Where to Go in February: The Best India Holidays to Take This Month

Nilgiri getaways, snowy road trips and dance festivals. | By NGT Staff  
Turtle Velas
Female olive ridley turtles return to the same beach where they were born to lay eggs—often swimming hundreds of kilometres to get there. Photo: Dinodia Photo Library

Watch Baby Olive Ridley Turtles Run to the Sea, Maharashtra

Every year, between February and March, the coastal hamlet of Velas in Maharashtra welcomes dozens of baby olive ridley turtles into the world. It’s one of the few places in the country where these gentle creatures come to nest, and watching the hatchlings make their way to the ocean is an unforgettable experience. Stay in a village homestay in Velas, and tuck into simple yet filling Konkani meals of fish curry, rice, and home-grown vegetables. More here.

When: Until April 2017

Plantation Stays in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu

Nilgiris

Take a road trip through the Nilgiris for views of neatly manicured tea gardens and hills swathed in mist. Photo: iStock.com/naufalmq

The lush Nilgiri hills, especially around Ooty and Kotagiri, are ideal for a family getaway. Go boating in the lake, have lazy afternoon picnics, and soak in mountain views on long drives along its winding roads. More active travellers might spend the day hiking along easy trails, like the one to the Doddabetta Peak—the second-highest point in the Nilgiris. Despite the height (8,652 ft), it’s a placid 9-km walk, flanked by ferns and eucalyptus trees, to the telescope and snack food joints at the top. Check into an English cottage or cosy treehouse retreat for plantation views and pots of English tea. Nearby Kotagiri has plenty of panoramic vistas as well. More here.

When: Until March 2017

Grand Oak Manor, Binsar, Uttarakhand

tree of life, grand oak manor

Never mind the snowfall. Take a brisk, guided hike through the surrounding Binsar Sanctuary to learn more about Kumaon. Photo courtesy Tree of Life Grand Oak Manor

Winter is still going strong in parts of north India, and the Grand Oak Manor in Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary is a dreamy place to catch a snowfall. Curl up by one of the manor’s windows with a book, blanket, and views of Himalayan peaks bathed in golden light. At mealtimes, tuck into peach preserve made in Almora, and fragrant Kumaoni cuisine flavoured with Himalayan spices. More here.

When: Until March 2017

The World Sacred Spirit Festival, Rajasthan

Photo: David Horsman/World Sacred Spirit Festival/Facebook

The riveting performers at the World Sacred Spirit Festival will ward off the coldest winter chills. Photo: David Horsman/World Sacred Spirit Festival/Facebook

The World Sacred Spirit Festival is a treat for lovers of heritage and world music. The week-long festival takes place over two forts in Rajasthan—in Nagaur and Jodhpur—from Mon February 13 to Sun February 19, 2017.  Catch classical Indian music concerts at dawn, afternoon performances in Mughal-style gardens, and evening shows lit with candles and diyas that flicker with the beats of dhols. This year’s performers include whirling dancers from Rajasthan and Egypt, a concert by sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan and his sons, Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan, and spiritual chants from Mongolia. More here.

When: Mon February 13 to Sun February 19, 2017

Kaziranga National Park, Assam

Photo: iStock/com/Utopia_88

The endangered one-horned rhino is usually a peaceful creature, grazing calmly in Kaziranga’s grasslands. But their bulky frame belies an ability to pick up pace in a matter of moments. Photo: iStock/com/Utopia_88

Head to Kaziranga while the weather is still mild enough for a late morning safari. It’s one of the few national parks in India where rhinos (and not tigers) are the main attraction. Explore the sanctuary in a jeep, or take a boat ride on the Brahmaputra, which flows through the park. Kaziranga’s natural beauty is a balm for the city-weary, and home to a wealth of wildlife, including the endangered Gangetic river dolphin. More here.

When: Until June 2017

Attakkalari India Biennial, Karnataka

attakalari, bengaluru

Catch performances and workshops on kalaripayattu and contemporary dance, which are open to all against registration. Photo: Marie Chouinard | Dancers: Sandrine Lafond, Carla Maruca, Isabelle Poirier

Get a crash course in contemporary dance at the Attakkalari India Biennial, South Asia’s largest international contemporary dance and digital art festival (Fri February 3–Sun February 12, 2017). The 10-day festival has dance performances, talks, film screenings, and workshops by the visiting performers. This edition’s highlights include Bhinna Vinyasa, inspired from kalaripayattu, Bharatanatyam, yoga, and European contemporary forms. Between shows, step out for a guided heritage walk through the bungalows of Bengaluru’s old British cantonment, and enjoy a meal at one of many wallet-friendly military hotels. More here

