Ages of rich tradition, warm and hospitable people, a landscape of breathtaking variety and beauty - all combine to pack each year in Himachal with a variety of fairs, festivals and celebrations. There are some 2000 deities worshipped in Himachal and numerous Fairs & Festivals are held in their honour. From religion to trade, from seasons to sports - and month by month - here is a joyous celebrations of life.
Manali Winter Carnival Much gaiety and fanfare marks the 5-day long national level Winter Carnival that is held in the popular tourist township of Manali in the month of January every year. The carnival attracts a large number of Indian and foreign tourists, and brings cultural teams from different States to perform folk dances, solo and group dance competitions, fashion show, song competitions, besides the Winter Queen Contest.
Christmas celebrations Christmas celebrations overtake Shimla and Dalhousie (Chamba) and as the church bells chime, they carry away another event-packed year.
New Year Celebrations A cliche if you will - but often laced with snow - the year opens with a heady cocktail. Thousands of revelers head to celebrate the new year in Shimla, Chail (Solan), Manali (Kullu), Dharamshala and Dalhousie (Chamba).
Halda Around New year comes Halda in Lahaul, which is a more private celebration of the event. Along the valleys of Chandra and Bhaga rivers, a few members of every household step out with lighted cedar twigs to a west oriented place selected by the 'lamas'. These slender branches form the first flames of a bonfire which is then dispersed. Shiskar Apa, the goddess of wealth is worshipped, and the dancing continues for a couple of days.
Lohri There is greater sobriety, but no less joy, when Lohri or Maghi comes along in mid January. This is the traditionally mid winter day and also commemorates the last sowing of the Rabi crops. Community bonfires, folk songs and dancing, mark the festival. Pragpur Lohri festival is now state level fair.
Dechhang In tribal Spiti, Dechhang is celebrated at the height of winter in January, while the Lahaul area reserves it for early April. At Paonta Sahib (Sirmour) the major focus is on Guru Gobind Singh's birthday. The town and other gurudwaras close to it are closely linked with the Guru's life.
On a mid-night towards the end of Paush (December-January), Phagli begins in Lahaul's Pattan valley with snow being packed in a conical basket - kilta. This is upturned on the roof, this resembles a Shivalinga. Shiva, Naga and the goddess, Hidimba are worshipped, and the younger generation mark this by venerating the village elders. Chhang and lugari, locally brewed liquors flow freely, and ritual dishes are eaten. Kinnaur's Sazi (or Sazo), also comes at around this time.
To make this wonderful time of year all the more attractive, Himachal Tourism offers special discounts and packages in its wide network of hotels.
Gochi Celebrated in the month of February, Gochi in the Bhaga Valley is an unusual festival when the villagers celebrate the birth of male children. Token marriages of children below the age of six are also performed - comes when children throw snow balls at each other.
Baba Barbhag Singh Mela In February, Baba Barbhag Singh Mela is held in Una to honour the sage who was renowned for his magical powers.
Basant Panchmi Basant Panchmi marks the arrival of spring in the lower areas, and every town seems to keep a reserve of colour for the occasion and the skies are filled with a medley of kites.
Ritual dances and an unbelievably rich imagery mark Lossar. This is celebrated in Buddhist areas throughout the state while Lahaul's monasteries have some of the most spectacular performances. On its eve, the stylized chhaam dance with elaborate costumes and masks, commemorate the assassination of the cruel Tibetan king, Langdarma of the 9th century. Often - though wrongly - called 'the devil dance', it symbolises the triumph of good over evil.
To visit the traditional fairs or to participate in the festivals, do confirm the dates as many vary from year to year. A range of accomodation is available at, or close to almost all the places.
Char Celebrations Centered around the temple of Trilokinath, Char is celebrated in Lahaul in the month of March.
