…the pink mystique

It was second day at Sambhar. Last day was interesting with engaging myself in pink salt of Sambhar and then soaking in some refreshing sights of a pink sunset. But as I said, my mind was still lurking in search of the pink flamingos. The other day Sohan Singh had suggested me to go towards the Devayani, where I can probably find the birds. One things I have learnt over the years of travelling is never to feel shy in asking locals about any doubt or any information- basic or may be additional. So, while riding my bike in the morning, I  asked my lodge owner about possible location of flamingos and he suggested me to go towards ‘chatri (canatoph) of Dadu Dayal (दादू दयाल की छतरी). I decided to try towards Devayani first.

Sambhar Devyani9
Temples at Devayani

This is third aspect of a trip to Sambhar. It was not in my agenda, at least not before the flamingos, but then as it was deemed to be, I had to explore Devayani first. Besides being home to salt and flamingos, Sambhar is also a religious town and mythologically a very important one. Devayani gets its name from daughter of guru Shukracharya of demons and was queen of king Yayati. This mythology dates quite earlier to even times of Mahabharata. I am not going to dwell upon story of Devayani and Yayati as it is there in scriptures as well as now online. As is believed, that this is the place, where Devayani used to live, hence it got the name. So, Sambhar has got this spiritual and religious value as well. Devayani temple is just two kilometres from the Sambhar bus stand.

Road to Devayani
deserted road to Devayani

Devayani is considered to be a pilgrimage and now there have been many efforts to develop religious tourism aspect of Sambhar. With lots of funds in tow, the area has been renovated and many facilities being developed. Devayani is actually a small artificial lake and there are temples all around. In this way, it is quite similar to Pushkar, though the later one is quite bigger than this. So, there are ghats and temples on all four sides. For long these have been neglected, and now there are efforts to clean the lake and reconstruct the ghats and temples.

Lake and temples around
Lake and temples around

Temples are dedicated to various deities, but the main temple is of Ganges or the Ganga. This temple is said to quite old and is being repaired now. Inner portion of the temple looks quite recently refurbished.

Regular prayers and worships are held at the temple. Every month on many auspicious days special religious events are being held and local people from around the region gather here in good numbers. Although, that morning I was the only visitor there.

For those in need!
For those in need!

Interestingly, this place is called as Devayani and though it is dedicated to a specific mythological character but the main temple here is of river Ganges. I was told that earlier there used to be no temple of Devayani here. Just recently, a temple of Devayani was built because many people will come and ask that where is the Devayani temple (but outside this temple it is written that it is an ancient one! Quite confusing!).

Devayani temple
Devayani temple

On the four sides of lake are said to also four ancient Shiva temples and one of them is this Jageshwar temple. It is believed the the lingam at this temple is very deep and actually no one has been able to know its actual depth.

Jageshwar temple
Jageshwar temple

Interestingly enough, just adjacent to Devayani temple is a tomb and  a small mosque nearby. There was no information on who’s tomb it is or may be religious fault lines prohibit people to divulge too much. But in the medieval times there has been known history of muslim salt traders from Sambhar trading salt at nearby cities. There was even a mosque in Jaipur’s Kishanpole area known as ‘mosque of Sambharias’ (सांभरियों की मसजिद). Irony is that in all the construction and renovation around, no care was being taken of that tomb.

Although I was focused to look for flamingos, this place indeed looked interesting to me and had many things to reflect upon.

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…the pink sunset

We had already crossed the visible stretch of the Sambhar Lake from railway station to the refinery close to dam. Charmed by the Pink Salt we were on the next part of our evening trail. While crossing the lake bed, we were slowly and cautiously following the path created by jeep tyres, as any attempt to deviate would have been dangerous for our bikes in that slushy mud. Winter sun was quickly moving westwards and I was now getting anxious for some sunset shots in the vast expanse of the lake bed. After pink salt, was it the turn for a pink sunset? You would see for yourself-

Pink Sunset5

I somehow believed that sunset would be splendidly beautiful and quite different from sunsets that I have experienced so far at other places. Colours in the sky and on the land had started changing.

