The journey to Everest Base Camp is a test of personal endurance, but also a wonderful opportunity for discovery in a region of phenomenal beauty. The grandeur of the Himalaya is one of the most awe-inspiring sights in the world, while the chance to meet members of the Sherpa community and learn more about their culture is a special honour. At the centre of Sherpa life is the monastery, which hosts a number of sacred rites and colourful festivals the year. Some travellers are lucky enough to witness some of these, while others are rarely attended by outsiders. Here are some of the most important occasions of the Sherpa’s year.
The first festival that takes place in the calendar across several Himalayan cultures is Losar, the Tibetan New Year. Lasting for 15 days in total, with the main festivities taking place during the first three, it may not be well known to visitors making their way to Everest Base Camp, but it is nevertheless one of the most significant events of the year. In rituals that are thought to pre-date Buddhism to the era of the old Bon religion, families clean their homes and perform rituals to ensure protection in the coming year. Seasonal delicacies are served, and everyone joins in with singing and dancing.
As with Losar, Dumje may not be a festival that many Everest Base Camp trekkers have heard of, but it is of great importance to the Sherpa community. It is usually held in July, after the growing season has been completed, and is a time for celebrating abundance and good fortune. Like many Sherpa festivals, it centres on the monastery, where people will go to make offerings and perform rituals, including sacred dances believed to banish harm, while the evenings are marked with feasting and singing.
For those who make their journey to Everest Base Camp between October and November, the opportunity to witness one of the most spectacular Sherpa festivals should not be missed. Mani Rimdu, which celebrates the arrival of Tibetan Buddhism in the region, consists of sixteen days of holy rites performed by monks in private, followed by a three-day community festival, which is a whirl of lively masked dances and striking ceremonies. There are 16 dances in total, each with its own style; each illustrating a specific moment in one of the most important local legends: the story of how the spiritual leader Guru Rinpoche came to the mountains and fought with the demons that lived there. The dancing happens on the second day of the festival – preceded on the first day with a public empowerment ritual for the whole community, and followed on the third and final day with a fire ceremony that is believed to quell evil in the world.
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