Shivratri fair The town of Mandi with its ancient temples revels in the Shivratri fair for a whole week. On elaborately decorated palanquins, hundreds of local deities are carried to the town. Accompanied by folk bands, they make their first stop at the Madho Rai Temple and then go to pay obeisance to Lord Shiva at the Bhootnath Temple. This is followed by festivities - music and song, dance and drama. Yet, all the while the atmosphere is surcharged with deep religious devotion.
Nalwari fair In third week of March, the fascinating Nalwari fair is held at Bilaspur. Cattle are traded, there are wrestling bouts – aero and water sport shows are recent additions.
Holi Festival Holi Festival is a riot of colours and celebration of spring, alogng with it comes laughter and vitality. There are exuberant celebrations at Palampur (Kangra) and Sujanpur (Hamirpur). By the banks of the river Yamuna the shrine of Paonta Sahib in Sirmour is thronged by Hindu and Sikh devotees.
Balasundari fair In Sirmour, the Balasundari fair is held at Trilokpur near Nahan, it coincides with the sacred days of the Navratras. The temple of Baglamata, near Bankhandi in Kangra is also a major focus during these days.
Chait Chait, the first month of lunar calendar which falls in the month of March, is celebrated with folk songs and dances in the state.
Deothsidh fair At the shrine of Deothsidh (Seo) on the district border of Hamirpur and Bilaspur, a month long fair is held in March and April.
Baisakhi Held on the first Baisakh - the 13th April - Baisakhi is one of Himachal's very important festival. Rooted in the rural agrarian tradition, it bids final farewell to winter. At Tattapani near Shimla, at Rewalsar and Prashar lakes near Mandi, people take purifying dips in water. Numerous village fairs complete with wrestling, dancing and archery are also held on this day.
Rali festival In April, Rali with its clay models is marked in Kangra. Legend has it that the beautiful Rali was married against her wishes and on the way to her husband's home, she leapt into a stream. The husband jumped in after her and trying to save both, Pali's brother also dived info the fast flowing waters. All three died. Today, clay models are made in every house to mark that day, while unmarried girls pray for grooms of their choice and the newly-wedded ask for happiness and prosperity.
Sui Mela and Mahu Nag fair At Chamba, the Sui Mela is thronged by women and children and at the village of Taraur in district Mandi, the Mahu Nag fair is held in the month of April.
Markandaya fair The holy Markandaya fair is held near Bilaspur and the Rohru (Shimla) Jatar is held in honour of the deity Shikhru. This is also the time when fishing and low altitude trekking raise their winter barriers, while the Spring Festival is celebrated in Kullu.
Other fairs and Activities in May May gushes in with a whole series of river rafting festivals and water sports regattas throughout the state. Focused around the Goddess Hadimba Devi, Kullu celebrates Dhoongri fair. In the same district, the Banjar Fair and the Sarhi Jatar are held in May. Near Shimla at the exquisite glade of Sipur below Mashobra, the charming Sipi Fair is held. It is traditionally a time for match-making.
Shimla’s Summer Festival In the month of June, a wide spectrum of national talent, a variety of programmes and a splendid setting make Shimla's Summer Festival - a memorable event. Shimla also hosts the Red Cross Fair, sport tournaments, flower shows, a photographs and posters exhibition and a fashion show based on folk costumes.
Kangra valley summer Festival The Kangra valley summer Festival is also held in May/June at Dharamshala.
Shoolini Fair At Solan, on the third Sunday of June, the Shoolini Fair honours the goddess Shoolini, the presiding deity of the region.
Ghantal festival On June's full moon night, the Ghantal festival is held at Lahaul's Guru Ghantal Monastery. And of course, given the time of the year and the possibilities it offers, there are various camping and trekking expeditions.
Kaza's Ladarcha fair In July, within the arid trans-Himalayas. At Kaza's Ladarcha fair (Lahaul & Spiti), the old trade routes come alive as traders barter and sell a variety of goods and produce.
Other Festivals in July At Keylong, the Lahaul Festival is also held. Elsewhere in the state, Haryali (Rhyali, Dakhrain) announce the advent of the monsoon rains. July also heralds the travelling and trekking season to Kinnaur and Lahaul & Spiti.
