Tag Archives: Indian Festivals

Indian Festivals – Travelling during Diwali, Holi and Co.
Indian Festivals – Travelling during Diwali, Holi and Co.

One universal truth about India is that festivals are probably the best firsthand look at its culture. Most have colorful stories and rituals attached to them and the people really know how to have a good time. Let’s just take you through a few of the most famous ones so that you can plan your India travel around a festival in India.

DIWALI – Festival of Lights

It brings in the Hindu New Year – the day Ram, the hero in the ‘Ramayan’ returned home after defeating Ravan, a ten headed demon who abducted his wife. They call it the festival of lights and it’s easily the most celebrated in India with lamps, lanterns, firecrackers and the Diwali Pooja (prayer ceremony).

When is Diwali celebrated?

The dates of the festival depend on the moon calendar and fall usually between mid-October and mid-November. The festival lasts five days and begins with preparations, shopping and decorations and end with family gatherings. On the third day is New Year’s Eve or the actual Day of Diwali. In 2017 Diwali will be on 19th of October, on 2018 on the 7th of November and on 2019 on 27th of October.

To find out what else to look forward to around this time of the year check out our blog articles on weather in October and November.

Where is the best place to enjoy Diwali?

Diwali is mostly celebrated amongst family and relatives, similar to our Christmas celebrations. However, it is still a fantastic time to visit all over India as houses are being decorated in lively colors and bright lights and on Diwali itself the fireworks are fun to watch.

Celebrations are a little bit more extensive in North India. In Varanasi they conduct huge Diwali aartis (religious ceremonies) with elaborate lamps and chants at the Ghats. Rajasthan is a great place to visit as it has many homestays where guests can participate in the family’s festivities. As a metropolis Delhi and Mumbai offer large celebrations all over the cities but due to the firecrackers the noise and air pollution are a real nuisance.

If you’re travelling to India during the Diwali season, make sure you book well in advance – train tickets, hotel bookings, guides, everything becomes harder to get and/or more expensive at this time.

Holi – Festival of Colors

This vibrant festival celebrates the bounty of spring and is called the “Festival of Colors”. People bathe each other in dry and wet colors, have rain dances, drink bhang (drink with cannabis paste) and thandai (drink with milk and many spices).

When is Holi celebrated?

It’s usually the day after the full moon in March (day before in some eastern parts). On the night of the full moon people burn a Holi pyre on which the mythical demon Holika is placed to symbolize the destruction of evil. On the next day people start the color party early in the day and rest on the afternoon. In 2018 Holi will be held on 2nd of March, in 2019 on 21st March and in 2020 on 10th of March.

Where is the best place to enjoy Holi?

Holi is almost entirely celebrated in North India. Some places in the south also have religious ceremonies on the same day but those would only happen at a small scale at certain temples. Often resorts and hotels in Goa offer commercial Holi Parties

North India offers unique Holi experiences in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh (Barsana, Mathura, Vrindavan), Shantiniketan (Kolkata), other parts of West Bengal as well as Delhi and Mumbai amongst the metros. Almost every household and especially young people in North India celebrate Holi by going outside on the streets and playing with dry colors and water.

We are not happy about saying this but it is not always entirely save for women and girls to play on the streets, especially in busy places like Vrindavan, Varanasi or Pushkar. Clothes are completely drenched, everyone is a little high and amongst the crowd young boys feel very brave and sometimes decide to leave any moral standards at home. It is your choice but we recommend girls to rather stay and play at small guesthouses and homestays, amongst other travelers and local families than huge crowds of local boys and men. Another thing to be careful about is checking if the colors you’re using are organic and not toxic which could cause rashes and other issues. All in all, the trick to enjoying this one is to stay safe but go into it with no inhibitions.

Onam in Kerala – Harvest Festival in Kerala

This is South India’s harvest festival with flower decorations on floors outside all houses. They’re meant to welcome the mythical King Mahabali’. People shop and prepare feasts. There’s a lot of singing, dancing and games but the highlight are the snake boat races. You absolutely must catch one of these.

