Festivals and Fairs

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AMARNATH YATRA, JAMMU & KASHMIR( JULY- AUGUST )

Amarnath cave is a famous pilgrimage spot in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir dedicated to Lord Shiva. The cave rests at a height of 3,888 metres surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

The stalagmite is believed to wax and wane with the lunar cycle

In the Summer, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit the cave and the ice stalagmite that forms inside, which is believed to be a Shiva Lingam, representing the generative power of nature. According to legend, this is the cave where Shiva explained the secret of life and eternity to his divine consort, Parvati.

Getting there: The cave is 141 km (88 miles) from Srinigar.

The nearest airport is Badgam District, while the nearest rail head is Jammu. You can also trek to Amarnath from Pahalgam which takes about 5 days. The shorter northern route is about 16 km, but has a very steep gradient and is quite difficult to climb. It starts from Baltal and passes through Domial, Barari, and Sangam to reach the cave.

Some of the spectacular scenery surrounding the cave

The State Road Transport Corporation and Private Transport Operators provide regular services from Jammu to Pahalgam and Baltal. Also privately hired taxis are available from Jammu.

Facilities : En route to the cave, various non-profit organizations set up food supply and resting tents called pandals which are available for free to the pilgrims. Near the shrine, hundreds of tents which are erected by locals can be hired for a night’s stay.

CHRISTMAS – GOA ( DECEMBER 25 )

The small South Indian state of Goa is an ideal destination for celebrating your Christmas holidays. This is also the perfect time of year to visit for the mild  and pleasant weather. For weeks in advance of the 25th, you will find decorations on every street corner and beaches lit up with colored lights. Candles, carol-singing and Christmas shows all add to the festive atmosphere. People of all faiths in the community come together to celebrate this day. Visit the beautiful and unique churches, built during the time of Portuguese control of the state, or relax on one of Goa’s glorious sandy beaches. It’s easy to spot Santa Claus, the legendary bearded character from the North Pole, who travels the world in his sleigh to bring gifts to children on Christmas Eve. He’s everywhere!

Getting there : There are regular flights to Goa from Mumbai and New Delhi, taking 1 and 3 hours respectively. Train take approx 27 hours from New Delhi and approx 8 hours from Mumbai.

DUSSEHRA – KOTA, JAIPUR, MYSORE ( SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER )

In Northern India, the two best places to witness Dussehra festivities are at Kota and Jaipur, both in Rajasthan. In the South, Dussehra processions are best witnessed in the city of Mysore (Karnataka), where a procession of elaborately decorated elephants passes through the streets starting from Mysore Palace.

The festival of Dusserhra, one of the most important in the Hindu calendar, lasts for ten days, and is celebrated with great fanfare. Its during this time that the classical play of Ramleela (story of the god, Rama) is enacted by professional drama companies all over India, chronicling the story of Lord Rama’s victory over the ten-headed demon king Ravana. As it coincides with harvest time, many people of the Hindu faith observe Dusshera through making food offerings to the gods at home and in temples throughout Nepal and India. Dussehra also symbolizes the victory of Mother Goddess Durga over the demon that takes the shape of a buffalo, Mahishasura.

Large effigies of Ravana, who abducted Rama’s wife, Sita, and was subsequently defeated in battle, are filled with fireworks. They are set alight as the sun goes down to celebrate the conquest of good over evil.

Getting there: Trains from New Delhi to Jaipur take 6 hours. Taxis take 4 hours. Trains to Rishikesh take 9 to 12 hours. Taxi from New Delhi to Rishikesh takes 6 hours.
To Mysore take a 3 hour flight from New Delhi to Bangalore and taxi 180 kms to Mysore.

DIWALI – FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS, NOVEMBER
VARANASI, JAIPUR, AMRITSAR

Amritsar’s Golden Temple lit for Diwali
Generally celebrated on the 20th day after Dussehra festival, Diwali is a widely observed festival in India. Varansi, India’s ‘holy city’ is one of the most inspiring places to celebrate Diwali, with thousands of clay lamps illuminating the ghats along the sacred River Ganges. The ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur is another popular Diwali destination where the markets are filled with lamps crafted from an array of colours and forms. The Golden Temple of Amritsar is draped with strings of lights in Diwali evenings and filled with lamps, creating a magical atmosphere as they reflect in the sacred water.

Varanasi lights up in Diwali
Known as the ‘festival of lights’ Diwali evenings a filled with lit lamps and candles placed in every nook and cranny; homes, rooftops, and even in building sites! The lamps signify the vigil of Lord Rama’s wife, Sita, who placed a lamp in the window awaiting her husband’s return from his 14 year quest. Diwali commemorates the successful return of Lord Rama after conquering the dark powers of Ravana. This festival also signifies welcoming Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) to each household and business. This is a day when everyone, especially in Northern India, is dressed up flamboyantly and celebrates this festival with exchanging sweets and fireworks.

