Avid travellers will know that sometimes you need time off from stunning vistas, riversides, mountaintops and rolling hills. Most look, instead, for cultural immersion. And there’s no better place to try some elbow hustle than at the festivals of the country. The history, colours and the celebratory vibe in the air only add to the charm. Even though the end of the year brings a multitude of options, we’ve handpicked a few that promise to offer you an experience like no other.
Sonepur Mela, 5 Nov
If you head to the ghats of the Ganga in Sonepur, Bihar, you’ll not only have to find your way around the colourfully clothed locals, there’ll also be a little maneuvering involved when you come face-to-face with elephants, horses, bulls and cows. Asia’s largest cattle fair, Sonepur Mela starts on Karthik Purnima and goes on for four weeks. Over the years, even dogs buffaloes, ponies and donkeys have joined the coterie. A number of legends surround the Sonepur Mela (also known as Malegaon Mela); it’s best to sit by the ghats and listen as the locals narrate them.
Wangala Festival, 7 Nov
Also known as the ‘Hundred Drums Festival’, Wangala is celebrated as Meghalaya’s largest harvest festival by the Garo tribe. Local dances, unique headgears and local music flowing through the hills are the highlights of the festival. Beats from hundreds of drums encompass the Garo hills as the Sun God is commemorated for a fertile year ahead.
SAARC Music Festival, 7 – 9 Nov
Music aficionados could not ask for more this winter. New Delhi plays host to the SAARC music summit in the second week of November when some of the biggest musicians of the SAARC countries will perform in the capital with Purana Qila as the backdrop. The three-day event will boast of names such as Zebunissa Bangash from Pakistan and bands like The Forsaken from Bhutan, The Kinetic Operations from the Maldives, and Chirkutt from Bangladesh.
Bundi Utsav, 9 – 11 Nov
Even if you have already experienced the shimmering lakes, the sun-scorched forts and the vibrant colours of Rajasthan, Bundi Utsav will still seem novel. The principle attraction of the festival lies in the classical and folk dances and music of the state. This slice of Rajasthan adds a dash of folklore and culture in the form of camel races, moustache challenges, games of kabbadi and turban tying competitions. The three days promise plenty of photo opportunities and fun.
Konark Festival, 1 – 5 Dec
A stunning backdrop in the form of the famous Sun temple in Konark stands testimony to the rich classical dance heritage of India, each year. Watch world-renowned artistes perform Odissi, Bharatnatyam, Manipuri, Kathak and Chau dances as you sit there marvelling at their grace and the perfect setting it occupies.
Chennai Music Festival, 15 Dec – 15 Jan
The last month of the year puts Chennai into a rhythm with the Chennai Music Festival that takes place each year. Thousands flock to the city with pre-booked tickets to listen to some of the greatest Carnatic voices of India. The music halls ready themselves much in advance as the city slows down this month to appreciate the classical sounds resonating around.
Shilpgram Art and Craft Festival, 21 – 30 Dec
Breathtaking colours surround you in the town of Udaipur, as the Shilpgram festival commences in the last week of December. A plethora of pottery, fabric, jewellery and curios make for memorable souvenirs, so make it a point to visit Shilpgram before you leave Rajasthan in December.
Mamallapuram Indian Dance Festival, 27 Dec – 14 Jan
Amongst the many remarkable experiences that Tamil Nadu offers, the Mamallapuram Indian Dance festival is one of the most ethereal. The land of the Pallavas becomes the gorgeous backdrop to the classical dance performances over the two weeks. There are a few options to stay in the small coastal town, but many travellers trudge all the way from Chennai (58km) daily for the festival.