Tag Archives: Ladakh

September fun in Leh with Ladakh festival

It was 19th September. I was supposed to leave Leh for Manali on my bike next morning. My plan was to go to Pangong Tso and then continue on my return journey. Target was to reach Delhi on 22nd late evening. But my friend and host in Leh insisted me to drop the idea of going to Pangong and instead witness the opening parade of the Ladakh Festival. His argument was that Pangong would always be there to visit the next time I am in Ladakh, but to be here on exact date of opening of Ladakh festival will need meticulous planning anytime next. So, if by chance when I am already in Leh on the day, I shouldn’t miss this event. His argument was strong and I changed my plan. I decided to see the opening ceremony and than move to either Pang or Sarchu for the night halt. Well, visiting Pangong has so far not been materialised but still I don’t regret change of my plans that day. Ladakh Festival is indeed something not to be missed. 

Start of parade from the Leh market
ALSO READ: Eight reasons to go to Ladakh in July
Monks from the various monasteries
ALSO READ: Thiksey is one of the most glorious monasteries of Ladakh
people from different regions in their traditional costumes
ALSO READ: Photo tour of Hemis on the eve of Tsechu festival
even their animals including Yaks were there in the parade 
ALSO READ: Khardungla might have lost the height but not the sheen
and, those for whom Ladakh is also known as- its Polo

The Ladakh Festival is a cultural extravaganza and showcase event for the region, held every year. The main aim of organising this festival in the month of September is to extend the lean tourist season in the region and also to represent and propagate the rich cultural heritage of the area. The grand success of the festival and the tremendous response from both foreign and home tourists is due to the rich cultural heritage and variety of other attractive programmes like traditional Polo match and Village archery. The famous monastic dance in the monasteries including exhibitions of invaluable Thankas and other Ritual instruments of the monasteries. The tourists have the opportunities to see the entire traditional cultural programme of the region like traditional folk dances and songs of different parts of Ladakh. 

reaching the Leh polo ground for the inaugural ceremony
ALSO READ: Pang – thrill of being at highest transit camp in the world
it was a riot of colours
ALSO READ: Reaching climax- On the top of the Manali-Let route
headgears of different shapes, styles and colours
ALSO READ: Journey to the roof top – Five of the highest mountain passes in the world
ALSO READ:  Lonely at mighty Baralachala Pass
women from Turtuk village which was decades ago in Pakistani occupation
everybody was enjoying the moment

The grand achievements of the Ladakh Festival are noticeable of the significant increase in the arrivals of tourists during the lean tourist season of the year. Ladakh festival has seen considerable change over the years. Earlier it used to be celebrated for 15 days from 1st to 15th September. Than it was curtailed to a week and dates were shifted to 20th to 26th September, every year in Leh and its surrounding villages. This year this festival is being organised as Leh Tourism Festival from 22nd to 25th September, i.e. for four days. Even last year there was a four day festival.

flowers on their head
a glimpse of monastic dances
a lady in full traditional attire

The inauguration ceremony of the festival takes place in Leh on a large scale with a procession of several cultural troupes from different part of the region which traverses through Leh market. There is dancing, singing, traditional music, people wearing colourful traditional Ladakhi dresses. It comes to end at the Polo ground. The festival days have regular celebration in various villages including archery, polo, and masked dances from the monasteries and dances by cultural troupes from the villages. There are musical concerts too. Best part is, that this is one of the best time to go to Ladakh region, just before the onset of winter.

tourists from around the world enjoying the atmosphere

Ladakh in September

September is often considered to be the one of the best time to travel to Ladakh, especially for those who prefer to ride or drive to Leh from either Manali or Srinagar. Weather is clearer, roads are in good condition and water crossings will have less water. Region would be more green after monsoons, skies will be more blue and since it would already be nearing the end of the season, hence tourist traffic would be certainly less. Since all the hotels in region and enroute Leh operate till the Puja holidays, there would be no risk of not being able to get room or food. And, then witnessing Ladakh festival can be reason good enough to add to all this.

Have you ever been to Ladakh Festival? How was your experience? Share with us in the comments section below.

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Photo tour of Hemis on the eve of Tsechu festival


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The place where Hemis festival takes place every year

It is that time of the year again when one of the most revered monastery in the Himalayan region Hemis of Ladakh will celebrate its annual festival, the Hemis Tsechu. It is considered to be the most important monastic festival of Ladakh. This monastery is drawing in more and more tourists- both domestic as well as international. It is becoming very popular for tourists to enjoy and immerse in local culture. Once you are in Ladakh, you will certainly like to enjoy the monastic festivals as well. Hemis festival will be celebrated this tomorrow and day after, i.e. 23rd and 24th June 2018. So, here we are on a photo tour of this famed monastery in this post.

Entrance to the Hemis monastery

Also read: Thiksey is one of the most glorious monasteries of Ladakh

Another side of the main courtyard where the Hemis festival takes place
Local Ladakhi people in traditional dress at Hemis monastery

Hemis is also considered to be the largest monastic institution in Ladakh. This two-day festival falls on the 10th and 11th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan lunar month and commemorates the birth of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, also known as Guru Rinpoche. He is believed to be the second Buddha and brought Vajrayana Buddhism to Bhutan and Tibet. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas donning colourful silk costumes 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.

Devotees in the main prayer hall of the monastery
Statue of Guru Rinpoche in the main prayer hall

Also read: Experience Ladakh like never before

Upper Residence also called as Padma Odling. There are many balconies on the first floor, belonging to Royal families. There is also a Great Bliss Palace Balcony, a royal families special balcony.

Known for its rituals of sacred tantric dances

The whole of the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar calendar is considered to be a holy day. Many people come early in the morning and worship. Some of them also visit at night or late evening. Although there is no ceremony in the evening, they worship and take the blessings on this day. The festival is known globally for its rituals of sacred tantric dances that are believed to bring blessings of the Gods for the well being of sentient beings as well as peace and prosperity in the world.

Sacred scriptures and old manuscripts are also revered a lot.
Other structures, residences, hostels for monks close to Hemis monastery

Also read: Eight reasons to go to Ladakh in July

A lock on the door to The Lower Residence (Padma Odling)
Way to Padma Karpo Temple (Tsom Lhakhang). Old structure of Hemis is a maze of various halls

Hemis monastery belongs to the Drukpa lineage, also known as Dragon Order of the Mahayana Buddhism. Gyalwang Drukpa is its current spiritual head who presided over the Naropa ceremonies in 2016. Buddhism in Ladakh has a very rich history. Hemis monastery also reflects the close bond between Kings of Ladakh and their patronage to Buddhism in this Himalayan territory. It is said that Gyalwa Gotsangpa Gonpo Dorje (1189-1258) came to Ladakh in 13th century and established the Drupka lineage here. He is also considered to be one of the most celebrated yogis of Himalayas. He was disciple of the 1st Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (1161-1211). Gyalwa Gotsangpa is said to have meditated in a cave on the edge of the mountain right above the existing Hemis monastery. The monastery now has a meditation centre in his name.

Prayer hall of the current Gyalwang Drukpa
Upper structure of the main prayer hall housing the statue of Buddha
Masks often used for the dances during the festivals

Biking to Leh? Read: Journey to the roof top- Five of the highest mountain passes in the world

A young monk at the Hemis monastery
Main statue of Buddha in the prayer hall
Another one of beautiful statues at Hemis monastery

Centuries later, another master from Drukpa lineage the 1st Taktsang Repa Ngawang Gyasto (1573-1651) became the royal preceptor of Kingdom of Ladakh. He was also popularly known as Staktsang Shambunath. With the support of King Sengee Namgyal (1616-1645) he founded the Hemis monastery. Taktsang Repa had also come to this region to spread the teachings of Buddha. He reached here in 1624 and first founded the Hanley monastery which was the first monastic institution of Drukpa lineage. Two years later he arrived at Hemis and was received by King Sengee Namgyal and other members of his royal court. His arrival resulted in the flourishing of Drukpa lineage in Ladakh and adjoining Himalayan regions. He and his successors became the spiritual gurus of the Ladakhi Kings. Annual Hemis festival is said to have been introduced by Gyalsey Rinpoche.

Various prayer halls an other rooms also have a number of paintings on wall, many of them centuries old

Paintings depicting principles of tantric Buddhism
Another painting of Maitreyi Buddha with golden paint

Hemis has more than 200 branch monasteries in the Himalayas and more than 1,000 monks are under its care. Hence it is considered to be a living monument and heritage of Himalayas and its people.

Across Leh: Khardungla might have lost the height but not the sheen

Some of the old structures struggling to remain intact
Where the lamps are lit!

Have you ever been to Hemis or any other Ladakhi monastery during the festival? How has it been? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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Khardungla might have lost the height but not the sheen!

