Its monsoon time. Bit late this year again like last year, but trying to cover the peninsular India, just in nick of time. Time for some romance and some adventure. Actually brave ones find this the perfect time to hit the roads. Schools are open, hence the official holiday season ends, but not for the diehards. Besides, there are many festivals in the line-up. There are many places like Ladakh which can be visited just at this time of the year. My Top 10 list of ideas for this July….
Embark on Amarnath Yatra
One of India’s most famous annual pilgrimages, to what is considered as one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism. The Amarnath cave is surrounded by snowy mountains, situated at an altitude of 3,888 m (12,756 ft), about 141 km from Srinagar. The cave itself is covered with snow most of the year except for a short period of time in summer when it is open for pilgrims. Thousands of Hindu devotees make an annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave on challenging mountainous terrain to see an ice stalagmite formed inside the cave. Pilgrims visit the holy site during the 45-day season around the festival of Shravani Mela in July–August. This year yatra will commence on July 2 and end on August 18. There are two routes to travel. First one and the traditional one is Jammu – Pahalgam – Chandanwari – Pissu Top – Sheshnag – Panchtarni – Holy Cave. Another one is Srinagar-Sonmarg-Baltal – Domail – Barari – Holy Cave. This is a 14 km. steep trek – one way. Only the very fit can go and come back the same day after trekking for 28 kms. It is possible to hire ponies or palkies. Baltal is, more popular because of its shorter distance. One can also take a helicopter ride close to cave from Sonmarg.
When: 2nd July-18th August
Odyssey to Leh
Leh is mecca to adventurers but it is also the test of nerves. The 13th edition of the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey is to be flagged off from New Delhi on 9th July 2016. This is for all those who love to ride on tough and testing terrain and have the passion to ride. Road trip to Leh through some of the highest motorable mountain passes in the world is one of the most thrilling journeys, one can embark upon. Adventure seekers have tried every possible vehicle on this route. They go on SUVs, cars, bikes, scooters, mopeds and ofcourse bicycles. Journey normally starts from Manali and climbs to cross Rohtang as the first high altitude pass. Next comes Gramphu, where one road on the right takes to Spiti Valley through Kunzam La. While another route on left takes you inside the Lahaul valley towards Leh through- Keylong, Sarchu and Pang. But the epitome of this route is crossing high altitude passes- Baralacha-La (5030 m), Nakee-La (4739 m), Lachulung-La (5065 m) and Tanglang-La (5328 m). Equally amazing is plateau called More plains at an altitude of 4700 metres. Many places on the way have accommodation for a night stay. There are many places to establish camps as well. Its almost ritualistic for many riders to go to Leh on this route in July. Many groups plan their trips during this time. Those who enjoy the company Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey is best suited to them. Also, debuting this year is Himalayan Odyssey Women’s Edition which will have 20 women participants riding on their most memorable motorcycling journey powered by Royal Enfield.
When: 9th to 23rd July
Hemis Tsechu festival, Ladakh
Once you are in Ladakh, you will certainly like to enjoy the monastic festivals as well. The Hemis Tsechu festival takes place annually at the Hemis monastery, the biggest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh. This two-day festival falls on the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar month and commemorates the birth of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas performing sacred masked dances (or a ‘chaam’) accompanied by music from drums, cymbals and long horns in the monastery courtyard. These dances mark the victory of good over evil. As the Hemis festival is held during the peak summer season, it attracts the largest number of people from within and outside Ladakh. The festival is a good opportunity for all the villagers and families to get together and socialise and also a good chance for travellers to interact with the local people. Actually many of the monasteries in Ladakh have their own celebrations during this time of the year. As Karsha Gustor (July 31-August 1), Phyang Tserup (July 31-August 1), Korzok gustor (August 5-6) and Shachukul Gustor (July 21-22) but Hemis Tsechu is certainly the most celebrated of them.
When: 14th & 15th July
Feeding of Elephants at Njangattiri Aanayoottu
The ancient principles of Ayurveda stipulate the Malayalam month of karkkidakam (corresponding to July / August) as the ideal period for rejuvenation. Rejuvenation therapies are believed to be most effective during this period and so it is not just for humans that such therapies are conducted but for the animals too. Animal loving as they are, during this period Keralites shower on the elephants the boons of Ayurveda. The aanayoottu or feeding of elephants with specially medicated food which is held in various parts of Kerala during this time is a very interesting ceremony. These ceremonies are held mostly in the temple premises and the more popular amongst them is the one held at the Njangattiri Bhagavathi Temple at Pattambi in Palakkad district. For the ceremony, elephants lined up on the temple premises are given delicious and healthy food. It is also considered to be a means by which to please Lord Ganesha, the elephant-faced God believed to be responsible for clearing the hurdles along the path of one’s life.