Pink Sunset10

The appetite for a wonderful sunset has been increased by shots like these on the way to Sambhar Salt refinery-

Pink Sunset26

…and also this, just ahead of above-

Just past refinery, me and my lecturer guide Sohan Singh ji rode upto the dam. Private salt operator Vijay Chaudhary had asked us to go till dam to see if there is any water on the other side and I am able to locate any flamingos (my primary motive to be here).

On to the dam
On to the dam

The lake is actually divided into to unequal parts by this dam that runs through almost five kms. An old railway line runs through almost full length of the dam. This rail track was earlier used by salt trains. But it is no longer in use. So our journey to the dam involved biking along that old railway line through some wide stretches like above and some tricky ones like below-

Sohan Singh, a senior secondary school lecturer from Sambhar guiding me on his bike.
Sohan Singh, a senior secondary school lecturer from Sambhar guiding me on his bike.

Interestingly enough, even Sohan Singh had not visited this part of the lake ever earlier despite being resident of this area for quite a long. Actually, this was the reason that kept him motivated to travel with me throughout the evening.

Western side of Sambhar Lake
Western side of Sambhar Lake

Across the dam is the western part of the lake which is more of a open water undisturbed natural lake ecosystem. Shakambari temple is almost 20 kms far in this lake bed. There are also some villages (dhanis) and occasional salt fields. There have been many dredging channels created on the lake bed for salt extraction. On the north-western side is the Gudha village and further 10-15 kms is Nawa. Lake runs upto there. There is a railway line to Nagaur from Sambhar on that route. There are number of brine reservoirs for salt extraction all along.

Pink Sunset11By the time we reached the dam sun was getting ready to take the plunge. I was looking for some open place where trees and shrubs don’t obstruct my view of the sunset and I can find a comfortable place to click the photos.

It was rather easy as there were not many people (actually rarely anybody) passing through that way. I expected some of the colours of the lake bed to show up in sunset and they actually did. See for yourself-

The vastness of the lake bed actually made the foreground similar to a sea or ocean, perfect for the sunset. And then, colours started to show up, interchanging between pink and orange-

Finally, I decided to go closer to sun, not literally but optically, and the results were again very pleasing. And I kept clicking till sun itself said, it was enough. And what colours the sky kept throwing, I was amazed-

As the sun went into hide, it was time to move. Sohan Singh ji had already spent more than three hours with me. He was also getting late perhaps, although he never got anxious on my photographing capabilities! It was time to find some resting place for the night. We had come quite a distance from the Sambhar town. We headed back.  After reaching town, we had a parting tea together at the bus stop. We said goodbye to each other but not before, my search for a night shelter ended.

Day was over. Not a bad one by many counts. But I was still restless due to missing those, for whom I had come all the way along. Will I see them or- not?

The Pink Salt…

It was long overdue. And, I was actually ashamed of myself for not having being there till now, despite being so close. Of late, it was almost decided in my mind that I would be biking to Sambhar, most probably alone. And it happened so. Almost 750 kms of biking in two days made it possible and enjoyable. Every minute was worth it.

A mound of salt
A mound of salt

Sambhar is between Jaipur and Ajmer cities of Rajasthan. Lake basin is spread at the confluence of three districts- Jaipur, Ajmer and Nagaur. You can call this place as one beyond imagination. It is, “a place where horizons stretch to infinity, water and sky merge in a shimmer of gauzy blue and civilisation goes back a long, long time and legends abounds it” (quoted from- ‘Conservation of Sambhar Lake – An important Waterfowl Habitat and A Ramsar Site in India‘ by Sanjeev Kumar, 2008). It has got a touch of pink everywhere- Pink Salt, Pink sunset and the Pink Flamingos. It creates a very different feeling. Salt is what, it has been known for since a long time.

