Tag Archives: Agra

The original Bahubali and the Ghoda goes green!


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Spring is early this year, not just because Basant Panchami was celebrated in January itself, but also because winter too seems to be giving way to the spring already. Time of romance and enjoyment. Carnival time at places around the world. But the shortest month of the year is also one of the richest in terms of cultural output that we get out of it.

Khajuraho Festival of Dances

Well, we are already done with the first quarter of the month and many events have already rounded up, like the Rural Olympics at Kila Raipur in Punjab (2-4 February 2018) and the Sula Fest at Nasik (3-4 February). Even the Kala Ghoda Arts festival at Mumbai has started from 3rd February, but there is still time to catch up few events in remaining days. But surely gem of the month is the once in 12 years Mahamasthakabhisheka of the ‘original’ Bahubali at Shravanbelagola in Karnataka. But we also have some lesser known festivals in monasteries of Ladakh, if you are daring to venture there in the winters. Also in my (remaining) list for the month is another recent addition to Rajasthan’s ever growing music sphere- a festival at Udaipur. Then there are always the regular ones with their evergreen charm.

Mahamasthakabhisheka of Bahubali

Mahamasthakabhisheka, the head anointing ceremony is performed once in 12 years to the 57 feet tall monolithic statue of Lord Bahubali at Shravanabelagola. The event is being be held under the leadership of Swasti Sri Charukeerthi Bhattarakha Swamiji of Shravanabelagola from 17th-25th February 2018. Shravanabelagola/Sravanabelagola is one of the most important Jain tirth (a sacred place) of the Jains in South India. It is a place of great importance from the point of pilgrimage and also archeological and religious heritage. About eight hundred odd inscriptions which the Karnataka Archeological Department has collected at the place are mostly Jaina and cover a very extended period from 600 to 1830 A.D. Some refer even to the remote time of Chandragupta Maurya and also relate the story of the first settlement of Jains at Shravanabelagola. That this village was an acknowledged seat of learning is proved from the fact that a priest from here named Akalanka was in 788 A.D. summoned to the court of Himasitala at Kanchi where having confuted the Buddhists in public disputation, he was instrumental in gaining their expulsion from the South of India to Ceylon. The place derives its name from the point that Shravana or Shramana means a Jain ascetic and Belagola or Biliya Kola means white pond. Usually Mahamasthakabhisheka to Bahubali idols at Shravanabelagola, Karkala, Venur and Dharmasthala are conducted once in 12 years. There are various interesting stories/interpretations around this.

When: 17-25 February 2018

Where: Shravanabelagola is at a distance of 51 KM south-east of Hassan, the district centre. It is situated at a distance of 12 Km to the south from the Bangalore-Mangalore road (NH-48), 78 Kms from Halebidu, 89 Kms from Belur, 83 Kms from Mysore, 233 Kms from Mangalore and 157 Kms from Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka. It is well connected with State Highways and District roads. Bangalore and Mangalore are the two nearest destinations connected by Air. There are trains connecting Shravanabelagola with the state capital Bengaluru (Bangalore), its district head quarter Hassan, the cultural capital of Karnataka Mysuru and the state’s chief port city Mangaluru (Mangalore).

Kala Ghoda goes Green this year

Hindustan Times Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is the country’s largest multicultural festival, taking place in February each year. Kala Ghoda Association, was formed on 30th October 1998 with the object of maintaining and preserving the heritage and art district of South Mumbai. Mission was to preserve and refurbish the heritage arts district of Mumbai with the co-operation of local authorities and to create and spread multi-cultural awareness through platforms like festivals and events especially amongst those who have little opportunity to access or be exposed to culture. Hence the festival is free for everybody across all he sections. The Festival draws visitors in large numbers, not just from the city but from all over the country, and the world. Hara Ghoda The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival brings to the stage the wonders of nature shown through performance and art. The raging flames of the Fire of victory (agni), the liquid blue of Aqua (jal), the indefinable Air (vayu), the indestructible Earth (prithvi) and the realms of Space (akash), finds its place and artistic representation at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2018. The HTKGAF 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.

When: 3-11 February, 2018

Where: Different venues for different arts across Mumbai, although there is a pending court case related to use of Cross Maidan this year.

Destruction of evil with fanfare at Dosmochey Festival in Ladakh!

This is a festival from the rooftop of the world. Likir Festival and Leh Dosmochey normally falls around February. Dosmochey is a monastic festival celebrated in the month of February each year. This festival was said to be started by the rulers of Ladakh on the pattern of the popular Mon-Lam meaning ‘Great Prayer’ ceremony of Lhasa. It is celebrated at Leh, Likir (lower Ladakh) and Diskit (in Nubra valley) monasteries. It is the last event of the New Year celebrations, and is held on the 28th and 29th day of the 12th Tibetan month. This two day festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Hundreds of Ladakhi people and winter tourists actively take part in this festival. In Leh, there is a courtyard below Leh Palace, where festival is held. Monks from various monasteries perform mask dance and ritual prayers. Mask dance is accompanied with the sound of large drums, cymbals and trumpet. Monks of Takthok monastery (the only remaining Nyingmapa school monastery and who are considered as masters in Tantric practice and astrology) prepare the complex thread crosses to trap evil and demonic forces. On the second day, crowds of masked dancers and people march through streets spreading positive energy. Besides, offerings of storma, ritual figures moulded out of dough, are brought out and ceremonially cast away into the desert, or burnt. These scapegoats believed to carry away with them the evil spirits of the year just passed and thus the town is cleaned and made ready to welcome the New Year.

When: 13-14 February, 2018

Where: Leh Palace, Likir and Diskit Gompa

Cham dances of Yargon Tungshak 

Stay for some more days after Dosmochey festival and you can enjoy another one in Nubra valley this time. Even though winter is not the most ideal time to plan a Leh Ladakh tour, those who want to witness the livelier side of Ladakh must plan a visit to Nubra Valley during the late months of winter. During the late winters, the calm and placid Nubra valley of Ladakh comes to life with the vibrant Yargon Tungshak Festival. A flamboyant exhibition of culture, tradition, folk music, and the much acclaimed Cham Dance (Mask Dance), the Yargon Tungshak Festival brings in a new and the livelier vibes back to the entire valley. Decked up in traditional costumes, the dance is performed on the beats of drums and low-level syllables which are uttered with a strange melody. Dances which are performed in this festival are Lion, Yak and Tashipa dances. Ladakhi festiveals like Yargon Tungshak are synodnymous with delicious food that is peculiar only to that region. Locals, during the Yargon Tungshak Festival, feast on delicious local foods; mostly skyu, gurgur cha and thukpa, and the monasteries also holds social feast for the locals. Also, a grand religious prayer takes place in a monastery. Along with the traditional Tibetian chants, Sanskrit chants are also uttered by monks.

