Five of the best cultural festivals

In the third of our “Five of the Best….” series, we asked Cox & Kings to nominate five cultural festivals which stand out from the rest. Each selected event not only represents a stunning holiday experience for visitors, but also sheds light on the local culture and customs. Do you agree, or have another suggestion? Please leave a comment below.

1. Naadam, Mongolia

Known locally as “the three games of men”, Naadam consists of wrestling, horseracing and archery. It begins with an extravagant ceremony featuring dancers, horseriders, athletes and musicians, after which the competitions begin. People dress up in their finest deel, the traditional long colourful silken robe, with the men often adding a modern twist with a cowboy hat or boots. The biggest festival is held in the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator in July, although other cities and towns across Mongolia have their own, smaller Naadam celebrations. Dating from the era of Genghis Khan, the Naadam Festival demonstrates wonderfully the traditional sports of the Mongolian warrior.

Visit this festival on Cox & Kings’ Mongolia: Land of the Blue Sky tour.

2. Camel Cup, Australia

Camels are renowned for being strong-willed, unpredictable and irritable, so it is no wonder that camel racing is an entertaining spectacle. The quirky Camel Cup was first held in 1970 in the dry Todd River Bed as the result of a bet between two friends; it is now an annual event held in July of every year at Blatherskite Park. Alice Springs, usually sparsely populated, bursts to life with belly dancing, rickshaw rallies, colourful stalls and an array of exotic food. One of the most comical races is the Honeymoon Handicap – grooms race their camels half way around the arena, get their camel to kneel down and then place their ‘bride’ on the camel and race to the finishing line.

Cox & Kings can organise luxury tailor-made holidays to Australia to incorporate a visit to the Camel Cup.

3. Day of the Dead, Mexico

The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is a Catholic celebration in memory of deceased ancestors, held on November 1 (All Saints Day) and November 2 (All Souls Day). The pretty colonial town of Oaxaca celebrates this festival with more ceremony, ritual and flair than any other town in Mexico. Despite the morbid subject matter, this holiday is celebrated joyfully, as it is both a remembrance of loved ones and a celebration of the eternal cycle of life and death. Some of the events include a parade in the middle of town with stilt-walkers, and people dressed as skeletons, an incredible competition of ofrendas (altars), and sand paintings made on the streets. There is a saying in Oaxaca which aptly describes this festival “We are not here for a long time, we are here for a good time.”

Visit this festival on Cox & Kings’ Highlights of Mexico group tour.

4. Timkat, Ethiopia

Timkat, meaning Epiphany, is one of Ethiopia’s most famous events and is celebrated across the country every January. The two-day festival commemorates the Baptism of Jesus and provides a rare glimpse into a tradition dating back over 1000 years. On the first day, Ethiopians dressed in their finest white gabbis (shawls) attend an early afternoon mass in their local churches. The priests and deacons wear elaborate ceremonial robes and carry magnificently colourful, sequinned umbrellas. By dawn the following day and after another mass, the Patriarch dips his cross in the water to bless it and sprays the nearby crowds to symbolise their rebaptism. In Addis Ababa, the most impressive of locations to witness this festival, you can expect between 80,000 and 100,000 people to be gathered, all with the same aim of being doused in Holy water. With such high numbers it is impossible for the priest to cover everyone, so younger priests use hose pipes connected to the blessed pool to spray those further away.

Cox & Kings has a special departure for this festival; Ethiopian Odyssey departs on 7th January 2012.

5. Paro Tsechu, Bhutan

Paro Tsechu is the biggest and most spectacular of the Buddhist festivals, faithfully celebrated in October each year. People flock to bear witness to their Buddhist faith, dressed in traditional finery. They receive blessings and watch masked dances and colourful allegorical dramas performed in the atmospheric courtyard of the Paro Dzong (temple-fortress). A deeply religious country, Buddhism was first introduced to Bhutan around AD 800 by the revered Guru Padmasambhava, “he who was born of a lotus flower”, and it is in his honour that the festival is held. It consists of three parts: the “Pre-festival” on the first day, ceremonies inside the Paro Dzong on the second day, and the main festivities on the festival ground during the remaining three days. For the devout, the highlight is on the final day when a huge religious picture (thongdrel) is unfurled at dawn. Masked and dressed in elaborate costumes of silk brocade, dancers demonstrate the triumph of good over evil and the power of compassion to the haunting sounds of trumpets, cymbals and flutes. Dances are interspersed with folksongs and clowning, while copious amounts of butter tea and potent barley alcohol are consumed.

Cox & Kings’ Bhutan: The Dragon Kingdom group tour has special festival departures.

Check out Cox & Kings’ top 5 rail journeys and top 5 temples in India too.

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