I was also keen in going to Sambhar at the earliest as I am always anxious about future of such places located in a very fragile ecosystem. With already so many apprehensions on record, I didn’t want to rue any missed opportunity later. Hence I was here at Sambhar.

 

Pink Salt8Sambhar Lake is the largest inland saline wetland in India. Its a huge lake covering an area of over 190 sq kms. The lake has been exploited for salt extraction for centuries. Actually desert lands of Rajasthan host a few other salt lakes as well other than Sambhar- Kanod, Didwana, Thob, Lawan and Pachpadra. Sambhar is biggest of them all.

Vast expanse of lake
Vast expanse of lake

Although there were no information available on staying options in Sambhar, I was keen to stay there. Search of options made me to talk to lot of people and one of them was a school lecturer- Sohan Singh, whom I met on the railway level crossing just before Sambhar, when we were waiting for the train to pass and gates to open.  Conversation got friendly and the young teacher himself chose to be my guide for the evening. We straightway entered the Sambhar city and through the premises of the Sambhar Salts Limited, went towards the station and further towards the salt lake.

Railway track bisecting the salt lake
Railway track bisecting the salt lake

There is a railway line from Phulera to Nagaur through Sambhar. This line bisects the salt lake and runs through it for more than 10-15 kms. We crossed this line immediately after the railway station and went inside the salt fields. Biking was a bit tough as one has only to ride on the narrow beaten paths which had got hardened due to regular movements. Rest all land was wet and marshy. Inside the salt fields, we met a private salt extractor- Vijay Chaudahry who gave us an insight about the process of salt extraction as well as local economy and topography. We can easily see the pink salt. Gets whitish only after going through refining process.

Salt fields of Vijay Chaudhary
Salt fields of Vijay Chaudhary

We also got to know about the various facts and factors involved. It was indeed very interesting. Now look at the photo below to feel the uniqueness of this place-

No water... all mirage!
No water… all mirage!

We can easily see the area beyond the mud wall. Looks like water. Isn’t it? But you will be surprised, as much as I was that there isn’t even a drop of water, its all mirage. Even I couldn’t believe my eyes. It is said that in summers, the whole area will look like a sea, but actually without a water because of this mirage effect.

Besides the public sector Sambhar Salts Limited, there are many private industries extracting salt from the lake. A look at the salt bed of the lake-

This lake has seen days of glory. The Sambhar salt was all popular in the region far and wide. Salt extracted from here was sold in markets of Jaipur or taken to far off places. For different rulers in the region in medieval period, the control of the lake was considered to be major source of revenue. Salt traders of Sambhar were a respected lot. Then Britishers controlled it. And post independence public sector Sambhar Salt Limited was given the responsibility of extracting salt.  Most of the infrastructure here was developed by Britishers, including the rail network, stations, yards, godowns etc. With Sambhar Salt Limited in poor condition and many private players coming in fray, most of the infrastructure is now in shambles.

Sambhar has always been known for its salt. The city used to get its livelihood from it and still depends a lot on it.

Pink Salt12

But these are changing times and many other things are at stake as well. What one needs to know, experience and enjoy is this absolutely fantastic ecosystem and help it preserve for generations to come.

Pink Salt20
Workers from Sambhar Salt Limited refinery returning to city after day’s work. This british-era rail road car takes them home through the dried lake bed.

This is no mirage but how aptly it guides us to reflect upon ourselves. Isn’t it-

Sun had moved westwards when we reached refinery and went ahead towards the dam on our bikes. I had many things in mind but for now my interest was in fast approaching sunset… how could I even miss this… now may be a… Pink Sunset!

(tune in for next post)

Your fantasy world awaits you!