When: 19-20 February, 2018

Where: Nubra Yama, Nubra, Ladakh

The oracles at Stok Guru Tsechu

Dare I say that come back from Nubra to the Stok village and in few days you will witness another great monastic festival and a rare one. The Stok Guru Tsechu Festival is held in the first month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, the holy prayer month. It is celebrated in accordance with Guru Rinpoche’s (Padmasambhava) birthday which falls on the 9th and 10th day of the first Tibetan month. Stok Guru Tsechu is a very unique monastic festival. Apart from the famous mask dance, its highlight is the awaited oracles’ prediction for the coming year. Stok village, where the festival takes place, offers the great view down the valley on the mighty Indus river and the majestic snow-capped Stok Kangri Mountain (6,153m above sea level). Every now and then one gets easily delighted by the festive vibes that the locals emanate in their colourful attire. The festival is a platform where villagers take the opportunity to serve their spiritual masters and the monastery in its turn entertains its long-bearing benefactors through a colourful Cham or mask dance. The villagers are introduced to different manifestations of Tantric Buddhas through the means of religious dance performed by the monks who are in turn disguised in sacred costumes, ornaments and huge masks resembling different Buddhas. As the sun sets down above the high rocky mountains of Stok range, the two oracles appear in the monastery courtyard. Fully possessed and in trance, they are escorted to the main temple by monks, lay people and two Deer mask dance performers. They are being glorified with the high baritone trumpets blown by the monks along with cymbals, drums and a group of lay musicians playing traditional drums and pipes. It is believed that there are seven oracles residing in Ladakh. Two of them are in Stok village, two in Matho village, other two in Gya village and one in Skurbuchan village. The story tells that their origin dates back to the pre-Buddhist era where Shamanism or Bon was prevailing in Tibet. As Guru Rinpoche subdued all the shamanic energy and converted them into Buddhism in the 8th century AD, they took pledge to protect the Buddha Dharma since then.

When: 24-25 February, 2018

Where: Stok village, Ladakh

World of music at the City of Lakes

The City of Lakes sings a different tune come February. Udaipur plays host to the third edition of the Udaipur World Music Festival. Organised by SEHER, this festival brings together global artists and ensembles from over 20 countries. More than 100 artists will collaborate to give an eclectic variety of performances. The festival which witnessed a footfall of more than 50,000 people visiting from different parts of the world during its last two editions, assures an interesting itinerary with artistes from France, US, Nepal, Spain, Italy, Thailand and India giving music lovers a taste of jazz, classical, rock and pop music this edition. Music enthusiasts will be privy to live performances by famous bands like Txarango from Spain and Brazilian singer Flavia Coelho and many other artistes who will be performing for the first time in the country. Music connoisseurs will also get to enjoy soulful renditions by the lauded musical trio Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy from India and The Ransom Collective from Philippines. Celebrating cultural diversity at its best, the festival will also provide a platform to local Rajasthani artistes along with an insightful exposure to the local communities.The event is designed to cater to the music sensibilities of people across different ages and from all walks of life. An absolute once-in-a-lifetime experience, this one is a sheer treat for lovers of good music. The event will host some of the most renowned music artistes including Italian musician Oi Dipnoi, Himalyan folk singer-songwriter Bipul Chettri, New York-based Indian guitarist and composer Shubh Saran, French musical artist Maya Kamaty, amongst others. “It has been a fantastic experience to see tremendous response from music lovers in the past two editions. This year we have planned to take the festival to new levels with an eclectic line up of world musicians who will be performing during the festival. The festival is a celebration of myriad cultures, ethnicities and colorful traditions through music,” Festival Director Sanjeev Bhargava said.

When: 9-11 February 2018

Where: Fateh Sagar Paal and Gandhi ground, Udaipur

Showcasing art and handicraft at Surajkund

Surajkund Mela

One of the most awaited fairs of north India happens to be very close to Delhi. Comes right at the nick of spring. Dates have been slightly altered this year. 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. This year visitors at the upcoming Surajkund Mela will be able to take a joy ride in a helicopter and enjoy an aerial view of the fair and surrounding areas. Every year, a country is chosen to be the Partner Nation that showcases the best of its art, culture, traditions and heritage during the Mela fortnight. Artists from many other states also actively participate. Every year, a theme state is chosen for the Mela, which highlights the state in totality from its architecture to fine arts and crafts. This year Kyrgyzstan is the partner nation and Uttar Pradesh has been chosen as the theme State for the 32nd Surajkund International Crafts Mela-2018.

When: 2-18 February, 2018

Where: Surajkund, Faridabad, Haryana

A music fest for world peace

Sufi Sutra which is now Sur Jahan

8th edition of Sur Jahan (previous name Sufi Sutra) will be held at Mohar Kunj, Kolkata on February 2 to 4, 2017. 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 7-9.

When: 2-4 February, 2018.

Where: Kolkata & Goa

Carnival times in Goa

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.

When: 10-13 February, 2018

Where: Panaji, Vasco, Mapusa

Best of classical dance at Khajuraho

Every ancient monument has a fascinating story to tell. But few match the mystery wrapped around the temples of Khajuraho in central India. 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 44th edition of this festival. The Khajuraho Festival of Dances draws the best classical dancers in the country who perform against the spectacular backdrop of the floodlit temples every year in February/March. 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.

