Celebrating life: the colourful festivals of India

India’s festival calendar has something for every religion, nationality and belief, all heralded with elaborate preparation and an exuberant joy rarely found elsewhere. Gifts are exchanged, houses are decorated, song and dance fills the streets and each state and town has its own unique take on a festival occasion. Some events are regional and some national, but all are emblematic of a country which displays diversity at every turn and a people well-tuned to the spirit of celebration. Here are just a few of the major festivals you’ll find in India throughout the year.

Republic Day

India may be a land of Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and many more religious groups, but the start of the year sees a more secular holiday recognised by all. Republic Day on the 26th January marks the anniversary of the Constitution of 1950, when the modern Indian state was born. Parades are particularly spectacular in Delhi, focusing on the India Gate, attended by the Indian President and accompanied by awards and other rituals. Locally, school children perform cultural dances and receive sweets from the government and the tri-coloured flag is seen everywhere.


The meaning of the original term, Deepawali, translates as ‘rows of lamps’ and today, Diwali is known all over the world for its nocturnal light displays. Probably one of the biggest annual events and widely celebrated across India, Diwali falls in November and is significant to multiple religious groups, as well as being a great occasion to witness as a visitor, if you’re lucky enough to coincide this with your cheap flights to India in 2013 that are widely available online. The main tradition of lighting the oil lamps represents the victory of good over evil, while people prepare their households in advance and make vibrant rangoli floor art, commonly meant to welcome the wealth goddess Lakshmi and promote luck.


Held at the turn of the Hindu calendar and the coming of the full moon in late March, Holi is perhaps one of the most recognisable festivals of India: coloured powders and water tossed high into the air, coating everybody and everything in rainbow shades. The aim of the festivities is to celebrate the new season and nature’s return to full bloom after the winter. Northern and southern states associate it with different gods, from the burning of the evil Holika to the story of the God of Love, Kamadeva, who loosed an arrow at Shiva instead of his wife and paid the consequences with fire. Whichever is believed, the end of Holi is usually marked with a symbolic bonfire.

Ganesh Chaturthi

This September festival revolves around the birthday of Ganesha, the mischievous elephant God, with intense celebrations in the Bombay and Madras areas, though popular across the country. Ganesha reigns in Buddhism and Hinduism and clay idols both homemade and statuesque are worshipped, alongside plenty of feasting, performance and poetry. On the last or tenth day the people give the elephant god his watery send-off, as he is paraded through the streets of places like Maharashtra, and submerged into the river or floated out to sea.

Pushkar Camel Fair

One of India’s more regional and traditional affairs is held solely in Pushkar, a town in the desert state of Rajasthan. The Camel Fair began as a trade-off between camel and cattle buyers during the Kartik Purnima festival but now draws in crowds from all over the world to see camel races, beauty parades and even camel fashion shows as the lucky – or unfortunate – animals are dressed in the finest clothes. Also a November occasion, it lasts for five days and includes carnival acts such as magicians, live music and acrobats.

In fact, India has many smaller and no-less noteworthy festivals which are worth looking up if you’re in the country. Why not make a stop at the August Nagaland festivals and celebrate with the Yimchunger tribes, or join in with Novidade in Goa to mark the first harvest crops in September?


Image of Republic Day by rajkumar1220 used under creative commons licence


Top Things To Do In Mumbai

The Shangri-La Hotel, Kuala LumpurMumbai is the largest city in India, and as you would expect from such a bustling metropolis there is no shortage of activities and sights that can be seen in this wonderful city.  As one of the economic powerhouses in India, Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) is a huge city with over twelve million people living there, but there are also some very beautiful areas in and around the city too.

Sightseeing In Mumbai

Although there are some fantastic examples of modern architecture to be seen in the modern business areas of Mumbai, the majority of people visiting the city will enjoy the more traditional architecture of the city.  A very popular visitor attraction to be found on the campus of the University of Mumbai is the Rajabai Clock Tower.  This clearly shows the imperial history of India, as it was designed to imitate London’s Big Ben clock tower, and is a beautiful traditional building.