When is Onam celebrated?

Onam starts in the first month of Malayalam Calendar and last 13 days. In 2017 the first day will be on 25th August, in 2018 on 15th of August and in 2019 on 1st of September. Day 10 is the most celebrated day.

Where is the best place to enjoy Onam?

Celebrated in Malyalam speaking parts of South India, Onam is really big in Kerala. Especially Thrissur’s festivities with its Puli Kali (tiger play) festival on the last day of Onam, are fun to attend. If you’re travelling to Kerala during Onam make sure you make bookings much in advance before ticket prices sky rocket and the best accommodations gets occupied.

Check out these route for these four travel routes for Kerala.

Ganesh Chaturthi – Birthday of the elephant-headed god Ganesha

Eleven days of festivities and colorful processions carrying Lord Ganesha idols characterize Ganesh Chaturthi. It is a celebration of the birthday of the Hindu god with an elephant head. Ganesha statues are brought home and placed in public stalls, worshipped for a few days and then submerged (Visarjan) in style.

When is Ganesh Chaturthi celebrated?

The popular festival falls on the 4th day of the new moon in August or September and lasts 10 days. In 2017 that will be the 25th of August, in 2018 the 13th of September and in 2019 the 2nd of September.

Families can choose how many days they want to celebrate it with poojas (praying ceremonies) happening at home every day. Most families celebrate it in a small scale at home for 1.5 to 3 days. However, many families, companies, housing societies, religious organizations etc. with bigger statues (=more wealth) celebrate it for 10 days at home or the public stages. On the 11th day the icons, sometimes up to 70 feet tall, get paraded to the sea and submerged in the water.

Where is the best place to enjoy Ganesh Chaturthi?

Mostly celebrated in the state of Maharashtra and by Maharashtrians elsewhere in India, you can find the biggest public Ganesha displays and processions in Mumbai. The festivities go hand in hand with heavy traffic, blocked routes and a lot of noise on the streets, especially in Mumbai and Pune. The crowds at the beaches of Mumbai, especially at Chowpatty in the South, are extremely large. However, due to its quirky character and intenseness it would be a great experience.

If you want to travel south from Mumbai after Ganesh Chaturthi check out this route suggestion.

Pushkar Camel Fair – A quirky and impressively big livestock fair in Rajasthan

This 15-day-long camel trading fair is held in Pushkar, near Ajmer in Rajasthan. It is actually less of a festival and more of an interesting get-together of camel owners and cattle merchants, a sight which is fun to observe for strangers. People come here in huge throngs to see the biggest amount of camels at one spot.

When and how is Pushkar Camel Fair celebrated?

The dates of the fair are linked to the Hindu Lunar calendar and lasts 12 days. In 2017, the official Pushkar Fair dates are 28th of October to 4th of November, in 2018 from 15th to 23rd of November and in 2019 from 4th to 12th of November. The first five days are for camel trading and fair activities at the outskirts of the city. Camels are all decked up and shaved. There are camel beauty pageants, dancing contests, races and whatnot. Musicians, acrobats, dancers, magicians, carousel rides, snake charmers; this fair has everything you’ve associated with India before coming.

The last days are used for pilgrimage activities as Hindus flood to the city to take dips and conduct rituals in the holy lake. On the last night the lake lights up with oil lamps and fireworks while thousands of people participate in the celebrations.

If you’re planning on visiting Rajasthan during the fare, book well in advance and be prepared to pay 10 times as much as you would usually in Pushkar around the year. And be careful of god men and other freeloaders trying to fleece you. Find out here what other places you can visit in Rajasthan here.

Do you want to experience any of the Indian festivals while visiting? Or do you want to find our what other festivals might happen during your travel dates? Plan your trip with us now and we make sure you can experience the whole cultural richness of India and its exotic festivals. 


