Where to Go This January: Art Fests, Lit Fests, Kite Fests

Our top travel picks for the month.

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Fort Kochi has tremendous history as a trading port, but also a thriving contemporary art scene, and walls in the neighbourhood often bear murals by anonymous local and visiting graffiti artists. Photo: Olaf Krüger/imageBROKER/Dinodia Photo Library

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Go Gallery-Hopping at Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Fort Kochi

Every two years, the eclectic neighbourhood of Fort Kochi, in the southern city of Cochin, gets flooded with colour during the three-month long Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The contemporary art show exhibits the works of artists from India and elsewhere. This year’s show (until Wed March 29, 2017) has works from Poland, Spain, India, and Japan, and is curated by artist Sudarshan Shetty, who is best known for his enigmatic sculptural installations. In addition to public exhibitions, there are also workshops, talks, seminars, and film screenings across Cochin. Fort Kochi also has chic cafes, quirky design stores, and an antique market that could yield beautiful souvenirs. Check into the Malabar House or Walton’s Homestay to be close to the action. More on Cochin and other Kerala getaways here.
When: Until Wed March 29, 2017.

See Demoiselle Cranes in Rajasthan

Photo: iStock.com/eROMAZe

Demoiselle cranes were christened by the infamous queen Marie Antoinette after the French word for damsel, owing to their dainty appearance. Photo: iStock.com/ eROMAZe

India hosts a number of migratory bird species every winter, and the delicate demoiselle cranes are among the most beautiful of them all. The dainty, red-eyed birds make their way from China and Mongolia, past the snow-capped Himalayas, and towards Rajasthan and Gujarat, where they wait out the cold. Their arduous journey is counted amongst the harshest migrations in the world. Visit Rajasthan’s Tal Chhapar Wildlife Sanctuary (about 210km/3.5hr by road from Jaipur) for a chance to see the cranes—the sanctuary covers only about 8 sq km (small!) so sightings are guaranteed. More on the demoiselle cranes here.
When: Until March 2017.

Attend the Jaipur Literature Festival, Rajasthan

The next edition, to be held in Jan 2017, marks the tenth anniversary of the Jaipur Literature Festival. Photo: Jaipur Literature Festival/Facebook

Authors Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Manu Joseph, and Mark Tully are slated to make an appearance at this year’s edition of Jaipur Lit Fest. Photo: Jaipur Literature Festival/Facebook

Join fellow bibliophiles from around the world at the five-day Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, which brings together writers, journalists, and book-lovers at the Diggi Palace heritage hotel. This year—the tenth edition of the festival— runs from Thur January 19–Mon January 23, 2017 and has seminars, panel discussions, and book signings. It’d be a shame to visit Jaipur and not see the sights. Hike around Amber Fort and the Jantar Mantar observatory, near the City Palace. Stock up on bandhani-printed saris and dupattas, comfy cotton Jaipuri quilts, and colourful mojaris at bustling markets like Bapu Bazaar. For a tongue-in-cheek guide to the Jaipur Lit Fest, click here.
When: Thur January 19–Mon January 23, 2017.

Spot a Snow Leopard, Himachal Pradesh

Snow Leopard

A snow leopard’s tail, which it uses for balance and for wrapping around itself for warmth, grows to about 80-105cm, nearly as long as its body. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Snow leopards generally roam the upper reaches of the Himalayas, but every winter, these ghosts of the mountains descend closer to the plains looking for food. This makes them relatively easier to spot around this time of year—a cause for much excitement among wildlife lovers. Visit Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir and Pin Valley National Park in Himachal Pradesh for a chance to see these elusive creatures. But be warned: the weather is mind-numbingly cold, and the odds of seeing a snow leopard are incredibly slim. More here.
When: Until February 2017.

Catch the International Kite Festival in Gujarat

Ahmedabad kites

Ahmedabad’s International Kite Festival has been drawing tourists and international kite-makers since its inception in 1989. Photo courtesy Gujarat Tourism

Around Makar Sankranti every year, Gujarat’s skies become a mosaic of kites, big and small, traditional and fantastic, all fighting for space. Catch the action at the International Kite Festival held at the Sabarmati riverfront in Ahmedabad from Sun January 8-Sat January 14. The festival exhibits kite-making traditions from various countries, and draws artists from around the world. Gaze at gigantic sky-borne whales, box kites, and Chinese flying dragons while munching on Gujarati farsan and picking up local handicrafts at the stalls. Don’t forget your sunglasses!
When: Sun January 8–Sat January 14, 2017.

