Where to Go This December: Beaches, Birding, and Dance Festivals

Our top travel picks for the month. | By NGT Staff  
Mandu Madhya Pradesh
As the walled capital of the Malwa kingdom in the 15th century, Mandu has elaborate ruins that afford sweeping views of the surrounding countryside. Photo: iStock.com/pinaki1

Heritage Trip to Mandu, Madhya Pradesh

Mandu’s ruins still retain some of the majesty of their hey-day in the 15th Century. With Madhya Pradesh’s scorching heat easing up in December, this is a great month to explore the forts, gardens and palace ruins of what was a major city in the Malwa kingdom. The centrepiece of the complex is the Jahaz Mahal, an elegant structure that sits between two emerald lakes and was once home to Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Khilji’s 15,000 courtesans. Don’t forget to try some Mandu ki imli, tangy fruit from the local baobab trees that dot the roads around the area. More here.

When: Until March 2017.

Naga Culture at the Hornbill Festival, Nagaland

Locals at the Hornbill Festival

Meet Nagaland’s indigenous communities (left) at the annual Hornbill Festival, and learn of their rich culture and hunting traditions (right). Photo: Rob Horsefield (people); Natasha Sahgal (skulls)

Want to experience the best of Nagaland? Plan your visit during the state’s annual Hornbill Festival, held between Thur Dec 1- Sat Dec 10, 2016, at Naga heritage village Kisama, just outside the capital of Kohima. Named after Nagaland’s most famous bird, the event is a celebration of the cultures, languages, and cuisines of the state’s 16 tribes. Visitors can participate in indigenous games, enjoy music performances, and taste the local cuisine at food stalls. One of the highlights of the festival are the morungs, hostel-like structures that each tribe constructs in a unique way. More here.

When: Thur Dec 1–Sat Dec 10, 2016.

Music and Heritage at the Magnetic Fields Festival, Rajasthan

Man Magnetic fields

The Magnetic Fields Festival transforms the stately and otherwise quiet, Alsisar Mahal into a neon-lit venue with elaborate stages and funky installations. Photo: Neville Sukhia/Magnetic Fields Festival/Facebook

The Magnetic Fields Festival is a Rajasthan experience like no other, during the state’s best season. Set in the sweeping lawns and grounds of the restored Alsisar Mahal, in the Shekhawati region, the fest is a mish-mash of traditional Rajasthani culture and food, and largely electronic music played live by DJs from India and abroad. This year, the festival takes place between Fri Dec 9–Sun Dec 11, 2016. In addition to music concerts, there are morning yoga sessions, treasure hunts, parties, art installations, and stargazing sessions. Beyond the festival, visitors can explore Shekhawati, an area known for its heritage havelis, which are covered in colourful murals. More here.

When: Fri Dec 9-Sun Dec 11, 2016.

Handicrafts and Baul Singers at Poush Mela, West Bengal

A mela in West Bengal

Poush Mela, Shantiniketan, West Bengal. Photo: Neelsky/Shutterstock

Shantiniketan is charming throughout the year, but it gets a shot in the arm during the Poush Mela (Thur Dec 22–Mon Dec 26, 2016), a five-day celebration of song, dance, and crafts that dates back a century. Fairgrounds are lined with stalls selling leather bags, terracotta figurines, and jewellery of dokra metalwork. Outside the fairground, stop by the Rabindra Bhavan Museum and examine original letters and photographs from Tagore’s life. Close by, Kala Bhavana, the school established by Rabindranath Tagore, is like an open art exhibition where niches bear sculptures, and the walls are covered in paintings and striking murals. More here.

When: Thur Dec 22–Mon Dec 26, 2016.

Music and Ghee Roast at the Carnatic Music Season in Chennai

Temple chennai

Pepper your Chennai winter itinerary with Carnatic music concerts and visits to ancient temples. Photo: iStock.com/f9photos

There is no better time to visit Chennai than during the Carnatic music season, when the weather is at its coolest, and the city’s cultural calendar is hotter than ever. The month-long season has thousands of small and large concerts held throughout the day at different venues, some by stalwarts of the singing tradition, and others by newbies eager to make their debut. Use the concerts as an excuse to explore Chennai, a city that is often cast off as merely a gateway to nearby Pondicherry or the Andaman islands. There are markets to explore, temples to see, and a lot of meals to eat, from ghee roast dosas at institutions like Saravana Bhavan, to quail biryani at Ponnusamy Hotel. For more on Chennai’s ghee-soaked food scene, go here.

When: Mid-late December 2016.

Dance and Heritage at Konark Festival & International Sand Art Festival, Odisha

Konark

In the early decades of the 19th century, local rulers took away stone panels from the majestic Konark Sun Temple to use in their own temples. Photo: iStock.com/davidevison

Set against the backdrop of the magnificent Konark Sun Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Konark Dance & Music Festival celebrates classical Indian dances like Odissi, Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Kathak. Not too far away, on the beach, sand artists create large and incredibly detailed sculptures. Hawkers mill about selling street food, and stalls selling toys mushroom along the beach. It’s a chance for an immersive cultural experience, complete with ocean views. The neighbouring town of Puri is also worth visiting for the 11th-century Jagannath Temple. More here. From Thur 1 – Mon 5 Dec 2016,

When: Thur 1–Mon 5 Dec 2016.