HOLI – FESTIVAL OF COLOURS, FEBRUARY/MARCH
MATHURA/VRINDAVAN–VARANASI/RISHIKESH

The Demon King, Hiranyakashipu, became incensed when his own son, Prahlada, become a devotee of Lord Vishnu. He tried many ways to kill his young son, but they all failed. Finally, he ordered the Prahlada to sit on a pyre in the lap of his sister, Holika, who was immune to the effects of fire. Prahlada did as his father bade him, and prayed to Lord Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as Holika burnt to death, while Prahlada survived unharmed. The salvation of Prahlada and burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi. On this day, effigies of Holika are burnt on bonfires in keeping with the legend. Holi is also Spring Festival and sheaves of green garam and wheat are roasted in the bonfire and eaten.

For a more traditional Holi celebration, visit the temple towns of Mathura or Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh. Mathura is where Lord Krishna was born, and during Holi, his divine love for Radha is celebrated for 16 days. Vrindavan was where Krishna spent his childhood.

Getting there: Mathura and Vrindavan (11 kms from Mathura) are just 4 hours taxi drive from New Delhi and 2-3 hours by train.

Some aspects of Holi are more secular than religious. It’s a time of celebration and wild revelry. People gather on the streets and a riot of color takes over as they throw colored powders called gulal into the air and smear them on each other. Water balloons are thrown at friends and neighbors in the spirit of fun. Sometimes, mud baths are prepared and people are ‘dunked’ into this amidst much laughter and teasing.

Varanasi and Rishikesh in Uttar Pradesh are both excellent places to experience the full power of these celebrations.

Getting there: Regular flights from New Delhi to Varanasi take 1 hour 45 minutes. Trains take 12 or 17 hours. Flights from New Delhi to Rishikesh take under an hour.

CAMEL FESTIVAL, JANUARY
BIKANER, RAJASTAN

The Camel Festival in Bikaner is one of the important in Rajasthan. The festival is a tribute to the camels that are an integral part of desert life. The festival begins at the famous Junagarh Fort with a procession of extravagantly decorated camels. The procession continues to the polo grounds, where all kinds of curious and fascinating events unfold, including camel races, camel milking, fur cutting displays, camel dressage, and competitions for the best breeds. Here you can feast on traditional sweets from age-old recipes made from pure camel milk. A unique culinary experience! There is also the famous Mirchi Bazaar (chilli market), which is the largest in India with displays of colourful dried chillies.

As the evening draws near, thousands of people –locals, tourists, ordinary citizens as well as dignitaries –come together to enjoy the different colours of this unique festival that celebrates the joint efforts of man and his companion creatures in the desert.

Getting there: From New Delhi by taxi it takes 6.5 hours. Train from New Delhi takes 8 to 10 hours. Coaches also available, taking 9 to 10 hours.

Luxury tents available in all Rajastan locations for that authentic cultural experience!

NAGAUR CATTLE FAIR, JANUARY/FEBRUARY
RAJASTAN

Nagaur is 138 kms north-east of Jodhpur in Rajastan, situated midway between Jodphur and Bikaner. The town organizes one of the largest cattle fair of India held once in a year between January and February. During this time, the town comes alive with as people arrive in huge numbers to take part in cattle trading and enjoy the festivities. The livestock traded is not limited to cows, but includes camels, goats and sheep. The animals and kitted out in beautiful attire by their owners.

The Nagaur Fair continues for eight days, and includes all kinds of events such as bullfights, cockfights, and horse races. Musicians and dancers perform traditional Rajastani songs. In the market stalls are all kinds of fascinating local handicrafts, including jewelry and leather and iron accessories.

Getting there: From New Delhi you can take an overnight train or bus (12 hours) or flight (1.5 hours) to Jodhpur, and then take a 3 hour taxi ride to Nagaur.

PUSHKAR FAIR, OCTOBER/NOVEMBER
RAJASTAN

Ladies in Pushkar competing in tug-o-war
One of the most popular and colorful fairs of the Thar desert is the Pushkar Fair. The holy city of Pushkar is located in the western part of Rajasthan, near Ajmer. An important place of pilgrimage, Pushkar is the site of the only temple in India dedicated to Brahma. This small town attracts thousands of tourists every year who come to visit its unique temples and sacred lake.

The Pushkar Fair begins on Kartik Shukla Ekadashi & goes on for five days till Kartik Purnima, coinciding with the bright half of the moon during the autumn months of October-November. This lively fair attracts tourists from all over the world. Tug of war and body tattooing are among some of the unique sights for the intrepid visitor. Or enjoy browsing the market stalls and the intricate handiwork of local folk crafts. Livestock of all kinds are bought and sold, paraded and raced, and musicians perform, creating a profusion of color and sound in the desert sand. Together with the contagious enthusiasm of the local people, the Pushkar Fair is an uplifting experience for all.

Getting there: Trains and coaches are available from New Delhi to Ajmer and take anywhere from 6.5 to 9 hours. At Ajmer you can take a 20 minute taxi ride to Pushkar. Taxis from Delhi to Pushkar take 7 to 8 hours.