Catch the Republic Day Parade in Delhi

Photo: Rupinder Khullar/Dinodia Photo/Dinodia Photo Library

On Republic Day every year, elaborate floats representing India’s states and union territories make their way down New Delhi’s Rajpath boulevard displaying the country’s cultural diversity. Photo: Rupinder Khullar/Dinodia Photo/Dinodia Photo Library

Here’s an idea for a family holiday: This year, instead of gathering around the telly to catch the Republic Day parade, make a trip to Delhi for the real thing. Yes, the capital is likely to be cold, but crowds are electric, and the parade is quite a spectacle. Every year, India’s states, union territories, and armed forces march out in their best colours at Rajpath and with much aplomb. There are swaying dancers, daredevil bikers, camel-mounted soldiers, even missile tanks. Plus, Republic Day in 2017 falls on a Thursday—take the next day off, and soak up the capital over a long weekend. It’s the perfect weather to explore Delhi’s old forts, tombs and beautiful gardens. For a longer, more peaceful break, check out our guide to short breaks near the Capital.
When: Thur January 26, 2017.

Visit the Rann Utsav, Dhordo, Gujarat

Rann Utsav Gujarat

Buy handmade dolls and mirror-studded jackets as souvenirs at the Rann Utsav. Photo: Rann Utsav-Tent City, Dhordo-Operated By White Rann Camping and Hospitality

The Rann Utsav celebrates the blanched salt land and vibrant culture of Kutch. The largest salt marsh in the world, the Great Rann of Kutch is spread out over 7,505 sq km, but the four-month festival is clustered around Dhordo, a village that is 81km/1hr20min by road from Bhuj. Each year, luxury and standard tents are put up to accommodate visitors. There are tours to heritage sites, wildlife excursions, folk music performances, and stalls selling traditional Kutchi handicrafts and textiles, like handmade leather joothis. Plan a cultural excursion to Gujarat around this year’s edition, from Tue November 1, 2016–Mon February 20, 2017. More here.
When: Tue November 1, 2016–Mon February 20, 2017.

Explore the Floating Islands of Loktak Lake, Manipur

The brow-antlered deer was considered extinct for many years until it was found in the Keibul Lamjao Park area at Loktak Lake

Loktak Lake is the largest freshwater lake in India, covering 286 sq km. Over 4,000 people live on the lake’s floating islands and surrounding phumdis. Photo: Akash Banerjee Photography/Getty Images

Loktak Lake’s most eye-catching features are its phumdis, floating islands made of decomposing reeds and soil. These islands aren’t flimsy surfaces: the largest one, called Keibul Lamjao, is in fact the only floating national park in the world. Explore the park by boat to soak in the unusual views and spot Manipur’s state animal, the brow-antlered deer that was once thought to be extinct. The number of phumdis goes up between January and March, when local fishermen create artificial islands for fish farming and agriculture. The lake is a 2 hour-drive from the state capital of Imphal, a colourful city that is worth exploring. More on Loktak here.
When: Until March 2017

Listen to Baul Singers at the Joydeb Mela, West Bengal

Jaydev Kenduli Baul Singer Makar Sankranti West Bengal

The word baul is derived from the Sanskrit vatul (batul in Bengali), or “mad”. Photo: Plabon Das

Every year around Makar Sankranti, wandering Baul singers from across Bengal converge at the little village of Jaydev Kenduli, 4 hours by road from Kolkata, for the annual Joydeb Mela. Their music performances are the mela’s biggest draw, for Baul singers are both skilled vocalists and rapturous performers, capable of enthralling large crowds. Their music fuses Vaishnav, Sufi, Tantra, and Buddhist tenets, and is generally accompanied by the ektara and clay drums. Like all rural fairs, the Joydeb Mela also hosts handicraft and food stalls, Ferris wheels, and theatre performances. But the Bauls are the stars of the show. More here.
When: Sat January 15–Sun January 16, 2017.

Be a Beach Bum in Goa

Fort Tiracol, Goa, has seven rooms, and a terrace restaurant with views that mesmerise, by day and night. Photo courtesy Fort Tiracol

Goa is filled with charming stays, such as Fort Tiracol, a heritage hotel and erstwhile fortification of local Hindu rajas and subsequently, the Portuguese. Photo courtesy Fort Tiracol

In January, Goa (finally) slows down and catches its breath after a hectic month of parties. There are fewer tourists, the weather is still lovely, and it’s a great time for a beach holiday. Wind down on the sands at Arambol, Palolem, Morjim, and Ashwem. Listen to the surf, toss back chilled beer and pork sorpotel, and work off all that feasting with a bracing swim in the cool Arabian Sea. We’ve even culled together the best stays in the state here: pick from chic resorts, beach shacks, and homestays.
When: Until June 2017.