Weather in India in September
Weather in India in September

An overview of September Weather in India 

Most travelers don’t know it, but September is a great month to visit India. It marks the last month of the monsoon which started in June. It usually means lighter rains or heavy rains but only in short spurts. Overall India in September is drier and sunnier than the months of July and August and not quite as hot yet as in October as it is often cloudy. North India is drier than South India. Kerala can still receive persistent showers during the month of September.

It is also the last ‘off-season month’ for hotels in India. Hotels in India offer fabulous discounts during off-season. So you can stay at fantastic heritage hotels and resorts without breaking the bank. In the same time, you won’t need to share the sights, monuments and museums with huge tourist crowds as the season hasn’t started yet.

Before we go into detail about the climate conditions in the main tourist destinations of north and south India, there is one more benefit to travelling in September to India that demands attention: the beginning of the festival season. The whole months there are many celebrations happening all over India:

  • Ganesh Chaturthi. This 11 day long festival for the Hindu elephant-headed god Ganesha or Ganpati is celebrated especially largely in Mumbai. Massive elaborately crafted statues of Ganesha are kept home and prayed to for 11 days before they are paraded through the streets with singing and dancing on the last day of the festival (05/09/2017, 24/09/2018). Then eventually they are submerged into the sea – a fascinating sight at the crowded beaches of the maximum city.
Massive decorated Ganeshas are brought to the sea to be submerged in the water. Massive decorated Ganeshas are brought to the sea to be submerged in the water.

  • Onam. Onam is a 10 days festival celebrated in Kerala. Houses are colourfully decorated, feats are served and games are being played. The biggest events happen in Trivandrum, Thrissur, and Kottayam. (25/08 – 06/09/2017, 15/08-27/08/2018)
  • Onam Pulikkali Tiger Play. One of the most bizzare festivals in India includes 100 of men dressing up as tigers and dancing through the streets of Thrissur. (08/09/2017, 29/09/2018)
  • Navaratri & Dusshera. A nine day long festival celebrating all forms of the mother goddess. People fast in the day and dance and fest at night. On the 10th day Dussehra, the victory of good over evil, is celebrated. The biggest celebration happens in Kolkata (Durga Puja), but you can also observe the ceremonies all over Gujarat, Rajasthan,  in Delhi, Varanasi, Mumbai, Mysore and in the small town of Kullu in Himachal Pradesh. 
Dussehra India Fire offerings to the mother goddess. Photo by Abhishek Shirali @ Flickr

North India in September

North India is a great region to visit in the month of September. The rains are usually light and in short spells. The days are sunny and the temperature can vary from being pleasantly warm to hot. Never too cold, even at night. Since it has been raining since June the nature is still colored in lush green, the farmers are still busy working in the fields and the lakes, rivers and waterfalls are still teeming with water.

Rajasthan_Monsoon Udaipur is surrounded by hills which change colour from dry brown to lush green in the monsoon. Photo from Flickr, Evonne

Off-season rates, low number of tourists and sunny days make Rajasthan a great region to tour in September. It is less rainy than in July and August and less hot than in October so it is actually a fantastic time to visit. Overall, the rains are hardly an obstacle in Rajasthan anyways and more so in the month of September.

However, a lot of the touristy activities would not have kicked off yet. For instance, in Jaisalmer you may not be able to do an overnight camel safari as it is still off-season. All National parks in India only open towards the start or the middle of October.

Check out Henning’s two week trip in Rajasthan with homestays or Chiara’s Flashpacking Trip in Rajasthan. More route suggestions here.

MOUNTAINS IN THE NORTH

September is considered to be the post-monsoon month for the Himalayas, especially in the foot hills around Rishikesh, Shimla, Dharamsala or other hill stations. While the main monsoon months of June, July and August bring dangers like landslides, cloud bursts, flooding and storms, September means clear weather with no or less chances of rain and temperatures that are pleasant without being too cold. Visibility in the Himlayas of the distant peaks is best during the post monsoon months. (i.e. September onwards). September is a great time to relax at a Himalyan hill station or set out on treks.