It’s finally that time of the year again! And, its Brussels again!! European and Belgian capital brings another of its amazing events- a celebration of geek culture.

comic-con4Comic Con Brussels returns to the buildings of Tour&Taxis during the weekend of Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 February 2017. Thousands of fans, Cosplayers and other visitors will be able to immerse themselves in the world of science fiction, fantasy and contemporary pop culture of the immensely popular comic books. Comic Con Brussels is an event entirely dedicated to Pop Culture in all its forms: comic, manga, fantasy, sci-fi & horror, gaming and Cosplay. You will find famous actors and authors for signing sessions, a Gaming Area, Fan Clubs, a cosplay contest and many thematic stands. It’s a Con that brings together all the things you love:MOVIES, GAMING, COMICS, MANGA, COLLECTIBLES, ANIME, TV, CLOTHING, TOYS AND GADGETS AND A LOT MORE!

comic-con1Comic Con Brussels wants to offer fans a total experience, which naturally also means inviting several international stars. Autograph hunters should prick up their ears because the list is quite long. With the actor Dirk Benedict, fans are in for a double treat. Many of us known him as Face in the popular series The A-Team but he also played Lt. Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica. We are also pleased to welcome the one and only Sam Jones, better known to audiences as Flash Gordon (with the eponymous soundtrack by Queen), another Eighties era gem who also starred in the blockbuster movie Ted by Seth MacFarlane. And how about a one-off, exclusive European appearance by Kevin Eastman, the original designer and inventor of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? And it wouldn’t be a real fantasy convention without Star Wars of course. Which is why Comic Con Brussels is proud to present an impressive list to mark the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: Paul Blake, or the bounty hunter Greedo in the legendary “Who shot first” scene with Han Solo, Anna Brewster who played the spy  Bazine Netal  in The Force Awakens, Femi Taylor or Oola, Garrick Hagon better known as Biggs, Luke Skywalker ‘s best friend in Star Wars : A New Hope and Michael Carter whom audiences will remember as Bib Fortuna will all be travelling to Brussels. Finally these two big names complete the already impressive line-up: Julian Glover (Grand Maester Pycelle in Game Of Thrones) and James Duva (Frank The Bunny in the cult classic Donnie Darko).

comic-con3But there is more to Comic Con Brussels than meeting international guests. There are hundreds of booths where you can browse some extraordinary merchandise and find fun gadgets, unique games, comics or T-shirts of that one series you have been a fan of for years. You can also learn a lot at Comic Con Brussels. Check out the many workshops where visitors can learn how to wield a Lightsaber, race real drones or enrol in a real Jedi Academy (especially for our youngest visitors, who enjoy free admission)! Do you think you know all there is to know about creating amazing costumes?  Then why not enter the Cosplay contest, which will be judged this year by the internationally renowned Cosplayer Nicole Marie Jean(USA) for a chance to win a 1,000-euro cash prize?

comic-con5This year’s hosts of Comic Con Brussels are the comedian and singer Alex Agnew and the British comedian Matthew Highton. A sure bet that this event will be a barrel of laughs.

comic-con2Whether you’re interested in fab costumes, international stars or plenty of unique merchandise, Comic Con Brussels is an entertaining and amazing event for people of all ages in the magnificent buildings of Tour & Taxis in Brussels.

(Copyright of all images lie with respective owners. No intrusion intended)

‘Fairy Queen’ Ready to Haul Heritage Train Once Again

Fairy Queen1Its a journey worth albums- a short trip for a long-lasting memory. The ‘Fairy Queen’, the oldest surviving functional steam engine in the world is once again ready in this season to haul a heritage train from National Capital Delhi to Rewari, Haryana after a gap of 5 years. This train, which is a great attraction among steam engine lovers across the globe, will run between Delhi Cantt. Station and Rewari from tomorrow i.e. 11th February 2017 for a single day trip. Train will leave Delhi Cantt. railway station at 10.30 in the morning and reach Rewari at 1.00 pm. And on the return journey it will leave Rewari at 4.15 pm and reach Delhi Cantt. at 6.15 in the evening.

