The locals come out in throngs and crowd around terraces. Whizzing kites and their colorful tails from all around the world fly high up in the air! Children and adults alike are in stiff competition to see who outlasts them all! With a dip and a tug, one kite catches another in its death grip… Snap. If you see a kite fall don’t forget to yell, “Kai Poche!”
When UNESCO brands a cultural tradition as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”, it usually makes you stop and look; the Baul will captivate you with their stirring renditions. The group brings meaning to secularism in a surprising combination of Vaishnava Hindus and Sufi Muslims singing compositions by Rabrindranath Tagore! This celebration of love through tunes that transcend religion, ring clear through the air in earthy tones – they’ll leave you stunned at the images they conjure up.
When you think ‘monk’, do you picture an unruffled individual whose sole aim is to contemplate the intricacies of the Universe? The lamas at Hemis conform to this ideal in principle, but every year on the day of Guru Rimpoche’s birthday, the mystical masks are taken out of storage, dusted off and adorned in a spellbinding spectacle of colours, larger than life puppets and an age-old story of good triumphing over evil.
The Change of Guard at Rashtrapati Bhavan takes place every Saturday in a great show of military tradition. The President’s Guard also joins in the regimen albeit on horseback. The powerful 30-minute performance of man and horse in regalia, set to the music of a military brass band will transport you to a time of Kings and Queens.
Royalty with all its perks has unique mannerisms that sets it apart from the everyday. The age of the Nawabs might be over on the streets of Lucknow, but they still live on behind closed doors. The innate etiquette, the art of speech and a cultured approach to life are very much the treasured inheritance of the few remaining families. High tea with a Nawab to learn their customs is as close as you will get to the forgotten traditions of eras past.
Powders in every hue imaginable adorn passers-by as the fun filled festival of Holi begins at Barsana. Unlike other celebrations of the same, this is a tribute to an episode from Lord Krishna’s childhood where he not only smeared colour on everyone’s face but was chased after by the gopis (cowherd-women) with sticks in hand! Seems like a scary prospect, doesn’t it? Trust us, it’s all on the up and up.
Shah Jahan’s love for Mumtaz is a timeless tale of epic proportions (as big as the Taj Mahal itself!). At Kalakriti, a cultural academy, the largest marble replica of the monument presents the backdrop for an engrossing play about the royal lovers. We’re sure you’ll feel that little pang of jealousy knowing that a love so deep could even exist, but also wonder at the fact that just 22 artisans put together the entire structure!
The oldest city in India, which looks twice as old in the words of Mark Twain, is in a constant state of prayer and exultation of good winning over evil. But on the full moon day that follows Diwali (or Deepavali) the celebrations are kicked up a notch. You will see every step in every Ghat adorned with earthen lamps, welcoming the Gods coming to take a dip in the Ganges. It is almost a sort of runway for the mythical, if you will!
On a normal day, you may find it hard to digest the sight of men in barely-there underwear rolling around in the sand, but at the Akharas in Varanasi this daily ritual is carried out with a dispassionate precision which will leave you spellbound. The rigorous training and strict regimen the wrestlers follow is reason enough for their popular wins, but more importantly, offer more than just a photo opp in return.
Exquisite sculptures and elaborate carvings adorning the famed Khajuraho Temples are brought to life in the flick of a wrist or tap of a foot. The annual Khajuraho Dance Festival invites veterans and esoteric performers from around the world, infusing vigour into the usually peaceful, nearby village. Through classical dance forms, the artists sweep you up in a whirlwind of emotions.
The eyes are a window to the soul. At Nrityagram, dancers seem to emote from every pore of their being. The fierce Gods and cunning demons come to life in each performance staged. Perfectionists at the core, they welcome you to the fray, inviting you to experience their interpretative narrations of mythos with their trademark gestures and facial expressions.
Out of the bosom of the Himalayan range, the practice of yoga was born. Today, the who’s who of the yoga world from all across the globe participate in the Annual International Yoga Festival set in the rolling mountains. Here you’ll find the line between the mystic and the spiritual blurred. Through countless forms of yoga, transcend the worldly at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram.
The Sunburn Festival is a loud, eclectic place to exhaust yourself. Feel the bass boosted, electronic music flow through the cables under your feet. Rhythmic sounds in sync with your heartbeat, open air dance floors and a raging stream of glow sticks invade. The stalls selling snacks, rock climbing walls and a fashion show at Butter all gear up to diversify your rave experience at Vagator Beach.
The days of cannibalism in the far corners of Nagaland may be a thing of the past. But feathered headdresses and quilted skirts are not. Every year at Kohima, 16 indigenous tribes gather to participate in a showcase of their grand traditions, making it the perfect place for you to catch a glimpse of the state in its essence. You can also dig into the deliciousness that comes in tow at the many stalls around the fair grounds.
Much like the hipster culture in the valleys of California, the Indie Music scene is nurtured in Ziro Valley. Through four days of tantalizing music from around the world and savoury delicacies from the region, patrons will get a good look at the evolving music scene of India. Go with open ears and an open heart, the valley is filled with like-minded souls who are just seeking a good time.
