Located on the Tibetan Plateau, Lhasa welcomes a unique grand celebration every summer known as the Shoton Festival. As one of the most important traditional festivals in the Tibetan region, the Shoton Festival attracts tens of thousands of visitors and pilgrims with its distinctive religious ceremonies, cultural activities, and joyful atmosphere.
The Shoton Festival is usually celebrated in August of the Gregorian calendar, which coincides with the peak tourist season in Tibet. Therefore, this festival is not only a celebration for the Tibetan people but also a grand event where both domestic and international tourists join in the festivities. During the festival, a variety of celebratory activities are held, offering a diverse range of experiences for visitors and providing an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of Tibetan culture and religion.
Where Does the Shoton Festival Come From?
The origin of the Shoton Festival is steeped in symbolism, which you may not be aware of. According to legend, the Shoton Festival has its roots in a compassionate act related to "the insects on the ground." Monks, in order to avoid stepping on insects during the early summer, decided to stay in the monasteries for meditation until the insect population decreased. To show gratitude for the monks' compassion, the locals offered yogurt to the monks when they came down from the mountains.
They invited them to have a picnic by the river under the trees and performed songs, dances, and Tibetan opera at the gathering. These traditional customs were passed down through generations, gradually forming the Shoton Festival. As a result, the Shoton Festival is also known as the "Yogurt Festival" and the "Tibetan Opera Festival."
When Is the Shoton Festival Held in 2024?
The Shoton Festival typically occurs at the end of the Tibetan lunar calendar, usually in late June or early July of the Gregorian calendar. The renowned Shoton Festival Buddha exhibition ceremony takes place on the 30th day of the Tibetan lunar calendar in June. In 2024, the Shoton Festival in Tibet will commence on August 4th, 2024. Don't miss this opportunity if you wish to experience the Shoton Festival.
The crowds gather to watch in their cheer and pray at the hem of Thangka.
What to See and Do During the Shoton Festival in Tibet?
During the Shoton Festival, Lhasa hosts a week-long grand celebration with a wide range of activities. From traditional events like the giant Buddha display at Drepung Monastery, yogurt consumption, and Tibetan opera performances to the impressive opening ceremony, traditional song and dance performances, modern Tibetan dance displays, and a large-scale Tibetan product fair, the Shoton Festival offers a diverse array of activities. For tourists, this is a rare opportunity to witness various spectacular performances and immerse themselves in the festive atmosphere.
1) Opening Ceremony Performances
The opening ceremony of the Shoton Festival, organized by the local government, features song and dance performances.
In 2023, the opening ceremony was held in the Nanshan Park in Lhasa, creating a spectacular scene with the backdrop of the Potala Palace, illuminated by colorful lights and vibrant dances. The opening ceremony's artistic performance featured renowned singers and dancers from Tibet, who presented traditional Tibetan programs including tap dancing, Langma dance, and Guoxie dance.
Tibetan opera performances is an integral part of the modern Shoton Festival.
The echoes of the songs and dances reverberate through the valleys, enveloping the entire Nanshan Park in a joyous atmosphere. This extraordinary spectacle can only be witnessed in Lhasa during the Shoton Festival and is a great opportunity to appreciate Tibetan culture and art, which you shouldn't miss.
2) See Unveiling of the Buddha Thangka at Drepung Monastery
One of the most prominent and grand religious events during the Shoton Festival is the Buddha Buddha Thangka exhibition held at Drepung Monastery. Drepung Monastery is the largest monastery in Lhasa, and it houses two gigantic thangkas: one of Shakyamuni Buddha and the other, displayed during the Shoton Festival, is the Jowo Sakyamuni thangka. These thangkas are about 30 meters in length and width, and they alternate every year.
The annual Buddha Thangka exhibition at the Shoton Festival is a significant event at Drepung Monastery. On the first day, in the early morning, under the solemn chanting of monks and the first rays of dawn, dozens of monks carry a massive thangka measuring about 500 square meters, like a dragon along the mountain road, from the back of Drepung Monastery to the top of the display platform.
In the sunlight, the thangka gradually unfolds to reveal a massive image of Shakyamuni Buddha, created from colorful silk. This sacred moment is attended by thousands of believers and tourists who pay their respects and feel the divine energy. The unfolded thangka covers an area of about 900 square meters, creating a spectacular and majestic scene.
Now, the Drepung Monastery Buddha Thangka exhibition has become an essential part of the Shoton Festival and attracts many tourists. Many visitors specifically choose to visit Lhasa during the Shoton Festival, especially Buddhists who attend the exhibition to receive blessings and see the Buddha's divine countenance.
Generally, the thangka is not displayed all day; it is usually rolled back up and stored in the Coqen Hall of Drepung Monastery around noon when the crowds disperse, concluding the Buddha exhibition.
3) Celebrate Linka with Locals
The Shoton Festival can be considered one of the most joyous times for Tibetans. During this period, the entire Tibetan region takes a one-week holiday, and every family gathers to celebrate Linka with a picnic, where yogurt is a must.
Taste the yummy Tibetan yoghurt during Shoton Festival.
During the festival, families in Lhasa leave their homes and head outdoors for picnics, a tradition known as "celebrating Linka." At this time, residents of Lhasa mobilize in groups, carrying large buckets of yogurt and traditional snacks and beverages, such as dried beef, Tibetan cheese cakes, tsampa, butter tea, Tibetan cold noodles, and Tibetan yogurt. They gather in nearby parks or beautiful scenic spots in the outskirts of Lhasa, where families sit down under the shade of trees or by the streams to enjoy a beautiful day.
