Onam is Kerala’s biggest festival, a vibrant ten-day celebration to mark the return of the mythical King Mahabali from the netherworld. Legend has it that Mahabali was a much-loved ruler of Kerala who lost his lands to Vamana (an avatar of Vishnu), and has since been allowed to visit his former kingdom only once a year. Homes are decorated, temples flicker with lamps, and night-long kathakali performances are held in anticipation of his arrival. It’s a great time to soak in Kerala’s rich traditional cultures, from snake boat races in Aranmula, to puli kali performances—a traditional folk dance where men paint themselves to resemble tigers—in the city of Thrissur. The celebrations peak on Thiruvonam day (September 14), marked by the Onasadya, a 11-course vegetarian lunch served on banana leaves.
Note: It is best to book taxis well in advance if planning a trip around Onam, as drivers tend to take time off.
Sita’s tears (left) are easily visible as soon as the rain subsides. Around six types of lantern flowers (right) are native to Kaas. Photos: Maneesh Goal
Every year, between late June and early September, Kaas Plateau near Satara is carpeted with thousands of flowers: purple-hued Sita’s tears, bright green cobra lilies, and crimson lantern flowers. But these aren’t just pretty blooms—a number of the local species in Kaas are carnivorous flora, and have developed ingenious techniques to lure insects. Watching these predatory plants in action is a fascinating way to spend the weekend. Add to that, the monsoon views of the Western Ghats, and you have all the ingredients for a fine weekend away from Mumbai. More here.
Hemis Monastery, built in 1630 A.D., is the biggest and most important Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir. The monastery hosts the Naropa Festival every 12 years, and the Hemis festival annually. Photo courtesy Hemis Monastery
The Tibetan-Buddhist Naropa Festival has been compared to the Kumbh Mela for its promise of spiritual liberation, the large crowds that it attracts, and the fact that it is conducted every 12 years. This year’s edition starts on 13 September, 1,000 years since the birth of the enigmatic Buddhist scholar-saint Naropa, and the Hemis Monastery in Ladakh is pulling out all the stops in celebration. Festivities include a drumming performance by the Drukpa nuns, popularly known as kung fu nuns for their practice of the martial art. More here.
Set in the lush valley of Arunachal Pradesh, the Ziro Festival of Music offers a heady combination of indie music, local food, and breathtaking views. Photos: Shiv Ahuja
There are a number of reasons to visit Arunachal Pradesh: gorgeous landscapes, incredible wildlife, delicious local fare, and mugs of marua (millet beer). This month, there’s also the Ziro Festival of Music, between September 22 and 25, 2016. The line-up includes a mix of bands from the North East of India as well as electronic, rock, and folk-jazz acts, but the festival is also a chance to meet the Apatani tribe, the indigenous community from the region, known for their animist culture, sustainable lifestyle, and tattooing traditions. More here.
Water bodies in the Little Rann of Kutch turn light pink every winter as lesser flamingos collect here to lay eggs and bring up their chicks. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee
The Little Rann of Kutch is a big deal around winter, especially for birdwatching enthusiasts. Come September, hordes of migratory birds from around the world descend, bringing colour and chaos to this otherwise somber landscape. In the marshlands and the Nava Talao, hundreds of pelicans, flamingos, and demoiselle cranes can be sighted building their winter homes. In the Rann’s scrublands, eagles, merlins, and short-eared owls, flock scanning the skies for prey. If you do make a trip, don’t miss the Wild Ass Sanctuary near Dhrangadhra, the Modhera Sun Temple, and the Rani ki Vav stepwell. More here.
In Mumbai, housing colonies and neighbourhoods often pool resources for a pandal with a larger-than-life Ganesha idol, and invariably, a DJ that dishes out Bollywood music in the evenings. Photo: Urbz/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Maximum City lives up to its name during the ten-day Ganpati festival, starting September 5, when the elephant-headed deity Ganesha is believed to visit the homes of devotees. Across Mumbai, neighbourhoods and colonies set up marquees with sculptures of the portly god, often accompanied by blaring music and lights. Some idols are traditional, featuring the god seated beside a rat, his faithful vehicle, while others are more outlandish: of a muscular Ganesha with six-pack abs riding a rocket. But they’re all entertaining, and testament to the city’s rich and occasionally absurd, street culture. To see the grandest Ganpati of them all, queue up for Lalbaug cha Raja (or Lalbaug’s king), but know that the line to see the pandal sometimes lasts hours. At the end of the festival, idols from across the city make their way to Mumbai’s beaches for visarjan, a ritual immersion, when crowds are at their rowdiest and photo ops are the most.
The Northern Lights are on nearly every traveller’s bucket list. Photo: Emmanuel Milou/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
The skies of the Northern Hemisphere come alive between late September and late March as the aurora borealis dances across the skies. Cross the Northern Lights off your must-see list with our handy guide that tells you the best places and months to catch the natural wonders. Plus, hotels and lodges with the best view.
Jodhpur’s historic Mehrangarh Fort comes to life during the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF), a five-day celebration of traditional and modern folk music. Venues are scattered across the palatial sandstone fort—amidst fruit trees in the garden, in the grand darbar, or by ramparts with breathtaking views of the blue city—and attended by musicians, erstwhile royal families, and travellers from across the world. The morning shows, especially those at dawn and after dark, are particularly special. The dates for RIFF are chosen to coincide with Sharad Purnima, a full moon night that is considered auspicious according to the Hindu calendar. This year’s edition will take place between October 13 and 17, 2016.
One of the most highly anticipated music gigs of the year, the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, kicks off in October with a new festival venue: the Tamil city of Pondicherry, known for its French colonial accents. The day-long concert in Pondicherry is on Saturday October 15, followed by NH7 in Shillong on Friday and Saturday, October 21-22. More here.
Gujarat is at its athletic and colourful best during the nine days of Navratri, between October 2-10, before Diwali. Soak in the exuberance at dandiya and garba nights, where residents dance the night away, dressed in glitzy chaniya cholis, and brightly coloured kurtas. To feel the buzz, plan a trip to Ahmedabad, Baroda, Surat, Bhavnagar, and Rajkot. And while you’re there, don’t forget to tuck into Gujarat’s famous thalis.
Kolkata takes Durga Pujo very seriously. For five days, from October 7-11, nearly every corner of the city hosts imaginative pandals dedicated to the feisty Hindu goddess Durga. Pandal-hopping is the best way to experience the festivities and sample the food prepared at this time of year, like khichuri, a simple, savoury preparation of rice and dal, served as prasad. More here.
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