Not so long ago everybody reaching here would be showcasing the photograph of testimonial to the visit as a badge of honour to have reached the highest motorable road in the world. Such was the glamour of being to Khardung La pass, also known as gateway to Nubra valley. It was one of the must-see destinations for visits to Leh-Ladakh.

Off late owing to firstly, constantly opening of many other high roads around in Ladakh and other places of world and secondly, because of many challenges to its claim of altitude with better and actual GPS measurements–Khardungla has suddenly become from highest motorable road in the world to one of the top 10 highest motorable passes in the world. And few other claim that it is not even in top 10. Challenges to Khardung La’s status have surfaced years back from Marsimik La. And now we have many higher passes in Ladakh itself than Khardung La.

Hill top besides the Kahrdungla pass

That might be the different story altogether about altitudes and the motorable roads. But still Khardungla has not lost its sheen. It still retains all the sign boards claiming its altitude to be 18,380 feet (against 17,582 feet what is claimed now) and also the glamour among all first-timers to Leh. It still is thrill to drive to Khardung La and beyond to Nubra. Bikers or other returning adventurers will seek to look for other passes far and beyond in Ladakh, even the Urming La which is now called as highest road in the world after its access last year was thrown open. But leisure travellers have different thoughts.

Mountain passes and these Buddhist flags have an unbreakable bond!

Actually, most of the layman travellers still come here with the impression that Khardung La is the highest motor able pass in the world. For them, Khardung La is still and achievement. And mind it, even crossing a 17 thousand feet altitude is no mean task. Then, all those who plan to go to Nubra valley from Leh have to do it by crossing Khardungla Pass. Interestingly Nubra valley is bit lower in altitude than Leh. Hence tourists will feel more comfortable in Nubra, but than they have to cross 17,500 feet to reach there.

South Pullu, where every traveller has to get themselves registered at army checkpost
Road coming from Leh criss-crossing the valley below on way to Khardungla
Tourists capturing some memorable moments

Another notable point is that Khardung La is very close to city of Leh, it is just over 40 kilometres. There are many travellers who come to Leh with a very limited time. Those who reach here by flight have to already sacrifice their first day of trip in resting and acclimatising. So those who have limited time, they keep local Leh sightseeing, monasteries like Hemis and Thiksey, magnetic hill in their itinerary.

Landscape changes as you move high up
Signs of some fresh snowfall, weather can change here dramatically
That’s how snow looks like at Khardungla, almost all the year round
Mountains around Khardungla look all white with rocks engraved in between

To all such tourists, trip to Khardung La adds the adventure quotient in journey. Going to such an altitude will always be adventurous. Journey from Leh to Khardungla takes roughly about an hour and half depending in the traffic and road conditions. By traffic I mean the army convoys blocking your speed. This is strategically a very important mountain pass for Indian forces as this gives them access to Nubra valley and areas close to POK. Hence it is kept in motor able condition almost all the year round, even in heavy snowfall.

A view of the Khardungla Pass from the other side of the road towards Nubra valley
This pass is completely under the control of the army and the place has many stories to tell
Top of the Khardungla top

Best time to go to Khardungla is early in the morning. Roads would be free of slush and vehicular movement will be less. Even the weather is generally favourable in the first half of day at such places. Those who cross in the morning towards Nubra, should try to cross Khardungla pass before it gets dark in their return journey in the evening.

Pass has an army canteen, a temple and public facilities

Khardung La pass at sunset

You can easily find taxis in Leh to take you to Khardungla. Hotels, where you stay will arrange for this. If you don’t intent to go further to Nubra, than Khardungla can be at the most a half day itinerary from Leh.

Lets watch a video of the proverbial last mile drive to Khardungla from South Pullu on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below-

Have you been to Khardungla Pass? How was your experience? Please share with us in the comments section below!

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Reaching climax: On the top of the Manali-Leh route


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To sum up the rides before and after Pang, I can just say that while it was all thrill before Pang, it was sheer joy after that. In a hindsight, one can say that all troubles are marked just to reach Pang, Leh is a cakewalk after that. But having said that, Pang to Leh is also about the climax of a astonishing journey and crossing milestones, one after another.

Reaching Pang! Read: Where whisky and brandy are ferocious nallahs!

Changing landscape, as we move higher up towards More plains

After the restaurants and dhabas at Pang, as you move ahead, we leave the army transit camp on one side (Read: Thrill of being at highest transit camp in the world). Although Pang itself is over 15000 feet in altitude, we immediately gain height further for around five kilometres. That’s when we reach More plains, a plateau of enormous proportion at this altitude. Criss-crossing this plateau is a road unthinkable at this altitude and better than many of our city roads.

Ghost on the way! Read: Loops of the haunted!

Looking back towards Pang from the road
Towards right on the vast expanse of the plateau
Road taking directly to Tanglang La and further to Leh

It is an expressway at altitude of 4800 metres, more than half the altitude of Mount Everest. This is almost 50 kms of flatlands between Pang and Tanglang La pass. Flanked by mountain ranges on both sides, this plateau is good enough for dozens of football fields. Amazing, breathtaking and serene, this is a place like no other on this planet, and perhaps one of the most beautiful road journeys in India.

An inhabitant of the plains welcoming a stranger in me!

Have a look at the video of this ride on More Plains on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

This is a long and at times, monotonous drive. You will find no village or habitation on the way. Only persons you meet will be fellow travellers going to or returning from Ladakh. Except for some riders stopping here and there for the photo-ops you will find everybody enjoying the speed.

Road conditions? Read: Himalayan Rides- Road from Manali to Rohtang & Gramphoo

I had an interesting experience while on this stretch. I had just crossed roughly about ten kilometres, when I found a group of bikers coming from the lake stranded on the road. One of the bike had a flat tyre. They were trying to get it repaired, but were somehow not able to do. I stopped to enquire. I was carrying a new spare tube with me. I handed over my tube to them. Although they were a bit reluctant as I was travelling solo and was still on my onward journey. But I told them that my bike had puncture resistant seal in both tyres and I expected that to work fine for me, as it had so far. Moreover the route ahead till Leh was supposed to be perfect. They even offered me the cost of the tube, but I laughed them off and after a few handshakes moved on. That was one of the satisfying moments of the trip, nature makes you more and more humble in its lap.

Travelling solo? Read: Lonely at Baralacha La

Just before Debring in More plains is the diversion to Mahe and Tso Kar lake.

Continue this journey further, enjoying the vista until we reach Debring towards the fag end of the More plains. Debring is a BRO depot and now also has a well-developed dhabas and campsites for travellers to have food and stay on the way. There is also a diversion just before Debring for Leh via Tso Kar and Mahe. Tso Kar is a high altitude lake famous for its wild ass and white sand. Many travellers will take this route to cover Two Kar and Two Moriri lakes in either their onward or return journey, instead of making a trip to and fro Leh.

Lot many things on different boards, but nothing to tell that where this road goes!

After crossing 50 kms of More plains, we again start to climb and this for the last time before reaching Leh. Still ten kilometres are left befor Tanglang La- the highest point on this Manali-Leh route.

Expanse of the valley before Tanglang La

I was travelling in September and at that time of the year roads were generally in very good condition as most of the snow around had already melted. But it can be tricky around July-August as snow is still there and melting, so it will not only worsen the road condition but will also make pools of water on road at different places.

The perennial trekkers moving up towards Tanglang La
Looking back from top. Two black spots are two trucks going towards Pang
Road criss-crossing the mountains

Reaching Tanglang La is a huge achievement as well as relief. We know it is just downhill from here onwards until Leh on good roads. The goal seems to be nearer now. Besides there is always a feeling of accomplishment after reaching to this height.

Bikers at Tanglang La
A temple at Tanglang La, only few care to go inside.
The board marking the altitude but now many challenges to its ranking.
View from the top… you are on top.

It is often termed as Gateway to Leh. Tanglang La is at an altitude of 5328 metres (17,480 feet) and is also among the world’s top 12 highest passes. Here is the video of last five kilometres ride to Tanglang La while coming from More Plains. It’s amazing. You almost feel like on top of the world. Enjoy the fascinating views on both sides of Tanglang La.

A highway of mountain passes! Read: Journey to the roof top – Five of the highest mountain passes in the world.

Once we move to the other side, it is a very straightforward road. We have to go down by atleast seven thousand feet until Leh in about 110 kilometres. It is almost like going down a gorge. Roads are good and after 20-25 kilometres you feel like getting close to habitation again.

Back to habitation
Nice to get down in sunlight
Soon back to villages

You can see villages and also electricity but will have to wait till Upshi to get mobile signals. Upshi is where we meet Indus river, cross the river through bridge and move in the Indus valley.