Fairy Queen2The locomotive was constructed by Kitson, Thompson and Hewitson at Leeds, in England, in 1855, and reached Kolkata, then known as Calcutta, in the same year. On arrival, it was given fleet number “22” by its owner, the East Indian Railway Company, not receiving a name until 1895. Initially, the 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) gauge locomotive was used to haul light mail trains in West Bengal, operating between Howrah and Raniganj, and during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 hauled troop trains. It was later consigned to line construction duty in Bihar, where it served until 1909.

Fairy Queen3It was restored and given a special spot in the newly built National Rail Museum at Chanakyapuri, in New Delhi which was opened to public 40 years back on 1st February, 1977. The locomotive was restored to full working order in 1997, in preparation for its first mainline journey in 88 years and its return to commercial service on 18 July. It was certified by the Guinness Book of Records in 1998 as the world’s oldest steam locomotive in regular operation. The following year, the train received a National Tourism Award for the most innovative and unique tourism project from Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister of India.

The Trip: There will be three exclusive journeys. First one is tomorrow 11th February and next two on 11th March and then 8th April this year. Ticket price for complete two way journey on the day trip is 6480 Rs per adult passenger (3240 Rs for child below 12 yrs) and for one way trip (either way Delhi-Rewari or Rewari-Delhi) is 3240 Rs per adult passenger (1620 Rs for child below 12 yrs). Journey includes the trip and the visit to Heritage Steam Shed at Rewari. What else, there you will get chance to see another two of Indian railways’ heritage steam engines- Azad and Akbar.

Coaches: The Steam Express has a capacity of 60 seated air-conditioned chair car. Specially designed rail car has large glass windows for better viewing and also a long area in the front to give you a scenic view of the countryside. Whole trip is worth the price indeed.

Some wild moments in Sariska!

SO finally the cliché of the visit. Earlier four accounts- Bhangarh, Kankwari, Neelkanth and the Birds were quite fascinating and actually different from usual routines of visit to the national park. But then what about the wild inside you? Bhangarh might not haunt you but not sighting a tiger in the tiger reserve is certainly going to haunt you to a certain degree for a considerable duration of time. Purely on that terms Sariska has been third time lucky for me. My first trip to Sariska was almost thirty years ago when tiger safari was not a fancy idea, and second one 17 years ago when tiger was always second in my thought. (What was the first?)

Sariska Safari1
Foggy entry through the Sariska gate to the tiger reserve

But then as I have always said that though its always fascinating to watch a tiger in the wild, but not watching it doesn’t creates a sort of disappointment until I have given full time to the jungle. I thoroughly enjoy the jungles sans tiger too, as the most true wildlife enthusiasts will actually do. In that sense as well, safari in Sariska was quite satisfying.

Sariska Safari2
Reflections!

Jungle was as beautiful as always. But interesting part is that no two jungles and no two visits to the same jungle look the same. The  three hour safari had its moments of joy, admiration, awe and pure love. I am revisiting the safari only on those moments, and they are absolutely not in any particular order.

Well, we had the tiger sighting within first 25 minutes into safari, so once we had it, it made the rest of safari time relaxing and anxiety free. Tiger sighting was close but not from front as he chose to just walk in front of the cavalcade of the safari vehicles.

So here are the few glimpses of the mighty cat-

But this sighting was not without a drama and slightly unpleasant one. I always believe that one should enjoy the wildlife that comes their way during safari. It can be and it should be your luck to see an animal, not your right. There has been long debate about use of radio collars on tigers. Still they were accepted as way to track them and save them from poaching. But to use radio collars to help tiger sighting in safari is a bit ugly practice. Here too, while we were waiting for the tiger at a nullah, a supposedly VIP came on another safari vehicle along with a radio tracker, who kept on tracking the exact location of tiger and thus the whole group of six safari vehicles kept following the tiger guided by radio tracker. Look for yourself-

Talking about cats, I have not been so far fortunate to see them hunting in the wild. But we got to see a kill of a leopard who hunted a sambhar and then dragged him up on a tree. Leopard was not there but the kill was still hanging up on the tree-

As per numbers, it is the deer family which rules the jungles. You can find them everywhere and actually observing their behaviour patiently is also very interesting-

Another scene worth remembering from the safari was the cheetal-monkey play. Deer-monkey friendship is always take about in jungle tales. It was so warming to see them play and then drink water together from the same pond-

I had already written in earlier posts about the number of peahens and peacocks in the region. Same was here inside the park. They were everywhere- playing and dancing. How beautiful this bird is!

