Summer is on its way in the Northern Hemisphere, bringing an armful of exciting festivals to entertain and delight locals and travellers alike in destinations across the world. And as the seasons change and bring warm weather back to the south, the festivals head that way too! Take a look at these five festival highlights for ideas on how to spend your next holiday, and for more fantastic festivals, check our list of Festival Tours.
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1. Dragon Boat Festival
The annual Dragon Boat Festival is popularly believed to commemorate the death of ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan. The locals, who admired Qu Yuan, threw lumps of rice into the river to stop the fish from eating his body, giving rise to the current tradition of throwing rice into the river where the races take place. Ornately decorated boats are rowed to the beat of large drums, and with 80 to 100 rowers per boat, the Dragon Boat races are a real spectacle. You might see Dragon Boat races held in cities across the world, but Shanghai is the place to see the real thing.
2. The Naadam Festival
The Naadam Festival is the most widely enjoyed festival throughout Mongolia, and is also celebrated in regions of China with large Mongolian populations. The origins of the Naadam Festival date back thousands of years, and was originally reserved only for those serving in the military. The festival celebrates the ‘three manly games’, namely horse-racing, archery and wrestling. In modern times, the festival also commemorates the 1921 revolution when Mongolia declared itself a free country from the Republic of China, though it fought until 1945 before finally gaining international recognition. The largest gathering for Naadam is in the capital of Mongolia - Ulaan Baatar.
3. Ladakh Festival
Leh, the former Kingdom of Lakakh sits on the rugged Himalayan plain with Buddhist monasteries perched on soaring hilltops, shattered looking landscapes splashed with small but brilliant patches of green and ancient palaces clinging to sheer rock walls. During Ladakh Festival the people of the mountains flock to the cities wearing their finest gold and silver ornaments and exotic turquoise headgear. Probably one of the main cultural events in the region during the year, the Ladakh festival is the region’s cultural showcase, with processions, dances, concerts, archery, polo and performances from various local cultural troupes throughout the 15 day festival. Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is a great place to see the best of the festival as this is where the procession passes before ending at the polo ground. It’s a pretty surreal experience to watch and to be a part of.
4. Diwali, Festival of Lights
Every year on the dark nights of Diwali, the sound of firecrackers announces the celebration of India’s favourite festival. Diwali commemorates different deities and events depending on the area in which you find yourself. In northern India, Diwali commemorates the end of Rama’s 14-year exile and his subsequent coronation as king. In Gujarat, Lakshmi the goddess of wealth is the star of the show. Further north in Nepal, participants honour Lord Krishna’s victory over the demon king Narakaasura, and in Bengal Diwali is associated with the Hindu goddess Kali. Whichever their preference, celebrants decorate their homes with flowers and mango leaves, deck themselves out in new clothes, light clay lamps, set off fireworks and exchange sweets and gifts with friends and relatives. It's probably the most joyous time to be in India!
5. Rio Carnival
The legendary Rio Carnival is famed as the world's greatest street party, with some two million people taking to the streets for each day of the festival. Held before Lent each year, the festival is filled with revellers, floats and decorations from Rio’s many samba schools. Each samba school tries to outdo the next with their costumes, dances and drumming bands – known as ‘bateria’. Set in one of the world’s most vibrant cities, the Rio Carnival is a chance to let your hair down and party! The highlight is the spectacular Samba Parade where we watch hundreds of fabulous floats cruising the streets, whilst dancers dressed in sensational costumes samba along to the infectious rhythm of the bateria.