Some Good samaritans: Chacha-Chachi of Batal

Along the Indus after crossing Upshi towards Leh

As soon as you reach Upshi, everything changes- landscape, topography, weather, altitude and the mood. Mobile signals are back and calls are being made. You are still more than 40 kms from Leh but mind has already started working on where are you going to stay in Leh. Body seems to be demanding rest already.

Have you ever travelled on this route? How was your experience? Please do share it in the comments section below.

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Pang : Thrill of being at highest transit camp in the world


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View of Pang dhabas (towards right) and the army transit camp (towards left), as seen from the way up towards More plains.

Pang is a magical place. It brings you to an entirely different world, like the one never seen before. At an altitude of over 15,300 feet this is also claimed to be the highest army transit camp in the world. Army claims the altitude as 15, 640 feet. For a traveller- a biker or a driver, Pang is in midst of two entirely different terrains. While coming from Sarchu is the rough routes of Kangla Jal while on the Leh side is the super-highway of More Plains. Both worth a journey of lifetime.

Dhabas around Pang, with ample facility for food as well as tents, beds for night stay.

Establishment at Pang would have been come up as a place for stoppage for armed forces moving to and fro to areas bordering Pakistan and China. Being an open valley close to stream and less windy in comparison to Sarchu would have made it ideal place for transit. When adventurers started taking this road journey, they also found place good for camping, as they will always feel assured because of close proximity of the transit camp, if in case of any emergency. Later on locals came up with restaurants here to provide food to travellers. Slowly camping facilities kept growing and now most of the dhabas have rooms and beds for bikers, trekkers, to stay overnight. Transit camp is still very helpful for locals and travellers in providing medical and communication facilities. I have often used paid satellite phone facilities at these transit camps on the way to inform about my well-being to my family.

More permanent sort of structures coming up at Pang, due to ever increasing numbers of adventure seekers.

But staying at Pang isn’t a mean task physically. It is quite challenging to stay at an altitude of over 15,000 feet. More so, when you are tired because of tough ride from Manali to Pang. Many travellers will feel acute AMS here. Still many locals will suggest to stay at Pang instead of Sarchu, despite its higher altitude because it is less windy.

Have a look at a video below of way to Pang and places around camp.

 

Another video below of route from Bharatpur to Pang, a magical view of mountains turning into gold when struck by first lights of sun!

Manali-Leh route is also known for its five high mountain passes. Have a look at a video below of all the five from Rohtang to Tanglang La

As I said Pang has some of the most fascinating terrains on its both sides and amazing roads constructed in them- sheer engineering marvel. Among them is the Kangla Jal. Flowing over a rocky bed at an altitude of 4878 metres, Kangla Jal makes for an amazing landscape. Kangla Jal is in a valley and there are towering mountains on both the sides. It is located where Miyar connects to Zanskar valley. A beautiful road has been carved into rocky sandstone formations making it a spectacular sight. But than it is also one of the toughest (often people say ‘the toughest’) water stream (Miyar river) to cross on Manali-Leh route. Water flows from the top and falls into the deep gorge overlooking Pang. Still, you won’t always find water here, as in the video below, it is completely dry (it was in late September). That is what makes it unpredictably beautiful. When there is water in the stream (mostly early in the season upto August) the flow of water changes as the day progresses and recedes towards evening. Old-timers will say that the best time to cross it is early morning when the sun if soft and the snow hasn’t started melting. Middle of the day will account for the most severe flows. Even for vehicles, life is tougher for bikes as they might have to cross kneedeep freezing cold water in great flow. A bit of challenge! However a newly laid bridge has made the life somewhat easy for bikers.

For those who love haunted stories, Gata Loops offers a couple. Very  interesting that a road of 21 hairpin bends taking up the mountain is also related to such stories. Gata Loops are in between Sarchu and Pang. Travel to these loops in the video below-

Pang is also the place where we see the unique soil formations on the mountains, and some very unusual structures. Vistas here are quite different, special colours of the sand & rocks as well as few images which have become iconic in this Manali-Leh journey for decades now.

Also read: Where Whisky and Brandy are ferocious Nallahs! 

Climbing up the mountain overlooking Pang and moving towards More plains

Factsheet: At an altitude of almost 4600 metres, Pang is 80 kms ahead of Sarchu. Tanglang La is further 70 kms from Pang and Upshi is another 60 kms from Tanglang La. It normally takes no less than three hours of biking to reach from Sarchu to Pang, depending upon the number of photo stops you are willing to take.

Have you ever stayed overnight at Pang? How was the experience? Please share your views in the comments section below.

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Journey to the roof top: Five of the highest mountain passes in the world


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This is more of a vlog post. For the ordinary, the road from Manali to Rohtang Pass is quite thrilling, but for all those who seek the heights it is just a prelude of things to come. After all, at an altitude of 13,050 feet, it is quite less (more than 4500 ft) than what one achieves in this jaw-dropping journey from Manali to Leh.

One for memory

Rohtang is more fun, a sort of picnic spot. But it gives a fair idea of what to expect next while moving to greater heights.

One of the most dangerous but still one of the most beautiful road journeys on the planet takes you through five high altitude mountain passes- Rohtang La (13,050 ft), Baralacha La (16,040 ft), NakeeLa (15,547 ft), Lachung La (16,616 ft) and the highest one of the route Tanglang La (17,582 ft).

Nakeela Pass at over 15,500 ft
Lachung La pass

Its a challenging but thoroughly entertaining route of around 450 kms undertaken on my favourite Royal Enfield Thunderbird, which you will be able to see at all the passes. Inspiring! Is it!!

Watch a glimpse of all the five passes on the Manli-Leh route in this video-

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Desert to Desert : Old charm continues in New Year

Too late to come with the first post of the New Year! It is never too late!!

Chill is settling down and fog has engulfed almost whole of north India. Its snowing in the hills. Time to pack the bags for some adventure! If you need a reason than there are lot from cold deserts of Ladakh to deserts of Thar (although they will be equally cold this time). First month of the calendar year also comes with a number of festivals celebrating India’s dance and musical traditions. Not to be forgotten that this month also has Makar Sakranti (14th January), considered to be one of the most auspicious days of the year and also an occasion of many travels and pilgrimages. Here are my picks for the month.

Mukteshwar and Rajarani Festivals

Let’s start from Odisha. Mukteshwar Dance Festival (14-16 January), organised by Odisha Tourism is all about dance, especially Odissi dance. This festival is staged in front of the 1100-years-old Mukteswar temple in Bhubaneswar. Renowned Odissi dancers from around the world take part in this festival performing solo, duet and group presentations. Mukteshwar temple, one of the most prominent temples of Bhubaneswar, has been constructed in the style that is quite similar to the one used in the Kalinga School of Temple Architecture. The splendid Torana of the temple, an ornamental arched gateway, is very much reminiscent of the influence of Buddhism in Orissa. This temple is a very important part of cultural life of the people of Orissa as the architecture at the temple entrance is considered to be one of the most beautiful specimens of the Orissan School of architecture. This temple signifies the transitional phase of the architecture of Orissa between the initial and the later stages of Kalinga architectural style. The beautiful architectural works of the temple add to the splendour of the Mukteshwar Utsav. This festival should not be missed by the people who take interest in the traditional dance forms of India. This festival is followed by Rajarani Music Festival two days later. Mukteshwar festival is all about dance while Rajarani festival is about classical music.

Entrancing performances by well-known Odissi and Hindustani vocal and music maestros bring alive the architectural beauty of the 11th century Rajarani temple at this festival. To show case the glorious tradition of Indian classical music, the Rajarani Music Festival was conceived to be organised by the Department of Tourism in association with Bhubaneswar Music Circle.
Celestial music, sublime surroundings and soothing climes of late winter—soul traverses to an elevated sphere leaving you utterly relaxed. The musical evenings are resplendent with excellent performances by the great maestros of Indian classical music creating an allegory of darbari gayans (musical performances in an Indian king’s court) of age old histories. Eminent instrumentalists and vocalists of India have rendered scintillating performance in this festival over the years. The temple, often referred to as the Khajuraho of the east, is famous for its elaborate erotic sculptured figurines. It’s remarkable for the absence any presiding deity in it. The temple is famous for its ornate deul or compass and the statues of eight Dikpals guarding the eight cardinal directions of the temple.

  • When: January 14-16 & 18-20, 2018
  • Where: Mukteshwar & Rajarani temples, Bhubaneshwar, Odisha

Swathi Sangeethotsavam

Photo Credit : imalayalee.org

Continuing with tradition of music festivals, come January and the mighty pillars of the Kuthiramalika Palace in the Kerala’s capital city of Thiruvananthapuram will pulsate with the mellifluous notes sung at the Swathi Sangeetholsavam or Swathi Music Festival. This musical extravaganza lets you listen to the spellbinding compositions of Swathi Thirunal, the erstwhile Maharaja of Travancore. Organised every year to pay tribute to Swathi Thirunal, the concert celebrates the brilliant notes composed by this legendary maestro which continue to enthrall music lovers even now. A patron of music and a musician himself, Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma has to his credit more than 400 compositions in Carnatic music as well as Hindustani music. He set a new course and direction to the musical tradition of Kerala. The concert held in the Kuthiramalika Palace adjoining the famous Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, sees musical performances in both Hindustani and Carnatic styles. The musical festival which is attended by eminent musicians from across the country brings together those passionate about classical music and the experts as well. Entry is free.

