Trek in Himalayas led to Berkeley’s Himalaya Fair

When Berkeley residents flock to Live Oak Park on Memorial Day weekend for the 27th annual Himalayan Fair, few probably realize that the festival’s roots stretch back to the cold and snowy mountains of Nepal.

Arlene Blum, the Berkeley chemist who had led the first all-female ascent of Annapurna, spent the winter of 1981-82 trekking across the Himalayas. As she climbed from peak to peak she kept running into fairs where people prayed to their ancestors, worshipped god, played music, and danced. Blum was impressed with the spirit of the festivals and decided she would bring a taste of Himalayan culture back to the United States.

In 1983, after teaching a class on the Himalayas at UC Berkeley, Blum and a group of her students hosted a Himalayan Fair. That first year, 2,000 people came to eat Himalayan food, buy crafts, watch Nepalese dancers, and listen to music.

“It was my party for the world,” said Blum


The fair will celebrate its 27th anniversary this year. It has grown into a two-day celebration with performers from around the world, an extensive music schedule, children’s projects, crafts, jewelry, and art from Nepal, Tibet, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and a projected crowd of 6,000.

Blum has also returned as an active organizer of the fair, although the Himalayan community now plays the largest role.

More importantly, the fair has become an important fundraiser for grassroots organizations in Nepal. The fair has sent more than $250,000 to dozens of small organizations in the region. The funds have helped schools, monasteries, youth groups, hospitals, medical societies, and agricultural products.

The fair runs Saturday, May 29 from 10am to 7pm and Sunday May 30 from 10am to 5:30pm.