Allow yourself a glimpse of the intriguing rituals of Buddhism in Sikkim on 29 May. Marked by the full moon in the fourth month of the Tibetan calendar, Saga Dawa celebrates the birth, life and salvation of Lord Buddha. Held in high regard by the locals, especially the Mahayana Buddhists, the festival brings to life the gorgeous spectacle of lighting of butter lamps in the monasteries of Gangtok. Following this, a grand parade of monks commencing from Tsuk-La-Khang monastery moves along the streets, reading holy scriptures called ‘Kajur Texts’ and chanting hymns. Known as Buddha Purnima to the rest of the country, in Gangtok this religious event metamorphoses into a cultural extravaganza, made evocative by traditional music, drumming and the burning of incense.
(No entry fee; sikkimtourism.gov.in)
If a temple fair in the middle of a forest sounds exciting, Dhoongri Mela, in Himachal Pradesh, offers a quick fix. Held between 14 and 16 May in Manali, the annual event at the prominent Hadimba Temple draws worshippers and travellers alike to the deep-nested forest park of Dhoongri Van Vihar. The three-day fair commemorates the birth anniversary of Goddess Hadimba, wife of Bhima, from Mahabharata. Idols of local deities are decked and paraded in a procession leading up to the four-storey wooden temple dating back to 1553. Food vendors and carnival rides add to the merriment, coupled with the visual delight of Kullu Nati, a folk dance performed by the locals.
(No entry fee; himachaltourism.gov.in)
If there is an Indian state that can turn American music legend Bob Dylan’s birthday into a full-blown celebration, it has to be Indian rock capital of Shillong. Celebrated every year on Dylan’s birthday on May 24 since 1972, the tradition started out as a fairly intimate group of music aficionados getting together to perform and listen to Dylan’s greatest hits on his birthday, but has evolved into a city-wide celebration of music since. Various performances and live gigs are held at different venues across Shillong on the day, spearheaded by Shillong’s grand old man of music, Lou Majaw, known for belting out impeccable renditions of Dylan’s songs at local cafés on the day around the year—the closest Dylan fans can get to experiencing the Blowin’ in the Wind star’s melody and madness of spirit. Shillong even has a designated music café named after the musician (Dylan’s Cafe) whose works and memory the beautiful hill station has been obsessed with for decades. Simply land up in the north-eastern city and follow the trail!
(For more on Shillong’s evolution as a cultural and music hub, read our story here)
Head to Nagaland between 1 and 3 May to experience the Moatsu Mong festival. Observed by the Ao tribe, this Naga extravaganza is celebrated in the villages of Mokokchung district, particularly in Chuchuyimlang (roughly 173 km from Kohima). Marking an end to the sowing season, the colourful festival sees locals refurbishing their houses, exchanging gifts and dressing in their traditional best. Tribal folk gather around for Sangpangtu, a fire ritual, and feast on sumptuous meals of pork and beef, from livestock reared especially for the occasion. You can indulge in locally brewed rice beer while dancing with the locals. Indigenous artefacts and handloom shawls are some goodies you can bring back home.
(No entry fee; tourismnagaland.com/)
Surrounded by swathes of lush rolling hills, Udhagamandalam, popularly known as Ooty, reigns supreme as a holiday spot. What better time to visit the natural haunt than in summer, when the annual Summer Festival is in full swing? Tour the 22-acre Botanical Garden, where exhibitors from different countries come together to display an eccentric variety of flowers, or head to the Government Rose Garden to marvel at rose petal rangolis. Sim’s Park in Coonoor hosts the Fruit Show, while canine lovers may head to the Government Arts College ground in Ooty to be amused by the Dog Show. The Indian map, replicated with capsicums in red, yellow and green, is must-see at the Vegetable Show held at Nehru Park in Kotagiri. Adding to the revelry are other events from the festival, including a boat race and pageantry at Ooty Lake, hot-air balloon rides, eco-trekking programs, painting exhibitions and a host of cultural performances.
(Check tamilnadutourism.org/ for dates and ticket prices)
Pooja Naik is Senior Sub-Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She likes to take long leisurely walks with both hands in her pocket; channeling her inner Gil Pender at Marine Drive since Paris is a continent away.