If you’re planning a holiday to coincide with a festival in July or August, arm yourself with a sturdy umbrella and flip flops to survive the rains dousing most of the country. While the showers may make it difficult to travel, monsoons are a cathartic experience, painting new landscapes in bright, fresh greens. Why not experience some of these Indian festivals during your monsoon break?
Ramazan – This is a lunar month dedicated to sawm, or fasting, one of the five pillars of Islam. From sun-up to sun-down, the faithful abstain from food, drink, tobacco and other pleasures to concentrate on spiritual renewal. After sunset, there’s a euphoric iftar, to break the fast, followed by a late-night feast and sahur, a meal before the sun comes up and fasting begins again. For foodies, the month of Ramazan brings excitement of mammoth levels. Come nighttime, streets filled with late-night food stalls pop up in cities, drawing hungry throngs in search of haleem, shermal, Sulaimani chai and other delicacies before the next day’s fasting. Head to the Muslim areas of a city to feel the spirit of the festival.
Rath Yatra – If you’re around the eastern edge of India between 10–18 July, catch the Rath Yatra in Puri. Despite the monsoon rain, a sea of people crowd Bada Danda, Puri’s main street, to honour Lord Jagannath. Idols of Krishna, Balarama and Subhadra are paraded 3km in elaborately-decorated chariots along this street, to the Shri Gundicha temple. As the parade goes by, the supposed King, Gajapati, dressed as a sweeper, humbly cleans the road with a gold-handled broom, signifying that devotion knows no class.
Mahankali Jatra – For over 150 years, the Mahankali Jatra, also known as Bonalu, has commemorated Goddess Adi Shakti. At the Ujjaini Mahankali temple in Secunderabad, from 4am on 28 July jostling devotees struggle to offer clay pots containing Bonam (cooked rice, jaggery, curd and water), topped with neem leaves and an oil lamp, to the deity before 2am the next day. After 2am, costumed devotees enact stories from the Puranas while they wait for the idol to be paraded on an elephant at 10.30am.
The Big Fat Flea – Throngs of happy shoppers head to Dilli Haat, a vibrant food and crafts bazaar in South Delhi, on 6 and 7 July for the daylong flea market. Food stalls selling everything from momos to fruit beer tempt shoppers as they browse through modern fashion outfits with a slight tinge of ethnicity ̶ all from budding designers.
Phyang Monastery Festival – While Leh grapples with its usual summer rush, escape to the Phyang monastery on 16 July. Watch masked artistes sway in hypnotic rhythms to the soothing drone of chants in the background, performing ‘chhams’ or traditional dance dramas. The festival goes on for two days, and the brown and white landscape comes alive with splashes of colour.
Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race – The Punnamada Lake in Alleppey is a pulsating mass of frenzied crowds as groups of villagers gear up for the annual Nehru Trophy Snake Boat Race, on the second Saturday of August at 2pm. Arrive around 10am to hire a houseboat that can be parked at the edge of the track like many others. This gives you the best vantage point to see the teams of rowers, navigators and rhythm-keeping singers, rush past.
Krishna Janamashtami – The temple town of Udipi is flooded with pilgrims during Janmastami. Join in the revelry along the roads leading to the Krishna temple and watch the breaking of the ‘maakhan handi’, followed by local dances and parades. Mathura is a better venue for those in North India. The birthplace of Lord Krishna comes alive with midnight festivities on 28 August, but the highlight for visitors remains the human pyramids created to break the ‘handi’.
The Monsoon Festival by Red Earth – Delhi-based arts organisation, Red Earth, makes an innovative splash at the annual monsoon festival. Stand-up comedians, dancers, linguists and more come together under one roof to celebrate the North Indian festivals that fall in these months. Reinstituting traditions, Red Earth is organising a Jaipur Teej tour, a design festival, heritage walks and workshops between 2–21 August.
Teej in Jaipur – Though Teej is celebrated in many north Indian states, travel to Jaipur for some extra vivacity. The festival celebrating marital bliss and the onset of monsoons spans three days. In the countryside on 9 and 10 August, swings are hung from trees, and married women dressed in green pray to Goddess Parvati and make ghewar to serve as prasad. Meanwhile in Jaipur, watch the Teej idol being paraded from Tripolia Gate to Chaugan Stadium.
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