The festivals listed here are just the main events; there are many others centred around local temples and neighbourhoods.
Basanta Panchami The spring festival is marked by a VIP ceremony in Durbar Square on the fifth day after the full moon. Children celebrate Saraswati Puja on the same day at Swayambhu.
Losar Tibetan New Year, observed at Swayambhu on the full moon of February, but more significantly at Boudha.
Shiva Raatri “Shiva’s Night” is celebrated with bonfires in Kathmandu on the new moon of Phaagun, but the most interesting observances are at Pashupatinath.
Phaagun Purnima (Holi) Youths bombard each other and passers-by with coloured powder and water. The festival lasts a week, but peaks on the day of the full moon.
Chait Dasain On the morning of the eighth day after the new moon, the army’s top-ranking officers gather at the Kot compound, at the northwestern end of Durbar Square, for the beheading of dozens of buffalo and goats and to troop their regimental colours.
Seto Machhendranath Jaatra A flamboyant chariot procession in which the white idol of Machhendranath is placed in a towering chariot and pulled from Jamal to an area south of Jhochhe in at least three daily stages. The festival starts on Chait Dasain.
Nawa Barsa On Nepali New Year (April 13 or 14), there are parades in Kathmandu, but Bhaktapur’s festivities are more exciting.
Machhendranath Rath Jaatra An amazing, uniquely Newari extravaganza in which an immense chariot is pulled through old Patan over a period of several weeks.
Buddha Jayanti The anniversary of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death, celebrated on the morning of the full moon at Swayambhu: thousands come to do puja, and priests dressed as the panchabuddha perform ritual dances.
Janai Purnima The annual changing of the sacred thread worn by high-caste Hindu men (and of temporary wrist bands that may be worn by men and women of any caste), on the day of the full moon, at Patan’s Kumbeshwar Mandir and other temples.
Ghanta Karna Demon effigies are burned throughout the city on the fourteenth day after the full moon of Saaun.
Gaai Jaatra Held the day after the full moon, the Cow Festival is marked by processions through the old city, led by garlanded boys dressed as cows. A good place to watch is in front of the former Royal Palace’s entrance in Durbar Square.
Krishna Astami (Krishna Jayanti) Krishna’s birthday, on which thousands of women queue for puja at Patan’s Krishna Mandir.
Tij A three-day Women’s Festival, starting on the third day after the full moon: women may be seen singing and dancing anywhere, but especially at Pashupatinath.
Indra Jaatra A wild week of chariot processions and masked-dance performances held around the full moon of Bhadau.
Dasain A mammoth ten-day festival celebrated in most parts of Nepal, concluding on the full moon of Asoj. In Kathmandu, mass sacrifices are held at the Kot courtyard near Durbar Square on the ninth day, Durga Puja, with tikas bestowed on all and sundry on the last day.
Tihaar The Festival of Lights, celebrated with masses of oil lamps throughout the city and five days of special observances. Lakshmi Puja, falling on the full moon of Kaattik, is the highlight.