Music is known as the universal language of mankind. Outdoor festivals stand testimony to this theory, when hundreds of pulsating bodies groove to a rhythm in unison. It’s a transcendent experience that can change your life. Indian festivals have yet to achieve the grandeur of Tomorrowland and Coachella or be as diverse as Glastonbury and the Montreal International Jazz Festival, but many of them have reinvented themselves to make India one of the fastest-growing music destinations in the world. With a choice of over 200 festivals hosted across the country today, here are four that have proven to be both music and travel hotspots:
South: Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu
Since the mid-1990s, Chennai has had a strong connection to techno music so it was inevitable that their biggest festival would showcase this genre. Go:Madras began in 2008 on the beaches outside the city. But now it has moved to the seaside town of Mahabalipuram. The clubbing culture of the city has been amplified to create an outdoor music experience that unfolds through the day and moves indoors by night into a giant reverberating room. Unlike the techno experiences abroad, which are usually in warehouses and industrial spaces, this fest is held within the confines of a five-star hotel property.
If you’re an energetic dancer Go:Madras promises you many new friends, as the tempo picks up dramatically through the evening. Some Chennai punters pride themselves on being on the floor from start to finish. If you dance with them through the night, you are promised good company, beautiful seaside spots, and some of the best seafood in the world.
Dates September 2017; Final dates to be announced
Festival tip Be prepared for both rain and shine as the weather in Mahabalipuram is notoriously unpredictable. Remember to
pack your swimming gear in case you want to take a few laps in the sea.
East: Kolkata, West Bengal
Kolkata welcomes the onset of winters with Jazzfest. During its historic 40-year-old existence, the iconic festival has moved around the city from venue to venue and has played host to jazz legends like Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Jonas Hellborg, Kenny Garret, and Shawn Lane.
Currently, the event is held at the Dalhousie Insitute, a downtown country club. The three days of evening outdoor shows at the fest usually feature a line-up of six to eight international bands. Over the last few years, this event has also become a platform for Indian jazz bands to headline shows. During the Jazzfest, Dalhousie’s grounds are packed with serious music aficionados, often the most ardent ones taking up seats in the front as families and groups enjoy the ongoings from farther behind. Since the programme starts in the evening, visitors can spend the day exploring the city’s cultural offerings, taking in its bookstores, coffee houses, and restaurants.
Dates 8-10 December 2017
Festival tip The seating is open, so reach the venue early to grab a good spot. Also pick up your food and
drink coupons in one go to avoid long queues later.
North: Alsisar, Rajasthan
Started in 2013, Magnetic Fields has achieved a cult-like status among festival die-hards. The 17th-century Alsisar Mahal, a historical Indo-Islamic monument about four hours north of Jaipur, serves as the backdrop for some far-out futuristic music. Each day moves from sun scorched reggae parties on the sands to laser and light-filled live concerts in the evening, climaxing with sunrise sets on the roof of the palace.
The standout feature of Magnetic Fields is its well-curated crossover music line-up. European acts rub shoulders with some established and promising local electronic musicians and bands. In its initial days, the roster was heavy on house and techno. Those are still the big-ticket draws, but the festival slate has become more diverse. Last year saw the addition of a reggae/dub stage and a dedicated jazz programme. Expect more musical diffractions this year along with dazzling visual and light shows.
Dates 15-17 December 2017
Festival tip Plan a group trip and opt for a comfortable stay in the palace rooms. Rooms go on sale months in advance and sell out in a matter of hours leaving only tented accommodation for latecomers.
West: Alibaug, Maharashtra
This festival is all about sunshine and music by the seashore. Exuding a bohemian vibe, it is held at a secluded beach-front, built to look like a bamboo and teepee village. The playlist includes live musicians from all over the world, who start the day with a drum circle under coconut trees, which is followed by high energy ska and electro-jazz acts in the evening.
For urbanites looking for some respite from their daily grind, Nariyal Paani offers a vision of community beach living without them having to actually rough it out. The drinks and food include both a coastal menu with thaalis and coconut water, and snackier options like gourmet pizzas and craft beer. It’s a welcome change from the assembly-line fast food and bottled beer served at more commercially-oriented bigger festivals. This is the smallest festival of the four, but the prospect of watching spectacular sunsets while listening to good music usually brings its fair share of loyal visitors every January.
Dates January 2018; Final dates to be announced
Festival tip Taking the boat to and from the festival and staying at the campsite is the easiest way of experiencing the event. If you do plan to drive in and stay at a hotel be aware that it’s peak season so make bookings months in advance.