Travel 2014: 12 must-try experiences in India

Lakshmi Sharath
Lakshmi Sharath
Travel 2014 Must-Do List
From road trips and festivals to traditional performances, make it happen in 2014.

The most obvious new year pursuit for a traveler is to do something new. Even as a traveller, one is constantly pushing the envelope to try out new experiences. And we are spoilt for choices. From bird watching to sky diving, from culinary courses to learning a new language, from travelling like a local to travelling with locals – India offers some interesting experiences for the ever curious traveller. And then there are the festivals – religious, social, cultural. If you are planning a travel calendar for 2014, here are some “to dos “that one can add to the bucket list

1.    The International Kite Festival in Gujarat
Start the new year by watching kites flood the skies of Gujarat. Uttarayan marks Makar Sankranti in Gujarat and almost every district in the state paints the sky in vivid colours with kites. In 2012, more than 40 countries reportedly participated in this kite festival. There is a kite market in Ahmedabad and even a museum. Local families even make their own kites. This is one colourful beginning to the new year.

2.    Camp under the stars in the Thar
There is the sea, and then there is the sea of sands that stretches on and on as the stars look down upon you. Watch the sun set, the moon rise and listen to musicians who could sing all night, their voices echoing along the desert. If you are staying in Suryagarh, they will organise sundowners and you can camp in the night as well. Make your date with the desert in 2014.

3.    Ring in the Spring
Come March and parts of India welcome the spring with a riot of colours. There is nothing that comes close to spending Holi in Rajasthan. But if you are looking for a different experience of spring, then head to Goa, which gets all cultural and colourful as the villages and cities celebrate Shigmo. It is a pageant out there and one can join in the revelry. Tip: Head to the villages rather than the cities.

4.    Celebrate Tamil New Year
April is the month when several regional communities celebrate their new year. Malayalees, Bengalis and Tamilians celebrate it almost around the same time. Visit any village in Tamil Nadu, preferably in Chettinadu and celebrate Tamil New Year. Local Ayyanar Temples also have their own rituals, which sometimes coincide around the same time. The Ayyanars are the guardian deities of the villages and the offering is usually in the form of terracotta horses and elephants carved by potters. The sacrifice is symbolic as a drop of blood from a hen, which has been killed, is placed near the eyes of these sculpted figures, giving them life.

5.    Say it with flowers
And now summer is officially here. And it is a good excuse to escape to Sikkim. It is a carnival out here and the festival includes flower shows, arts and crafts and cultural shows. One gets to see rare orchids, rhododendrons and several other fragile beautiful flowers. While you are in Gangtok, the rest of the country awaits you with treks, monasteries, waterfalls and lakes. In the South, Ooty is another destination to visit for the flower show. Head to the Botanical Garden to see the Queen of the Nilgiris decked up with floral decorations including crafts like vegetable carvings, flower arrangements and bonsai plants. More than 10,000 potted plants are on display here. So choose between Sikkim and Ooty for the floral display.

6.    Hemis Festival, Ladakh
Every summer, tourists make their annual pilgrimage to Ladakh and on their itinerary is the famous Hemis Monastery. But if you plan your trip around June, then you can soak in the pageantry at the festival conducted by the monastery. Dedicated to Lord Padmasambhava, the mystic mask dances or the cham performances are part of the Tantrik tradition and are performed in the courtyard of the monastery. While you are in Ladakh, you can visit the nearby monasteries like Thiksey and Shey among others as well.

7.    Soak in the monsoon
There is nothing quite like the monsoon in India and a hike in the rain in the Western Ghats is as refreshing as it can get. From the Sahyadris to the Annamalais, choose any destination in the hills. If you are a wildlife lover, visit Valparai or Agumbe. Monsoon treks are organised in the Sahyadris in Maharastra and you can explore forts built in the yesteryears, tucked away in the forests, or lost on shores, besides losing yourself in nature.

8.    Snake Boat Race in Alleppey
As the monsoons begin, the lakes around the Kuttanadu region get vibrant and competitive. The 400-year-old tradition of snake boat races begin here. There are several boat races, three of them being very famous, but the most touristy of the lot is the race for the Nehru Trophy that is held in the Punnamda lake in Alleppey. The other races include Aranmula Boat Race and the Champakullam Moolam among others.

9.    Go on a coastal drive
India’s rich and varied coastline is not just about lazy beaches. There are fishing hamlets, heritage ports, erstwhile colonies, forts and villages offering dollops of culture. Choose the coast you fancy –either the Konkan or the Coromandel – and drive along. If you prefer an alternative, the Konkan Railway is recommended.

10.     Celebrate Dussehra
Effigies burning, processions with elephants, dolls and dances – Dussehra is celebrated across the country in every different possible way. Choose the destination where you would like to immerse in the fervour. Kolkata, Mysore and Delhi vie for attention. Or you could choose Coorg, Chattisgarh or Kullu. Take your pick and lose yourself in the pageantry.

11.    Catch a Theyyam
Starting October, the ritual of Theyyam begins all around Malabar region in Kerala and also in Coorg and Tulu Nadu in Karnataka. The night-long Theyyams are usually performed in temples or sometimes sponsored by individual families while the themes vary – from Bhagavathy Theyyam to Muthappan Theyyam, to name a few. The costumes and the masks vary, too, based on the themes. The performance begins with ritualistic dances and sometimes include a form of trance as well. But the most important aspect of the ritual is that the locals believe that the Theyyam performer is God incarnate and the deity speaks through him for the day and answers all their issues.

12.    Nagaland Hornbill Festival
Every December the tribes of Nagaland come together in a vibrant pageant to showcase their culture, traditions, arts and crafts in the Hornbill Festival. It’s hard to take your eyes off their colourful costumes and jewellery. Each tribe has its own headgear and accessorie, whichs are products from plants and animals. The folk dances are not to be missed. As the festival is crowded these days, it is better to book well in advance.