Another of the major visitor attractions to be seen in Mumbai is the Gateway Of India, a huge arch which stands on the waterfront in the south of the city.  This massive arch would have traditionally been the first thing that visitors arriving by boat would have seen off the coast of Mumbai, and has been graced by many dignitaries and visitors since it was completed back in 1924.  As it is located at the busy waterfront of the city, the ‘Gateway’ is at the heart of life in Mumbai, and is a great place to get a first taste of the city.

The Elephanta Caves

The ElephantaCaves is one of two UNESCO heritage sites to be found in Mumbai, and the amazing interior of these caves is truly spectacular.  The solid basalt rock of the caves has been carved and shaped in many areas of the cave system, and these carvings are a truly remarkable demonstration of the skill and the talent of the craftsmen that worked here.  As well as the remarkable skill of the carvings, there is also the fact that the cave is full of such carved scenes and statues depicting many of the traditional gods, along with the ornate pillars carved in the caves.

The significance of the carvings to be found in these caves is that they are some of the oldest and most elaborate representations of the god Shiva.  The caves themselves were significantly restored in the 1970s, and were subsequently designated as a UNESCO heritage site in 1987.  The caves are on ElephantaIsland, which is a short boat ride away from Mumbai harbor and are open from Tuesday to Sunday.

Enjoy India’s National Sport – Cricket

When it comes to the passions of the people of India, there is little that can eclipse the love that the people have for cricket, and Mumbai is a great place to enjoy a game of cricket.  Although the traditional forms of cricket are still popular in Mumbai, the shortened version of the game known as 20-20 cricket that is played in the Indian Premier League has really become massively popular over recent years.  A trip to the Wankhede Stadium to see the Mumbai Indians playing in the IPL is a true sight to behold with cheerleaders and all the pizzazz of top end sport, with the shortened version of the game proving to be a really exciting spectacle too.

Shopping In Mumbai

As you would expect from such a large and prestigious city, Mumbai has a wealth of shopping opportunities for those looking to spend an afternoon browsing the wares of the locals.  While there are still many traditional markets offering fabrics, artistic goods and keepsakes to be found around the city, the locals looking for international brands will head to the modern shopping malls.  There are many such shopping malls available, but some of the largest include the Atvia Mall and the GrandHyattPlaza which both offer a wealth of international branded goods and retail outlets.

The Top Natural Attractions To Visit In India

Kaziranga National Park-IndiaAs well as being one of the world’s most populous countries, India also has a large amount of naturally beautiful areas and can also boast some very interesting wildlife sites.  This is why many people will visit India to explore its natural attractions every year, and with an increasing emphasis being placed on the tourism industry the importance of these sites is likely to be protected and preserved for the future.

Kaziranga National Park

One of the most fascinating and diverse areas of wildlife in India is the KazirangaNational Park, and lies in Assam, which is in the western part of the country.  The area itself is a very wet area of the country, where four major rivers including the massive Brahmaputra converge before flowing towards the Bay of Bengal.  The park itself was first founded in 1905 where it was designated as a reserve forest.

Although the beautiful scenery to be seen in Kaziranga is certainly an attractive feature, the wealth of wild animals to be found is the real reason that so many visitors flock to the area.  The Indian Rhinoceros is one of the species to be found in the park, and around two thirds of the entire population of the species can be found in this particular corner of the country.  The park is also noted for its exceptionally diverse range of bird species, and it also has a healthy population of elephants and tigers too.

Nanda Devi And The Valley Of Flowers

Another of the most inspiring and beautiful areas of India can be found around the peak of Nanda Devi, which combines some sensational mountain scenery and the truly stunning Valley of Flowers.  As the name suggests, the Valley of Flowers is home to an amazing range of flowers including rare orchids and poppies.  The two national parks together boast an amazing range of plants from the alpine and sub-alpine species.