When: 20-26 February 2018

Where: Western group of temples, Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh

An Olympics for Theatre in Delhi this time

Bharat Rang Mahotsav

India’s biggest theatre festival hosted by National School of Drama will this year turn into 8th Theatre Olympics. India will be hosting this event for the first time. It will be a grand showcase of the international theatre. Theate Olympics is going to feature work by playrights, directors, actors, designers, theatre groups and drama institutions from India and abroad. It will showcase outstanding productions that have been performed for the public on or before 31st August 2017. The theme of the Olympics is Flag of Friendship. The Theatre Olympics was established in 1993 in Delphi, Greece, on the initiative of the famous Greek theatre director, Theodoros Terzopoulos. It is a platform for theatrical exchange, a gathering place for students and masters, where a dialogue despite ideological, culture and language differences is encouraged. Moreover, as its subtitle suggests, Crossing Millennia, it is an initiative that emphasizes the importance of connecting the past, present, and future together. The founding committee was a group of eight internationally renowned theatre directors: Theodoros Terzopoulos, Nuria Espert, Antunes Filho, Tony Harrison, Yuri Lyubimov, Heiner Müller, Tadashi Suzuki and Robert Wilson. It is a non-profit organization. Its administrative headquarters are located in Athens, Greece (European office) and in Togamura, Japan (Asian office).

When: 17 February-8 April 2018

Where: National School of Drama, New Delhi, but plays across the country at various locations including Agartala, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Chennai, Guwahati, Imphal, Jaipur, Jammu, Kolkata, Mumbai, Patna, Thiruvanathapuram and Varanasi.

Enjoying contemporary art at India Art Summit

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. This is the 10th year of this Art summit. 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. There is strong representation of leading Indian and international galleries to complement the fair’s regional perspective and enable a deeper engagement with art. A curated showcase of interactive, large-scale installations revealing the most stimulating cross section of artists, mediums and processes from the subcontinent. 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.

When: 9-12 February, 2018

Where: NSIC Exhibition Grounds, Okhla Industrial Estate, New Delhi.


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Lot outside Kerala too to enjoy in March

I talked about Kerala yesterday but there is lot more happening outside Kerala too in terms of events and festivals. With spring in its full bloom, it is riot of colours everywhere- in nature as well on faces! Actually, this is one of the most awaited months of the year because of its festivities- festival of colours- Holi undoubtedly. It is also last of the months of the pleasant weather before the summer strikes. Its already getting hot this time of the year. Don’t spare a chance to be around at any one of these places! As a matter of fact, there are so many happenings this month that instead of usual ten, I couldn’t stop myself from listing eleven this time. Here they go-

Festival of colours in Brij

HoliThough there are many festivals around the world where people throw colours, waters, flowers, mud, tomatoes, oranges and what not on each other, but no celebration can be compared to the fervour of celebrating Holi in mythical land of Krishna. Though Holi is celebrated in almost all parts of northern and central India, but it is the spirit of tradition that draws thousands every year to Mathura-Vrindavan to feel and play the holi as it used to be when Krishna used to play with Radha. In this area, festival of colours starts many days prior to the actual Holi day and continues long after that. It seems that for weeks together, this land has nothing else to do then relive the tradition of playing with colours. From temples to every household, prepares for it and is part of it. This holi is played in all possible ways- with flowers, colours, water and even by women folk beating their male counterparts when men of Nandgaon go to play Holi with women of Barsana, a mythical representation of Krishna going to play Holi with Radha. Tourists from all over the world come to witness this unique festival.

When: 5-15 March, 2017

Where: Barsana, Mathura

Check your Yoga quotient

International_YogaWhen it comes to Yoga, India has many gurus—as many as we have cricket experts. With growing popularity around the world, yoga festivals are the flavour of the season. There are many international tourists who plan their India trip around such yoga festivals. Places like Rishikesh has many of these. One among these with an international repute is the annual International Yoga Festival organised by Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh. This year it presents a ‘truly’ International Yoga Festival grounded in the authentic origin of Yoga. Practise and learn from masters from the Traditional Yoga Lineages from India, as well as masters of International well known yoga schools & styles. During this one-week Festival, one will have the opportunity to participate in over 60 hours of Yoga classes from world-class Yoga teachers practicing multiple styles of Yoga including Kundalini Yoga, Power Vinyasa Yoga, Iyengar Yoga and Kriya Yoga. The International Yoga Festival explores the eight limbs of Yoga and how they apply to human lives whether one considers itself as Yoga student or not.The participants will also be blessed with the presence, satsang and divine words of ‘revered saints and spiritual masters’ from within India. Started in 1999, this is the 16th year for this festival. With more than 400 people from over 30 countries, it’s grown to become one of the largest yoga gatherings in the world.

When: 1-7 March, 2017

Where: Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh

Harvest festival of Chapchar Kut

Chapchar-KutChapchar Kut is a harvest festival named after bamboo that has been cut, and is drying for burning and subsequent cultivation. The traditional bamboo dance performed by women (while men sit on the ground and beat bamboo sticks against each other), called cheraw, is a big part of the festival. Different styles of tribal dance performances take place amidst symbol clashes and beats of drums. There’s art, handicrafts, concerts, flower shows, and food as well. At the end of February, when winter starts receding, the Mizos prepare the land for fresh planting. There are few days of relaxation before the serious business of sowing starts and that is when the Chapchar Kut festival is celebrated with gaiety and fervour. A spring festival, this is the most important festival and the only one regularly observed during the first week of March in Mizoram. On this day people of all ages, young and old, men and women dressed in their colourful costumes and distinctive head gears and jewelries, assemble and perform various folk dances, singing traditional songs accompanied by beating of drums, gongs and cymbals. They dance in joyous celebration of life, each team displaying the best of its region. These are generally group dances with a lot of bonhomie and courting woven into them. Some dances are strictly martial danced by strong virile warriors with their weapons and trophies. One dance perennially popular is the Cheraw or the “bamboo dance” so called as long bamboo staves are used for this dance. This is the most colourful and distinctive dance of the Mizos requiring skill and an alert mind to perform. The other main dances performed during Chapchar Kut are Khuallam, Chheihlam, Chai and Sarlamkai. “Khual lam” is an auspicious dance performed by a group of dancers celebrating new beginnings. It is also a welcome dance for guests during community festivities.Exhibition and sale of indigenous Handloom and Handicraft products and other tourist attractions like flower show, food festival, musical competition and different traditional games are also organised during the Chapchar Kut festival

When: 3 March, 2017

Where: Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram. Also Lunglei and Saiha

Goa’s version of Holi- Shigmo

ShigmotsavGoa’s biggest spring festival, Shigmo, is the state’s version of Holi. It’s a Hindu festival that’s filled with bright decorations, singing, dancing, and colors. One traditional dance that’s often performed is the Ghode Modni martial arts horse dance. Shigmo parade is a street festival where vibrant colours and overwhelming celebrations lift the spirits of the entire state. It’s an experience you cannot afford to miss. This religious Hindu festival is filled with colours, music, dance and floats. In true meaning, it depicts the life of a Goan in elaborate folk performances by local men and women who dance tirelessly in huge processions along with the parade. Traditionally it was celebrated as spring’s biggest festival which honoured the homecoming of the warriors who had left their homes and families at the end of Dusshera to fight the invaders. Traditional folk dances and enactment of mythological scenes is the major highlight of this parade. Shigmotsav as they call it, is similar to Holi but it’s celebrated for 14 days in Goa. It is also a farewell to the winters. Traditional folk dances like Ghode Modni and Fugdi are performed on streets in massive troupes along the procession, showcasing the tradition of Goa. The shimmering floats with extensive lighting and sound effects move along with the parade gripping the attention of a huge crowd that aligns the streets of Goa.

