Coming to Nepal during the Dashain festival? Here’s how to handle it
Dashain in Nepal is commonly referred to as Nepal’s greatest festival. However to a tourist visiting Nepal, you may not feel the same way. In fact Dashain can be a serious annoyance to you on your holiday or you take advantage of it and have an even better holiday. With a quick read here you’ll be prepared so there’s no reason to be worried as you’ll be able to avoid most problems and turn them into something better.
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 Dashain with a minimal of fuss.
What is Dashain?
To put it simply Dashain is the annual time of year when Nepali people return home (birthplace /village) to be with their families. It usually lasts about a week to ten days.
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
- Bus tickets sell out quickly & buses are full
Get the picture?!
Yes, as a tourist it can mean things are harder to do, find or get to.
How to survive Dashain as a tourist
Firstly, don’t worry. It’s basically ten days out of the year. And usually the only issue is transport booking up for only the first three days before Dashain begins. After that, there’s usually no problem.
Nepal’s private tourism industry remains open as do trekking trails and heritage sites. Likewise public transport.
Book domestic flights in advance: Public transport can get booked out quickly at the start of Dashain. Domestic flights quickly fill up.
Pokhara and Chitwan buses get filled up too. So, book in advance! Simple as that. Not in Nepal at the time? Contact a travel agency to do it for you.
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 Nepali speaking person to do this during Dashain.
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 or the mountains 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 transportation. This really is as simple as choosing to stay in the Kathmandu Valley for the start of Dashain or to stay in Pokhara or plan to be up in the mountains (where Dashain will not effect you).
If you are in Kathmandu city then you should most definitely go on a heritage walk in Kathmandu city which will be nearly devoid of traffic.
Go trekking: There’s no stopping the trekking trails of Nepal! Dashain or not they are all open and you won’t notice anything different!
Join in: Lastly if you’ve gotten to know some Nepali 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! Not much actually happens. There’s a feast of rice … there’s a tika blessing and that’s about it. It’s more about family catching up.
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!
When is Dashain in Nepal? (dates)
- In 2017 Dashain starts on September 21st 2017
- In 2018 Dashain starts on October 10th 2018
- In 2019 Dashain starts on September 29th 2019
- In 2020 Dashain starts on October 26th 2020
Do remember that Dashain is a 10 day holiday and that transport usually books up a few days just before it starts. See my list of festivals in Nepal for more.
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 organized 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!
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