Bharatanayam by the Beach at Mamallapuram Dance Festival, Tamil Nadu

Mamallapuram dancers

Catch performances of classical dances such as Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam, and Kathak at the Mamallapuram Dance Festival near Chennai. Photo: Philippe Michel/Age Fotostock/Dinodia Photo Library

About 60-odd kilometres from Chennai, the coastal town of Mamallapuram (more popularly called Mahabalipuram) hosts a four-week celebration of Indian dance, set against the backdrop of its UNESCO World Heritage stone temples. The line-up is impressive—there are exponents of Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Odissi, and Mohiniattam—and watching the dancers perform in that setting makes the myths etched into the temple walls come alive. Exact dates to be announced; click here for details.

When: Mid December 2017.

Fierce Theyyams at Kanathoor Nalvar Bhoothasthanam, Kerala

Theyyam

Among the many gods depicted in theyyams is Muchilottu Bhagvathy, said to be so fierce that her eyes unleash fire. The Theyyam performer wears eye masks of silver with the tiniest pinhole to see through. Photo: Aliyeh Rizvi

For a few days every December, the village of Kanathoor becomes a stomping ground for elaborately dressed gods and goddesses, some of whom even shoot fire from their eyes. They are part of the annual Nalvar Bhoothasthanam festival, which showcases the striking dance form of theyyam. Between Wed 28 Dec 2016—Sun 1 Jan 2017, nearly 400 theyyam performances will take place in Kanathoor, with performances in honour of Shakti, or the primal goddess, leading the festival. Dances usually take place in temples or forest clearings by lamplight. More here.

When: Wed 28 Dec 2016—Sun 1 Jan 2017.

Flamingos in Mumbai

Flamingo Mumbai

Every winter, a flamboyance of flamingos visit Mumbai’s Sewri mudflats, scouring its silty bed for food. Photo: Universal Images Group/Dinodia Photo Library

“Wildlife haven” isn’t the first phrase that comes to mind when one thinks of Mumbai, but India’s financial capital has an interesting mix of urban wildlife, including leopards and flamingos. Every winter, the Sewri mudflats, located on Mumbai’s southeast coast, welcome thousands of greater and lesser flamingos. Essentially nomadic, these birds move when the weather turns cold. Despite the industrial waste and pollution, the flamingos keep their annual date with Mumbai, arriving between October and November, and staying until March. The Bombay Natural History Society organises weekend sighting trips that are usually conducted by an expert. It doesn’t hurt that December is a great time to visit Mumbai—the cool weather is ideal to explore the bustling sights and sounds of an otherwise humid metropolis.

When: Until March 2017.

Skiing in Narkanda, Himachal Pradesh

Narkanda Skiing

Narkanda’s soft snow has been favoured from the time of the British Raj, and has slopes for all levels of skiers. Photo: Umesh Gogna/Dinodia Photo/Dinodia Photo Library

Narkanda, one of India’s oldest skiing destinations, is a winter wonderland. Located about 2 hours northeast of Shimla by road, this Himalayan getaway has enough slopes and snow to keep skiers and snowboarders of all levels busy for days. December sees heavy precipitation, promising soft landings—good news for novices. Narkanda is surrounded by perennially snow-clad mountain peaks, dense pine and spruce forests, and apple orchards—the perfect view to look out on when sipping steaming chai. The Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation offers ski packages with courses, equipment, and accommodation. More here.

When: Until March 2017.

Gujarati Culture at Rann Utsav, Dhordo, Gujarat

Rann Utsav Gujarat

The Rann Utsav brings a pop of colour to the white slat marshes of Gujarat’s Great Rann of Kutch. Photo: Rann Utsav – Tent City, Dhordo – Operated By White Rann Camping and Hospitality

The Rann Utsav celebrates the blanched salt land and vibrant culture of Kutch. The largest salt marsh in the world, the Great Rann of Kutch is spread out over 7,505 sq km, but the four-month festival is clustered around Dhordo, a village that is 81km/1hr20min by road from Bhuj. Each year, luxury and standard tents are put up to accommodate visitors. There are tours to heritage sites, wildlife excursions, folk music performances, and stalls selling traditional Kutchi handicrafts and textiles, like handmade leather joothis. Plan a cultural excursion to Gujarat around this year’s edition, from Tue November 1, 2016–Mon February 20, 2017. More here.

When: Tue November 1, 2016–Mon February 20, 2017.