When: 24 March-7 April, 2017.

Where: All over Goa, particular evenings in Panjim where a huge street procession is held with floats depicting Ramayana and Mahabaratha scenes, drums, and folk dancing. Celebrations are more authentic in rural areas. Expect plenty of authentic Goan cuisine and fenni (local alcoholic drink).

A festival for Olive Ridley turtles

turtlesNow that’s unusual. Spend a time at beach to show the commitment towards conservation of an endangered species. See newly hatched, endangered Olive Ridley turtles take their amazing march into the sea at the annual Turtle Festival. As well as this, you’ll get to sample traditional Indian village life by stopping over at local home-stays in the area (dormitory rooms only). Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM) is a leading non-government organisation (NGO) in India, engaged in conservation of, education about and research on nature. In the year 1992, SNM started its work in the pristine region of Konkan on the western coast of Maharashtra state in India.Sahyadri started ‘Home Stay’ to host metro tourists at Velas in 2006 as a part of ‘Turtle Festival’. Turtle festival is an opportunity for metro-tourists to bid best wishes to the newly born sea turtle hatchlings while crawling towards their home. To ensure longevity of the project, Sahyadri also helped locals to form ‘Kaasav Mitra Mandal’ (Turtle Friends). Over the last 6 years, ‘Home Stay’ has received excellent support and guidance by locals, Gram Panchayat and the Forest Department. Sahyadri empowered villagers by starting Velas Homestay to host the tourists visiting during Turtle Festival. There is no fixed date and people organise different tours during the hatching time of turtles in February-March.

When: March, 2017

Where: The turtle village Velas in Konkan region is almost 225 kms from Mumbai and around 120 kms from Chiplun. Its also 6 hours bus journey from Ratnagiri. Chiplun and Ratnagiri are on the Konkan railway main line.

Myoko Festival, Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh

MyokoOne of the most impressive festivals of the Apatani in Arunachal is Myoko. It is celebrated in spring. In it age-old beliefs in the possibility of attaining and directing fertility to the fields and the people are interwoven with methods of strengthening family, clan and inter-village ties. The most important day is the day of the great pig sacrifices. It is believed that on this day the gods and goddesses will bless the place. At 2 o’clock the pigs are brought to the sacrificial place. From 4 o’clock onwards the priest starts reciting prayers which last for many hours. With the sunrise the freshly married women appear in their festive attire and sprinkle rice flour and rice beer over the dozens of pigs lying on the ground. At the same time the assistant priest sacrifices chickens on an altar on the sacred ground. After the main Myoko priest has been chanting his prayers for several hours, selected pigs receive special rituals before sacrifice. That part of the festival might not be for the weak-hearted. The Apatani tribe living in the Ziro Valley are keepers of folklore and legends, and customs so different. Bringing together all the Apatani tribes is their most important festival, Myoko, when the tribes renew their relationships, and pay homage to ancestors and nature for its gift of life and means of sustenance.

When: 20-30 March, 2017

Where: Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh

A garden so exclusive!

mughal-gardenIt can be called as one of the biggest private gardens in the world at one of the biggest private residence in the world. Nearly 10,000 Tulips in vivid colours are be the main attraction of annual ‘Udyanotsav’ which President Pranab Mukherjee recently threw open at Mughal Garden for public. The iconic Mughal Gardens of the Rashtrapati Bhavan is open for the public from February 5. The beautiful lawns, comprising the spiritual garden, herbal garden, bonsai garden and musical garden, will remain open from till March 12 (except on Mondays which are maintenance days) between 9:30 am-4:00 pm.) So you still have time, if you have not already gone there. President Mukherjee inaugrated the gardens, as part of the ‘Udyanotsav’, on February 4. Entry and exit for people to reach the Mughal Gardens is from Gate No 35 of the President’s Estate, close to where North Avenue meets Rashtrapati Bhavan. Visitors are not allowed to bring any water bottles, briefcases, handbags/ladies purses, cameras, radios, transistors, boxes, umbrellas, eatables etc. Such articles, if any, have to be deposited at the entry point. Arrangements for drinking water, toilets, first aid/medical facility and rest rooms for senior citizens, women and children have also been provided. There will be special visiting days too as the gardens will open exclusively on March 10 for farmers, differently abled persons, defence/paramilitary forces and Delhi Police personnel. They can visit the gardens on this day between 9:30 am-4:00 pm and the entry will be through Gate No 35. The tactile garden will be open for visually impaired people on March 10 from 11:00 am-4:00 pm and the entry can be made from gate No 12, situated on Church Road (next to North Avenue). The garden has more than 120 celebrated varieties of roses who have their prime bloom is in February-March. The special roses include Green Rose and Angelique. Nearly 40 fragrant varieties include Belami, Black Lady, Double Delight, Eiffel Tower, Granada, Jadis, Mr Lincoln, Sadabahar and Taj Mahal. The Gardens include roses named Mother Teresa, Arjun, Bhim, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Jawahar and Dr BP Pal besides international celebrities with names like John F Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth, Mr Lincoln and Montezuma. Other rose varieties worth mentioning are Christian Dior, Happiness, Century Two, First Prize, Kiss of Fire, Iceberg and Granada. Unlike other gardens which grow a limited variety of roses but in large masses, the Mughal Garden features a large range of rose varieties in one place.