Talking about birds, here is another one I will not forget for its sheer sharpness, alertness and daring behaviour-

And while returning see, who was there to see off from the park after the end of the safari-

These forests always remind us of what we are and what we are supposed to be.

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Surajkund Mela is on but much more to do this February

The month starts with Basant Panchami today and the day also marks the start of two premier yearly events in the NCR region- Surajkund International Crafts Mela 2017 started today at Surajkund in Faridabad on the Delhi-Haryana border. While in the heart of Delhi 19th Bharat Rang Mahotsav, India’s biggest theatre festival also started. These both are much sought for events by the art & culture enthusiasts.

Surajkund Mela
Surajkund Mela

Surajkund Mela comes right at the nick of spring. With dates fixed for every year (February 1-15) , it makes easier for travellers to plan. A marvellous mix of handicrafts, folk arts and folk dances makes it a crowd puller. With lots of food stalls representing different states, it has lot more to offer. Hosted by Haryana Tourism, this fair also has a large entertainment value. With Valentine Day coming towards the end of the festival, young ones from NCR find it tempting to have some funtime at Surajkund. Artists from many other states also actively participate. Craftsmen from Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and other states display their art. Every year, a theme state is chosen for the Mela, which highlights the state in totality from its architecture to fine arts and crafts. Jharkhand has been chosen as the theme State for the 31st Surajkund International Crafts Mela-2017. The state will showcase its tribal heritage and culture.

Bharat Rang Mahotsav
Bharat Rang Mahotsav

19th Bharat Rang Mahotsav that started today will be there till 21st February. India’s biggest theatre festival hosted by National School of Drama will focus on entertainment, education, enrichment and enlightenment. There will be 12 participating countries and 16 Indian states, 94 productions in 23 languages and performances by 125 groups. Bharat Rang Mahotsav was established a two decades ago by the National School of Drama to stimulate the growth and development of theatre across the country. Originally a national festival showcasing the work of the most creative theatre workers in India, it has evolved to international scope, hosting theatre companies from around the world, and is now the largest theatre festival of Asia. The 19th Mahotsav will include several national and international performances, and various associated events in a wrap-around program. This year Bharat Rang Mahotsav travels to 5 more centres- Kurukshetra, Agartala, Patna, Pune and Hyderabad.

We have already read in the previous post about events in Rajasthan in February. But even outside, there are many reasons to travel this month.

Khajuraho Festival of Dances
Khajuraho Festival of Dances

Spring can be best time to visit Khajuraho, not only to see the monuments but also to witness the one of India’s premier dance festivals. Every ancient monument has a fascinating story to tell. But few match the mystery wrapped around the temples of Khajuraho. Once the capital of the great Chandela Kings, Khajuraho today is a quiet village of a few thousand people. It is also the setting of the Khajuraho Festival of Dances which draws the best classical dancers in the country every year, who perform against the spectacular backdrop of the floodlit temples. The seven-day extravaganza is a unique treat for connoisseurs from all over the world. This year it will be 43rd edition of this festival (20-26 February). The past and the present silhouetted against the glowing sun as the backdrop becomes an exquisite backdrop for the performers. In a setting where the earthly and the divine create perfect harmony – an event that celebrates the pure magic of the rich classical dance traditions of India. As dusk falls, the temples are lit up in a soft, dream-like ethereal stage. The finest exponents of different classical Indian styles are represented – Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Manipuri, and many more. So while you can visit the monuments in day, be guest to dance festival in the evening.

