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Must See Festivals with a Difference

One of the great things about taking a gap year is being exposed to new cultures and traditions.  It opens your mind.  So whilst watching bands at a festival in a muddy field might be your ultimate idea of fun, it is illuminating to expose yourself to all the other types of cool and very different festivals that the world has to offer.  Not to mention the obvious too, that you’ll have a really great time whilst you’re improving yourself with all that new culture! 

So here is a list of several approaching festivals that you should definitely stop to experience if you’re travelling in the next few months. 

Holi, The Festival of Colours

Image Courtesy of Stefan Leijon

Holi is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated primarily in India and Nepal, but now popular across South Asia, and in many non-Hindu communities.  The dates vary slightly, but generally take place during February and March of the Gregorian calendar.

Celebrations begin with a bonfire on the night before Holi, where locals gather, sing and dance.  The next day is one of lively revelry, where bright, colourful powder and water is thrown in every direction. You will feel like a rainbow has exploded around you as music, dancing and eating carries on late into the night. 

The festival signifies the arrival of spring and a triumph of good over evil.

Dia de los Boyeros, Costa Rica 

Image courtesy of Pablo Contreras

This is a visually stunning festival that takes place every second Sunday of March in the town of San Antonio de Escazu, Costa Rica.  It honours the oxcart drivers – the Boyeros (derived from the word for ox, ‘buey’) – and the tradition of using the ox-driven carts to transport coffees between farms.

Spectators line the streets to watch and old men play the Marimba as hundreds of ornately decorated oxcarts gather for a lively parade.  There is an award ceromony for the best carts, followed by a night of traditional cowboy festivities.  The carts are hand-painted in myriad colours and patterns, and pulled by oxen, making you feel as if you have stepped back in time to a pre auto-mobile world.

Festival of Hira Gasy, Madagascar

 Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Usually celebrated in June, Hiragasy is sort of like a live version of X-factor, as Madagascan performance troupes compete against each other in this day-long spectacle of music, dance, and Kabary, a type of politically-focused oratory performance.  Audiences are encouraged to participate and express their feelings towards each performance with applause, cheers or booing.  Sound familiar at all? 

It is said to have existed since 1789, and was developed by tribes to give thanks to King Andrianampoinimerina for coming to their aid during hard times.  If you catch the performance you will see a fantastic mixture of Malagasy and European culture, as instruments and costume of the tradition were influenced heavily by French occupation. 

The Songkran festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Image courtesy of Jan Hecking

The Songkran festival is celebrated in Thailand as the traditional New Year period from the 13th to the 15th April.  Songkran is about cleansing and renewal and features several rituals involving water.  It is also a renowned party event for foreigners looking to immerse themselves in the traditions of another culture.

It’s essentially a massive water fight, as revellers roam the streets with bottles of water or water guns to throw at each other.  Many also carry small bowls of beige-coloured, menthol-flavoured paste, to smear over people as a blessing for the New Year.

The festival takes place in the height of Thai summer, and a great part of the fun is the relief from the hot and dry weather, but there is also a good deal of religious significance to Songkran too. 

Buddha images are paraded through the streets on bright and beautifully decorated floats so that onlookers can ritually ‘bathe’ them as they pass.  The water captured off the Buddhas is then kept to bless friends and family.  New Year’s resolutions are also made during Songkran.

It is observed nationwide, but the most famous celebrations take place in Chiang Mai, where it continues for six days.  A very culturally different experience that is incredibly fun too – not to be missed! 

Frontier has over 300 projects worldwide, including Thailand, Madagascar, Costa Rica and India.  The South East Asia Ethical Adventure Trail & the Central America Ethical Adventure Trail pass through Chiang Mai and Costa Rica respectively.  It is also possible to complete a volunteering placement at the end of these trails so that you can make your gap year even more meaningful.  

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