As well as being notable for its sensational plant life, this area is also home to the rare snow leopard which is an endangered species on a worldwide level.  Sighting of the large cat are particularly rare, as the species is naturally very wary of humans.

Sundarbans National Park

The SundarbansNational Park is a very different type of area from many of the other Indian reserves, lying just above sea level on the border with Bangladesh.  The mangrove forests that are to be found throughout the park are home to many Royal Bengal Tigers.  Although these elusive big cats may be the most famous of the park’s inhabitants, many visitors will be spotted sunbathing on the beaches between November and February.  The park also has a wonderful range of bird species including the brightly colored Blue-Eared Kingfisher, and due to its proximity to water there is also a significant crocodile population.

Manas Wildlife Sanctuary

Another of the wonderful wildlife sanctuaries to be found in the foothills of the Himalayas is the Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, which takes its name from the river Manas.  So many of the species to be found in the area have led to the sanctuary being designated as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, and these include a number of big cats and primates.

Included among the species that are particularly under threat are the Golden Langurs, the Assam Roofed Turtles and the Hispid Hares.  It also has a population of Bengal Tigers living within its boundaries.

The Western Ghats National Park

For those looking for a different type of natural attraction, the Western Ghats is a very interesting mountain area which lies to the south of the country.  These mountains lack the height of the Himalayas, with the highest only reaching a little above 2,500m in height, but the distinctive look of these mountains with their steep sides are particularly striking.

One of the highlights of the Western Ghats is a visit to the JogFalls, which are a dramatic waterfall system where the water will drop over 250 meters to the valley floor.  This is a particularly dramatic sight during the monsoon season, where a huge amount of water is flowing over the falls at any one time.

The Top Adventure Activities To Enjoy In India

skiing-indiaAs one of the largest countries in the world, it is appropriate that India can also boast some of the largest mountains and rivers too, and these are among the features that make India a growing destination for those with a taste for adventure.  Many people will associate India with its huge cities and population centers, but it is also a country with beautiful scenery and many areas that are very remote and inaccessible.  From the adrenaline junkie to the adventure seeker looking for a week in the mountains, India has an adventure holiday to meet their expectations.

Rafting And Kayaking

One of the most popular adventure activities for visitors to India is the exploration of their rivers, and rivers such as the Brahmaputra flowing from the Himalayas are a great source of white water excitement.  One of the real features that those enjoying rafting and kayaking will be looking for is white water, and these rivers will offer sections including the very challenging grade five rapids, while there are also more relaxed sections of river that will allow visitors to relax and enjoy the scenery.

For the vast majority of people, going on an organized trip will make much more sense, as having guides with local knowledge will certainly help to ensure that visitors can get the most from their visit.  Another benefit of an organized trip is that they will have all the facilities for the transport and storage of the equipment throughout the journey.

Skiing And Snowboarding In India

With India generally being perceived as a dry and arid country many people will be surprised to see that Snowboarding and Skiing are among the adventure sports available in the country.  These are available on the slopes of the HimalayanMountains, where the altitude means that wonderful powder snow makes for a great experience.  These slopes are great for those experienced people who want to be able to go by themselves or as a small group, and there are also heli-skiing trips available for those who want to include a helicopter ride to the top of the slopes.

It is worth noting that the slopes in India are in the Kashmir region, with the Gulmarg Ski Resort being some twenty miles from the border with Pakistan.  Although historically there has been a stand off between India and Pakistan, most people will enjoy their trip without trouble.

Rock Climbing And Trekking

India is a real destination for those who are looking to explore the Himalayas, and with a number of ‘trekking peaks’ available for those with a real taste for adventure there is some of the world’s best treks to be found here.  One of the most popular areas of the country for trekking is Ladakh, with some of the easier journeys enjoying pleasant vistas and comfortable walking along valley floors, while others offer challenging trekking at altitude.

