, as it grows to become Purnima (the full moon). The dark fortnight is the two weeks of the waning moon, as the full moon shrinks to become Aunsi (the new moon).
The Nepali New Year starts on 14th April with the month of Baishak. The Nepali calendar is 57 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar used in the West, thus the year 2021 in the West is 2078 in Nepal.
The end of winter is an especially good time for a low-altitude trek or to visit the national parks of the Tarai without the crowds. Pokhara is warmer than chilly Kathmandu.
Tibetan peoples from Dolpo to the Khumbu celebrate their New Year with parades, pujas (religious offerings or prayers), and prayer flags. Find celebrations in the Kathmandu valley at Boudhanath, Swayambhunath, and Jawalakhel, near Patan.
Shiva’s birthday heralds’ festivities at all Shiva temples, but particularly at Pashupatinath, and hundreds of sadhus flock here from all over Nepal and India. The crowds bathing in the Bagmati’s holy waters are a colorful sight.
The trekking season kicks in as the days get warmer. The trails are less crowded in spring than in autumn, but cloud is more likely to roll in and obscure the views.
Holi (Festival of Colors)
Known as the Festival of Colors, when colored powder and water are riotously dispensed as a reminder of the cooling monsoon days to come. Foreigners get special attention, so keep your camera protected and wear old clothes. can be in February.
Kicking off in the wake of the sacrificial festival of Chaitra Dashain, crowds drag an image of Seto Machhendranath from its temple at Kel Tole in Kathmandu on a towering, tattering through the back streets of the old town for four days.
It’s getting uncomfortably hot in the lowlands and Tarai, but the rhododendrons are in full technicolor bloom at higher elevations, making this the third-most popular month for trekking.
Nepalis celebrate their New Year as huge crowds drag tottering chariots through the winding backstreets of Bhaktapur, pushing for a quick tug-of-war.
Thimi celebrates New Year by hosting palanquins from 32 nearby villages at the town’s Balkumari Temple for three days of festivities. Nearby Bode holds a grisly tongue-piercing ceremony at the same time.
Thousand of pilgrims keep an all-night vigil at the Swyambhunath temple during the full moon of Baisakh. The following day they trek to Baise Dharan at Balaju for a ritual bath.
The dusty run-up to the monsoon pushes the mercury over 30°C (80°F) in the Tarai and Kathmandu Valley, and the coming rains hang over the country like a threat. This is the key month for Everest expeditions and a good time to sports Tigers.
Patan’s biggest festival involves the spectacular month-long procession of a temple chariot, culminating in the showing of the sacred vest of the god Machhendranath.
A full-moon fair at Lumbini marks the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment in Swyambhunath, Boudhanath and Patan. Swayambhunath displays a collection of rare thangkas (Tibetan religious pantings) for one day only.
The monsoon rains lash Nepal from mid-June to September, bringing swollen rivers, muddy trails, landslides and leeches. Tourist levels are at a low, though high Trans Himalayan valleys such as Mustang and upper Dolpo enjoy perfect weather.
This festival celebrates the destruction of the demon ‘bell ears’ when a god, disguised as a frog, lured him into a deep well. Ghanta Karna is burnt in effigy on this night throughout Newari villages to cleanse evil from the land.
On this day, nagas (serpent deities) are honored all over the county for their magical powers over the monsoon rains. Protective pictures of the nagas are hung over doorways of house, and food is put out for snakes in Bhaktapur.
On the full moon, high caste men (Chhetri and Brahmin) change the Janai (sacred thread), which they wear looped over their left shoulder. Janai Purnima also brings Hindu pilgrims to sacred Gosainkund lakes and the Kumbeshwar Temple in Patan.
Newars believe that, after death, cows will guide them to Yama, the god of the underworld, and this ‘Cow Festival’ is dedicated to those who died during the preceding year. Cows are led through towns and small boys dress up as cows (especially in Bhaktapur).
Krishna Jayanti (Krishna’s Birthday)
The birdhday (also known as Krishnastami) of the popular Hindu god Krishna is celebrated with an all-night vigil at the Krishna Mandir in Patan. Oil lamps light the temple and singing continues through the night.
The Festival of Women starts with a sumptuous meal and party; at mid-night women commence a 24-hour fast. On the second day women dress in their red wedding saris and head to Shiva temples across the country to pray for happy marriage.
The end of the monsoon brings unpredictable weather but temperatures remain warm, and the land is lush and green. High water levels make for especially exciting rafting.
This colorful autumn festival combines homage to Indra with an annual appearance by Kathmandu’s Kumari (living goddess), who parades through the secret of the old town in a palanquin. It also marks the end of the monsoon.
