A tourist’s guide to surviving the Dashain festival in Nepal

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Coming to Nepal during the Dashain festival? Here’s how to handle it

It’s now Dashain in Nepal – commonly referred to as Nepal’s greatest festival.  However,  to a tourist,  you may not feel the same way. In fact, Dashain can be a serious annoyance to you on your holiday.

That said, as with everything in Nepal, it’s better to join in and enjoy the upheaval than push against the grain. But for those on holiday here’s how to get through it with a minimal of fuss.

What is Dashain?

To put it simply it’s the annual time of year when Nepalese people return home (birthplace /village) to be with their families.

You won’t even notice Dashain if you are trekking!
You won’t even notice Dashain if you are trekking!

They meet with family members they’ve not seen all year, eat, get a tika (blessing),  eat, sleep and eat some more.

Without reaming off a long historical tomb, it’s based on when Durga defeated evil and made the world a better place.

Dashain dates change a little every year depending on the moon. But usually it’s in late September or early to mid October. See my list of festivals in Nepal for more.

Sounds nice, what’s the problem?

  • Dashain goes on for one week. Well actually it’s more like ten days. One needs to account for travel days after all
  • Dashain usually happens in the middle of peak tourist season
  • Virtually all government offices close (get any visa extensions/trekking permits done before Dashain)
  • Hotels,  restaurants and the tourism industry start to operate on a skeleton staff basis

Get the picture?!

Yes, as a tourist it can all mean things are harder to do, find or get to.

How to survive Dashain as a tourist

Firstly, don’t worry. It’s ten days out of the year.

Nepal’s private tourism industry remains open as do trekking trails and heritage sites. Likewise public transport.

Book flights in advance: Public transport can get booked out quickly at the start of Dashain. Domestic flights quickly fill up.

Pokhara and Chitwan buses too. So, book in advance! Simple as that.

For tourist buses to popular destinations you can book in advance. There’s usually not too much of an issue here. However for local long-distance areas you should really try to book in advance at least a day or two before leaving. You might need the help of a Nepalese speaking person to do this.

Other ways to cope would be to contact a domestic travel agent a week or two before arriving in Nepal. Or your hotel / agent if you are already in Nepal. This is especially true of domestic plane tickets.

Eat with patience: Not every restaurant will be open nor will they have full staff. So expect some slowness at this time of year too. Just be patient. You’ll get your meal but maybe it will take an extra ten minutes or so.

Not everything will be on the menu either so exercise some patience with the waiter and go through the list of items on the menu with them just to make sure.

Stick with a big city for a few days: If you happen to be arriving or in Nepal for Dashain and traveling independently then my advice is to plan ahead a little.

Plan to stay in a popular city or destination for the start of Dashain to avoid booked out travel. This really is as simple as choosing to stay in the Kathmandu Valley for the start of Dashain or to stay in Pokhara.

Explore Kathmandu without the crowds
Explore Kathmandu without the crowds

In the Kathmandu Valley you can still access Bhaktapur, Patan etc with ease. Whilst in Pokhara you can try some adventure activities or relax for a couple of days.

Places I wouldn’t really want to be for Dashain would be Lumbini or Chitwan. There just isn’t much to do there if you are waiting for public transport congestion to ease up a bit.

Go trekking: There’s stopping the trekking trails! Dashian or not they are all open and you won’t notice anything different!

Join in: Lastly if you’ve gotten to know some Nepalese people you might be invited to their home for Dashain. It’s an honor! Just beware of the travel times needed to visit someone’s home and that they might well be spending a week there!

 

The good thing about Dashain for tourists!

The biggest plus about being in Nepal for Dashain for tourists is that the city roads,Kathmandu city in particular, are virtually empty. It’s one of the best times of the year to explore the cities old heritage sites without the usual motorbikes and little cars tearing through them.

Likewise the usual hustle and bustle of Kathmandu vanishes. The touts, hawkers and street sellers have all gone home. You can wander around Kathmandu Durbar Square, the old city and the ghats in relative peace.

Your photographs will be devoid of crowds and you’ll meet the real inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley (Newari) who don’t have to go home because this is where they live!

Or … just chill with a Sadhu … Happy Dashain!
Or … just chill with a Sadhu … Happy Dashain!

Happy Dashain!

For many tourists Dashain is a non-event. It means a couple of days of clogged roads and booked out buses/planes. It’s nothing to worry about.

Take advantage of Kathmandu city at this time of year rather than trying to get out. You’ll see the city in a way few people ever do.

Nepal is not a super organised country. That’s the beauty of it. Don’t come expecting neat and proper travels like you might in Portugal or even Thailand.

Nepal is unique. Dashain is one of the things that makes it such a special place to visit!

Enjoy!

By Dave

This article first appeared in The Longest Way Home.

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