  • When: January 4-13, 2018
  • Where: Kuthiramalika Palace, East Fort, Thiruvananthapuram

Adoor Gajmela, first of the year

Adoor Gajamela

Well, let’s still be in Kerala. 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. Popular as Adoor Gajamela, 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.

  • When: January 27, 2018
  • Where: Parthasarathy Temple, Adoor, Pathanamthitta district, Kerala

Arthunkal Perunnal

Kerala always loves to give you more. The Arthunkal Perunnal (perunnal meaning feast) is the annual feast of St. Sebastian held in the St. Andrew’s Forane Church at Arthunkal in Alappuzha. The event sees devotees from across the state throng the church to participate in the feast which is held in January every year. One of the main events during the feast involves a ceremonial procession wherein the statue of St. Sebastian is taken out from the church to the beach and back. Another intriguing event is the ceremony on the final day when devotees crawl on their knees all the way from the nearby beach to the church. Church built by Portuguese missionaries in a coastal hamlet near here is a model of religious harmony with a tradition of hosting Sabari pilgrims returning after worshipping Lord Ayyappa. Pilgrims from across the state visit the St Andrew’s Church at Arthunkal here and pay their respects to the idol of Saint Sebastian between the months of November and January during the Mandala and Makaravilakku season of the Sabarimala temple. Legend has it that one of the early priests of the church, popularly called Arthunkal Veluthachan (fair skinned father), was a friend of Lord Ayyappa. The visit of the pilgrims commemorates the bond they shared, especially as the priest was loved by the local people who believed he had healing powers.

  • When: January 27, 2018
  • Where: St. Andrew’s Forane Church, Arthunkal, Alappuzha. Nearest railway station Cherthala is about 8 km from here and Alappuzha is about 22 km from here.

But if you think that that is all from Kerala fo the month, than you are wrong. Actually there are lot more. Kerala Tourism has recently started another unique annual event- Utsavam which is a festival of traditional performing art forms of Kerala. It will be held from January 6 to 12 across Kerala. Simultaneously, from January 7 to 14 Vasantholsavam will be celebrated at Kanakakkunnu Palace in Thiruvanathpuram. It will be basically a flower show. Same Kanakakkunnu Palace will also host Nishagandhi Festival from January 20 to 26, which will be a seven day cultural fiesta.

Jaipur Literature Festival

Photo Credit: dumbbellsanddrama.com

Lets move from down south to west in Rajasthan. From modest beginnings in 2006, the Jaipur Literature Festival has grown into the largest literary festival in Asia-Pacific. This is the 11th edition of the festival this year. Both Indian authors as well as those from abroad appear at the festival. The sessions consist of readings, discussions, and questions and answers. It’s possible to buy the authors’ books and get them signed. In addition, there’s a range of stalls selling everything from food to handicrafts. There’s also an outdoor lounge bar, for relaxing. Music performances are held in the evenings, after the literary sessions are over. In recent years, the festival has turned into quite a fashionable occasion, and attracts plenty of socialites from Delhi and Jaipur. Authors will discuss works related to topic. There will also be emphasis on poetry, the literature of Southeast Asia, and the seven states of northeast India. There will be live music events, heritage walks and much more.

  • When: January 24-29, 2018
  • Where: At the historic Diggi Palace hotel in Jaipur. The hotel is located in Sangram Colony, Ashok Nagar, which is just off M.I. Road, around 10 minutes walk from the Old City of Jaipur. Since 2012, the music stage has been shifted to a different venue at The Clarks Amer lawns (around 15 minutes drive south of Diggi Palace).

Colours of desert in Rajasthan

Photo Credit: rajasthanvisit.com

There is lot in Rajasthan this month. January is just the right month for a desert spree, and Bikaner and Jaisalmer are just the right places to see the ships of the desert. In the camel country Bikaner, these desert leviathans pull heavy cartloads, transport grain and even work at the wells. Held on second Saturday-Sunday of January every year, the Camel Festival begins with a colourful procession of bedecked camels against the red sandstone backdrop of the Junagarh Fort, the festivity advances to the open sand-spreads of the grounds, followed by the best breed competition, the tug-of-war contest, camel dance,  acrobatics, etc. The camels display amazing footwork, dancing gracefully to the slightest direction of their trainers. Bridal, bridles, bejewelled necks, jingling anklets and long, lanky camel shadow on dusky sands cast a magical spell. Hundreds of tourists and thousands of locals and dignitaries revel in this man-and-animal affair organised especially for the tourists. The evenings close with a different tenor and tempo altogether: a traditional rendezvous of renowned artistes of Rajasthan and the local folk performers. The jubilant skirt-swirling dancers, the awe-inspiring fire dance, and the dazzling fireworks light up the fortified desert city of Bikaner.

Almost a fortnight later is Desert Festival at Jaisalmer (January 29-31, 2018). Its one of Rajasthan’s premier showcase festivals. Once a year, the empty sands around Jaisalmer come alive with a mesmerising performance on the sand dunes in the form of the Desert Festival. The festival, organised by the Department of Tourism around January-February, goes on for three whole days and lets you enjoy the rich and colourful Rajasthani folk culture. Rajasthani men and tall, beautiful women dressed in their best and brightest costumes dance and sing ballads of valour, romance and tragedy, while traditional musicians attempt to outdo each other to showcase their musical superiority. The high points of the festival are puppeteers, acrobats, camel tattoo shows, camel races, camel polo, traditional processions, camel mounted bands, folk dances, etc.

  • When: January 13-14 & 29-31, 2018
  • Where: Bikaner and Jaisalmer are connected by rail and road with all the major cities. The nearest airport is at Jodhpur (243 kms).

Tribal Kumbh at Beneshwar

From west of Rajasthan, now we move to south of Rajasthan. Almost 70 kilometre from Dungarpur in South Rajasthan, Beneshwar temple at Sabla is located at the confluence of three rivers- Mahi, Som and Jakham. This region is the tribal belt that stretched to neighbouring parts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat as well. Every year this place is host to Beneshwar Fair. This festival, held on the full moon day or Magh Shukla Purnima, attracts a large number of tourists along with tribals from the region. On this pious occasion, Bhils travel all the way from Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to take a dip at the confluence of three rivers. The number of people coming to the festival often crosses half a million, hence it is rightfully known as the Tribal Mahakumbh of ‘Vangad’ region. A true reflection of tribal traditions and culture. This place has got many mythological associations making it one of the most revered places of the region. There is a fair and a flea market as well. Even the erstwhile royal family of Dungarpur had close association with this festival.

  • When: January 27-31, 2018
  • Where: Beneshwar Temple, Sabla, Dungarpur. Dungarpur is the southernmost district of Rajasthan, accessible from Udaipur very easily or even Ahmedabad in Gujarat.

Similarly Nagaur in Rajasthan will also have its Nagaur Fair from 22 January to 25 January. Nagaur Fair is said to be second biggest fair in India. It is basically a cattle fair, where every year around 70,000 bullocks, camels and horses are traded. All traditional colours of Rajasthan are here at full display in dresses, shops, games and art forms. This fair is also known for its Mirchi Bazaar, which is said not be largest red chilli market in India.

Joydev Fair, Kenduli

Photo Credit: flickr.com

Now jump from west to east. For an unforgettable dose of West Bengal folk music don’t miss the Kenduli Mela, where the mystical wandering Baul musicians gather to perform. Dressed in saffron robes, and playing a distinctive instrument called the Ektara, they sing uniquely about life’s philosophy. Joydev-Kenduli is renowned as the birth place of great Sanskrit poet Joydev who flourished in 12th Century and composed the well known Geet – Govinda, a Sanskrit Lyrical poem. Annual- Mela is held in the village Kenduli in the last day of Bengali month Pous and first 2 days of Magh and is attended by thousands of pilgrims including Bauls. The word ‘Baul’  is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Batul’ which means ‘mad’. Baul philosophy emphasises love for all human beings as the path leading to divine love. The Joydeb-Kenduli mela (fair), held every year in West Bengal’s Birbhum district on Makar Sankranti in mid-January. It is a gathering of wandering minstrels (Bauls, primarily) like no other in India. Gathering in almost equal numbers are lay aficionados addicted to the Baul and Fakir ways of life. Joydev Mela is mainly a music festival but as the Poush Mela it attracts craftsmen from the whole region, mainly selling wooden kitchen supplies, handmade covers or cheap jewellery. During five days, the 3 000 inhabitants of Kenduli Village welcome thousand and thousand of pilgrims who come mostly to listen to the bauls, the Wandering minstrels, the Mad Ones, bearers of a unique musical tradition, included in the list of “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. The fair is held on the banks of the Ajay River which is not only of some historical interest – the fair celebrates the great poet Joydev on the day he is claimed to have taken a bath at the Kadaambokhandi ghat of the river around 800 years ago.