India Art Fair
India Art Fair

India Art Fair, previously known as India Art Summit, is an annual summit of modern and contemporary art. India Art Fair is South Asia’s leading platform for modern and contemporary art and portal to the region’s cultural landscape. Founded in 2008, India Art Fair has become the bedrock of a now booming cultural community with connections to every level of the market. Building on these foundations, India Art Fair is expanding its programming to reflect South Asia’s immense diversity in the visual arts and to provide a platform for innovation across disciplines and exchange, throughout the region and the world. With a shared ambition to promote cultural discourse in South Asia, and provide a platform for these discussions, India Art Fair has developed platforms such as the Speakers’ Forum and Film Programme. This broad and exciting programme of lectures, screenings and conversations will engage a diverse range of stakeholders in the visual arts as well as cover a wide spectrum of artistic practices. This takes place from February 2-5 at NSIC grounds in Delhi’s Okhla Industrial Area.

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival
Kala Ghoda Arts Festival

More for art lovers, Mumbai’s favourite cultural festival, the nine-day Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, is all set to kick-off, this year in partnership with HT (February 4-12). The KGAF calendar features dance, theatre, music and literature events, in addition to art installations, workshops, heritage walks and film screenings. For those looking forward to the diverse calendar of events, this festival hasn’t been soon enough. The festival is quirky and fresh, bringing to us the best of art and culture. The art installations are amazing; the literature events enriching. The nine-day festival adds to the beauty of the city, with its rich programmes. Kala Ghoda is a festival so rich and diverse, yet binding us together. Music performances are exemplary, with elite artists performing for the whole city. It captures the city’s culture and gives the new generation a chance to connect with it. An exciting line-up will feature discussions with 80 authors and storytellers across genres, from model-turned-author Padma Lakshmi to filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee and authors Ashwin Sanghi and Amit Chaudhuri, on everything from mythology to photography, poetry, the environment and Bollywood.

Sufi Sutra which is now Sur Jahan
Sufi Sutra which is now Sur Jahan

For music fans 7th edition of Sur Jahan will be held at Mohar Kunj, Kolkata on February 3 to 5, 2017. Interestingly, like the World Sufi Spirit Festival of Rajasthan, this festival has also changed its name fro Sufi Sutra to Sur Jahan. Any clues??? Anyway,  like previous years, it remains non ticketed festival and open to music lovers. Held in the first weekend of February every year with the motto of ‘Music for Peace, Music for All’, the event showcases international and national music teams, with cultural exchange workshops during the day and concerts in the evenings. The celebrations create the atmosphere of a carnival, with stalls by rural handicraft artists and folk performances. It is being held since 2011 and is now a permanent and much-awaited fixture in the city’s cultural calendar. Since its inception, teams from 22 countries and 12 states of India have participated in this annual musical extravaganza. Among the major attractions this year are the Ale Möller Quartet and Ellika Solo Rafael, both from Sweden, BraAgas of Czech republic, Virelai of Denmark and Otava Yo from Russia. Indian part will be represented by Punjab Qawwali, Bauls of Bengal and Folks of Bengal – an initiative of banglanatak dot com MusiCal supporting urban folk artists. The festival will also showcase Rural Craft & Cultural Hubs of West Bengal, an initiative of West Bengal government’s Department of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and Textiles (MSME&T) in association with UNESCO. Alike last year Sur Jahan is again traveling to Goa this year Feb 8-10.

Nasik Sula Fest
Nasik Sula Fest

But if you like music with some fun then Sula Fest is for you. Held every year in India’s wine capital- Nasik’s Sula vineyards, Sula Fest is the celebration of wine, music and food. The country’s most gorgeously situated, eagerly awaited Gourmet World Music Festival is back and this one promises to be even bigger and better! It also marks the fashion statement as is underlined as a sponsor like Vera Moda. This year is its 10th edition (February 3-5). This year there would be 120 artists performing on three different stages. From 12:30 PM onwards, SulaFest partygoers can expect a megamix of great music, wine, drinks, food, fashion and shopping in the idyllic environs of the winery’s beautiful open-air, Greek-Style amphitheater.