For those looking for a real climbing challenge, Kanchenjunga is the world’s third highest mountain and lies on the border between India and Nepal.  Accessible from the North Sikkim region of India, the mountains in this area tend to be quite challenging, but the isolated location and the undeveloped nature of the country around the mountains make it a charming place to visit and to go climbing.


Another activity that is growing in popularity in India is paragliding, and the in the states that border on to the Himalayas there are a number of places where people can enjoy the experience of soaring in the air.  Unlike parachuting where the individual is dropped from an airplane, the paraglider is launched by foot, and then soars on winds and current above the ground.  Destinations such as Kamshet and Jammu are particularly popular among those looking for a different kind of buzz by soaring with a paraglider.

Go to Goa

Goa was once the destination for hippies and other counterculture devotees who wanted to drop out of the commercial world. That element still exists here, but another side of Goa has emerged. This is a side that is flashy, hip and endlessly fun. Goans enjoy the highest per capita income in India. Its well-heeled inhabitants live a luxurious lifestyle, shopping at designer retail stores for their clothing and household goods.

Goa may be the smallest state in India, but it enjoys a vibrant lifestyle. Its location on the coast gives it beautiful beaches that draw millions of tourists from around the world each year. Even travellers from within India flock here to experience firsthand the Goa slogan: Take it easy.

This is easily achieved in Goa as the entire state exhibits a rather relaxed, ‘anything goes’ sensibility. The Portuguese occupied the region for nearly 500 years and their influence can be felt throughout. Many Goans are Catholic and it is not unusual to find Hindu temples and Catholic churches standing in relatively close proximity. The Portuguese influenced the language and architecture here as well, making Goa a fascinating destination that interestingly blends two diverse cultures. The lifestyle is so laid back here that anyone can feel at home.

A variety of accommodations are available throughout the state, but most visitors are concentrated along the bustling coastline. Interesting, and quieter, lodgings can be discovered inland where travellers are less frequent. Anyone wishing to escape the crowds should head inland and avoid the coastal areas. Villas are available for rent to travellers with discriminating and luxurious taste. Although these properties tend to be expensive, they are the last word in elegance and taste, many of them coming with full staff and hundreds of amenities.

Frugal travellers will find plenty of comfortable lodgings as well, though they may not be as luxurious. Some are former hippie hideaways; others provide gorgeous views of the beach and thoughtful amenities. Generally, speaking there are plenty of options for everyone.

Goa is widely recognized for its pulsing nightlife. Rave parties have become almost commonplace and many nightclubs offer an opportunity to dance the night away. To really experience a Goan party, though, it is necessary to inquire among some of the beachside shacks. Gatherings called full moon parties – though they may happen in the middle of the day – are often kept hushed up to avoid police involvement. Essentially these are underground parties where dancing, music and good times prevail. Intoxicants are freely imbibed, even the illegal ones, generally making for a wild time. Another attraction is the Silent Noise Headphone Party where attendees dance to the music on their headphones in deference to a 10:00pm noise ban.

Goa is gorgeous by day and lively by night. It truly has something for everyone, from breathtaking landscapes to wild parties. To really get the most out of one of India’s most spectacular destinations, visitors should take advantage of American Express credit card rewards.  By using an Amex card, travellers can collect points whilst enjoying one of Asia’s great holiday destinations.

Travel Tips for India

India is a country of contrasts. On the one hand you have a country which is home to some of the world’s most beautiful monuments: the Taj Mahal, Red Fort, Aga Khan Palace and Gandhi National Memorial, and the Gateway of India. On the other hand it features in the news for all the wrong reasons: armed robbery, kidnapping, extortion and terrorism-related incidents. I was never very keen on visiting India, but seeing the tourist attractions appealed to me.

I did overcome my fears and eventually I organised my holidays in Delhi. My conclusion is that you will either love it or hate it. I loved it….and so I have compiled some tips to help you enjoy your stay in India.