  • When: January 14-16, 2018
  • Where: Kenduli village, around 30 kilometers from Shantiniketan in West Bengal.

Uttarayan Kite Festival

Photo Credit: event-carnival.com

Well, looking around for other events on Makar Sankranti, lets come back to west. Gujarat is vibrant with the Kite Festival (Makar Sankranti) which is celebrated with colors of joy, colors of life. The Kite Festival signify Gujarat’s ‘Cultural Strength’ and like the kites, Gujarat soars high to touch the skies to be the ‘best in the world.’ All over the State, in the Month of January, the serene blue sky with colorful kites look splendid and since morning to evening remains dotted with vivid splashes of color with kites in a variety of hues, shapes and sizes. The excitement continues with the onset of night. As the sun sets and darkness hovers over, youngsters continue competing each other in supremacy in the sky, now with the paper lanterns tied to their kite-strings. These lanterns known as tukkal swaying at the mild stroke of wind presents a lovely image while some try to cut off these tukkals and enjoy the fun. Makar Sankranti (Kite Flying Day) marks the end of a long winter with the return of the sun to the Northern Hemisphere. According to the Hindu astronomy the sun enters the zodiac of Makara (Capricorn). Hence, it is called Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti. The special significance attached to the celebration of Makar sankranti, is Kite Flying. The gods who are believed to have slumbered for six long months are now awake and the portals of heaven are thrown open! Uttarayan is celebrated all over Gujarat but the excitement is high at Ahmedabad, Surat, Nadiad and Vadodara. Surat, especially is known particularly for the strong string which is made by applying glass powder on the row thread to provide it a cutting edge. To be in any one of these places during this festival is to feel the heart and pulse of Gujarat and its people.On a night prior to the festival special markets are held and you need a gujju skill for bargaining and clinch a right deal in the crushing crowd of kite enthusiasts. Gujarat Tourism also hosts the International Kite Festival drawing crowds to witness the show of eminent kitists from many states and countries. This International Kite Festival is held at Ahmedabad , to coincide with the festival of Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti. People from all over the world display their exotic kites of various designs. It is a splendid spectacular show to see the sky with colourful kites, huge size and varied designs and shapes This gives the people of Ahmedabad the change to see the unusual kites brought by the visitors some of which are truly works of art. Cuisine and Crafts display are also enjoyed by the participants and spectators. The International Kite Festival in Gujarat has become a major tourist attraction.

  • When: January 14, 2018
  • Where: Ahmedabad, Gujarat

Modhera Dance Festival

We will still like to be in Gujarat. Psychedelic hues of red, yellow, green lights illuminating nooks and corners of intricately carved the Sun Temple of Modhera, during dark and breezy nights of January, create a Chiaroscuro effect of time and space! The Sun Temple of Modhera is a masterpiece of the Golden Age of the Solanki Empire, which hosts the annual Dance Festival and flaunts the glory and splendor of that era. The Modhera Dance Festival which is also prevalently known as the Uttarardh Mahotsavor Modhera Utsavis is one of the most famous celebration of art, music, dance and culture, in this part of the country. This unique occurrence showcases traditional dance forms of the region as well as acts as a platform bringing together the cultural ethos of other regions expressed in form of dance or nritya. Modhera, the temple of the Sun narrating the history and grandeur of its patrons, the Solankis, is an architectural marvel. This peerless temple space acts as a grandiose backdrop for the vibrant expression of dancers and aesthetic ethnicity of the country. Dance troupes and performers from all regions of the nation bring along a panorama of varied dance forms and styles, interlaced with the essence of their origins. The performers blend in the ambience and bring life to the sandstone figurines carved on the edifice of the temple, singing and narrating legends of times bygone. The three day festival of Uttarardh Mahotsavis is organised on third weekend of January every year by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited (TCGL), to venerate and celebrate the inherited treasure of performing arts of the country. The Modhera festival is an ideal opportunity to experience living heritage of Indian dance and music while traversing back in time sitting in the lap of golden history.

  • When: January 19-21, 2018
  • Where: The environs of the Sun Temple in Modhera act a venue and host of this enchanting festival. Modhera is located in the South-west of Mehsana District and is 25 km away from the town of Mehsana.

Gustor of Spituk

Spituk Monastery

Then as I promised, we move to cold deserts of north in Ladakh. Although this time is ripe to have a Chadar Trek, but there is lot more. Spituk is an interesting monastery, on the hill top near Indus about 18 kms. from Leh on Srinagar road. The Spituk monastery offers a commanding view of Indus. It has a totally new Gompa within the monastery as well as the old Gompa has also been restored meanwhile. It is constructed in a series of tiers with courtyards and steps. Higher up in the hill is a chamber which houses the enormous statue of goddess. Its face is covered and uncovered only once in a year during the festival time. Every year, on the 17th and 19th day of the 11th of the Bodhi month, the Gelukpa order of monks celebrate the Spituk festival known as Gustor. During the festival, the lamas wear the masks of religious deities and perform the dances, which is normally about good and evil and mythological stories related to the Buddhism. The Spituk Gompa was founded in 11th century by Od-De, the elder brother of Lha Lama Changchub-od. The Gompa was named Spituk (exemplary) by Rinchen Zangpo, a translator came to that place and said that exemplary religious community would rise. Initially the Gompa was run according to the Kadampa school then during the reign of king Gragspa Bumide he converted it to Gayluk Pa order. Many icons of Buddha and 5 thangkas can be visited in this 15th century monastery. The Dukhang Hall is the largest building and has two rows of seats running the length of the walls to a throne at the far end. Sculptures and miniature chortens are displayed on the altar. There is also a collection of ancient masks, antique arms and fine thangkas. Higher up the hill is the Mahakal Temple, containing the shrine of Vajrabhairava. The terrifying face of Vajrabhairva is unveiled only at the annual festival in January.

  • When: January 14-15, 2018
  • Where: Spituk Monastery, Leh, Ladakh

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Serendipity of art, culture & music fests this month


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Last month of the year brings most of the enjoyment. One of India’s Best dance festivals ended on 5th at Konark in Odisha and alongwith it, also concluded the Sand Art festival held simultaneously at Chandrabhaga beach. Both festivals are organised every year from 1st to 5th December. Similarly, another festival held every year on same dates is about to conclude- Hornbill festival at Dimapur which showcases stunning natural beauty of Nagaland and its great cultural traditions from 1st to 10th December every year. So, I might seem like already late in suggesting few events, but actually some of the best of the month are yet to come and you have enough time to plan a trip.

I can also definitely say that some of the events left in the month are few of the biggest and most outstanding events of the year. Just consider the fact that Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan at Jalandhar is being held for last 142 years. It might be actually few of events on India’s culture map which started in 19th century, continued for whole of 20th century and are now still going strong in the 21st century. Do you remember anything like this! If not this, than there is Tansen Samaroh, which is organised in Gwalior every year for last 93 years. But if these two festivals are torch bearers of India’s cultural traditions, than their are also few which are more contemporary but still magical and bold enough to not just hold fort but position themselves at the top of plans for music lovers across India and abroad- like the Sunburn and Magnetic fields festivals. But I start with a festival which has in no time (in two years precisely) turned itself into biggest canvas for India’s art & culture.

Serendipity at banks of Mandovi

Serendipity Arts Festival is a multidisciplinary event on the banks of the river Mandovi in Panaji, Goa. A cultural experience in itself, the festival brings together visual, performing and culinary arts. Curated by a panel of artists and institutional figures, this second edition will feature over 70 art projects including 40 projects that are commissioned specifically for the festival. This festival in Panaji includes art initiatives that transform venues into spaces where audiences can experience the arts in exciting new contexts. Festival is organised by Serendipity Arts Trust (SAT), which is an arts and cultural development trust created to encourage and support the arts as a significant contributor to the civil society. SAT aims to promote new creative strategies, artistic interventions, and cultural partnerships which are responsive and seek to address the social, cultural and environmental milieu. Committed to innovation, SAT intends to support, promote &create platforms for innovation and creativity. Right from the first Serendipity Arts Festival, the aim has been to provide masses with a unique cultural and historical source of modern contemporary art and culture. SAT programs are designed and initiated through innovative collaborations with partners across a multitude of fields, each intervention created using the arts to impact education, social initiatives, community development programs, explore interdisciplinarity between the arts, and to understand the shared histories of the sub-continent better. To be precise, the entire endeavour is to justify the meaning of serendipity meaning i.e. a happy chance. There are 14 curators who have worked towards assembling a combination of acclaimed works, commissioned pieces, and innovative adaptations within their field of expertise. They will be present at this multi-disciplinary arts festival in Goa to engage, mould and mentor ideas into fruition.