Ladakh_landscape Ladakh’s weather is dry during the summer months but it can start to snow and get cold in September. Photo from Flickr, Irumge

Ladakh’s main tourist season lasts from June until early September but sometimes it starts to snow and get very cold at the end of August already. This is hard to predict and can change from year to year. You can surely fly to Leh and enjoy the views from the small town and some places close by but you might not be able to travel over the passes from Manali to Leh and to the beautiful Pangong Tso or Nubra Valley.

In the North East the rain season get also weaker and the weather clearer with shorter and weaker rainfalls. Due to the weak infrastructure and road conditions though the region requires some time to prepare for the main season so it would be more ideal to visit in October of November.

If the mountains are calling you check out our tour ideas for the Himalayas here.

South India in September

Depending on which part of South India you are touring you will encounter either little or a lot of rain. Kerala is usually still very wet during the month of September. Very pretty as it is very green, but heavy rains are common. But if one enjoys the tropical climate and trekking during in lower temperatures without the strong sun shining this is the perfect month. National parks like Periyar and Eravikulam remain open in the south.

Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are usually dry during the month of September. The days are sunny and hot. The main monsoon in Tamil Nadu starts in November. It is a great time to visit Hampi, the popular backpacking destination in the center of Karnataka. This place can get very hot and dry in the rest of the year so if you want to experience a green and cool Hampi come in September. You can travel then to Mysore and Wayanad and eventually to Kerala, see here.

Hampi is surrounded with lush green rice fields in the monsoon. Photo Hampi is surrounded with lush green rice fields in the monsoon. Photo from Flickr, Manoj Vasanth

September is still a very quiet month in Goa. It can be wet, but showers are not as heavy. You can get a week of little or no rain and very sunny days at the end of the month. However, the waters are still rough during the month of September. South Goa is still very dead as the season mostly starts in October and November. North Goa would slowly be kicking into action with shacks, restaurants and activities opening up. But don’t forget that Goa also has a great country side with rain forests and impressive waterfalls. It’s worth a visit on the way from Mumbai to Hampi, see here.

In a nutshell: With off-season rates and a lower number of tourists, September is a great month to tour India. Rajasthan and the Himalayas would be the best regions to travel through. However, a South India tour of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka is perfectly possible. Kerala’s and Goa’s beaches should be avoided but the countryside and hill stations are worth visiting.

If you’re planning to travel to India in September plan your trip with us now and we create the best trip  considering the weather and other conditions. We make sure you will have a great time!


Indian Festivals of 2016
Indian Festivals of 2016

 

India’s bright and loud and wild and passionate, making it a master in the art of revelry. Did you think wild parties were all about tequila shots and glo-sticks? Try some bhaang and pichkaris or an all night dandiya session. Yes, these words may feel strange in your mouth right now but we’ll probably have you singing ganpati bappa in the streets before you’re done. Here’s the low-down on 2016’s veritable riot of Indian festivals, religious and otherwise. Structure a trip around your favourite choice for a madly immersive journey to the heart of the Indian community.

Makar Sankranti (January 15th 2016)

For a country that’s careening into a future of BPOs and IT professionals, we fall back on our agricultural roots hard when it comes to harvest festivals. Celebrated in widely differing ways across the states, the heart of the season is born of plain and simple gratitude for a bountiful crop, and a welcome break after months of debilitating labour.

The Gujarati arm of this fiesta, celebrated most passionately in the state capital of Ahmedabad, is Makar Sankranti. The name refers to a specific movement of the sun on the equinox, heralding the arrival of longer and warmer days. Whole families take to their rooftops to let loose clouds of brightly coloured paper kites held taut by strings laced with crushed glass and other abrasives. Why so violent? The aim of the game isn’t just to brighten up the sky, with careful calculation and remarkable skill the kite flyers loop their own kites around those of their opponents (or annoying neighbours) and swiftly cut them down to be claimed as booty. Get ready for age-old rivalries and edge-of-your seat level excitement.