When: 5 February-12 March, 2017

Where: Mughal Gardens, Rashtrapati Bhawan, Delhi

Gangaur at Jaipur

Gangaur-jaipurOne of the most important festivals in Rajasthan, Gangaur is all about honoring the goddess Gauri. In some form or the other it is celebrated all over Rajasthan. “gan” is a synonym for Lord Shiva and “gauri” or “gaur” stands for Goddess Parvati, the heavenly consort of Lord Shiva. Gangaur celebrates the union of the two and is a symbol of conjugal and marital happiness.This festival is predominantly for women. Colorful processions of bejeweled images of the goddess Gauri wind their way all over cities and villages, accompanied by local bands. In Jaipur, traditional procession of Gangaur commences form the Zanani- Deodhi of the City Palace, passing through Tripolia Bazaar, Chhoti Chaupar, Gangauri Bazaar, Chaugan stadium and finally converges near the Talkatora. The procession is headed by a old palanquins, chariots, bullock carts and performance folk artistes.

When: 29-30 March, 2017.

Where: All over Rajasthan, however the festivities in Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, and Nathdwara are the most notable

Mewar Festival at Udaipur

Mewar-FestivalThe Mewar Festival welcomes the arrival of spring. It coincides with the festival of Gangaur in Udaipur, and has a unique charm about it. The women folk gather to dress the images of Isar and Gangaur and then carry them in a ceremonial procession through different parts of the city. The procession winds its way to the Gangaur Ghat at Lake Pichhola. Here, the images are transferred to special boats amidst much singing and festivity. Once the religious part of the festival is over, it is time for cultural events where Rajasthani culture is portrayed through songs, dances and other programmes. The festival culminates with an impressive fireworks display. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see a range of traditional musical instruments being played.

When: 30 March-1 April, 2017

Where: Udaipur, Rajasthan

Taj Mahotsav at Agra

Taj-MahotsavNormally this festival is held every year in February, but due to elections in Uttar Pradesh, it was postponed this year for a month. This 10 days long carnival is actually a vibrant platform that gives you information of India where you can find India’s rich arts, crafts, cultures, cuisine, dance and music. Taj Mahal is the most beautiful historical place of India which tells about incredible India. Taj Mahotsav is organized by UP Tourism and it is a source to increase Indian Tourism. This cultural bonanza was started in year 1992 and since then its grandeur has reached to greater heights. One of the objectives of this craft mela is to provide encouragement to the Artisans. It also makes available the magnificent work of art and craft at the most reasonable and authentic prices that are not inflated by high maintenance cost. About 400 legendary artisans from different parts of the country get an opportunity to display their exquisite works of art. To name a few among them  are the wood/stone carvings from Tamil Nadu, Bamboo/cane work from North East India, Paper mash work from South India and Kashmir, the marble and zardozi work from Agra, wood carving from Saharanpur, brass wares from Moradabad, hand made carpets from Bhadohi, Pottery from Khurja, Chikan work from Lucknow, silk & zari work from Banaras, shawls & carpets from Kashmir/Gujarat and hand printing from Farrukhabad and Kantha stitch from west Bengal etc. Apart from the exquisite craft work you can experience the majestic and magnetic performances by artistes from every walks of life. The soul-stirring performances will engulf you to the extent of casting a spell. Throughout the Mahotsav, one can experience a profusion of folk & classical music & dances of various regions. Besides the folk, the Mahotsav also exhibit the performance from the world renowned artistes from classical, semi-classical and popular art forms. Beside being the right destination for the arts & crafts, the Mahotsav is also a delight for the connoisseurs of good food as it is the ideal place to pamper the taste buds of the visitors with endless varieties of scrumptious dishes. Some of the oldest exponents of the cuisine-art prepare the lip-smacking dishes. One can also relish the typical preparations from the interiors of Uttar Pradesh. Funfair is the biggest attraction for children in the festival. It is a complete family entertainment which offers thrill and amusement for every one. Teenagers and adults enjoy various rides and roller coaster while children are happy with small ride such as merry-go-round, Train-rides and Ferris wheel.

When: 18-27 March, 2017

Where: Shilpgram, Eastern gate of Taj Mahal, Agra

Oracle tradition of Ladakh at Matho 

matho-nagrangTough to say to go to Ladakh at this time but there is no barrier for those who are keen to enjoy the fun. Each year, in the small village of Matho, the people come together to celebrate a part of their mystical heritage. The Oracle Matho Nagrang Festival is held each year in Ladakh, India during the first month of the Tibetan new year. It is believed that two oracles, or Ronstang, inhabit the bodies of two specially chosen monks in order to predict the future of the village and of individual villagers. Matho itself, just 26 kilometers from Ladakh, is named after the Matho monastery, which means “many happiness.” Due to its location, the monastery does not get many visitors outside of the annual Winter Festival of the Oracles but has a great deal to offer. It is the only monastery of the Sakyapa sect in Ladakh – one of the four main sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The Sakya sect dates back to the 11th century and practices esoterism, or tantra, as its foundational teaching. The monastery also houses a museum with centuries old Thangpa. A Thangpa is a painting done on silk tapestry. Buddhist deities or mandalas are usually depicted and the Thangpa are used as teaching tools in the Buddhist tradition. Also in the museum are the colourful silken robes and ceremonial masks worn by the monks during the festival. The costumes are worn during dances that depict Buddhist history as well as the history of the village. The festival begins much earlier than the two public days of festivities. For the monks who serve as the vessels for the oracles are chosen every four years.

When: 11-12 March, 2017

Where: Matho monastery, Ladakh

 

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.

Basking in glory : Fatehpur Sikri in lensview

It is indeed one of the reminiscence of India’s glorious past- one which has been largely well-documentated and one which is largely intact, as is the case with most of the Mughal-era structures of that time. The beauty of this place is that every time you come here, you learn a few new things about the old times, just like sort of revising the history. Every time, it gives you a new perspective in current situations. Well, we are talking about Father Sikri, near Agra which was the capital of great Mughal emperor Akbar.

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This architectural wonder is located right adjacent to the tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti, who was the guiding soul of Akbar throughout his life. Both the structures, often visited together, have different identities and different architectural values as well. But both share combined history. Here, I am sharing the images only from one of these two- the Akbar Palace.