When: 15th to 22nd December 2017

Getting there: Spread across a 1.8 km stretch along river Mandovi, the Festival locations have been strategically chosen for their historical value, natural settings and affinity towards the arts. With its close-knit networks and practical commute options, the is accessible to and welcomes everyone. Serendipity Arts Festival intends to transform the waterfront along the river Mandovi, Panaji into a hub of cultural activity. Goa’s only airport is at Dabolim and it is around 30 kms from Goa’s capital Panaji, which is where festival is.The main train stations in Goa are Madgaon station in Margao; Vasco da Gama; and Karmali station near Old Goa, 12 kms from Panaji, all well connected of different cities. Private and state-run long distance buses run to and from Goa.

142 years of enchanting classical music

Shree Baba Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan is the oldest festival of Indian Classical Music in the world. The vibrant voices of the vocalists, The soul stirring strains of Sitar, Santoor and Sarangi; the thundering sounds of Tabla and Pakhawaj; the cascading notes of Flute & Shehnai; the magic of Mohan Veena; the enchanting notes of Veena & Violin and the harmonious notes of Harmonium- all have touched the souls of enlightened audiences at Shree Baba Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan, year after year for the last 142 years. This magnificent achievement has been made possible by the great musicians, the generous donors, the devoted audience and the dedicated ‘Harivallabh’ team. For some it is a matter of sheer devotion, for some it is a pilgrimage and for some it is a mission to preserve the best in Indian Classical Music, that attracts them to this Sangeet Sammelan and to receive the blessings from the great seat of music. Harivallabh shall complete 142 Years this year. The Government of India has recognized this festival as one of the National Festivals of Music. Drawing inspiration from Saint-musician – Baba Harivallabh, who started this Sangeet Sammelan in the memory of his Guru Swami Tulja Giri Ji, the Sangeet Sammelan has provided a platform where distinguished musicians could perform and give the best of their art and where anyone interested – initiated and uninitiated alike, could listen to them, free.

When: 22nd to 23rd December 2017

Getting there: Festival happens at Devi Talab in city of Jalandhar in Punjab. Jalandhar is well connected to all parts of country through road and rail network. Amritsar is the closest airport.

Tribute to a great musician at Tansen Samaroh

This is 93rd year of one of the oldest and most reputed music festivals in India. This cultural festival is dedicated to the pillar of Indian classical music, the great Tansen. The place where this great musician lies buries, Tansen Tomb, in Gwalior is the venue of a music festival held annually. Gwalior is the place that has retained the rich classical music tradition and Tansen devotion to music laid to the foundation of what is known as the Gwalior gharana style with its unique Dhrupad classical form. Khayal was also refined from the Gwalior gharana only. This festival is noted for its unique compositions in Indian classical style and forceful performances. Organised by the Madhya Pradesh Kala Parishad, the Tansen festival of music, the event is a unique show for the music lovers of the country to experience the superb melody rendered by the great exponents of Indian classical music. The history of the Samaroh shows that this used to be the most significant music festival of the Gwalior State. The great and well-known musicians and music lovers of the country and abroad participate in the Samaroh to offer their musical tribute to the all-time great music Maestro Tansen. Since it is the only one and the oldest day night music festival, the Academy honours the senior celebrities and junior artists of the music on this occasion by including them in the Samaroh through their music of performance. But unlike earlier years, this year there will be no foreign artists. This year there will be total nine music sessions. Seven of them will be held inside the complex holding Tansen’s tomb and tomb of Mohammad Ghaus. Eighth will be at birth place of Tansen in Behat at the banks of Jhilmil river. Ninth will be Goojari Mahal in the fort complex. City administration has declared a holiday on 23rd to facilitate people to attend the festival. In an addition, this year on the eve of the festival, i.e. on 21st December there will be a ‘Gamak’ seating at Hazira chowk, as a part of the ‘poorvrang’ to be graced by performance by Anoop Jalota. Two troupes of Adivasi artists will dance all the way from fort gate to Hazira chowk.

When: 22nd to 26th December 2017

Getting there: Gwalior is well connected to all parts of country. Gwalior airport has got daily flights from Delhi, Mumbai, Indore, Bhopal and Jabalpur. Gwalior is very well connected to major cities across India by direct train links. Gwalior is situated on the North-South corridor of National Express Highway. The festival venue Tansen Tomb is right in the heart of the city.

Sunburn Festival gets new venue at Pune

Coming back to contemporary, deemed to be the biggest outdoor dance party to hit India’s beaches some years back, the Sunburn Festival is into its eleventh year this year. But it is beaches no more. Sunburn, one of the world’s biggest music festivals, last year moved from Vagator beach of Goa to a new venue ‘Sunburn Hills’ in Pune. But venue in Pune itself is again changed this year. India’s premier electronic music brand bids farewell to Sunburn Hills and is all set to deliver a better, smoother and bigger experience for all our fans this year. Ola Sunburn Festival 2017, will be hosted at Pimpri-Chinchwad in Pune, providing a perfect setting to celebrate the new decade of brand Sunburn. The new venue will not only host one of the biggest artist line ups and grand stage but also enhance the fan experience by giving hassle free entry to the festival arena and easy access to the venue, better parking facilities and traffic control. The strategically located venue will provide an excellent infrastructure along with health and safety amenities. The venue is also well-connected to the express highway, being just 5 mins away to entering the festival arena making the overall experience even more enjoyable. On its 11th anniversary, Sunburn is looking at creating an array of experiences that would not only give dance music enthusiasts memories that last a lifetime but also redefine the way entertainment and live music is consumed in the country. Sunburn is India’s premier electronic music brand hosting Asia’s largest 4-day Electronic Music Festival in Pune, Various city festivals, Arena gigs, Campus gigs and Club tours across the country since 2007. Sunburn Arena was introduced in 2011, bringing some of the worlds best DJs to India like Avicii, Armin Van Buuren, Dash Berlin, Deadmau5, Swedish House Mafia and many more in an exhilarating arena format across all major cities. Fans can expect a world class experience with on-site camping options, the fan village, an extensive array of food courts, 40+ experience zones, flea markets, chopper rides, after parties among others. On the music side festival includes some of the biggest names from the dance music scene including Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, DJ Snake, Clean Bandit, Martin Garrix and Nucleya among others.

When: 28th to 31st December 2017

Getting there: Event will be held at Pimpri-Chinchwad in Pune. The venue is also well-connected to the express highway, being just 5 mins away to entering the festival arena.

Getting ‘Magnetic’ in bigger ‘Fields’

Magnetic Fields Festival is newest addition to Rajasthan’s vastly growing music scene. Earlier it used to be a largely closed affair, but with increasing popularity, it has also grown in size. This is held at two stages in the restored 17th century Alsisar Mahal, in Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. This palace is now a heritage hotel. Lots of heavy metal music both from bands and DJs, traditional fashion, art and food will be on platter. Its a sort of fantasy carnival. Set in the pristine heritage village of Alsisar in Rajasthan, Alsisar Mahal is a battle hardened palace that has recently been renovated and refurbished into a luxurious hotel. Magnetic Fields is more than just a music festival, it’s a visual dream, a unique marriage of contemporary culture with Rajasthani heritage and hospitality. You will be transported through the looking glass into an intimate world with adventures, new experiences and memories waiting to be made. You can expect the freshest Indian sounds accompanied by some of the most exciting underground international stars alongside a cultural programme of local legends. Stretch in the morning and watch the new day come alive with yoga sessions; immerse yourself in treasure hunt, get better acquainted with the night sky in star gazing workshops, find your own little pocket of paradise and lose yourself in Bedouin dens; secret areas and feast on local delicacies given an alternative twist. Festival has accommodation option like palace suites, premium bedouin, normal bedouin are classic tents. You can also come and pitch your own tent provided you purchase a festival ticket. Line up for this year include Four Tet, Daphni, Ben UFO, Machinedrum, Khruanbin, Sassy J, Jayda G, Tijana T, Arjun Vagale, Josey Rebelle, Willow, The SKA Vengers, Komorebi, Jack Barnett, Teebs, Dolan Bergin, Begum X, Priya Purushothaman, Deep Brown, Stalvart John Tarqeeb, and many others.
Earlier Alsisar Mahal was the residence of the Thakur of Alsisar. Alsisar Mahal is the most recent addition to Alsisar Group of Hotels which has now become an ideal base to explore not only the old historic capital of Jhunjhunu but also the whole painted region of Shekhawati. This majestic palace, spread over a lush 10 acre plot, is situated in village Alsisar which is 23 Km’s from district head quarter ‘JhunJhunu’ in Rajasthan. The regal magnificence of the Alsisar Mahal’s architecture and the splendour of its beautifully decorated interiors are just mesmerising; antique furniture, intricately carved poster beds and medieval delicate Rajasthani motifs on fabric recreates a flavour of luxury living for guests.