When: Fri February 3–Sun February 12, 2017

SulaFest, Nashik, Maharashtra

Photo: Sula Vineyards/Facebook

SulaFest music festival turns the volume up in Nashik, India’s wine capital, this February. Photo: Sula Vineyards/Facebook

The ever-popular SulaFest brings music, crowds, and a carnival atmosphere to the otherwise quiet vineyards of Nashik. The three-day event (Fri February 3–Sun February 5, 2017) has stalls offering everything from fast food to tarot card reading, but music is the focus. A complete list of this year’s line-up is still forthcoming, but includes a mix of indie bands and electronic musicians such as The Ska Vengers, electro-pop project Your Chin, and DJ Nucleya. For those interested in learning about wine, there are tasting tours and grape-stomping experiences. And for those who prefer to kick back and relax, there are foot massages. More here.

When: Fri February 3–Sun February 5, 2017

Udaipur World Music Festival, Rajasthan

Udaipur World Music Festival

The otherwise-quiet city of Udaipur will come to life with Afro-Cuban rhythms and Senegalese poetry performances at the second annual Udaipur World Music Festival. Photo courtesy Udaipur World Music Festival

The fairy-tale city of Udaipur is the backdrop for the annual Udaipur World Music Festival (Fri February 10–Sun February 12, 2017), a three-day celebration that juxtaposes Sufi music with electronic sounds, and gospel music with reggae. Shows take place on the banks of the lovely Fateh Sagar lake, and the nearby Gandhi Ground, beginning around mid-afternoon and continuing until about 10pm, when the temperature dips. Explore the city during the first half of the day, and the rhythms of the world in the evening. Last year,the festival brought over 100 musicians from Spain, Ghana, Venezuela and beyond to this laidback city. More on the World Music Festival here. To plan your trip to Udaipur, click here.

When: Fri February 10–Sun February 12, 2017

Contemporary Art and Landscaped Gardens, Delhi

Photo courtesy India Art Fair

The India Art Fair has a number of makeshift galleries showcasing works of contemporary artists, mostly from South East Asia. Photo courtesy India Art Fair

Make the most of Delhi’s waning winter with two different visual feasts. The India Art Fair (Fri February 3–Sun February 5, 2017) brings modern and contemporary artists, primarily from South Asia, to town. Pop-up galleries, guided art walks, and panel discussions give visitors a glimpse of the subcontinent’s art scene. Find Reena Saini Kallat’s Woven Chronicle, a global map of migrants; and Sudarshan Shetty’s Taj Mahal, which incorporates over 250 miniatures of the monument. Film screenings include MF Hussain’s experimental look at Rajasthani landscapes Through The Eyes of a Painter (1967), and Kamal Swaroop’s 2016 documentary Atul, about artist Atul Dodiya. More on the India Art Fair here.

Towards mid-February, Delhi’s most magnificent residence, Rashtrapati Bhavan, opens its Mughal Gardens to visitors (tentatively Wed February 15–Fri March 31 2017). Stroll through the mind-boggling horticultural variety in the President’s manicured gardens, admiring tulips and hundreds of rose varietals, including blue, green, and even black blooms. More on the Mughal Gardens here.

When: India Art Fair from Fri February 3–Sun February 5, 2017; Mughal Gardens viewing tentatively from Wed February 15–Fri March 31 2017

Take a Road Trip through Himachal Pradesh

Spiti Road Trip

Spiti’s dusty landscape is transformed every winter, with snowfall blanketing its valleys and mountains. Photo: Rishad Saam Mehta

There are two ways to enjoy winter: by cozying up in a warm mountain cabin, or by revving up the engine and going on a road trip through the Himalayas. Petrol heads should make their way towards Pooh, located in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district. The town is surrounded by apricot orchards and fields that are usually blanketed in snow in this season. From there, start driving towards Tabo, a small settlement in the remote Spiti Valley. The wonder of the Hindustan Tibet road is that it was built in the 19th century as a walking track, which means that there are gentle inclines and the average height of the road is low. This is why even though it is bitterly cold (-20 C at times), the road hardly becomes impassable. Pause for photo ops at stunning frozen waterfalls along the way. More here.

When: Until March 2017

Khajuraho Dance Festival in Madhya Pradesh

Chitragupta Temple Khajuraho Madhya Pradesh

The illuminated facade of the 11th-century Chitragupta Temple enhances the experience of watching a graceful Indian classical dance performance. Photo: Pep Rolg/Alamy/Indiapicture

Watch the country’s finest dancers perform the myths of India against a backdrop of temples dedicated to the same gods. The week-long Khajuraho Dance Festival (Mon February 20–Sun February 26, 2017) showcases dance forms from around India, both classical and regional. Past editions have seen a jugalbandi between Odissi and Kathak dancers, and a Bharatanatyam recital set to Marathi folk songs. Spend the day at the fairgrounds nearby, where artisans sell dokra metalwork, handwoven saris, and delicate wooden combs. The dance performances begin at dusk, and entry is free. For more on Khajuraho Dance Festival click here. To plan a heritage holiday in Madhya Pradesh, click here.