When: 22nd July
Getting there: Nearest railway station is Shoranur, about 18 km while nearest airport is Coimbatore International Airport (Tamil Nadu), about 55 km from Palakkad.
Eid at Old Delhi
Holy month of Ramadan is the time when you need to be in the old city- in and around Jama Masjid. Traditionally, Eid-Ul-Fitar marks the celebrations at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Delhi’s Jama Masjid is one place that is brimming with activities on the occasion of Eid. It is always an emotional experience to step into the place, revered by followers of Islam. The bonhomie and sense of belonging is very evident. The bustling walled city at midnight during Ramadan is a great experience. The Jama Masjid, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1656, is the centre of Eid celebrations in Delhi. Prayers are also offered at Fatehpuri Masjid and Hazrat Nizamuddin in walled city. A lit up Jama Masjid in the walled city adds to the glimmer and exuberance surrounding the festival. Markets in the walled city, especially bakeries, eateries, apparel and accessories shops do brisk business as huge crowds turn up and shop for gifts, clothes and food items. Even non-Muslims visit Jama Masjid market during these days to enjoy the festivities and get their yearly stock of seviiyaan, dates and other delicacies. Even the Karim’s at Jama Masjid is a happening place during these days, with people from all corners of Delhi queued up way past midnight to have a taste of it. An experience not worth missing.
When: Eid is expected to be on 6th July this year, although it depends on sighting of moon.
Waynad Monsoon Carnival, Wayanad
A joint initiative by Kerala Tourism, Govt. of Kerala and Wayanad Tourism, SPLASH – Wayanad Monsoon Carnival used to be hosted every year in the month of July to showcase various tourist destinations and attractions of Wayanad, Splash-Wayanad Monsoon Carnival, is a joint venture by Kerala Tourism, Government of Kerala & the Wayanad Tourism Organisation. Wayanad is a green stretch of land blessed with many of nature’s wonderful gifts and cultural heritage. The name itself is derived from the word “Wayal Nadu” which means “the land of paddy fields”. Wayanad is one of the best hill stations in South India. And this means, there is no lack of beautiful natural sights. But what makes Wayanad so special is its adventurous side. Its strategic location in between of Western Ghats’ mountains gives travelers immense opportunities to trail trekking routes, mountain climbing, hiking etc. Splash earlier used to be a unique platform for Business to Business (B2B) meet. More than 400 travel agents and property owners used to interact here to exchange their views and experiences. But this year because there is already Kerala Tourism Mart in August, there won’t be a B2B meet in Wayanad this year. It would be a normal monsoon festival for tourists as usual on second weekend of July. Now onwards B2B meet (Splash) will be held every alternate year only.
When: 8th to 10th July
Colourful Behdienkhlam of Meghalaya
The Behdienkhlam festival is one of the most popular religious festivals of the Pnar (a tribal community in Jaintia hills district of Meghalaya). Thousands of devotees and spectators coming from all over Khasi and Jaintia hills even the tourists witness the colourful celebration held at “Aitnar” – a sacred pool. Organised annually by the Seinraij Jowai, this unique festival is held after the sowing season is over so as to overcome any destructive forces of nature including diseases by invoking the God for a good harvest. The Behdienkhlam literally means driving away the plague as “Khlam” means ‘Plague’ and “Beh Dein” means to drive away the plague. Participating in the festival, niamtre faithful both young and old from various localities like Iongpiah, Dulong, Panaliar, Loomkyrwiang, Chilliangraij, Loomiongkjam, Tpep-pale Iawmusiang, Ummulong and Shillong Sein Raij bring their well-designed colourful ‘Rots’ or ‘Raths’ at Aitnar. The various rots carry with them different meaning and messages depicting the present social, political and economic issues of the state and apparently the Behdienkhlam is not all about driving away sickness but to also drive away such social evils that are inflicting the society. The elders of the Sein Raij, including the Dolloi (religious heads) perform various rituals before the rots are brought to the pool.