When: 15th to 17th December 2017

Getting there: Delhi or Jaipur are the closest options. Daily from Sarai Rohilla, New Delhi to Sadulpur Junction – just under 4 hours followed by 45 min taxi from Sadulpur to Alsisar. This is the recommended travel option! By road its 6 hours from Delhi via Gurgaon > Rewari > Narnol > Singhana > Chirawa > Jhunjhunu and 4 hours from Jaipur via Chomu > Sikar (take a bypass) > Nawalgarh > Jhunjhunu.

A month long celebration of heritage at Mamallapuram

The Mamallapuram dance festival is conducted every year during Dec-Jan. It is a month long festival and dances take place during the weekends. Mamallapuram has retained its fame in stone, thanks to the great contribution of Pallava artisans. It is among the most outstanding examples of Dravidian art and architecture and a jewel in the crown of Tamil Nadu. In a land that is liberally strewn with some of the best in temple art, Mamallapuram holds its own, and stands as a silent yet eloquent witness to the glory of its creators. Unfortunately most of the work was left incomplete, and time and nature have also eroded the remains of this once great port. Yet, Mamallapuram’s wonders in rock leave visitors enthralled, conveying as they do, an impression of beauty and harmony. The monuments are floodlit at night and so it is possible to enjoy their beauty even after sunset. The 31-day Mamallapuram Dance Festival features 64 forms of traditional folk dance and 64 classical dance forms, showcasing the cultural ethos of the State. Classical dances such as Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, Mohini Attam, Odissi, Kathak etc., are performed by well-known exponents of the art. The dances are performed against the magnificent backdrop of the Pallava Rock Sculptures. These sculptures provide an aesthetic touch to the festival where the best folk dancers in India perform. The crowd gets a visual treat by the incredible performances of Indian folk dancers where artists perform beautifully decked up in the finest traditional attire representing the rich cultural heritage of the country. Mamallapuram is also a popular beach resort and a culture front, especially for the tourists, who come from the world over who love to imbibe and soak in the rich traditions. This town beach is full of ancient monuments, sculptures, caves, monolithic temples and beaches.

When: 21 December 2017 — 21 January 2018

How to reach: Chennai (58 km) is the nearest airport for domestic and international flights. Chennai is connected with all the major places in India. The nearest railway stations are Chengalpattu (29 km) and Chennai (58 km). From these stations one has to take road journey to reach Mamallapuram. Buses from here to Pondicherry, Kanchipuram, Chengalpattu and Chennai to Mamallapuram daily. Tourists can also hire taxis from Chennai.

Ushering in the new year with Losar

While looking for the tradition, you just can’t overlook culture at India’s most dramatic landscapes. The Losar festival marks the beginning of the New year in Ladakh/Tibet and is considered to be the most important festival of the region. During this festival, the Ladakhi Buddhists make a religious offering before their deities in the domestic shrines or in the Gompas. A medley of cultural events, ancient rituals and also traditional performances are performed during this festival. The Losar festival dates back to pre-Buddhist Bon era in Tibet. As per the ancient tradition a spiritual ceremony was conducted every year in the winter. During this ceremony people offer considerable amount of incense in order to propitiate the local deities and the spirits. Later, this ceremony was converted into a yearly Buddhist festival which most probably started during the tenure of the ninth Tibetan king, Pude Gungyal. The sleepy town of Ladakh is transformed into a melting pot of culture, colour and festivity during the Losar festival (Lo means year and Sar means new). The story behind these New Year celebrations is an interesting one. When the King of Ladakh, Jamyang Namgyal, was setting out on an expedition against the Baltistan forces, he was advised by the oracles to wait until the next year. His solution to this problem was bringing forward the New Year celebrations by a month. Since then, it has become a tradition to celebrate the Losar in the eleventh month of the year. It is also the time which marks the end of the harvesting season in Ladakh.

When: 19th December 2017

Getting there: With roads closed for the winter, only way to reach Ladakh at this time of the year is by flight to Leh. Leh has flights from Delhi, Srinagar, Jammu and Chandigarh.

Then there are also few regular ‘touristy’ ones like the Shilpgram Festival organised every year from 21st December to December 31st, at Udaipur in Rajasthan. This attracts massive crowd creating a scene of rural market fair and festival with live performance of folk artist from different parts of the country. There are several huts constructed in the traditional architectural style using mud and local building material to reflect the geographical and ethnic diversity of the different states of west zone of India. Situated 3 kms west of Udaipur near the Havala village is the Centre’s Shilpgram – the Rural Arts and Crafts Complex. Over 400 artisans and craftsmen from all over India come to set up stalls at the fair, which takes place in a sprawling artisans’ village set up by the government. Folk dances and cultural programs are also held as part of the festival. It’s a great way to experience rural India culture.

Another event in Rajasthan is the Winter Festival at Mount Abu which is held every year during the last week of December (29th to 31st December 2017 this year). The festival celebrates the warmth and cheerfulness of the people of this quaint hill station, only one in the Aravalis. The three-day colourful festival is organised by the Rajasthan Tourism and Municipal Board of Mt. Abu. Mount Abu is located on the broad gauge line between Delhi and Mumbai via Ahmedabad. Direct trains run to various destinations including Ajmer, Jodhpur, Jaipur and Ahmedabad. Convenient bus services are from Ahmedabad, Ajmer, Baroda, Jaipur,Jodhpur, Mumbai, Udaipur. Nearest airport is Udaipur.

Similar is the Cochin Carnival down in God’s own territory. This is one festival the whole of Kochi impatiently awaits every year. For this festival (23rd December 2017 to 1st January 2018) Fort Kochi is decked up like a bride and tourists, not only from within the country, but also outside, flock to this lovely port city to participate in the revelry. The inception of the Kochi carnival can be traced back to the Portuguese New Year revelry, held here during the colonial days. Gradually, it evolved to take the form of what is today popularly called the Cochin Carnival of Kerala. Preparations generally begin months in advance for hosting the unique games, fairs and partying during the Carnival of Cochin. The highlight of the carnival is the massive procession on the New Year’s Day. Led by an embellished elephant accompanied by drums and music, the carnival is a moment to behold. There is also staging of different South and North Indian folk dances during the festivity. Colour white simply dominates the concluding 10 days of December, during the carnival.

Still in Kerala, then you shouldn’t miss the Kanathoor Nalvar Bhoothasthanam at Kanathoor village of Kasaragod. To be organised this year from 28th December to 1st January 2018, this festival provides a platform for almost 40 theyyams to perform together. It is undoubtedly a must watch for all those who love the pomp and richness of Theyyam. This prominent Theyyam festival stages the Theyyam of the mother deity as the leading one. The costumes and paintings of the body remind one of an outburst of colours. The visual beauty and the incessant music would transform the onlookers to a different level, almost trance-like state.

But that’s not all as we have many more this month like- Chennai Music Festival at Chennai (December-Jnauray), Enchanted Valley Carnival at Amby Valley (16-17 December), Poush Mela at Shantiniketan in West Bengal (22-26 December) and Taalbelia festival at Castle Mandawa in Shekhawati region of Rajasthan.

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Where Whisky and Brandy are ferocious nallahs!


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I consider the stretch from Bharatpur to Pang to be the most eventful in the entire route from Manali to Leh. Eventful in the sense that it has got most fantastic variations in the landscape than any other stretch. Although Pang to Leh is also again a wonderful stretch but it is more of a leisure part and has less the challenges that Bharatpur-Pang stretch has to offer. That is precisely the reason that although I covered entire stretch from Bharatpur to Leh in a single day, but while writing about it, I have divided into two parts. That was only way to do some justice to it, as one single part would have been either too long or I would have to sacrifice some details.

Beautiful Landscape along the Tsarap Chu river

Bharatpur was an unscheduled halt for me because of the landslide an evening before. But it was always worth as is every inch of this mesmerising terrain.

Read also: Himalayan Rides – Lonely at mighty Baralacha La

Way from Bharatpur to Pang was to take me through same spot which was buried under huge landmass the last night. Just three kilometres ahead of that spot was Killing Sarai. One of the more fascinating things of this route is the nomenclature os the places on the way and as I had said earlier, perhaps army or BRO has big role in naming them. Killing Sarai actually has a BRO depot.