Contemporary Arts at Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi, Kerala

Fort Kochi has tremendous history as a trading port, but also a thriving contemporary art scene, and walls in the neighbourhood often bear murals by anonymous local and visiting graffiti artists. Photo: Olaf Krüger/imageBROKER/Dinodia Photo Library

Every two years, the eclectic neighbourhood of Fort Kochi, in the southern city of Cochin, gets flooded with colour during the three-month long Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The contemporary art show exhibits the works of artists from India and elsewhere. This year’s show (Mon Dec 12, 2016–Wed March 29, 2017) will have works from Poland, Spain, India, and Japan, and is curated by artist Sudarshan Shetty, who is best known for his enigmatic sculptural installations. In addition to public exhibitions, there are also workshops, talks, seminars, and film screenings across Cochin. Fort Kochi also has chic cafes, quirky design stores, and an antique market that’s perfect for wacky souvenirs. Check into the Malabar House or Walton’s Homestay to be close to the action.

When: Mon Dec 12, 2016–Wed March 29, 2017.

Snorkelling in Havelock Island, Andaman & Nicobar Islands

Jelly Fish Andamans Havelock

When the water is warm, divers and snorkellers around Havelock frequently encounter jellyfish. The species isn’t harmful, and will, at most, leave you with a minor sting that dissipates within minutes. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Pack your bathing suit, and leave your worries behind when you step on Havelock Island’s Radhanagar Beach, voted among the best beaches in Asia. A holiday on Havelock is about the simple life: morning swims in clear waters, afternoon naps on hammocks, and nights under a canopy of stars. Snorkellers and divers will delight in the abundance of marine life, and for those who prefer dry land, there are postcard-perfect beaches. December is a buzzing but crowded time in Havelock, so those looking for more peace and quiet should consider visiting in February-March. More here.

When: Until June 2017.

Mountain Views at Soulitude in the Himalayas, Uttarakhand

Himalayas

Tune out of the chaos of everyday life, and into the sounds of nature at Soulitude in the Himalayas. Photo: iStock.com/AbhijitGhate

Dreaming of a white Christmas? Get a room at Soulitude in the Himalayas, and settle in for a memorable vacation. The property is located near Nainital, in the hills of Kumaon, and has uninterrupted views of the surrounding mountain ranges and valleys. In winters, Soulitude is covered in a blanket of snow that is best admired from one of the hotel’s large windows, with a warm mug of cocoa in hand. The clear winter nights are ideal for stargazing sessions and sighing over the mountains bathed in the moonlight.

When: Until March 2017.

Plan Ahead

Photo: Rupinder Khullar/Dinodia Photo/Dinodia Photo Library

Every year, elaborate floats representing India’s various states make their way down New Delhi’s Rajpath boulevard to celebrate the country’s heritage and cultural diversity. Photo: Rupinder Khullar/Dinodia Photo/Dinodia Photo Library

Watch the Republic Day Parade in Delhi

A family-friendly way to celebrate Republic Day is to watch the annual parade in Delhi. Yes, it is likely to be cold, but a few woollens should do the trick, and it’s much more fun than watching the programme on television. Each year, India’s states and armed forces put on a show that includes lively floats, dancers, daredevils, camel-mounted soldiers, and tanks and missiles. Plus, Republic Day falls on a Thursday in 2017: Take the next day off, and make a beeline for Delhi. It’s the perfect weather to explore Delhi’s old forts, tombs and beautiful gardens.

When: Thur 26 Jan 2017.

See a Snow Leopard in Himachal Pradesh

Snow leopards generally roam the upper reaches of the Himalayas, but descend closer to the plains in winter looking for food. This makes them relatively easier to spot around this time of year—a cause for much excitement among wildlife lovers. Visit Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir and Pin Valley National Park in Himachal Pradesh for a chance to see the “ghost of the mountain”. But be warned: the weather is mind-numbingly cold, and the odds of seeing a snow leopard are incredibly slim. More here.

When: Until February 2017.

Listen to Authors at the Jaipur Literature Festival, Rajasthan

Join fellow bibliophiles from around the world at the five-day Jaipur Literature Festival, which brings together writers, journalists, and book-lovers in the beautiful Diggi Palace Hotel every January. This year—the tenth edition of the festival— runs from Thur January 19—Mon January 23, 2017 and has seminars, panel discussions, and book signings. The festival is a place to see and be seen, but it will be chilly, so pack your warmest fashions. More here.

When: Thur January 19–Mon January 23. 2017.

Sky-Gaze at the International Kite Festival in Gujarat

Come Uttarayan, Gujarat’s skies become a mosaic of kites, big and small, traditional and fantastical, all fighting for space. Catch the action at the International Kite Festival (Sun January 8–Sat January 14, 2017) held at the Sabarmati riverfront in Ahmedabad. Since 1989, expert kite makers and flyers have been flocking here annually to show off their creations and cut competing kites out of the sky. You can spend hours gazing at the gigantic whales, box kites, and Chinese flying dragons flying across the sky—all while munching on Gujarati farsan.

When: Sun January 8–Sat January 14, 2017.