The ‘Festival au Desert’
Where: Essakane, Mali
When: 6th-8th January
The most remote festival in the world is only accessible after a three day camel ride through the Sahara Desert or by taking a 4×4 through the sand dunes. It celebrates the end of the conflict between two tribes in the Sahara which saw 3000 guns burned in a celebration now known as the ‘Flame of Peace’. It showcases local music of the Tuareg tribe and famous international acts – in 2010, they played host to Paul Oakenfold. The festival also allows visitors to soak up the local culture with ritual sword fighting, song, dance, and poetry.
When: all month
The most famous of Japan’s many naked festivals. All the participants are dressed in only simple loincloths while they race through the streets desperately trying to touch the ‘holy’ naked man, who must first be purified by a ritual shaving of his body. Running through the streets the men are splashed with freezing water in an attempt to purify themselves. The naked man is believed to absorb all the bad luck when touched leaving the rest of the community cleansed for the rest of the year.
Carnival de Binche
Where: Binche, Belgium
When: 6th-8th March
A colourful costume is a must at Binche and with men (known as Gilles) wearing ostrich-feather headdresses, wax masks and wooden shoes parading through the streets this one-of-a-kind carnival is sure to grab your attention. Dancing to the sound of drums is said to rid the town of evil spirits and the day ends with the Gilles launching oranges at the crowd, so prepare for it to get messy!
Where: all across Thailand
When: 13th-15th April
For three days in April the streets of Thailand become wet and wild during the ‘Songkran’ or New Year’s festivities. Known as the ‘Water Festival’, people traditionally sprinkle water on one another’s heads as a sign of respect and good luck for the coming year. These days with more drink, more tourists and more super soakers, the street parties involve the ritual drenching of vehicles and passersby with water guns, buckets of ice cold water and hose pipes. Be prepared to be soaked day and night for the duration of the festival. The best spot to catch the action is Chiang Mai, where elephants line the streets, spraying people with water while the Thai whiskey just doesn’t stop flowing.
Where: Pentecost Island, Vanuatu
When: all month
This is one of the most dangerous tests of faith in the world and might take some preparation. For those not accustomed to such dare-devil antics, watch your heart pounding as you wait in anticipation for the man to hit the ground safely. Young men and boys, some as young as five years old, launch themselves head-first off wooden towers of up to 25 metres high, attached by two fragile vines. The tradition goes back to the 15th Century and is considered a precursor to modern day bungee jumping. The dives are meant to secure a bountiful harvest for the local islanders, who believe the higher the jump and the closer the jumper gets to the ground, the better the harvest will be.
El Colacho (Baby Jumping Festival)
When: 23rd June
A contender for the title of Spain’s most dangerous and strange festival, ‘El Colacho’ as it is locally known sees families placing their new born children in lines in the street and allowing grown men dressed as the devil to perform running jumps over them, the idea being to banish sin. This has been going on since the 1620s and takes place alongside the Catholic Festival of Corpus Christi. Watch on if you dare!
Boryeong Mud Festival
Where: Seoul, South Korea
When: all month
If you fancy being a mud wrestling champion, competing in mud sliding competitions or earning the ultimate title of ‘Mud King’ then this is the festival for you. Chill out with a dip in the ‘Mud Mega Tub’, or relax in the mud massage zone after a messy day’s fun before joining the other festival goers for an evening of beach parties, music and fireworks.
Notting Hill Carnival
When: 29th/30th August
As the biggest carnival outside of Brazil, Notting Hill Carnival brings the Caribbean to the streets of London. West London comes alive as parades of flamboyantly costumed dancers party down the roads. Static sound systems fill the air with music and the street with dancers. If you are looking for an easy time however, you can forget it! Be prepared for it to take you ages to get where you want to go as it can get a bit busy with over a million revellers turning up to experience it every year.
Burning Man Festival
When: 29th August – 5th September
Anything is acceptable at the Burning Man Festival. Held in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, thousands gather to smash down the doors of perception and express themselves in as many eccentric and bizarre ways as is humanly possible before torching the extravagantly huge and equally unconventional effigy of a ‘Man’, in a dramatic and sacramental display. It has been described as ‘a temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self- reliance’. People gather for a week and depart without leaving a single sign of their appearance.
Where: Munich, Germany
When: 17th September – 3rd October
This beer festival is the biggest of its kind, every year attracting more than five million people. With fourteen tents to choose from in the main square, people are spoilt for choice! In 2010, 310,000 litres of beer brewed specifically for this event were consumed. In addition to the beer there are classic German foods on offer, from Hendl (chicken), Schweinsbraten (roast pork) and Schweinshaxe (grilled ham hock).
Pushkar Camel Festival
Where: Pushkar, India
When: 2nd-10th November
This festival is held on the banks of the Pushkar Lake, which is renowned across India for being a sacred and blessed spot. Whilst best known for the hundreds of camels on sale, the festival also houses other general livestock. In recent years it has turned into more of a tourist attraction and is full of entertainment from competitions including the longest moustache, camel race and camel dance competition. Men buy and sell livestock whilst women man stalls selling beautiful bracelets and fabrics.
Where: Newtown, Wales
When: Selected dates in December
For a charitable cause in the spirit of the season, every December in Wales people participate in a world famous Santa Run. It is a four and half mile run which is organised by Newtown and District Dial-A-Ride. Whilst registration may be slightly costly (£10 for an adult) it does include a free Santa suit!
Priyal Dadhania and Richard Collett