Starnge places, peculiar names

After Killing Sarai comes the Sarchu.  After Keylong Sarchu and Pang are the biggest transit camps on the way upto Upshi. Road upto Sarchu from Bharatpur is very testing.

Gorges along the way

But the early morning drive is very magical. You get to see the colours of nature like never before. You see, how the valley transforms, once it gets soaked in sunlight. First ray of light brings life to the region, life worth a gold literally.

Mountains of gold!

Sarchu gets lively on the sunrise and before reaching you get the feeling that you are close to an army transit camp.

Long way to go!
Truckers lined up at Sarchu

Sarchu is popular not just among campers but also among the truckers. You can find here many dhabas offering food as well as bed.  Although some old-timers had said to me that Pang is better place for a halt than Sarchu. Although Pang is higher in altitude, but Sarchu is more windy. I was to experience that on my way back.

Towards the army transit camp

Sarchu has a small army transit camp. I had come to know that this camp has a satellite phone and one can make calls from there by paying call charges. Fortunately I had been able to make calls every day on this route, it was quite a change from earlier times. I had earlier used BRO satellite phone at Batal as well. I didn’t stop at Sarchu but headed directly to the transit camp to make the call. After that, I moved ahead towards Gata Loops.

Also read: Himalayan Rides- Chacha-Chacha of Batal!

Amazing landscape
Road across the river

After crossing the Sarchu camps, road goes along the river and one has to cross the river and then travel opposite on the other side of the river to move ahead.

It is Brandy Nallah, but wrongly written Whisky here!

Brandy Nallah is at the base of the Gata Loops. Don’t get confused by the photo above as it is perhaps wrongly written by BRO on this board. I don’t know, how they changed the ‘drinks’! BRO perhaps can. I am still not able to comprehend the idea behind these fancy names. Brandy nallah has now got a new bridge, thus robing the adventure of traversing through flowing stream.

Also Read: Loops of the haunted!

Nakeela Pass at over 15,500 ft

Once you cross the Gata Loops, the climb doesn’t stop and actually we have to climb further for almost 10 kms upto the Nakeela Pass at an altitude of 15547 feet. This is the third pass after Rohtang La and Baralacha La en route from Manali to Leh. And these passes are constantly gaining height.

Also Read: Himalayan Rides – Manali to Gramphoo!

Whisky nallah is down there in the valley

Nakeela and Lachung La are two passes overlooking each other and there is a big valley in between. So after  crossing Nakeela we go downhill upto the Whisky Nallah and then climb again upto the Lachung La. Whisky nallah is still very tricky to cross especially in the early part of the season and upto late August. It can be troublesome during rains. But the place is yet tempting enough to have a camp or a restaurant or two.

Lachung La pass

At an altitude of 16616 feet Lachung La is fairly imposing but ride from Brandy Nallah to Nakeela and then Whisky La and Lachung La is quite decent. But things don’t remain always the same and hence the road changes dramatically after Lachung La.

Many such memorials on the way

Road obviously has all imprints of an BRO road including many small memorials for servicemen who lost their lives on this treacherous road either during any operation or while construction of roads. Road conditions might deteriorate but the beauty increases.

It used to be dreadful nallah

Pang is further 1400 feet downhill from Lachung La and hardly 14 kms but even this small stretch has lot to offer and Kangla Jal is indeed top of it. Like Brandy Nallah and Whisky Nallah, Kangla Jal has also go a fancy name with unknown history. But this too is one of the most challenging spots. I have seen images and videos of riders and drivers trying to negotiate the knee-deep waters of Kangla Jal in full flow. This also has got a new bridge now to make the ride smoother.

A biker crossing the Kangla Jal

This place makes a beautiful view on both sides- climb leading upto LachungLa on one side and slope leading upto the Pang on other.

A breathtaking view, literally!

View on other side of Kangla Jal is literally amazing… jaw dropping literally. You can feel amazed about the landscape as well as the engineering marvel of constructing roads and bridges here as in the image above.

Nature’s craft!

View keeps unfolding as you keep moving down towards Pang. Like the one above or like below…

As soon as we end this slope, we cross the bridge and enter the wide valley which houses Pang village.

Buses following me to Pang

Pang is another favourite camping site and a transit camp.

Looking behind towards Lachung La from Pang

Lot of construction is going on at Pang to construct new hotels and Dhabas. Few of them have been there for years like the one where I had my lunch..

Dhaba at Pang

At over 15,200 feet Pang is also said to be one of the highest army transit camps in the world.

Pang campsite

Valley broadens at Pang. Lower part houses the campsites, restaurants and dhabas while higher one houses the army transit camps. Again, the camp here has the facility of satellite phone, which can be used by adventurers to make emergency calls on payment of call charges, the are usually very nominal.

Pang is a must stop for all readers and drivers for a small break. And as I said earlier, it is also nice place for overnight stay.


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Coming next: More Plains and Tanglang La!

 

Loops of the haunted!


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Its is one of the India’s most popular ghost stories. I wouldn’t say that this story originates at most unlikely of the places, as it is one of the most wilderness of places you will come across. It can unnerve you and mesmerise you, both at the same time. But I will certainly say that I am interested in ghost stories only for sake of reading thrill, not at the point of believing them.

Those who have travelled to Leh from Manali by road will have certainly passed through Gata Loops and would have heard story about it. Now a days those who ride or drive on this road, do good research before hand and hence have a fairly good idea of the place. On Manali-Leh road, after you cross Sarchu, 24 kilometres later you come across a series of hairpin bends or loops popularly called as Gata Loops. These loops take you to a climb of almost 2000 ft upto Nakeela pass.

Also read: Lonely at mighty Baralacha La pass

Actually Gata Loops are to Manali-Leh road what Ka zigs are to Shimla-Kaza road. Both are nothing short of engineering marvels. Ka zigs raise from level of Spiti river to Nako through various hairpin bends. Similarly Gata Loops start at 4201 metres or 13,780 feet and 21 loops take you to altitude of 15,302 feet. Both these roads have been created out of nowhere to get human access via road to most improbable of places.

But these loops are also part of India’s most popular haunted stories. Those who have been to this place might be well aware of the hearsay. I am just briefing it for the sake of those, who haven’t heard about it.

Also read: Himalayan Rides- Chandratal to Keylong

This story is about a truck cleaner who died here a lonely death when the truck broke down in increment weather and the driver walked to nearby village to get some help. Cleaner waited at truck to guard the belongings. But it was late October (as per stories) and no vehicles were passing through as behind that truck the Rohtang Pass  (which provides vehicular accessories to Lahaul & Spiti valleys) was already closed down. Moreover snowfall had blocked all approach roads. Driver got stuck in the village for days. Hence the cleaner was left to fend for himself without an help, food or water which resulted in his demise. Stories say about his ghost still wondering around loops and begging for water to all passerby. Locals have constructed a makeshift temple where lies a human skull and believing the story people leave water bottles at the place.

But as always happens with the ghost stories, there are many versions and another version says about a tanker finding it difficult to climb the loop and driver asked its cleaner to get down and put some stones behind the wheels so as to stop it from rolling behind. But accidentally cleaner came under the wheels and seeing this driver ran away with the vehicle, leaving the cleaner behind left to die.

Nobody knows when these so-called incidents took place. Nowhere I have even read the name of that so-called village where driver went to get the help. There are no accounts to corroborate and it is surprising as by any means story would have been just a couple of decades old. Irony is, now there are hundreds of plastic water bottles scattered at that serene place.

I went biking almost end of the season on this route. I was pretty alone in the sense that I was biking solo and that particular time that stretch was devoid of any other vehicles. I captures whole climb of Gata Loops on video. But I was not able to see or capture anybody or any abnormal activity. Though interesting, it was hard for me to believe that story! I will tell you another thing, while returning back from Leh to Manali I crossed this particular stretch alone in pitch dark as I had decided to take the night halt at Sarchu instead of Pang. But still there was no ghost on the way.

Beautiful landscape around

Well, such stories might keep your travel interesting. But even without this story this particular stretch of road is quite fascinating for the views it gives while climbing up. I will say, it is actually a photographer’s delight to be here. You can just stop at every bend and keep clicking. Its amazing how the landscape changes as you climb, down from the river bed.

Reaching the top

As with every part of this route, it is quite different in different seasons. End of the season in late September or early October would be without any snow but different colours.

Gata Loops actually takes you to a different topography, once you are through, towards what Ladakh is actually famous for.

You can just forget all the ghosts and wonder at this nature’s marvellous creation.

What you see across is actually a view point

You can see a view point in the image above. It also works as a resting point for travellers after all the effort taken to climb the Gata Loops and enjoy some beauty, which they would have missed in all labour to climb up.

Interested in ghost stories? Read: Haunted Fort of Bhangarh- Nothing Spooky about it!

You can see the video of my Gata Loops ride on my channel by clicking on the link below-


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