Holi (March 23rd 2016)

Possibly the most famous of Indian festivals, Holi’s all about having fun. We’d recommend finding a nice family-run homestay to celebrate with, as the crowd on the streets can get a bit rowdy. Fuelled by the heady bhaang, a local concoction of milk and marijuana, people drop their responsibilities for a day to bring a little colour into their lives, either by chasing each other around smearing powder on their faces or flat out dunking each other in buckets of coloured water. Water guns or pichkaris  aound, be prepared to have water balloons dropped on you by strangers as you pass inoccently under their balconies. Any attempt at reproach will only earn you a shout of ‘bura na mano, holi hain’, that is, don’t get upset, it’s holi!

While the festivities often take a dark turn with several cases of molestation and driving under the influence filed each year, it’s important to also know the reasoning and religious significance behind it. The revelry is the second of a two-day celebration of the triumph of good over evil. According to Hindu legend, a young boy is saved by Lord Vishnu from his evil aunt’s murderous intent, an incident celebrated by lighting bonfires, her weapon of choice, and dancing around them.

A great place to catch the action is Pushkar in Rajasthan.

Diwali (October 30th)

The most elegantly beautiful of them all, the festival of lights. Clay lamps, diyas, are set in doorways to welcome the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi. Patterns of coloured powder and flower petals form rangolis on every doorstep.  Of course, with indrustrialisation there’s also been a huge influx of fiecrackers and curtains of fairy lights hanging down the sides of buildings, but the more the prettier, right? Since it’s also the start of the Hindu New Year, it’s an excuse to buy new clothes, gorge yourself on sweets and meet long-lost aunts and cousins at the annual family bash. If you don’t have a party to go to, the streets will serve just as well for you to listen to the lilting strains of bhajans (devotional songs) drifting out of windows on the gorgeously lit-up street. Remember that Diwali isn’t a festival that involves intoxication and be respectful of its. If you can find a family to adopt you for the week you get to dress to the nines and run around with sparklers for the night.

Varanasi is a beautiful place to understand the religious side of things. Set a diya afloat on the river as devotees take a dip on this auspicious night. Hymns and chanting fill the air as the entire river lights up in a sea of flickering flames drifting gently along its surface, a picture that will move you regardless of your religious leanings or lack thereof.

 Janmashtami (25th August 2016)

Yet another Hindu festival, this one’s a feat of athletic prowess celebrating the birth of the cheekiest of gods, Lords Krishna. As a child, he was said to have let nothing stop him in his eternal quest to steal and devour freshly churned butter. Local housewives took to hanging their pots of butter from the ceiling, out of the way of the toddler’s greedy hands, but he quickly got a few friends to form human pyramid under him and nicked the lot anyhow. Thus began the tradition of ‘Dahi Handi’, stinging up earthen pots of buttermilk to be brought down by teams of devotees forming pyramids often over six stories high to break the pot and win cash prizes offered by local leaders.

The most thrilling of these scenes is to be witnessed in Mumbai, where local governing bodies have been forced to put a cap on the height of these pyramids for fear of their safety. ANother great option is Udaipur, tried and tested by one of our travellers.

Onam (13th September 2016)

The staple representative of South India in these lists, Onam is also a harvest festival, namely the harvest of rice. It also celebrates the annual return of the demon King Mahabali to his beloved land of Kerala. Legend tells that the king was so fair and just that the people lived in a golden age under his reign, prompting the jealous gods to trick him into the underworld and away from his people. His return is celebrated with great pomp and splendor, notably the Aranmula boat festival that sees vast crews race Snake Boats down the Pampa river to the sound of traditional songs. The thrill of the race is heightened by the coloured flags and umbrellas on the shore

The most exciting aspect of Onam is the fact that the oldest river boat fiesta in Kerala takes place during this festival. The Aranmula boat festival also involves Snake Boats, which are occupied by a group of people, each racing against other while some oarsmen indulge in singing traditional boat songs. Contact us to help you get there!

