Top 9 must-visit cultural events that you need to check off from your bucket list

If you want to feed your wanderlust and get a start to your travel plans in 2019, we’ve got you covered. Let this year be a year of cultural explorations as you set off to discover destinations in search of the best offbeat festivals—some steeped in tradition, others in pop culture–that the different states in India have to offer.

What: Rann Utsav, Gujarat
Where: Bhuj
When: Nov 01, 2018 - 20th February 2019
Commonly known as the Kutch Mahotsav, this festival keeps one mesmerised with its sheer beauty and scale right through the quarter-long celebrations. Set amidst one of the biggest salt deserts in the world, the great Rann of Kutch, the grand festival is a display of the local culture, cuisine and hospitality of Gujarat. The white sandy deserts are brought to life by folk dances, music, intricate arts and crafts, traditional textiles, exquisite embroidery, bandhani sarees, traditional ornaments and mirror work. And while there, don't forget to treat yourself to some mouthwatering Kutchi food which mainly includes staples such as jowar and bajra rotlas, garlic chutney, khichdi and buttermilk; try different adventure rides (the hot air balloon ride is a must) and also camel safaris. 

What: Elephanta Festival
When: February 
Where: Elephanta Islands, Maharashtra 
Organised by the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) to promote Mumbai tourism and culture, this festival is annually held on Elephanta Island, adjacent to the Elephanta Cave, a World Heritage Site. This two-day festival held under the open sky highlights the diverse classical music and dance forms of India along with plays, skits and instrumental and vocal recitals that is a feast for art lovers. Set against the backdrop of huge pillars and sculptured panels on the walls of the temple in the Island, the kaleidoscopic view of the caves around this time is not something you should miss, thanks to the bright lights and use of colours that turns the island into a grand auditorium.  

What: Nagaur Fair
When: February 10 to 13
Where: Nagaur, Jodhpur
The Cattle Fair of Nagaur sees around 70,000 bullocks, camels and horses which are traded every year by the cattle owners. Apart from watching the indigenous breeds of camels, horses, bullocks, buffaloes, goat and sheep all decked up, the fair also offers a rare opportunity to witness the rustic beauty of Rajasthan, and the rural folk in colourful traditional dresses and turbans in a rural setting. After watching the animals in awe, head to the Mirchi Bazaar, the largest red chilli market of India and take home some traditional wooden items, iron-crafts and other camel leather accessories. For the adventurer, there are several sports activities such as tug-of-war, camel and bullock races, cockfights in store. Soak in the festive atmosphere replete with music and dance performances in the evening, even as you enjoy entertaining acts by jugglers, puppeteers, storytellers.

What: Jaisalmer Desert Festival, Rajasthan
Where: Sahid Poonam Singh Stadium and Sam Sand Dunes, Rajasthan  
When: February 17 to 19
It’s only during this time of the year that you get to see the sandy dunes raised in all their glory. The rich and colourful culture promises to take you on an exotic tour unfolding the many facets of Rajasthan. The umpteen numbers of competitions, the poignant folk music and several other cultural events bring to life the colourful art and old-fashion grandeur of the royal state of Rajasthan. The traditional extravaganza set amidst the historical forts, havelis, temples and palaces is all a sight to behold.

What: Goa Carnival
When: March 2 to 5
Where: Panjim, Mapusa, Margao and Vasco da Gama

This Carnival takes its roots from the Christian tradition of Mardi Gras (also known as Fat Wednesday) which dates to the arrival of the Portuguese in Goa during the 16th century. Coming into action just before the fasting and abstinence linked to the season of Lent, these festivities pay tribute to the culture and cuisine of the land. During the four days of the festival, you are in for some authentic Goan feast, dancing and drinking stints, along with celebrations such as parades, floats, dancing troupes and electrifying music, one-act folk plays that bring alive the streets of Goa.

What: Elephant Festival
When: March 21
Where: Jaipur Polo Ground, opposite Sawai Mansingh Stadium

Held every year in the Pink City, this festival marks the felicitation of the Elephant God, Lord Ganesha. Elephants decorated with saddle cloths and heavy jewellery, followed by camels, horses, folk dancers lead the procession thereby promising to leave you in awe of this grand festival. The Elephant polo, tug-of-war between the elephants and humans and the elephant race are some of the many highlights of this festival.

What: Ziro Festival of Music
Where: Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh
When: September
The Ziro valley in Arunachal Pradesh plays home to one of India’s most beloved outdoor music festivals showcasing the best of Indian independent music. With a special focus on artists from the northeast, the four-day festival also sees eco-friendly stages and stalls made from bamboos. Whet your appetite at the local food stalls and don’t forget to give the popular rice and millet beer a try.

What: Pushkar Camel Fair
Where: Pushkar
When: November 4 to 12
Considered to be the largest fair in the state of Rajasthan, the Pushkar Camel Fair or Kartik Mela, as the name suggests, is an annual five-day camel and livestock fair that commences around the auspicious period of Kartik Poornima, all across the town of Pushkar. The fair is a fusion of cultural, commercial and religious activities. Apart from the regular camel trading, you can also look out for several interesting competitions such as ‘The longest moustache’, ‘The bridal competition’, ‘Breaking the pot (matka phod).’ Other attractions include camel/horse riding, quad bike riding, safari trips, and shopping.

What: Hornbill Festival of Nagaland 
Where: In a model village built at Kisama, a western Angami location situated 12 kms away from Kohima, the capital of Nagaland
When: December 1 to 10 
Organised by the State Tourism and Art & Culture Departments of Nagaland, this colourful cultural festival ranks high on being a foodie's paradise, especially for all meat lovers. Gorge on authentic traditional food and also watch them being made, and take part in various contests such as Naga chilly eating and pork eating. Besides, the festival also showcases the rich tradition and culture of the 16 major tribes of the state in the form of folk dances, songs and other traditional games and competitions. 


Images: Shutterstock 

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