Minjar fair August: Held between the last week of July to the first week of August, Chamba's famous Minjar fair celebrates the bounty of nature and prays for a good harvest. 'Minjars', maize shoots or silken strands are cast on the waters of the river Ravi and the town immerses itself in a weeklong of celebration.
Manimahesh Yatra Also in Chamba, the Manimahesh Yatra to the sacred tarn of Manimahesh is held immediately after the festival of Janamashtmi. At Bharmour, 35 km short of the lake, the nomadic Gaddis hold a fair for six days.
Chrewal Celebrated in Chamba, Kullu and elsewhere, Chrewal, Badronjo or Patroru is a festival of fire and flowers - and a time for purification of the fields.
Gugga fair In August, several places in Chamba, Kangra, Bilaspur and Sirmour have the Gugga fair which is connected with the worship of Gugga, the Nag Devta.
Dal fair August also witnesses the Dal fair in Upper Dharamsala in Kangra district. At Udaipur, in the Lahaul valley, the Trilokinath temple becomes a focus; this is sacred to Hindus and Buddhists alike.
Shravan fair The Shravan fair is held at the shrine Naina Devi in Bilaspur district, while the Ashapuri fair is held in Kangra.
Phulech Festival In September, as the rains end, autumn sends fiery colours racing through the hills. In Kinnaur, the festival of flowers, 'Fullaich' (Phulech) opens a window to its remarkable people and their Phulech beautiful countryside. Villagers scout the hillsides for flowers which are collected in the village square. These are then offered to the local deity. Then comes a spate of revelry - singing, dancing and feasting. Kalpa has some of the most vibrant celebrations and every twelve years, there is a special festival.
Shakti Devi fair Also in September, at the village of Chattradi, near Chamba - and centered around the exquisite temple of Shakti Devi - a fair is held and masked dances are performed.
Sair Festival In September, the Kangra valley celebrates the festival of Sair. This is also celebrated with stalls, songs and dances at Arki (Solan) and Mashobra (Shimla) both near Shimla.
Nagini fair At Nurpur in Kangra, under the watchful walls of its old fort, the Nagini fair bids the summer farewell.
World Tourism Day On September 27, World Tourism Day is celebrated in the state.
Bawan Dawadashi fair In Sirmour, there is a Regatta at the Renuka Lake and Nahan hosts the Bawan Dawadashi fair in September.
Kullu Dusshera More traditionally, over two hundred deities converge on Kullu for its unusual Dussehra celebrations. They pay homage to Lord Raghunath while music and colour fill the 'Silver Valley'. Numerous stalls offer a variety of local wares.
International Folk Festival is celebrated
October is also the time when the International Folk Festival is celebrated. The Jwalamukhi Temple in Kangra becomes the venue for a major fair.
Phool Yatra At Killar and Pangi (in Chamba's Pangi valley), the Phool Yatra witnesses a remarkable display of neighborly affection.
Adventure activities in October There is a Regatta on the waters of the Gobind Sagar, anglers vie for the largest catch in the Sangla valley (Kinnaur) and paragliders sail the skies at Billing (Kangra).
Lavi fair As Himachal enters November and with winter just a hop and skip away, the age-old Lavi fair fills Rampur (Shimla) with a burst of activity. The town was once a major entry point on the old trade routes to Kinnaur, Tibet, Ladakh and Afghanistan. Even today, the Lavi tradition is as vibrant as ever. By the churning waters of the river Sutlej, a variety of goods including wool, dry fruits and horses are bartered and sold.
Renuka lake fair In the month of Novemver, the Kharif crops have been harvested when at the legendary Renuka lake (Sirmour), a fair graces its banks. There is trade, recreation and amusement. Idols of Lord Parshurama and Renuka are ceremoniously dipped in the sacred waters of the lake – and it is a time when match making is done. Water Sports Competitions are held at the Maharana Pratap Sagar and Gobind Sagar.