India is a salad bowl of many cultures which span the entire length and breadth of the country. It is every traveller’s dream destination because of the age old traditions living and breathing in the shadows of a fast changing world populated by technology entrusted to it by globalisation. As these cultures draw dying rasps of breath, it becomes important to appreciate the concerted efforts made by certain institutions and communities aimed at reviving them and preserving them. The 13 cultural fests and fairs listed here should be attended at least once in a lifetime to assimilate an understanding of the different cultures and traditions that build India.

1. Jaipur Literature Festival (January)

I had heard it is the Mecca for book-lovers and it sure didn’t disappoint. One can spot authors, journalists, filmmakers and other artists all around who are more than willing to lend an ear to anyone interested in their work. The bookstores stock some of the best works to which people flock throughout the day and everyone looks forward to the power-packed musical performances which warm the winter nights.


2. Uttarayan, Ahmedabad (on Makar Sankranti)

The panoramic visuals of Ahmedabad’s sky which had beckoned to me forever appearred in all its colorful glory during the International kite festival . Citizens from 42 countries participate in the age old custom of flying kites to awaken Gods as the winter dies and another summer is born. Kite-flying competitions are a visual treat while the undhiyu and jalebis distributed to the crowds tickle your tastebuds.

3. Aranmula Uthrattathi (During Onam)

The river Pampa pulsating with synchronised strokes of boatmen in chundan valams is a site worth watching. The traditional songs that the boatmen sing sets a pace to which the crowd finds itself hooked. The boatmen dressed in white mundus and turbans are served Aranmula Vallasadya (traditional banquet) which is appetising to say the least.


4. Kerala Village Fair, Kovalam (January)

My venture to discover the nuances of life in Kerala was successfully complete after attending the Graman or Kerala village fair in Kovalam. The fair puts on display the art and culture of Kerala. The nalukettu or the mansion of the upper-classes is recreated close to the beach for the visitors to understand the architecture and customs. Kathakali, a 500-year old dance-drama performance that interprets ancient epics is a must-watch.


5. Pushkar Mela (Between Kartik Ekadashi and Kartik Poornima)

The biggest camel fair of the world attracted me because of the interesting array of competitions like longest moustache, bridal and matka phod. The fair is visually dynamic and is especially appealing because of the Rajasthani folk culture on display. The food on offer is a melange of traditional Rajasthani like dal bati choorma and exotic options like pasta and pizza.


6. Hemis Festival, Ladakh (July)

The esoteric dance of the masked lamas at the Hemis festival was more mystical in reality than the pictures promised. The surrounding desert engulfs one in an embrace of increduility which is broken by the cymbals and drums of the players. The colorful extravaganza is something which should not be missed.


7. Tarnetar Mela (First Week Of Bhadrapad)

The “marriage-mart” fair of Tarnetar with its bedecked grooms carrying orante umbrellas was just as fascinating in reality as in photographs. The rural olympics is a special feature of this fair and the cattle display is worth watching. Traditional handicrafts and culture of Gujarat like the Hudo and Raas dance can be experienced here.


8. Lucknow Festival (November)

Few places in the world can claim to offer so much to the seasoned eater as Lucknow. I found that the city of nawabi shauk is at its best during the Lucknow festival which allows one to find the best food possible along with events like Vintage car rally, Ekka Tinga race and recitals by famous poets.


9. Poush mela Shantiniketan (Seventh Day Of Poush)

The songs of the baul singers attracted me to the Poush mela of Shantiniketan. Bengali art and culture is showcased during the fair which marks the anniversary of the adoption of Brahmo by Devendra Tagore.

10. Hola Mohalla, Anandpur Sahib (First Day Of Lunar Month Of Chett)

The display of prowess at the Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib is not for the weak-hearted as I learnt on the last day of Hola Mohalla. The military style procession is followed by kirtan and recitals of poetry. One must visit to experience Sikh tradition and culture.


11. Urs Of Nizamuddin Auliya, Delhi (Seventeenth Of Rabi)

Ideas of ecstacy that “urs” brought expressed in Amir Khusrau’s poetry turned to reality when I witnessed the celebrations of Urs at the dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya. The Sufiyana mahaul and burning incense can bring out the poetic persona of any visitor on this day.

12. Qutub Festival (November-December)

If one is in search of a platform to experience the best of Indian art, culture and food in a limited time, the annual Qutub festival is the answer. One of the oldest monuments of Delhi, the charm of the Qutub Minar is accentuated manifold during the annual Qutub festival which swarms with people who come to enjoy poetry and ghazal recitals, dance recitals, and food.


13. Hornbill Festival, Nagaland (December)

My visit to Nagalnd during the Hornbill festival was my first brush with Naga culture and perhaps the best opportunity to understand it in depth in a short span of time. The displays, dances, food and songs which are a part of the lively festival make for an enchanting experience, willfully missing which would be a crime.


A visit to these fairs and festivals will surely awaken one to the reality of the beautiful cultures and traditions which were always summed up in the phrase “India is a diverse country” in our textbooks. To realize the depth of the phrase it is important to experience these as well as several other Indian traditions first-hand.