A holiday in India can be safely expected to be brimming with wonderful vistas, architectural delights and compelling historical nuances, but there is something that adds even more fun to a trip – planning around a festival. Its best to understand the culture map of the country by visiting a destination during an important local festival. You are likely to be warmly welcomed by local families and interact with them at close quarters, getting an intimate insight into unique traditions. To ensure that you have the best experience we will include, along with traditional religious festivals, music fests, cultural extravaganzas, carnivals, and basically anything that makes your heart skip a beat.
With the festival series, we close down on some of the most alluring events and festivals of the country that will complement your itinerary.
Maha Kumbh Mela – 100 million people bound by a common religious sentiment have been descending on the banks the Sangam at Allahabad since Jan 14th. The largest human gathering on the face of this earth, it is held once every 12 years. Converging at the Sangam, where Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers meet, the two-month long festival has been luring sadhus, devotees and photographers from across the world. The festival goes in till 10th of March and is not only for those who want divine proclivity, but also want to be a part of a fantastic travel experience. Missing this will be blasphemous!
Best Period –. 15 and 17 February are the two important dates for the holy dip. Getting There – Only two flights (Spice Jet or Air India) are operating at Allahabad airport for Kumbh. Overnight trains from Delhi are in plenty. The other convenient air/rail heads are Lucknow (200 km) and Varanasi (120 km). From here, you can hire taxis ranging from Rs 3000-8000 per trip.
Theyyam season in Kerala – The northern districts of Kannur, Kozhikode, Kasargod and parts of Wayanad (together known as the Malabar region) reverberate with the beats of Theyyam. Thousands of years old, Theyyam is a temple dance, performed by a certain section of the community, with elaborate headgears and make up. You can distinguish the dance form by its overtly red themed attire (of which there are more than 450 kinds). Schedules of the performances are not defined too well so one has to rely heavily on local knowledge. You can visit specific temples in villages to watch this hypnotic trance like performance. The fact that these districts, like much of Kerala is blessed with scenic beauty can only add to your wanderlust
Best period – December to mid-March. Getting there – Kannur, the largest town of the Malabar region is well connected by bus and trains. Closest airport is Kozhikode (147km). Stay – www.gitanjaliheritage.com, www.centralavenue.in – Both hotels can arrange for you to visit temples in the interior areas to catch performances.
Kambala Buffalo Races in coastal Karnataka – Probably one of the most dramatic display of sweat and sinew, the Kambala buffalo races are held in coastal Karnataka from late November to May. Twin muddy tracks are filled with water to heighten the level of difficulty while farmers race across with a pair of buffaloes. About 18 races are held in various villages along the coast each year. Of these, the one held at Kadri is the most famous one. The traditional awards in the form of coconuts and gold have now made way for big cash prizes and sponsorship. Still, the local flavor of these 2-day events is largely intact.
Best period – December to March. Getting there – Mangalore is the closest airport in the region and is reasonably well connected to large cities of the country. Else, overnight buses from Bangalore (KSRTC) are also very convenient. Stay – www.thesaffron.in (Mangalore)/ www.alvasanandamaya.org (Eedu village)/ www.centurycomforts.com (Udipi).
Kochi Muziris Biennale, Fort Kochi – The first of its kind in the country, the Kochi Muziris Biennale celebrates artistic ingenuity from across the world with this multiple venue event, spread over 3 months (12 December 2012 – 13 March 2013). Dilapidated buildings, abandoned construction sites, walls, large auditoriums and galleries of Fort Kochi and around have transformed into engaging platforms for Indian and International artists. Walk through installations in public places or watch seminars, talks and workshops in this unique brainchild of Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu.
Date – Till 13 March. Getting there – Ernakulum is the closest rail and air-head to Fort Kochi (6.6 km). From Cochin, take a cab (Rs. 2000) or a bus (less than Rs 30) to arrive in Fort Kochi. Stay – www.annsresidency.com, www.oldharbourhotel.com, www.fortmuziris.com.
Holi – Though in theory a religious festival, Holi, in the modern context, is a carnival. Dry and wet colours, bhaang and sweets flow freely on this day as people visit friends and family. You can get an authentic taste of Holi in Mathura, where the festival is celebrated for many reasons: the beginning of Spring, commemorating Radha’s love for Krishna or the victory of good over evil.
Date – 27 March (It is celebrated for 16 days in Mathura). Getting there – The closest airport to Mathura is Delhi (156km). One can also take buses/trains from the capital city. Stay – www.brijwasihotels.com (Mathura)
Maha Shivratri in Varanasi – There cannot be a better place to head for Maha Shivratri (10th March), than the land of the lord himself – Varanasi. Arrive at the banks of the river Ganga to see the elaborate wedding procession of Lord Shiva from Mahamrityunjaya Temple, Daranagar to Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The celebrations go on late into the night with devotees offering milk, bhaang, flowers and fruits at various Shiva temples. The streets of Varanasi are abuzz with energy, some even taking to dancing the whole time. All in all, the festival depicts the intense love and deep reverence that many Indians have for Shiva.
With a penchant for travelling ‘ungoogled’, Supriya has willingly got lost a number of times in the most obscure places of India for the last 8 years. She lives on a healthy diet of anecdotes and tea with auto drivers, co-passengers and locals! Supriya currently runs a Bangalore based travel-photography outfit called Photography Onthemove and writes regular features for India and International travel publications. More on www.supriyasehgal.com