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The palace also defines the vision and ideas of Akbar as a ruler and as a person. His life has already been turned into a folklore by many films made on him. All of us know about Jodhabai the rajput princess from Jaipur who was Akbar’s hindu wife and perhaps most widely known. Hence there is Jodhabai’s Palace (below) which is the biggest one of all. But then there is a large contradiction between oral and written history on this, Written history says that Jodhabai had nothing to do with Sikri and actually this palace was Akbar’s main haram and was wrongly referred to as Jodhabai’s palace. But all guides will tell you that it is Jodhabai’s palace and as a proof they will show you the basil plant in the centre of the palace (considered sacred by the hindus) and a temple right in front of it which presumably had idols of hindu deities. But than there is a question- What was the Akbar’s haram without Jodhabai?

Jodhabai Palace
Jodhabai Palace

Then there is also Jodhbai’s kitchen in this part. You can still see some utensils of those times kept here. Interesting is the design of the kitchen (below, click the photo and zoom it) where you will find the walls decorated with carvings of ear-rings (Jhumkas, a traditional ear ornament of Rajasthani style). This again is used as a proof by the oral history to say that this palace belonged to Jodhabai who’s aesthetic sense reflected in the design of the palace.

Jodhabai's Kitchen
Jodhabai’s Kitchen

This palace also is striking for its well developed drainage and water harvesting system. You will rarely find anything like this in palaces of that time. The drains still look intact.

drainage system
drainage system

Right behind the Jodhabai’s palace is this pool supposedly for queens to take bath. This covered pool, with provisions to cover sides with curtains also had a perfect water inlet and outlet system, which can still be seen here.

The pool
The pool

Move ahead and there is Birbal’s house (below) on the north-west corner of Jodhabai’s palace. Popular belief is that this house was built for Akbar’s first queen Ruqayya Begum who actually never occupied it and it was then given to Birbal.

Birbal's house
Birbal’s house

This two storied house is one of the most beautifully carved structure of the Sikri palace with beautiful carvings on walls, which is rarely found in other structures of the palace. (see below)

Right behind the Birbal’s house was the place to keep horses and elephants. You can see (below) the hooks used to chain them.

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Then you enter the main palace which housed Akbar’s palace, Panch Mahal, a very unique five storied structure used for recreation, a madarsa building for girls to study and Anoop Talab (pond) which was famously known as the place where Tansen would perform.

On one side was two storied Diwan-Khana-I-Khas and Khwabgah, the Akbar’s palace where he used to sleep, study and have food on the lower floor and upper floor where he used to give audience to the public.

Then close to Akbar’s palace was the house of his christian queen- populrlaly known as Turkish Sultana.

In the large compound in front of panch mahal was this game carved on floor, which is closely similar to today’s Ludo. Emperor’s too needed time to play and rejoice.

Emperor's play!
Emperor’s play!

Then in the left corner was a building known to house the treasure of the emperor. This building is said to have derived its design from Jain temples of medieval India. In the pictures below, you can see the holes at the bottom of shelf which lead to hollow wall, used to hide the treasure. Such shelves are there everywhere in this building.  (Do take care not to put your hands inside, as now there might be lizards inside!)

Then there is the all-important building which reflected the Akbar’s vision to religion in form of a new religious belief pronounced by him as Din-I-Ilahi. It was said to be eclectic religion that blended beliefs from various religions.

Din-e-Ilahi
Din-e-Ilahi

Akbar had a elephant which he loved a lot. When the elephant died, Akbar constructed a minaret in his memory. This minaret (below) is behind the palace towards the side of Hathi Pol (elephant gate) entrance.

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Few tips:

Mughal Emperor Akbar’s short-lived capital (1571-1585 AD) Fatehpur Sikri is around 40 kilometres west of Agra. You can hire taxis or take buses to reach Sikri from Agra. Fatehpur is the village just below the ruins. Sikri village is few kms away. There are many places to stay on the way from Agra to Fatehpur-Sikri and also in Sikri itself. There are few more historical ruins around to be explored.

Few views of Diwan-i-Aam at the sunset-

Palaces is big and so is the adjacent tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti & Buland Darwaza. One needs time to see all of this. Leisurely, you might need the whole day to explore all of these. Plan accordingly. A day trip from Agra to Fatehpur-Sikri is what most tourists like to do. There is a ticket to enter the palace (not the tomb) and there are audio guides also available in many languages.

Sheroes : A monumental zeal of human spirit!

Well, honestly it was always on cards while visiting Agra. Honestly also, the trip to Sheroes Hangout meant for us more than a stopover for a food to a restaurant. Also, because Sheroes symbolises the strength of the human spirit against all odds. We also needed to visit this place to realise the tough times we live in! For anybody coming to this place a restaurant run by women survivors of acid attacks is altogether a different experience. Therefore, I feel that for any tourist coming to Agra this place is a must-visit.

Sheroes1

A visit to place like this make you more humble and perhaps more committed and strong. Its a great inspiration. Agra is said to be place for monument of love, but I have no doubt in saying that in Agra Sheroes hangout is actually the real monument of love and compassion. Sheroes is an initiative by Stop Acid Attacks campaign that was founded in New Delhi in 2013. As the idea of this space has evolved from a campaign for acid attack survivors, the ideas of beauty and importance of appearance in society remain the epicentre of discussions and programmes run from here. This is world’s first cafe chain run by female acid attack survivors.

A painting outside.
A painting outside.

Hence, at the helm of the Sheroes Hangout are the women who have fought back for life and survival through heinous chemical burns and are now on a course to define themselves. They are courageous fighters who walk with scars on their skins but not on spirits. They are the real heroes- ‘She Heroes’. There are five of them here- Dolly, Geeta, Rupa, Neetu and Ritu Saini, – all with their different stories and distinctive strengths which give countless others across country a hope to fight and live. They have got the confidence to show their disfigured faces in public but actually they are showing the mirror to the society, that how disfigured its face has become.

The intrinsic beauty
The intrinsic beauty

At Sheroes hangout empowerment of women is embodied in form of a readers’ cafe, an activism workshop, a community radio hub and a exhibit space where works crafted by Sheroes are on display. There are books on the shelf, that you can just pull and read, while you have your tea.

The power of self!
The power of self!

The new wave of feminism evolves at the hangout through critical issues that cripple women and devoid them of equal opportunities. Women here manage the counters, take the orders, serve food, and engage visitors in full delight with their heroic stories of resilience.