When: 9th to 13th July
Where: Jowai, Jaintia Hills District, Meghalaya
Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath
The deities of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are taken out in a procession to Gundicha Temple and remain there for nine days. Then the deities or Ratha Yatra return to the Main temple. The return journey of Puri Jagannath Ratha Jatra is known as Bahuda Jatra. Deities are usually worshiped in the sanctum of the temple at Puri, but once during the month of Asadha (Rainy Season of Odisha, usually falling in month of June or July), they are brought out onto the Bada Danda (main street of Puri) and travel (3 km) to the Shri Gundicha Temple, in huge chariots (ratha), allowing the public to have darśana (Holy view). This festival is known as Rath Yatra, meaning the journey (yatra) of the chariots (ratha). The Rathas are huge wheeled wooden structures, which are built anew every year and are pulled by the devotees. The chariot for Jagannath is approximately 45 feet high and 35 feet square and takes about 2 months to construct. The artists and painters of Puri decorate the cars and paint flower petals and other designs on the wheels, the wood-carved charioteer and horses, and the inverted lotuses on the wall behind the throne. The Ratha-Yatra is also termed as the Shri Gundicha yatra.
When: 6th July
Where: Puri, Odisha
A maize which is Minjar at Chamba
International Minjar fair is a splendid carnival held in Chamba town of Chamba district, Himachal Pradesh. Known to be a real fun fiesta, the fair comes as a welcome break to the locals and tourists both who throng the region during the fair. Celebrated with a marked enthusiasm, the fair comes as a cultural binding force as it totally rejuvenates the ethnic spirit of the people of this region. Deriving its name from the maize flower, the Minjar Fair finds a lot of legends and folklore’s attached to it. It is believed that an old lady wanted to meet the contemporary king of Chamba and was too poor to buy a nice gift for the king, so the lady took a maize flower along and presented it to the king. The king was so greatly moved by the simplicity of the lady that he declared the day to be feted as maize day or Minjar day. Since then, the day began to be celebrated with great pomp and show. Those festivities take place in the form of Minjar fair at Chamba. It is also said that Raja of Chamba went to Kangra and won the battle. When he was coming back from Kangra via Bhatiyat, the season of Dhan was in full swing, people of the area were busy in their fields, thus, they presented the flower of that Dhan to the Raja. When Raja crossed the Jot and entered other side of Chamba, people were busy in maize crop and they presented the maize flower to the Raja. Minjar mela have now been changed a lot, it has been declared as International fair. Many cultural troupes and Chamba people also participate in the last day procession. Mirza family specially authorized to make a cord of reshmi dhaga which is called minjar. They offer it to the Lord Raghuvir, and Bhagwan Laxmi Nath before giving to the market. Procession also started from the Akhand Chandi Palace of Chamba. During nights, cultural programmes are organised in which many bollywood artists and local artists performs. Whereas, during day time, sports activities are performed which are main attraction of the Minjar Fair.
When: 31st July-6th August
Where: Chamba, Himachal Pradesh
Fertility of Dree Festival
Dree is a fertility festival of the Apatanis held annually on July 5. The word ‘Dree’ is derived from ‘Diiri’, which means purchasing or borrowing of food items when in scarcity or add to the existing stock in anticipation of lean days. In other words Dree is named after Diiri Piilo, a month in Apatani calendar. According to one traditional version, Anii Donii and Abo Liibo, Mother Sun and Father Moon, obtained paddy seeds from Murtu Yaring and sowed it. The yield was, however, poor so a priest called, Nyibu Kharii propitiated Harniyang Pubyang following which crop yields increased. Ever since, people celebrate this festival for good crops every year. Ever since, Apatains celebrate Dree evry year during Dree Piilo, June –July, for goods crops and family and social welfare. Before 1967 when Dree was given a modern outlook by the educated sections of the society led by Lod Kojee, the festival was observed on a suitable date in villages. A priest inaugurated the festival and then people took out a procession from Lapang, a community platform, with chanting of hymns to appease spirits. Taboos followed performance of various rituals such as Tamu, Metii, and Danyi. During taboos they conduct social discussions, games and sports and entertainments. Main highlights of present day Dree celebration are inauguration of the festival by a chief guest, hoisting of Dree flag, rituals and presentation of cultural activities. Cucumber, symbolizing sacredness of vegetables, is distributed to guests and participants. Games and sports, community feast, and entertainment also form a part of the celebration. The Dree Festival is the biggest festival of the Apatanis and celebrated with zest marked by sacrificial offerings and prayers.
When: 5th July