  1. Book your flights early. Long-haul flights are expensive if you leave it to the last minute. I flew direct with Continental Airlines – it was the only company I could find which didn’t have stopovers. Flight time New York – Delhi was about 14 hours.
  2. Take photocopies of all your documentation: passport, airline tickets and Indian visa.
  3. Organise vaccinations which you may need before going on holiday. Bear in mind that you may need to get them 6 months before travelling. Check with your GP.
  4. Don’t accept drinks or food in the street or when taking public transport as it may be drugged.
  5. It is not a good idea to travel alone, especially if you are a female traveller.
  6. Carry cash or travellers cheques in case your card gets swallowed by the ATM or the machine itself doesn’t work.
  7. Never set off without a good travel insurance.
  8. Beware of scammers. Many locals will try to get you to buy something which looks expensive, but isn’t.
  9. If you are paying by debit or credit card, make sure you insist that the transaction is carried out at the shop counter.

Do not be afraid of traveling to India. I had a fantastic time in Goa and really recommend it.

Traveling to India

delhiI love travelling. I have toured South America, Europe and now I want to discover Asia. There is only one problem. I’m not keen on flying. Perhaps that sounds strange given that I have travelled so much. However, I just can’t help but worry every time I step on an aeroplane for a long-haul flight.

Last January I decided that this would be the year I visit Asia. So I went online and managed to find cheap flights to Delhi with a number of different airlines. Normally I fly with well known companies, but I had never heard of Kingfisher, Gulf Air, Jet Airways and Emirates before, so I was a bit concerned about the service and credibility. This is something which I think is very important when choosing an airline and especially for long-haul flights. To help me decide, I spent an hour reading travel reviews. By searching online you can find reviews on booking, check in, the in-flight service etc. written by other passengers who have travelled with the airline. This was crucial in helping me decide which to choose. Emirates got the best appraisal and so I decided to book with this company. There was only $40 difference between the cheapest airfare and the Emirates flight so I was happy to pay this in the hope of a better service.

I am just back from my trip to Delhi. The flight was absolutely fine and I have no complaints….and now I am even more enthusiastic than ever about visiting other countries in Asia. Delhi is crazy and a city of contrasts. Here you can compare the striking poverty and chaotic traffic with the beauty of its sacred buildings and elaborate monuments. With tourist attractions as famous as Red Fort and the Taj Mahal, I highly recommend visiting Delhi.


goa beaches

A tropical paradise located on the west coast of India, Goa offers some of the best beaches in Asia. Goa has a varied and rich past being a Portuguese colony with a large number of cathedrals and Christian architecture, and although it is India’s smallest state it boasts one of the largest Christian populations. The capital of Goa, Panaji offers a breath of local culture topped with rich ambience that makes it one of the country’s favourite tourist destinations.

Most holiday packages to Goa are tailored around beach holidays and most flights to Goa transit through Mumbai, but there are also first class coaches that travel between Goa and Mumbai. It is not a difficult flight at all and most airlines have fantastic service that makes the hours fly coming from North America.

Once in Goa, there is no shortage of what to do or places to visit. The state is renowned for its sandy beaches, water sports, easygoing lifestyle and exotic festivals. Goa also boasts a rich tropical flora and fauna habitat that preserves a wild range of exotic wildlife. You should check in advance on the seasons as Goa is much more enjoyable in the sunny summer seasons. If you are there off peak you will miss the other tourists but also the sun, which is not as fun if you are planning to work on your tan.

Goa has a large collection of hotels that range from basic to five star ones which offer superb amenities of luxurious standard. You can always find cheap flights to Goa with a lot of travel companies offering packages and flight deals.

What makes Goa stand out as a perfect holiday destination in India is that it has a diverse and rich history influenced by being a former colony of the British Empire and the Portuguese colony which embolden the spirit of the state leading to a flowering, creative and undeviating character of its people. Goa is a place with soul, history and because it’s not so well know, is an excellent place to go to discover new horizons.