When: Mon February 20–Sun February 26, 2017

Beach Getaway at Mararikulam, Kerala

Marari Villas Kerala Beach Hotel

Life’s a beach when you’re on a sunbed at Mararikulam, Kerala. Photo courtesy Marari Villas

For a Kerala getaway minus the tourists, try Mararikulam. The seaside village, just an hour’s drive south of Kochi, has a strip of beach wedged between deep-green backwaters and the Arabian Sea, that demands morning swims in the cool water, and uninterrupted afternoon naps. Devoid of hawkers selling ice cream or candy floss, the beach is the domain of local fishermen, who are happy to take you along on one of their excursions if you ask nicely. Intersperse beach bumming with divine Malabar fare, such as spicy fish curry, beef fry, and piles of pappadams. More here.

When: Until March 2017

Mahindra Blues Festival, Mumbai

Shemekia Copeland Mahindra Blues Fest

The Mahindra Blues Fest draws the biggest names in blues and soul music. Past editions have included Buddy Guy, and this year brings Shemekia Copeland (pictured here). Photo courtesy Mahindra Blues Festival

In the age of pop and electronica, the Mahindra Blues Festival (Sat February 11–Sun February 12, 2017) is a rare chance for music lovers to relish two days of pure, unadulterated blues. Grab a pint of beer and groove to the smoky riffs of artists like Buddy Guy, Joss Stone, Tedeschi Trucks Band (all past headliners). This year’s line-up includes 17-year-old blues prodigy Quinn Sullivan, and local favourite Blackstratblues. There’s usually a stall selling vinyl records for those still partial to analogue sounds. Tickets sell out quickly, especially for Sunday when the main acts play, so book early.

When: Sat February 11–Sun February 12, 2017

Plan Ahead

Buddhist Shrine Sikkim

Buddhist chortens and shrines are often found in the middle of the trail and trekkers must walk past respectfully keeping them on their right. Photo: Rishad Saam Mehta

Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons usually bloom alternately, bright red one year and white the next. Once in a rare while, the whole lot blooms together transforming the canopy into a chequered masterpiece. Photo: Rishad Saam Mehta

 

Trek Through the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary, Sikkim

Spring transforms Sikkim’s Barsey Sanctuary into a riot of colour, as the rhododendron trees come into bloom in shades of pink, white, and red. To explore the butterfly-shaped sanctuary, take a five-day hike through its grassy trails, rocky mountains, and forests.  Along the way, snow-clad Himalayan peaks, including Kanchenjunga, watch over visitors, while the walkways below are carpeted by flowers from the overhanging rhododendron trees. More here.

When: Until April 2017

Focus Inwards at the International Yoga Festival, Uttarakhand

The annual International Yoga Festival in early March (Wed March 1–Tue March 7, 2017) brings yoga students, teachers, and enthusiasts from around the world to the banks of the Ganga in search of inner peace and physical fitness. From 4 a.m. to 9.30 p.m., participants imbibe all things yoga in the Parmarth Niketan complex in Rishikesh, exploring forms from ashtanga to Iyengar and beyond. There are also talks, chanting, and meditation sessions. Passes must be booked online—day passes begin from $75/₹5,096 and festival tickets for Indians cost $265/₹18,006 inclusive of meals, classes, lectures and performances. Participants can also explore Rishikesh and nearby Haridwar, and enjoy local rituals like the daily Ganga aarti on the river at dusk. More here.

When: Wed March 1–Tue March 7, 2017

Holi in Mathura and Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh

For an over-the-top Holi, plan a visit to Mathura and Vrindavan. The temple towns and surrounding villages have a strong association with Krishna and celebrate the festival for almost a week. Temples shower sweets on devotees, and lay out large trays of dry colour for visitors to throw on each other, lassi and thandai vendors dress as Krishna and Radha to add to the carnival-like atmosphere. Instagram quotient: off the charts.

When: Thur March 9–Mon March 13, 2017 

Safari in Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan

March signals the start of high season in national parks, and booking a safari in places like Ranthambore can be hard. Beat the crowds and plan ahead for a weekend of spotting tigers, leopards, and striped hyenas—all well camouflaged by the park’s thick forests and golden grasslands. While a tiger sighting is thrilling, the beauty of the forest, with its fiery flame trees and ancient banyans, is no less enjoyable. More here.

When: Until June 2017