Six crazy festivals you probably won't have heard of!

It's a mad world out there with all sorts of crazy festivals say Steve Davey.

By Steve Davey on 03 October 2014 in Travel Articles

Steve Davey is the author of Around the World in 500 Festivals, and here he sets out some unique festivals where locals do strange things in the name of religion, tradition or simply to enjoy themselves.

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Carnaval de Binche

Carnaval de Binche (c) Steve Davey

Where: Binche, Belgium
When: Shrove Tuesday

The Europeans do carnival in a big way, and the usually reserved Belgians take it further than most. In a last hurrah before the austerity of Catholic Lent, the streets of the town of Binche are taken over by traditional characters called Gilles. Dressed in identical uniforms which are stuffed with straw, then dance and drink their way around from the wee small hours of the morning, all through the night. At times they all wear identical masks; other times they process in headdresses of ostrich feathers hurling countless oranges into the watching crowds for luck.

Naghol (Land diving)

Naghol (Land diving) (c) Steve Davey

Where: Pentecost Island, Vanuatu
When: April and May

The forerunner of the modern bungy jump, the Naghol of the island of Pentecost is an ancient fertility ritual and rite of passage where the menfolk of the villages climb a wooden tower and then hurl themselves off the top; secured only by springy vines. The whole village turns out to watch cheering and chanting to build up the courage of the jumpers. The jumps can only take place in the rainy season, when the vines are supple, and even then, people are occasionally killed or injured.

Joshi Spring Festival

Joshi Spring Festival (c) Steve Davey

Where: Kalash Valleys, near Chitral, Pakistan
When: May

The Kalash people are a small tribe of animists living in three remote valleys in North West Pakistan, on the Afghanistan border. Much to the chagrin of their more hardline neighbours they celebrate the advent of spring with a riot of dancing, drinking of home-brew mulberry wine and the occasional 'elopement'. Kalash women wear brightly coloured clothes and strings of beads, with headdresses decorated with Cowrie shells. Often with blue eyes and pale complexions they believe that they are descended from the soldiers of Alexander the Great.

Buat Chang (Elephant Back Ordination Ceremony)

Buat Chang (c) Steve Davey

Where: Si Sachanalai, Sukhothai, Thailand
When: April

Most Thai males will spend some time as a monk, living in monasteries called wats, at some point in their lives, but the people of Sukhothai in the north of the country mark the transition with a vibrant procession on elephant back. The initiates are dressed up in what can best be described as drag: wearing garish clothes, garish make-up and sunglasses to represent the profane world. At family parties their heads are shaved and they are mounted on elephants to be taken through the town to the local wat to start their time as monks.

Sonepur Mela

Sonepur Mela (c) Steve Davey

Where: Sonepur, Bihar, India
When: Kartik full moon in November

Many travellers to India are familiar with the Pushkar Camel Fair, a large mela or religious fair in the Rajasthan desert, where camels are traded, raced and generally pampered. The Sonepur Mela is a lot like Pushkar, only elephants are traded instead of camels! Happening at the confluence of the Ganges and Gandak Rivers, the mela attracts vast numbers of Hindu pilgrims who all try to bathes in the holy waters. Before they are sold, the elephants taken to the river and the faithful try to bathe as close to them as possible, believing it to be particularly auspicious.

Pi Mai Lao (Lao New Year)

Pi Mai Lao (Lao New Year) (c) Steve Davey

Where: Luang Prabang, Laos
When: April 13-15

Lao New Year is celebrated all over the country but nowhere more enthusiastically than in the Northern town of Luang Prabang. The tradition of respectful sprinkling of respected elders and monks with water for good luck in the year ahead has developed into a week long drench-fest, where the whole town seemingly gets drunk and indulges in a mass waterfight. There are religious processions, but even these are wet affairs, where everyone is gleefully drenched!


These six festivals are taken from Steve Davey's book Around the World in 500 Festivals. Published by Kuperard as part of the Culture Smart! series. Price: £19.99.

SPECIAL OFFER for The Travel Magazine's UK readers:

Use discount code festivals14 to get the book for only £10 including postage, packing and handling*.

* payable by credit and debit card only, one copy per order, delivery to the UK only and subject to availability.



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