As a tourist, you can set aside half a day to join the locals in celebrating Linka, experiencing the joy of this tradition. You'll discover many surprises, from tasting traditional Tibetan snacks to participating in activities like singing, dancing, and games, which are integral parts of Linka celebrations. In this festive atmosphere, you can fully immerse yourself in the local way of life and experience their traditions. Isn't this an anticipated journey in Tibet?
4) Watch Traditional Tibetan Opera Performances at Norbulingka
Tibetan opera, known in the region as Ache Lhamo, is a unique kind of performance art that has been a major part of Tibetan culture for thousands of years. The performances are normally centered on a form of simple narrative and dialogue, sometimes injected with a little comedy and satire. The performances are held every year in the major sites in Lhasa, and are an integral part of the modern Shoton Festival.
Nowadays, the Shoton Festival is as much a social event as a religious one.
Performed by both amateur and professional opera troupes, the main venue for the Tibetan opera is the Norbulingka Palace grounds, one of the most beautiful park areas in Tibet. The operas are performed individually but are often shortened versions of the originals, which could often last for days each. One of the most outstanding experiences in the world, these stunning dance acts are one of the most colorful exhibitions in Tibet.
5) Watch the Horse Racing Festival
Horse racing has long been an exciting activity for Tibetans, and since the early days of the Tibetan Empire, racing horses has been a popular sport and competitive event. The Shoton Festival has its own horse races, which are held in the grounds of Norbulingka, and feature some of Tibet’s most accomplished horsemen. As well as racing, you can see performances of horsemanship and some amazing feats of balance and daring performed by these awesome horsemen from across the grasslands of Tibet.
Enjoy the exciting Horse Races during Tibet Shoton Festival.
The horses and riders at the festival are all colorfully dressed, with the riders in their best and finest military outfits. The horses are similarly decked out in colorful finery, with braids and ribbons. The small horses used on the plateau are fast and well-paced, and race around the track at full tilt, while their riders often balance out on one side to grab an item from the ground as part of the races.
And it is not just horse racing you will get to see at the Shoton Festival. Yak racing is also a prominent feature of the events. The yaks are decorated in festive colors and are ridden in races that are as popular as horse racing albeit often a lot more dangerous as the beasts thunder around the track.
How to Visit Tibet During the Shoton Festival?
If you want to participate in the grand Shoton Festival in Tibet, first, you need to travel to Tibet. For foreign tourists, visiting Tibet requires applying for a Tibet Travel Permit. You can join a tour organized by a qualified travel agency in Tibet, and they can assist in arranging your Tibet Travel Permit, accommodations, and planning your Shoton Festival itinerary. Once you obtain your Tibet Travel Permit, you can embark on your journey to Tibet to experience the Shoton Festival.
During the Shoton Festival, Tibet hosts a variety of activities, including the Buddha unveiling ceremony, cultural performances, horse races, and more. To get a full understanding of the event schedule and locations, please feel free to contact us at any time to get accurate information about activity timings and other details.
Travel Tips for Visiting Tibet During the Shoton Festival
1) Because the Shoton Festival is the peak season for tourists in Tibet, it is essential to arrange your transportation to and from Tibet in advance and make hotel reservations to avoid accommodation issues.
2) During the Shoton Festival, participating in various activities may take a considerable amount of time, so it's a good idea to bring some snacks and water, especially when attending events like Tibetan opera and the Buddha exhibition.
3) If you want to find a good spot to capture the Buddha exhibition, it's advisable to leave your hotel around 5:00 AM and head to Drepung Monastery. Some locals may queue overnight to secure the best view of the Buddha exhibition.
4) Safety should be a top priority, especially in crowded areas. Be mindful of your safety, particularly in areas with dense crowds.
5) The Shoton Festival is a time of celebration for the local Tibetan people. As a tourist, consider actively participating, experiencing Linka, watching horse racing, enjoying Tibetan opera, and joining in the local celebrations. Immerse yourself in the local way of life and the warmth of the Tibetan people.
6) If you decide to book a festival tour that coincides with the festival dates, you will also have ample time to engage in other activities in Tibet. This includes visiting EBC in the far west, near the border with Nepal, enjoying the city of Shigatse and exploring the Tashilhunpo Monastery, as well as admiring the renowned Gyantse Kumbum in the Pelkor Chode Monastery. You can also take a trip alongside Lake Yamdrok before witnessing the pristine beauty of the Karola Glacier.
Join us for the 2024 Shoton Festival in Tibet! The Shoton Festival is one of Tibet's grandest traditional festivals, attracting tens of thousands of visitors and pilgrims each year. With its diverse and colorful celebratory activities and unique religious ceremonies, Lhasa is bathed in a celebratory atmosphere throughout the festival. Traditional and modern elements, religion, and culture come together to showcase the varied aspects of Tibet.
The Shoton Festival is not just a religious holiday; it's also a window into Tibetan culture and traditions. You'll have the opportunity to participate in the Buddha exhibition, witness traditional dances, experience horse racing, savor local cuisine, and even join the locals in celebrating Linca and various joyous activities. This isn't just a trip; it's a chance to deeply experience Tibetan life and learn about their culture.
To ensure that you fully enjoy this unique experience, we offer comprehensive travel arrangements, including itineraries, transportation, accommodations, and guides. Let us immerse ourselves in the festive atmosphere of the Shoton Festival, experiencing Tibet in a distinctive way.
Join us to travel to Tibet, celebrate the Shoton Festival with the local people, explore this mysterious and charming place, and leave behind your own Tibetan story. We look forward to sharing this special moment with you!