The sweet fragrance of hundreds of species of flowers envelope you in a hard-to-shake-off scent. While horticulturalists are raring to visit one of the most sought after Flower Festivals in the world, if you’re a regular Joe-nature lover, you can still gain insight on the many ways to foster the flowers right in your backyard. But if not for anything else, you shouldn’t miss this simply for the colours.
The cultural explosion on the river island of Majuli is unbelievable. Across the many monasteries set up in the 15th century, art forms of the dancing monks, mask making and pottery making have strived with substantial Hindu and Buddhist influences giving rise to a blend of hues and forms that are singularly marvellous. If the mask making takes your fancy, you need only ask and the monks would be pleased to share their craft with you.
In a ten-day explosion of prayer and festival, you can trace the deep culture that has persisted through Kolkata’s turbulent past. In vivid depictions made of clay and stone, you can see the Goddess Durga defeating evil. Over the ten days, you will visit ground zero for the idols, hop across the hundreds of pandals, partake in community pujas and even zone out for a couple days while discovering the rich textile heritage lurking in the outskirts.
Built out of stone to house the only wooden Hindu idols in India, the Jagannath temple in Puri is a magnificent structure. The temple also holds the mantle of ‘Biggest Hotel in the World’ for feeding thousands daily, and the food is quite good we hear. But pilgrims don’t just come here for the food. Every year, in July millions gather to witness the largest chariot festival in India, and to be in the middle of it is an intriguing experience to say the least!
In celebrating the various cultures of India, you can never miss the sweet gestures of the traditional dance of a state so saturated in the arts. A typical performance of Odissi, Kathak and Bharathanatyam in the foreground, coupled with a gallery of temple sculptures, sand art exhibitions and crafts fairs in the background will give you the experience of a lifetime.
Mysore’s Dussera Parade is akin to Carnavale, just shy of the sensual samba dancers. From the majestic elephant that leads at the fore to the daredevils of the Indian Army who display their prowess on rustic Royal Enfields, from the role playing paraders to the flame throwers marching in sync, the festivities will enthral! Grab your front row seats to the only parade of its kind in India!
Rhythmic chants and jingling anklets serve up a picture of divinity, a feature that has been around for almost a century. From mid-December to mid-January, the auditoriums in Chennai are packed with patrons eagerly awaiting their favourite renditions of Classical Music and intense performances by renowned Classical Dancers. The mysticism of it all is invigorating to say the least, and if you close yourself off to the fringe senses, you’ll be transported to a completely different realm.
The Sun, the Cow and the Farmer are a celebrated trifecta in this agrarian economy. Every year in January, the line between villagers and urban populace is blurred as everyone comes out in festival regalia to pay their respects in traditional fashion. The high point of the celebration is signified by an overflowing pot of milk, which just happens to be your cue to join in and yell “Pongal O’ Pongal!”.
We each march to our own drummer, and we’re proud of it. But what about the brave few who march to the piper? In theatrical display, men in uniform on either side of the Wagah border stomp and chant national slogans to see who will outdo the other. The Indian and Pakistani flags are lowered for the day and a grand gesture is made of closing the Wagah border gates. With front row seats to the celebration, there’s not much you will miss.
Curved blades meet polished shields with clangs that echo through the air. Oiled, muscular men prance around each other in a well-choreographed dance that tests the resilience and agility of its participants. On the other side of campus, flame throwers ascribe shapes to stories in the dark of the night. These spell binding rituals and more, will initiate you into the ancient form of martial arts, healing and meditation that bloomed in these parts.
The blood-pumping, oar-thumping excitement mounts as boats approach the finish line. In signature snake boats that add a splash of colour to the surrounding green canvas, over a hundred oarsmen stroke rigorously in perfect unison – winning is their honour to uphold. With front row seats to this ornate spectacle, you’ll soon find yourself rooting for your favourite carrier!
Broadway shows with their tap dancing and umbrella tossing, could probably take a note or two from the swaying gait of the gentle giants and the nimble toss of umbrellas taller than the creatures by the men atop! Traditional drummers lead the fore setting the soul alive with their fearless rhythms and enchanting choreography, in one of the longest celebrations in India. Keep your eyes peeled for the next Pooram parade!
While the noobs walk a cobbled path to the static fishing nets by town, you can embark on a clandestine boat ride to a nearby village where the ways of the Chinese Fisherman thrive. Quick to keep their secret, the villagers rarely if ever divulge the name, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to watch in silence. The lungi clad fishermen will gladly pose for a picture or two as you watch in awe the efficiency with which the makeshift morning market operates.
Crushed tomatoes, carrots and blended beets all neatly laid out on a counter…no it’s not a culinary escapade. In typical fashion, Kathakali dancers suit up for their performance, a unique characterization of dance forms across India with only male participants. The iconic green faces, loud headdresses and large skirts are complementary to the expressive eyes and quaint movements that lead you into a world of demon kings and young boys.
You can experience fine spicy cuisine, colourful, folksy weddings and traditional gatherings of local clansmen in Chettinad – the organic collective of villages in Karaikudi. Just don’t miss a stop at a local home. The iconic Chettinad homes with their large inner courtyards are everything! We also highly recommend stopping at the markets and picking up an antique or two at good bargains.