Gai means “cow” and Jatra means “festival.” Cow is not only the national animal of Nepal, but also the most sacred animal of Nepal. It is believed that cows live in a heavenly place and that they also help deceased souls get there. So, during this festival, people engage in communal merrymaking and lessen their sorrows by participating in the parade, with the belief that by doing so the cows will lead the soul of their loved ones to heaven safe and sound. It is celebrated primarily by the Newar communities, who are the indigenous people of Kathmandu Valley.
On this day, every family who has lost a relative in the previous year is expected to participate in a parade and march in the streets of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Kirtipur, and Patan either with a real cow or with a person dressed as a cow. These people walking in the streets dressed in colorful, funny clothes and doing weird, funny things make this event quite a carnival. You can also see people distributing free foods on the street.
Gai Jatra generally falls in late August and sometimes in early September. This is also the season when it is the most ideal time to visit Nepal since it is autumn season and the weather is likely to be just right. Also the skies will be clear most of the day, giving you plenty of opportunities to grab spectacular views of the faraway mountain ranges.
Things you are likely to be engaged in if you participate in this festival:
- Observe a parade of motley crowd doing funny, eccentric things on streets.
- Dress as a cow and participate in different funny activities.
- Attend a comedy function (where people perform live comic plays and other performances)
- Engage with local people in singing, dancing, drinking, and merrymaking.
- Commemorate the death of loved ones.