Rajasthan is affectionately referred to as India’s ‘Colourful State’, and at no time are these colours more vivid and bright than during a festival. Majestic Rajasthan celebrates scores of festivals each year, yet there are three that stand out. From beautifully embellished saris during Diwali, to camel racing in Pushkar, Rajasthan is the ideal destination to soak up the rich culture and traditions of the great Indian festival.
Here’s our definitive guide to the top 3:
1. Pushkar Fair
When: 9th – 17th November 2013
The Pushkar Fair is one of the largest cattle fairs in India, and the only one of its kind in the world. The sleepy town of Pushkar rests close to Ajmer, and around a three hour drive from Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. Pushkar is known as Rajasthan’s most holy city, as the lake here was said to have been created by Lord Brahma himself. During sunrise and sunset, locals flock to the lake to perform ancient Hindu rituals, little unchanged for centuries. A dip in the lake is said to wash away sins.
During October/November each year, a whirlwind hits the otherwise quiet town, with the hustle and bustle of Pushkar Fair. Tens of thousands of people from all corners of Rajasthan flock to Pushkar for several days of live-stock trading, celebration and pilgrimage. The small town of Pushkar becomes a kaleidoscope of colour, with brightly dressed devotees, musicians, acrobats, folk dancers, trader’s comedians, holy men and tourists.
Camel and cattle trading is at its peak during the first half of the festival period. During the latter half, religious activities dominate, with devotees taking dips in the holy lake. Rows upon rows of make shift stalls display a wide variety of objects, from art to daily utilities. There are decorations for camels and ladies alike, all bundled together. There are also camel races during the Pushkar Fair, along with camel judging competitions. Each evening there are Rajasthani folk dancers and live shows, all celebrating the culture and traditions of Rajasthan.
Pushkar Fair has been described by many as an unforgettable experience.
Where to stay
The luxurious 5* Ananta Spa and Resort is by far the most opulent hotel in Pushkar. With breath-taking views of the Aravali mountain range, and a wide variety of invigorating spa treatments, the Ananta is the perfect place to recharge your batteries after the colourful tornado of the Pushkar Fair. Rooms at the Ananta Spa and Resort start at £200 per night, inclusive of breakfast.
2. The Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF)
When: 26th – 30th October 2013
The Rajasthan International Folk Festival is a celebration of traditional Rajasthani folk music and art, with colourful live performances and craft workshops. The R.I.FF is celebrated in Jodhpur, which is also known as Rajasthan’s ‘Blue City’ due to the cobalt-painted houses scattered throughout the town. The festival is held in and around Mehrangarh Fort, which is affectionately referred to as the ‘Pride of Jodhpur’. Mehrangarh Fort was voted as ‘Asia’s Best Fort’ by Times Magazine in 2007. During the festival, the fort is lavishly decorated in Rajasthani style.
The RIFF first began in 2007, and is timed to harmonize with the brightest full moon of the year. The festival commemorates different musical heritages by creating new sounds through innovative collaborations. The festival promises sizzling performances from over 250 local and international artists.
Where to stay
The Taj Umaid Bhawan palace was constructed between 1928 and 1943, for Maharaja Umaid Singh Ji, grandfather of the present Maharaja. He commissioned the Umaid Bhawan Palace to replace the Mehrangarh Fort as the symbol of a new Jodhpur, along with providing secure employment for thousands of local people during periods of great famine and drought. The Umaid Bhawan Palace is the last of India’s great palaces, and one of the largest private residencies in the world. Designed by renowned Edwardian architect Henry Lanchester, the palace is a fusion of both eastern and western influences.
Whilst staying at the Umaid Bhawan Palace, your own personal butler will gladly guide you through the grand palace. No task is too insignificant, and no demand too unreasonable. The Umaid Bhawan Palace is without a doubt the most luxurious hotel in Jodhpur. Rooms at the Umaid Bhawan Palace, during October 2013, start at £540 per night.
When: 3rd November 2013
The word ‘Diwali’ translates into English as ‘rows of lighted lamps’. Diwali is known as the ‘festival of light’, as the houses, shops and public places are all extravagantly decorated with small earthenware oil lamps, known as diyas. For many Hindus, the festival of Diwali honours Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth. Oil lamps are lit to guide Lakshmi into their homes, to bless them with wealth and success. Diwali also celebrates a Hindu legend, which tells of the return of Rama and Sita to Rama’s kingdom, after 14 years of exile. Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance.
There are great preparations for Diwali, comparable to Christmas for Christians. The home is spring cleaned, new clothes are worn and gifts are exchanged, as well as lighting and decorating the home with lights. There are huge firework shows in celebration of Diwali.
Diwali is the biggest festival in the Hindu calendar, and is celebrated by Hindu’s throughout India and the world. However, one of the most vivid and exciting places to celebrate Diwali is Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. Jaipur is affectionately referred to as the ‘Pink City’, as it’s City Palace walls are washed in a bright salmon hue. During Diwali, The ‘Pink City’ is decorated in all the colours under the sun.
There are thousands of variations of the diya lamp available in local bustling bazaars – markets, in the form of deities, exotic birds and animals. Each year, there is a contest held to award the most lavishly decorated bazaar. The judges criteria takes into account the themes applied along with the technology used.
Where to stay
The Taj Rambagh is the jewel of Jaipur. This lavish palace is undoubtedly one of the grandest hotels in north India. Drenched in rich textures, opulent furnishings and expansive, ornamental gardens, the Taj Rambagh is an architectural masterpiece that transcends time. During Diwali, this luxurious hotel puts on a lavish celebration, complete with traditional performances and a themed dinner.
Rooms at the Taj Rambagh, during Diwali 2013, start at £356 per night.
Madeleine Hann is CEO and Co-Founder of Indian Excursions Co.