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Coming to the place, it couldn’t have been better located, right on the main Fatehabad road which is hub of all the tourist activities in Agra and close to most of the hotels. Small but neat place. There is a terrace kitchen on the upper floor. Ambience is just perfect to reflect the story behind the restaurant. The women and support staff are brilliant and humble. Independent of everything else, the food we had that day was best we could have- honey chilli potato, noodles and cutlets with few rounds of tea. The restaurant serves snacks as well as full course meals.

Another unique thing about this place is the pay as you wish concept. No items in the menu are priced. At the end, you can pay whatever you think is the suitable amount. Few might not be comfortable with this, but it works well with the overall idea of the restaurant. Sheroes also has free wi-fi to remain connected while you get involved in books, coffees and hot discussions. Tourists from world over are coming here.

Since it started almost two years back, there had been numerous high-profile visits and various high-idea workshops here. Probably this society laced with hatred needs a lot more.

Sheroes7The women here also sell some merchandise and the income goes for the fight against acid attacks. There is a beautiful desktop calendar, T-shirts and dresses. Make sure to visit here next time you go to Agra. For all those, who are interested, Sheroes hangouts has now also come up at Lucknow.

Hi mate! Shall I join you for the meal?

Watch these two for minutes and you will feel how close these two creatures are to each other. The heron closely follows each step of the Blackbuck. But then, follow more closely and you will notice that heron walks so close to deer because when the blackbuck is walking while grazing it is disturbing the insects resting in the grass, which are forced to fly and then they become easy prey for the herons. How nature has created this cycle!

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Well, this is Sikandara in Agra, which is mausoleum of one of the greatest kings Akbar, the third mughal emperor to rule India. I had already done a post on the blackbucks of Sikandara, sometime back after my last visit to Agra. But couldn’t resist doing one more after the most recent trip.

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Sikandara has hundreds of blackbucks in the four developed quarters of gardens on the four sides of the tomb of about 24 acres each. Blackbucks have been kept here as this is a walled enclosure within the reigns of the Agra city itself. But once you are inside the mausoleum, it seems to be an entirely different world. There seems to be a perfect symphony of history, heritage and nature.

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All the antelopes or the deers here are blackbucks- both male and female. Dark ones are the males and the light coloured are females. They have long ringed horns, resembling corkscrews. Forest areas of Bharatpur are not far from Agra and Sikandara is located right on the Yamuna riverbed with plenty of natural environment in its backyard.

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There is no concrete evidence or document relating blackbucks to this place, but people here say that they have been here since beginning. There is also a story which says that Akbar had a very favourite elephant named ‘Hiran’ (which means deer in Hindi). Akbar was very remorseful when the elephant died. So he thought that these blackbucks (from deer family or ‘hiran’ in Hindi) will remind everybody of his beloved elephant as well. Since then these blackbucks were kept here in a protected environment where there is no predator around. Well, as we know that Akbar had himself designed his mausoleum

So have a look at these blackbucks (hirans) of Sikandara.

Besides blackbucks, Sikandara also has a lot of peacocks and parrots. Occasionally, many other birds will also come here to take refuge.

Sikandara12

Navigating through a fun-filled month of February

Its Spring time. This year we has less chill, still sing is always anticipated a lot. Time of romance and enjoyment. Carnival time at places around the world. With Basant Panchami and Valentine Day just falling within two days of each other, time for some of the best festivals for different tastes- whether it is dance, theatre, crafts, books or just fun. Presenting top 10 travel ideas for February, might not be in that order as each one of them has its own speciality. Go ahead…

1. DESERT FESTIVAL, JAISALMER

Desert-FestivalOnce a year in winter and in the middle of the continually rising and falling stark yellow sands of the great Thar Desert, the empty sands around Jaisalmer come alive with the brilliant colour, music and laughter of the Desert Festival. The festival is organized by the Department of  Tourism around January-February. The very rich and colourful Rajasthani folk culture is on show here for three days. Rajasthani men and tall beautiful women dressed in their bright costumes dance and sing lingering ballads of valour, romance and tragedy. Traditional musicians attempt to outdo each other in their musical superiority. The high points of the festival are – puppeteers, acrobats, camel tattoo show, camel races, camel polo, traditional procession, camel mounted band , folk dances, etc.  Proud moustached villagers, dressed in their ethnic best come astride their picturesquely caparisoned camels to join in the camel dances and competitions of camel acrobatics. Tug of war and Panihari Matka race are the events where visitors to the fair can participate and enjoy the thrill and taste of traditions. The turban tying competitions are big draws and laughter. The Mr. Desert competitions, which are focused around the length and style of moustaches and rustic physique wrapped in traditional costumes, many visitors.

When: 20-22 February 2016

2. KHAJURAHO DANCE FESTIVAL

KhajurahoEvery ancient monument has a fascinating story to tell. But few match the mystery wrapped around the temples of Khajuraho in central India. 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. The Khajuraho Festival of Dances draws the best classical dancers in the country who perform against the spectacular backdrop of the floodlit temples every year in February/March. 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.

When: 20-26 February 2016

3. KILA RAIPUR RURAL OLYMPICS

Kila-RaipurIt 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.