Recharge at Periyar Tiger Reserve, Kerala

Periyar, Kerala

Tigers thrive in the interiors of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, but can be hard to spot since they live in the core area of the park, where tourists aren’t allowed. Photo: John T.L/Alamy/IndiaPicture

The Periyar Tiger Reserve is the perfect place for first-timers to get a taste of the forest. And January is the ideal time to visit the park, while Kerala’s weather is still cool and the humidity isn’t overwhelming. The reserve’s forest houses a thriving ecosystem of flora and fauna—Malabar pied hornbills, Nilgiri tahrs, and wild elephants. Enjoy a lazy bamboo raft ride on Periyar Lake, hike well-marked trails through thick forests, or camp in the jungle for a night and join rangers on their night watch. The late-night hike offers a rare chance to experience the aliveness of the forest after dark. More on Periyar here.

When: Until February 2017.

Soak in the Colonial Charms of Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu

Photo: Vaibhav Mehta

The lanes off Goubert Avenue are filled with terrace bars, pizzerias, and chic hotels that promise colonial décor and thin-crust pizzas. Photo: Vaibhav Mehta

A touch of France lingers in the charming seaside city of Pondicherry, perfect for a heritage break. The former French colony is an intriguing blend of French and Tamilian cultures that can be seen in its heritage homes, tasted in its Creole dishes, and heard on the street as locals banter in the two languages. The best way to enjoy Pondy’s old-world charm is on a cycle, leisurely winding past tree-lined avenues, stopping to savour hot chocolate and a croissant. Soak in the bright colours and clean lines of the colonial buildings in the beachside French quarter, and cross the canal for the restored magnificence of Tamil mansions. Make a day trip to Auroville for artisanal cheese and boutique buys. Those looking for some adventure can even sign up for scuba diving lessons. Go now, when there’s still a cool winter breeze blowing through the city. More on where to shop and eat in Pondicherry here.

When: Until February 2017.

Plan Ahead

Udaipur

The Rajasthani city of Udaipur is known for its serene lakes and intricate havelis, which make for postcard-perfect views. Photo: iStock.com/letschert

Udaipur World Music Festival, Rajasthan

The fairy-tale city of Udaipur is the stage for the annual World Music Festival, a three-day celebration that blends Sufi music with electronic sounds, and gospel music with reggae—scores that will liven up Udaipur’s otherwise leisurely vibe. Shows take place on the banks of the lovely Fateh Sagar Lake and the nearby Gandhi Ground, with shows beginning around mid-afternoon and continuing until about 10pm, when the temperature dips. Spend the first half of the day exploring the city, and the evenings soaking in rhythms from around the world: The festival had brought over 100 musicians from Spain, Ghana, Venezuela and beyond, last year. More on the World Music Festival here. To plan your trip to Udaipur, click here.
When: Fri February 10–Sun February 12, 2017.

Mahindra Blues Festival, Mumbai

In the age of pop and electronica, the Mahindra Blues Festival offers a rare chance for music lovers: two days of pure, unadulterated blues. Grab a pint of beer and groove to the smoky riffs of Buddy Guy, Joss Stone, Tedeschi Trucks Band (all past headliners). This year’s lineup includes 17-year-old blues prodigy Quinn Sullivan, Soulmate from Shillong, and local favourites Blackstratblues. There’s usually a stall selling vinyls for those still partial to analogue sounds. Tickets sell out quickly, especially for Sunday when the main acts play, so book early.
When: Sat February 11–Sun February 12, 2017

Khajurao Dance Festival in Madhya Pradesh

Watch the country’s finest dancers perform Indian myths against the backdrop of temples dedicated to the same gods. The week-long Khajuraho festival showcases dance forms from around India, both classical and regional. Past editions have seen jugalbandis between Odissi and Kathak dancers and Bharatnatyam recitals set to Marathi folk songs celebrating Krishna and Radha’s love. Often, the postures and poses of the performers mirror the sensually sculpted panels on the temples behind them. Spend the day at the fairgrounds nearby, where artisans sell dokra metal works, handwoven saris, and delicate wooden combs, crafted by hand. The dance performances begin at dusk, and entry is fee. For more on Khajuraho Dance Festival click here. To plan a heritage holiday in Madhya Pradesh, click here.
When: Mon February 20–Mon February 27, 2017.

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