Commemorating the greatest Indian legends and honouring historical characters, India has some of the most monumental festivals you’ll find in your travels.
Get your suitcase ready, make sure to bring some clothes you won’t mind getting colours on and submerge yourself into a world of colours, paint, dancing, devotion, and decorated camels.
With vivid images and reports spread over the globe through the years, Holi might – at least to the outside world – be the godfather of all Indian festivals. Whether you tiptoe or dance through whichever urbanised area during Holi; you’ll end up covered in a layer of colours. Behind the glowingly rich clouds of powder and water lies a great significance for the Hindu community.
A concoction of legends, meeting others and just having fun contribute to the current celebration of Holi. The moral of the myths? The good will always cry victory over the evil, and that’s what the Hindus proclaim when Spring begins. In 2019 the Holi festival will take place on March 20 and 21. Holi is the perfect celebration to blend in with the locals, for this is the festival that everyone can join. Fortunately, there is not one specific party epicentre, so grab your organic colour packets and water blasters and head to any Indian city for a splashy blast.
Large, larger, Kumbh Mela. Every three year the cities of Prayagraj (formally known as Allahabad), Haridwar, Nashik and Ujjain take turns hosting this great gathering of pilgrims, who are here to bathe in the sacred water of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers.
Kumbh Mela commemorates the legend of Samudra Manthan, which tells that the gods and half-gods once battled over a beverage that would provide immortality.
To prevent the fighters from grabbing the pot of this so-called amrita, it was most likely flown away by the Hindu god Dhanavantari and spilt over four places; the rejoicing towns where Kumbh Mela is held nowadays.
Rent a private boat and witness a vast sea of bodies, an ocean of individuals on the river banks. Even as a non-Hindu traveller one can receive blessings and participate in chanting with the sadhu – the holy men.
Kumbh Mela 2019 takes place from January 14 until March 4 in Prayagraj, where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet. Prayagraj city is easily assessable from all major Indian cities by train or aeroplane. kumbh.gov.in
A brew of adventurous activities, live performances and the distinct culture of the Kutch region results in Rann Utsav, an annual fair in an endless salt desert in the far western tip of India. The hosting town of Dhordo embraces partygoers with a contrasting blanket of salty emptiness against the brilliant blue sky.
Tent City, however, is a lush oasis, with stages where local groups play indigenous music and comfortable Swiss cottage tents to spend the night in. Rann Utsav’s importance is for the people of Gujarat and any other visitor to take part in a fusion of holistic joys in life.
An ecstatic ride through the skies with a paramotor guarantees chills and hair-raising views of Tent City and the white wilderness, often illuminated by the full moon and blood-red setting sun. The 2019 edition is planned for November 1, 2019, to February 28, 2020.
Dhordo is 85km or 1 hour 20 mins away from the city of Bhuj by road and Bhuj is serviced by direct flights to Mumbai. Bhuj train station has active connection to other major destinations of India.
The Indian state of Kerala – God’s own country – has its own divine Onam festival to celebrate the harvest. Onam’s most prominent legend tells the story of King Mahabali, who gained incredible power and even defeated gods. Vishnu came to help, tested the devotion of Mahabali, and when the king offered his head, he got banished to the netherworld.
Vishnu admired his devotion though, and therefore Mahabali is allowed to return to Kerala once a year as a reward. Vivid patterns made of flowers, exquisite feasts and active sports like snake boat racing are part of a celebration that lasts ten days. Indians from every layer of society give praise for a prosperous harvest; Christians dine shoulder to shoulder with Hindu’s and brighten their churches with flower mats.
The highlight is Onasadya, a feast composed from 10 to 13 dishes. Onam 2019 will be held from September 1to September 13. Getting to Kerala is easy with 4 international airports (Kannur, Cochin, Calicut & Trivandrum), a slew of train stations and an excellent road network.
Rigid alpine peaks, turquoise lakes, vivid prayer flags and rough valleys characterise the Ladakh region, a historical place where the Tibetan Buddhist culture defines the landscape and traditions for countless centuries. During Hemis, the Ladakhi people celebrate the birthday of Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tantric Buddhism and the Guru who is rightfully called Rinpoche – the Precious Master. Ladakh’s Hemis Monastery, near Leh, is the buzzing nerve centre during two days of festivities.
Expect thundering sounds as the beautifully dressed monks play their music on drums and horns, echoing back from the steep summits to the monastery’s courtyard. Masked dancers called chams enchant the crowd with unparalleled moves. As a spectator, any traveller will admire the awe-inspiring scenes, especially when an enormous painting of Guru Padmasambhava will be revealed to the public.
Hemis festival 2019 will take place on July 11 and 12. The nearest airport to Hemis is the Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport (Leh Airport) which has direct flights to Delhi, Mumbai and a few other cities. The approach to the airport is scenic so do make sure that you have window seats. Internal travel from Leh to Hemis is via private cabs or buses.
Pushkar Camel Fair
A blooming county for trade and worship comes into sight when one approaches Pushkar, an ancient city in Rajasthan’s very heart near Ajmer and at the edge of the Thar desert. Once a year this sandy settlement gets a life of is own during the lively Pushkar Camel Fair. If you would never associate camels with art, then kindly think again.
Nomads from Rajasthan’s extensive desert adorn their animals with handwoven saddles and jewellery, preparing them to be traded. Magic shows, snake charmers, Ferris wheels, and spectacular hot air balloon rides add to the dreamy atmosphere that revolves around this fair.
At the same time, pilgrims from all over the country come together and pray at the hundreds of temples surrounding Lake Pushkar during the overlapping Kartik Purnima festival. Religion and business have never gleamed together so elegantly as in northwest Indian Pushkar.
The dates for the next Pushkar Camel Fair will be November 4 to 11, 2019. Pushkar to Ajmer is a choice between driving or an hour long train. The nearest airports are the Kishangarh domestic airport and Jaipur International Airport.◼
© This article was first published online in Jan 2019 – World Travel Magazine.