Fun in Goa Carnival
Fun in Goa Carnival

If you are more in the fun mood, than head to Goa for the carnival from February 25-28.  India’s answer to carnivals of Brazil, Caribbean and Europe. Carnival came to Goa with the Portuguese in 1510. This is the local version of the carnival celebrated worldwide before Mardi Gas. In the localised version parade is lead by local King Momo. This three day event is the place where all the colours of Goa come out in a glorious swagger and sweeps away the local as well foreign folks with its charm and charisma. Goa is almost synonymous with fun, music, food, entertainment and merry making and without any real doubt the only place in India that breaks away from the general image of the country as a conservative nation. It can be attributed to the historical fact that Goa was under Portuguese rule in the past and is still in its hang over. The Goa Carnival was started by the Portuguese rulers and since then it it has become an integral part of Goa. During the Carnival days Goa enters into a different zone of its own and become very crowded place. from every part of the world travellers come to enjoy the Goa Carnival. There is celebrations everywhere. Food and drinks are in plenty in accordance with live performances and multi-coloured processions. The scene of Goa Carnival resembles some fairy tale descriptions where people hop around in jovial mood with masks on, fireworks, fortune tellers, group of dancers and and above all happy people all around. Music swings into Goa Carnival quite naturally. The myriad facets of the Goan music compels any onlooker to jig with it. The stylish Spanish guitar, the casual drum beats and the soulful voice are enough to make you move your feet. It is a perfect gateway for everyone who is on the verge of a virtual breakdown in today’s dull, dreary and mundane world.

Kila Raipur Rural Olympics
Kila Raipur Rural Olympics

Looking for some serious fun in the games than head to Kila Raipur in Punjab for the Rural Olympics. It was in 1933. Philanthropist Inder Singh Grewal visualised an annual recreational meet where farmers from areas surrounding Kila Raipur could get together and test their corporal endurance. The idea gave birth to Kila Raipur Sports, the undisputed “Rural Olympics”. In over six decades the festival has grown from a toddler to a prancing, energetic youthful organisation. This pioneer rural sports festival has become an annual international event, which is normally held in the first weekend of February. A dynamic team of organisers – Grewal Sports Association – has taken yet again another pioneering step of giving rural women a break in sports. Today this festival of the rustics attracts more than 4,000 sportsmen and women, both of recognised and traditional sports. The three-day festival is witnessed by more than a million people. Besides, several million others watch it on television, read about it in newspapers and magazines. Whether you are in Punjab or in Toronto or in Southall, you will know the latest about Kila Raipur Sports. Its participants come from all over the globe. Since it takes several months for the immigrants in England, Canada or the USA to select, train and send their Kabbadi and Tug of War teams to this festival which of late has become a truly international, talks about destination KILA RAIPUR start much early. This year the three day olympics are from 17-19 February. Even though Punjab is in grip of election fever, people won’t let anything come between this fun.

Adoor Gajamela
Adoor Gajamela

But if you are of some religious type, than go to Kerala for Adoor Gajamela on 6 February. The picture of a huge tusker in all his adornment is something that catches the mind of all. If you are an elephant lover then don’t miss this wonderful elephant pageant at the Parthasarathy Temple in Adoor. The festival is part of the ten-day annual celebration held at the temple. Kerala’s first elephant pageant for the year, the end of the 10 day festival at Parthasarathy Temple features a procession of nine decorated elephants. Traditional art forms such a panchavadyam (a musical ensemble with five different types of instruments) accompany the parade. Hundreds of people throng the temple premises to witness this spectacle where nine tuskers come in their ceremonial attire to entice all. Parthasarathy Temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna, who is also known as Parthasarathy – the charioteer of Parthan, another name for Arjuna. Arjuna is one of the five Pandava princes, in the Indian epic Mahabharata.

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