 


Kite Flying Festival In India
Kite Flying Festival In India

KITE FLYING FESTIVAL

 

India is a country, where celebration of most festivals can seem like an environment that’s created in an underground rock concert. Makar Sankranti, (Kite Flying Festival) on the other hand, is like a soothing and chilled out concert for hippies. It is a festival that falls on the same day every year and marks the transition of Sun into the Makara rashi (which is the zodiac sign of Capricon). It is one of the few festivals that fall on the same date as the Gregorian calendar. Makar Sankranti is considered as a major harvest festival in quite a few states and marks the arrival of Spring in India.

The Significance of Makar Sankranti is that it serves as a commemoration to Goddess Sankranti’s triumph over the evil and brutal Rakshasa (Demon)Sankarasur, who used to torture and kill humans. Makar Sankranti is also a festival of bonding, where people bury their hatchets and offer each other sweets in an attempt to spread joy all around.

How is the KITE FLYING festival celebrated in India?

Makar Sankranti is an absolutely fun and delightful occasion and is also referred to as the KITE FLYING festival. Like many other Indian festivals, the KITE FLYING festival also has history and cultural significance attached to it. But there are two main reasons why this festival is considered as cool as it is.

Flying vibrant and colourful Kites with your family or buddies under the morning sun, while you simply chill out on a rooftop being one of them. There in a kind of euphoric sense in the air during this occasion and the joy of Flying Kites and cutting the strings of other Kites is unmatched. Add to it, some delightful sweets made of sesame seeds and jaggery (Til-Gul Laddoo). It is a tradition during this festival, to offer a Til-Gul Laddoo to your close ones. A common saying in the Marathi language is what follows, “Til-Gul ghya aani goad bol bola”. It means, ‘Have these til-gul sweet and speak sweet words’.

The Kite Flying tradition is so famous that people also organize recreational competitions during this festival. How cool would it be, to be the last one standing? Or rather, to be the owner of the last Kite Flying!

4286625335_c925570c23_o Photo Credits – Nevil Zaveri (Flickr)

When and which parts of India celebrate the KITE FLYING FESTIVAL?

The Kite Flying festival is massive in most of North India and in the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Mumbai is yet another city where you can witness the spirit of the Kite Flying festival.

Jodhpur is a magnificent city on its own and a beautiful place to travel. But it is all the more amazing during the Kite Flying festival. The sight of the city during this occasion will leave you awe-struck. Sure, everyone loves the sight of a thousand stars in a clear night sky. But to witness a thousand colourful kites taking over the morning skies, with every terrace in every building raided by highly enthusiastic kids and elders alike; is an experience that nature can’t provide.

Just like Jodhpur, Udaipur is a city where the spirit of the Kite Flying festival is as high as it gets. A city where more buildings than few; are built side by side, as if it were meant to bridge the distance during occasions like these. Kites of every shape can be seen flying while people flying them from their building terraces make no attempt in hiding their innocent smiles.

Ahmedabad, Jaisalmer and Mumbai are two other cities where Kite Flying festival is a prominent occasion.

4278649280_bb605faf2b_o Photo Credits – Nevil Zaveri (Flickr)

Precautions to take while celebrating KITE FLYING Festival

Nobody likes a good moment to turn sour because of any accidental mishap. No, there is no reason for you to be alarmed. All you have to be is aware. The strings (manja) used to fly the Kites are made abrasives which can cause accidental cuts if you run through it at some speed. So make sure you avoid getting in any such situations. Also, there are always people flying Kites in the streets and there are always moments where the wind won’t feel gracious enough to let the string stay high up in the sky. So be aware of your surroundings to ensure you don’t trip over or run through any of the strings that might come your way.

All in all, the celebration for the Kite Flying festival (Makar Sankranti) in India is very prominent and creates an environment across the country which brings out the child in everyone. So what are your plans for the festival?