When: 4-7 February, 2016

4. TAJ MAHOTSVA, AGRA

Taj-MahotsavThis 10 days long carnival is actually a vibrant platform that gives you information of India where you can find India’s rich arts, crafts, cultures, cuisine, dance and music. Taj Mahal is the most beautiful historical place of India which tells about incredible India. Taj Mahotsav is organized by UP Tourism and it is a source to increase Indian Tourism. This cultural bonanza was started in year 1992 and since then its grandeur has reached to greater heights. This festival also figures in the calendar of events of the Department of Tourism, Government of India. A large number of Indian and foreign tourists coming to Agra joins this festivity in the month of February. One of the objectives of this craft mela is to provide encouragement to the Artisans. It also makes available the magnificent work of art and craft at the most reasonable and authentic prices that are not inflated by high maintenance cost. About 400 legendary artisans from different parts of the country get an opportunity to display their exquisite works of art. To name a few among them  are the wood/stone carvings from Tamil Nadu, Bamboo/cane work from North East India, Paper mash work from South India and Kashmir, the marble and zardozi work from Agra, wood carving from Saharanpur, brass wares from Moradabad, hand made carpets from Bhadohi, Pottery from Khurja, Chikan work from Lucknow, silk & zari work from Banaras, shawls & carpets from Kashmir/Gujarat and hand printing from Farrukhabad and Kantha stitch from west Bengal etc. Apart from the exquisite craft work you can experience the majestic and magnetic performances by artistes from every walks of life. The soul-stirring performances will engulf you to the extent of casting a spell. Throughout the Mahotsav, one can experience a profusion of folk & classical music & dances of various regions, especially the Brij Bhumi, performed the way they used to be centuries ago. The experience is so enthralling that you would not stop yourself from joining with the folk dancers. Besides the folk, the Mahotsav also exhibit the performance from the world renowned artistes from classical, semi-classical and popular art forms. Beside being the right destination for the arts & crafts, the Mahotsav is also a delight for the connoisseurs of good food as it is the ideal place to pamper the taste buds of the visitors with endless varieties of scrumptious dishes. Some of the oldest exponents of the cuisine-art prepare the lip-smacking dishes. One can also relish the typical preparations from the interiors of Uttar Pradesh. Funfair is the biggest attraction for children in the festival. It is a complete family entertainment which offers thrill and amusement for every one. Teenagers and adults enjoy various rides and roller coaster while children are happy with small ride such as merry-go-round, Train-rides and Ferris wheel.

When: 18-27 February, 2016

5. BHARAT RANG MAHOTSAV, DELHI

BharatRangIndia’s biggest theatre festival hosted by National School of Drama. With 12 participating countries, 82 productions in 23 languages and performances by 125 groups, the 18th edition of the Bharat Rang Mahotsav will begin from February 1 here.This year’s edition has been conceptualised and designed with the theme of ‘Breaking Borders’ and will organise World Theatre Forum on this topic where theatre luminaries from all over the world and across the country will come together to interact with the audience. Bharat Rang Mahotsav was established a decade 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 18th Mahotsav will include several national and international performances, and various associated events in a wrap-around program.

When: 1-21 February, 2016

6. SULA FEST, NASIK

SulafestHeld 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 9th edition. Last year more than 12 thousand people participated in the two day event. 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. The likes of Social, The Bombay Food Truck, Olive Bar & Kitchen and Woodside Inn will serve up great food to go with the wine. At the popular Soleil by La Plage, Chef Morgan Rainforth has prepared a special menu with organic produce from Sula’s very own farms, offering a sit-down gourmet dining experience like no other. Spicing up the weekend will be the SulaFest Bazaar with a selection of fun items for sale. Foot massages, tarot reading, grape stomping, and a variety of other activities is sure to add to that fest-feel. The popular Tasting Room and the new rustic Tasting Cellar is expected to be exciting as always, with special tours and tastings to be given to wine enthusiasts. Apart from wines from the vineyards of Sula, fest-goers can also enjoy a wide selection of libations from around the world by Sula’s import arm Sula Selections. Hardys are on board as a wine partner and Asahi Super Dry Beer, Cointreau, Grant’s Reserve, Jägermeister, Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey and Stolichnaya Vodka.

When: 6-7 February, 2016

7. SURAJKUND CRAFTS FAIR

SurajkundOne of the most awaited fairs of north India happens to be very close to Delhi. Comes right at the nick of spring. With dates fixed for every year, 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. This year visitors at the upcoming Surajkund Mela will be able to take a joy ride in a helicopter and enjoy an aerial view of the fair and surrounding areas. State-run helicopter operator Pawan Hans says it will be offering joy ride services to the visitors at the Surajkund International Crafts Fare which begins February 1 at Surajkund in Faridabad (Haryana). Every year, a country is chosen to be the Partner Nation that showcases the best of its art, culture, traditions and heritage during the Mela fortnight. The craftspersons, cultural troupes and master chefs from Lebanon will present their talent and skills to enthrall the visitors at the forthcoming Mela. 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. India’s youngest state Telangana has been chosen as the Theme State for the 30th Surajkund International Crafts Mela-2016. The state will showcase its tribal heritage and culture. A mobile app has been launched for the public, which can be downloaded for free on smartphones IOS (Apple) and Android operating systems.

When: 1-15 February, 2016

8. GOA CARNIVAL

Goa-CarnivalIndia’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 colors 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 travelers come to enjoy the Goa Carnival. There is celebrations everywhere. Food and drinks are in plenty in accordance with live performances and multi-colored 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. For this year Geovani Bosco Santimano has been selected as King Momo and is the chosen one to rule over the Carnival festivities scheduled in Goa between February 14 and 17. He will lead the Carnival float parades to be held in Panaji, Margao, Vasco and Mapusa.

When: 6-9 February, 2016

9. Sufi Sutra International Sufi Music Festival

SufiBack for the sixth year, this Sufi music festival is set to feature top Sufi and traditional folk musicians from Denmark, Iran, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal. Sufi music is qualified as “soul music” for Muslim mystics. It’s often used to transcend the physical realm into the spiritual one. There will be music workshops all day and free concerts all evening, as well as an exhibition. Sufi Sutra is an annual three day peace music festival held in Kolkata that brings about convergence of ideas on truth, harmony, peace and divinity. The cultural dialogues have developed mutual knowledge on world Sufi and traditional music and created scopes for performances to the visiting countries augmenting livelihood for the rural artists from India. Alike last year Sufi Sutra is again traveling to Goa this year Feb 10-11.

When: 5-7 February, 2016.

10. KALA GHODA ARTS FESTIVAL

Kala GhodaMumbai’s favourite cultural festival, the nine-day Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, is all set to kick-off on February 7. The KGAF calendar this year features dance, theatre, music and literature events, in addition to art installations, workshops, heritage walks and film screenings. This year’s festival also has a special section on urban design and architecture. Kala Ghoda this year has new elements in every section, and new venues and events. The opening ceremony will witness 70 dancers presenting a visual feast, based on the theme for the year — Sparsh [Hindi for Touch]. The venues this year include the historic Asiatic Library for literature workshops, while The Irish House will host stand-up comedy sessions. To reach out to more people, the literature and theatre sections will feature events in 20 different languages. The theatre fest is so grand and multi-lingual this year, we call it Rang Boli — a theatrical celebration of languages. This section will feature 51 performances. A new feature in the literature section is a long evening of prose that we have titled The Rampart Row Reading. It will be held at the Artists Centre gallery. For those looking forward to the diverse calendar of events, the return of the 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.

When: 6-17 February, 2016