Alternative Festival Guide
Arush Thukhran / 6 min Read
Festivals are all the rage again this summer, with endless opportunities to spend happy days festering under canvas, waiting in the loo queue knee deep in mud or standing in a crowd staring at a flag listening to your favourite Artist doing the set of the century.
But what if you fancy something different? Read on to see what’s on offer across the globe if you are prepared to go a bit further for your festival fun.
GET MESSED UP
Festivals are not about keeping clean. Why not lean into it at the BORYEONG MUD FESTIVAL in South Korea, a mud-slinging extravaganza started by a cosmetics company to highlight the powers of the mineral-rich mud flats. The cosmetic power of cow dung is less well documented, but you can sniff it out at the UGADI COW DUNG FIGHT in Kairuppala, India, the Hindu celebration where teams fling dung cakes and – brace yourself - it’s considered good luck for a cow to poo on your face.
Then you can get creative with your clean-up. Head to the WATER GUN FESTIVAL in Seoul, South Korea, or if you can wait until New Year, head to SONGKRAN in Thailand, a 3-day festival of purification where buckets, hoses, water-guns and water balloons will wash away your woes.
FOOD AND DRINK
Food is a cornerstone of the international festival circuit. The CHEESE ROLLING FESTIVAL in Gloucestershire, England is a high-risk way to secure a wheel of Double Gloucester. It’s safer at LA TOMATINA near Valencia, Spain, where 50,000 or more people chuck tomatoes to celebrate a food fight in 1945. If you fancy more of a tomato test then check out EL CIPOTEGATO in Tarazona, Spain where a man dressed as a harlequin races through the town and is pelted with tomatoes until he is hoisted up and launches the town’s other fiestas.
Bun fans might like to race up a 30m tower of buns and try to grab the highest one for luck at the CHEUNG CHAU BUN FESTIVAL in Hong Kong. There’s also the juicy and rebellion-celebrating BATTLE OF THE ORANGES in Ivrea, Italy, where teams throw oranges at each other for three days. Wearing a red hat says ‘I’m not playing’ but collateral damage is inevitable.
The VEGETARIAN FESTIVAL in Phuket, Thailand is free of meat but oozing with human charcuterie as participants possessed by God perform eye-watering acts on themselves in the name of health and peace of mind. Complete your menu with some relaxed veggie-based sculptures at the NIGHT OF THE RADISHES in Oaxaca, Mexico and the flour and egg-based shenanigans of the FLOUR FIGHT FESTIVAL in Alicante, Spain.
You could wash down all that food with a beer or two at OKTOBERFEST in Munich, Germany, or get a bit more creative and hit the BEER FLOATING KALJAKELLUNTA in Finland, where you drink a beer while floating down the Kerava/Vantaqa river in inflatables and rafts.
FUN FOR ALL THE FAMILY
Everyone is taking kids to festivals these days. Why not start them early in Castrillo de Murcia, Spain at the BABY JUMPING FESTIVAL, where men dressed as devils terrorise the town then jump over babies laid out on pillows? Or get up close and personal at the WIFE CARRYING WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP in Sonkajärvi, Finland? The winners get the wife’s weight in beer!
FIRE AND DEATH
Pyromaniacs are well catered for on the global festival stage. BURNING MAN in Nevada, USA is more mad than Mad Max but some feel its flame is dimming. More adventurous Burners might prefer to head for the ROUKETOPOLEMOS ROCKET WAR on Chios Island, Greece, a battle that has been dampened a bit due to the destruction of previous years, but still sounds like fun. Meanwhile in Valencia at LAS FALLAS, amazing sculptures are created, admired and then – you guessed it – burned to the ground.
Not for the faint hearted or flammable is the YANSHUI FIREWORKS FESTIVAL in Taiwan, where being hit with a bottle rocket is seen as good luck. This is not unlikely as trucks drive through town firing thousands at bystanders in rudimentary safety gear. If you survive, head to Shetland in Scotland for the UP-HELLY AA FIRE FESTIVAL, where all sorts of ceremonial vessels are torched by torchbearers to celebrate rich local heritage.
Stay safe and head to Mexico for the DIA DE LOS MUERTOS, the Day of the Dead, made famous by the Movie Coco and proof that death can be a cause for celebration, happy memories and epic face paint. There are plenty of masks at the FASNACHT in Basel, Switzerland, the KUKERI FESTIVAL in Pernik, Bulgaria and the 6-day BUSÓ FESTIVAL in Mohács, Hungary, which is designed to ward-off winter and is actually on the Unesco Word Heritage list.
PARTY LIKE AN ANIMAL(S)!
Why not involve our furry friends in your festival plans? Start at the MONKEY BUFFET FESTIVAL in Lopburi, Thailand, where the local Macaque population is treated to 4,000kg of fruit, veg and treats in the name of encouraging a good harvest. Dog lovers can join the GOLDEN RETRIEVER FESTIVAL, or Guisachan Gathering, in Scotland, or if you prefer oinking to barking, strap on your snout and snort down to LA POURCAILHADE pig festival in Trie-Sur-Baïse, France. Prefer something fishy? Pop down to TUNARAMA in Port Lincoln, Australia, where fish chucking is just the beginning.
LOST IN MUSIC
Get beneath the surface at the UNDERWATER MUSIC FESTIVAL in the Florida Keys, USA, where environmental responsibility and underwater instruments promote the country’s only living coral barrier reef. Instruments are not required, but you’ll need some moves and enthusiasm to stand out at the AIR GUITAR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP in Oulu, Finland, the festival whose ethos is, ‘All bad things would go away if everyone just played air guitar.’
STILL LOOKING FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT?
Still don’t see anything to satisfy your urges for festival fun? How about trying some airborne combat at the INTERNATIONAL KITE FESTIVAL in Gujarat, India? Or pushing a mate in the SITGES CARNIVAL BED RACE in the seaside town south of Barcelona? Or dodging falling clay water jugs at the POT THROWING CEREMONY in Corfu. Greece? Or perhaps you could stop off at the Takhini Hot Pools in Whitehorse, Canada and join the INTERNATIONAL HAIR FREEZING CONTEST?
Finally, let’s remember festivals that have been lost along the way – possibly for good reason. Perhaps the weirdest is the REDNECK GAMES in East Dublin, Georgia, where until 2012 prizes were awarded for everything from toilet seat throwing, seed spitting and hubcap hurling to big hair, dumpster diving and a mud pit belly flop. GLASTONBURY it wasn’t!