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Happy Shambys: How To Do Shambhala

In Tibetan Buddhist and Hindu traditions, Shambhala is a kingdom tucked away in the center of our planet; Earth. In British Columbia, Shambhala is Canada’s answer to burning man; A fun loving quasi-Buddhist electronic music festival held at a cattle ranch in the West Kootenays. This five-day festival is void of corporate investors, and by extension, largely void of a purpose beyond building community and having fun. Every summer for the past 18 years people have made the pilgrimage to Shambhala to explore and celebrate their spirituality, to discover new music, and perhaps most prominently, to frolic nude in a river like they’re in some Joseph Eduard Sauer painting.


If you’ve never been to a Shambhala, we’re here to help you out. But before we get into specifics like mandatory style and survival tips, we must first tell you about the mandatory greeting: “Happy Shambys.” Yes, this phrase, which seems more aptly suited as the title of an Irish-themed bar than a salutation, will be your lifeline for those five days from August 11-14th. When executed properly, with a smile, this greeting will function as a pick-up line, a hello, a farewell, and a call for party favours. So start practicing your execution of “Happy Shambys” now, then start on the second most important preparation piece for Shambhala: Selecting your wardrobe.

Are you familiar with the term ‘peacocking?’ Essentially, it’s the act of dressing in an eccentric or loud manner to attract attention from someone you’re interested in; similar to a peacock spreading its plumage. Shambhala takes peacocking a step further as most attendees have flamboyant style the other 360 days a year, so things get especially weird for Shambhala. Basically, you need to figure out how you’re going to stand out while partying next to a fifty-year-old man wearing nothing but zebra tape and broccoli florets. The act of cultivating your wardrobe for a Shambhala should be a yearlong affair in which you take the time to regularly visit your local thrift stores and flea markets to score potential items. There is nothing that is off limits, in fact, the more you think it would draw the ire of your respective community, the more suitable the clothing item is. Leopard print, turquoise and gold jewellery, ill-fitting balloon pants, pirate hats, cotton dice earrings, and ridiculous lingerie are all suitable and appropriate items. Remember, these five days are where grown adults go to be reckless and irresponsible, so leave all sensible fashion sense at the entrance. This is your chance to wear anything you want.

Photo: Andrew McIver

Photo: Andrew McIver

This festival is mostly dependent on volunteers and the camping section is large and lacking clear signage, so know that you’re probably going to get lost, especially in the dark on uneven forest paths equipped with illumination. Use a buddy system and try not to freak out; this is all part of the fun. When you get to the festival and set up camp, locate potential landmarks to guide you home. If you’re truly lost, just ask a stranger for help; it’s shambhalove, baby.

The food situation (and it is a bit of a situation) is difficult to navigate. It’s safe to presume you’re going to be partying, why else would you be going to this awesome mystical festival in the middle of the Kootenays? Following a late night, your appetite might fade with your mood. Chances are high that you’re not going to be too eager to make that fire-roasted dish you had planned. Instead, bring lots of non-perishable snacks like granola bars, canned goods, crackers, and hummus. It’s all going to taste like diamonds when you have a festival-induced appetite, anyway. Otherwise, just support the community and drop in on some of the amazing dishes served up by local vendors at the festival.

Mikey J. Photo: Alex Guiry

IMUR Photo:

Festivalgoers largely spend their afternoons along a big beautiful river next to the aptly named Living Room Stage. If you abide by this tradition, quality people watching, day napping, swimming, and jumping off the Shambhalog are sure to ensue. This is a good opportunity to wash yourself clean of your previous night’s activities and rid yourself of your body odour. Not into bathing in a river? Buy yourself one of those solar powered camping showers and enjoy a private wash in the wilderness.
Oh, right. The music. Like the very festivalgoers we’re writing about, with all of the amazing activities, people-watching and meeting, and seminars, it’s easy to forget about the music. Shambhala features three stages of electronic music staging renowned acts that are filling up venues across the world in addition to regional acts and musicians ripe for discovery. 2016’s Shambhala line-up featured headliners like AlunaGeorge, Amine Edge & Dance, Andy C, Autograf, Boys Noize, and more and 2017’s lineup is sure to be even better. Details of the full festival line ups and more information can be found here.

Photo: Alex Guiry


Lastly, leave on Monday, when the festival is over. When all is said and done, there is a very high chance you’re going to be in the company of some new friends, and you’re all going to be saying things like, “Lets never leave!” or “Shambhala forever!” But trust us, do the organizers and your fellow festivalgoers a favour and save the enthusiasm for next year.

Trip Details

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