Crystal-clear Himalayan views and comfortable temperatures means peak season and competition for airline seats, hotels, and trekking lodges, so book ahead. The Dashain festival brings disruptions to some service for a week or more.
Pachali Bhairab Jatra
The fearsome form of Bhairab, Panchali Bhairab, in honored on the fourth day of the bright fortnight in early October or September. Bhairab’s bloodthirsty nature means that there are numerous animal sacrifices.
Nepal’s biggest festival lasts for 15 days. It celebrates the victory of the goddess Durga over the forces of evil (personified by the buffalo demonMahisa-sura). Across the country hundred of thousands of animals are sacrificed and bamboo swings are erected at the entrances to village.
Fulpati (‘sacred Flowers’) is the first really important day of Dashain. A jar of flowers symbolizing to goddess Taleju is carried from Gorkha to Kathmandu and presented to the president at the Tundikhel before being transported on a palanquin to Durbar Square.
The ‘Great Eighth Day’ and Kala Ratri, the ‘Black Night’, marks the start of the sacrifices to Durga. At midnight, in a temple courtyard near Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, eight buffaloes and 108 goats are beheaded, each with a single stroke of a blade.
The sacrifices continue on Kathmandu’s Kot Square the next day; it’s a fascinating and gruesome spectacle that certainly won’t appeal to all. Blood is sprinkled on the wheels of cars (and Nepal Airlines’ aircraft) and goat is on almost everyone’s menu.
The 10th day of Dasain is a family affair: cards and greetings are exchanged and parents place a Tikka (sandalwood-paste spot) on their children’s forehead, ehile evening processions and masked dances celebrate the victory of Lord Rama over the demon-king Ravana in the Ramayana.
The full-moon day in September/October marks the end of Dashain. It is celebrated with gambling in many households: you will see even small children avidly putting a few coins down on various local games of chance.
Tihar (also called Diwali or Deepawali on the third day of celebrations) is the second-most-important Hindu festival in Nepal. The festival honours certain animals, starting with offerings of rice to the crows (‘messengers of death’ sent by the god Yama), followed by dogs (who guide departed souls across the river of the dead), cows and bullocks on consecutive days.
Deepawali (Festival of Lights)
The third day of Tihar is when Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, comes to visit every home that has been suitably lit for her presence. No one likes to turn down a visit from the goddess of wealth and so homes are brightly lit with candles and lamps.
Newari New Year
The fourth day of Tihar is also the start of the New Year of the Newari people of the Kathmandu Valley. The following day marks Bhai Tika, when brothers and sisters meet to offer gifts of sweets and money and place Tikas on each other’s foreheads.
On the 11th day after the new moon, the god Vishnu awakens from his four-month monsoonal slumber. The best place to see the festivities is at the temple of the Slapping Vishnu in Budhanilkantha.
The continued good weather makes this the second-most popular month to visit Nepal; conditions are perfect for outdoor activities and trekking, through tourist numbers start to drop off at the end of the month.
Patan’s Durbar Square fills with music and dancers for this festival that traces its origins back to human sacrifices during the 17th-century rule of King Siddhinarsingh Malla. Dancers wear masks to represent the god Narsingha and demon Hiran-yakashipu. Can fall in late October.
This popular Sherpa festival takes place at Tengboche Monastery in the Solu Khumbu region and features masked dances and dreams. Another Mani Rimdu festival takes place six months later at nearby Thame Gompa.
Winter brings chilly nights to Kathmandu, and morning mist sometimes delays flight schedules. Snowfall can close passes on high trekking routes while visiting Everest Base Camp can be a real feat of endurance.
On the new-moon day in late November or early December, pilgrims flock to Pashupatinath, burning oil lamps at night, scattering grain for the dead and bathing in the holy Bagmati River.
Sita Bibaha Panchami
Tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the subcontinent flock to Janakpur (the birthplace of Sita) to celebrate the marriage of Sita to Rama. The wedding is re-enacted with a procession carrying Rama’s image to Sita’s temple by an elephant. Janakpur is the best known as an important pilgrimage site for Hindus, due to its connection with the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. Legend has it that it’s where Sita was born and married Rama.
Pokhara Street Festival
Around half a million visitors flock to Pokhara to enjoy street food, parades, and cultural performances in the run-up to New Year’s Day. Lakeside comes alive with a festival spirit during this annual event (28th December to 1st January), when the main strip close to traffic as restaurants set up tables on the road. Visitors cram the street to enjoy food, parades, performances,s and carnival rides.