Lost Festivals of India: taking you into the midst of It

If you go to India in search of history, you are mistaken.

Walk through a Roman theatre and you feel like taking a stroll in a live-size outdoor museum. Enter any one of India’s sheer number of temples, and you are right there – right in the midst of it. History never left.

The stories, epics, and tribulations of the Hindu pantheon thrive in the heart of the devoted Hindu now as much as they did in days long past.

They weave a dense web of ritual, philosophy and tradition, a fabric of culture as fine as the silks of Kashmir, and as ineffable as the wisps of white smoke and dusk rising over the holy river Ganges on the dawn of a new morning.

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The Magh Mela festival on the Ganges river

And, every year, with the regularity of a heart-beat, they wake from their slumber and spill out into the busy streets with more fervour than before.

To be sure, this continent lives by its festivals, and there is no better way to feels India’s heartbeat than to learn to celebrate with her.

Once more, India is entering into festival-season – but few visitors know about it. Few visitors, save a few lucky backpackers and long-time connoisseurs of the continent.

At Natural Mystic, this is our territory. We craft the kind of unique experiences you won’t find on the menu of a travel agency, that slip by under the radar of even the most inquisitive visitors.

Experiences that will open a door to another world, and stay with you for a lifetime.

Taking You Into The Midst Of It

This is a journey that will give you an insight into India’s thriving festival culture – while showcasing some of the most exquisite hotels and venues the country has to offer.

All our itineraries are custom-made. If you join us, we will tailor this trip just for you, and include the festivals which happen during your time of travel.

Day 1: Arrive in Delhi. (2. Nov. ’13)

Delhi greets her new arrivals with all the charms of a major metropolis.

A impenetrable concrete jungle dotted with temples, tombs and the magnificent “Gate of India”, Delhi is a sheer endless urban labyrinth waiting to be explored – or watched in awe from a safe distance.

With the preparations for Diwali in full swing, Delhi’s snaking alleyways and shopping miles are throbbing with throngs of devotees finishing up their week’s work and getting ready for celebration. We pick you up at the airport and take you straight to the Imperial Hotel.

The Imperial proudly calls itself “Asia’s finest luxury hotel”. You will soon know why.

The Spice Route, The Imperial Hotel.

The Spice Route, The Imperial Hotel.

With a spa that would have made the great Moghul emperors pale in envy, a sublime tea-lounge (“Best Tea Lounge in the hotel category” – Times Food & Nightlife Awards 2013) and a unique décor that blends India’s heritage of fine art with state-of-the-art luxuries, the Imperial is a worthy first stop on our trip.

You will dine at the famous Spice Route, (“one of the best Asian/Oriental restaurants” – Zomato Food Guide 2013).

Day 2: Diwali, Lakes and Lights. (3. Nov ’13)

After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel we will fly you to Udaipur (1hr), India’s “City of Lakes”. Nestled between rolling hills and six lakes, Udaipur will feel like a quiet back country hide-out after the bustle of Delhi.

Nicknamed the “venice of the East”, it was voted the “Best City in the World” by the readers of Travel+Leisure in 2009 – ahead of Cape Town, Bangkok and Buenas Aires.

Udaipur is best known for its majestic Rajput-era palaces. Perched on the surrounding hills, on islands in the middle of a lake, or in a lush rose garden, these former residences of the mighty Maharajahs make Udaipur feel like a set in a A Thousand and One Arabian Nights-story.

Straight from A Thousand and One Arabian Nights: A palace on a lake in Udaipur

You will stay at the Taj Lake Palace itself, a superlative marble-walled hotel built on an island in the middle of lake Pichola.

The Lake Palace featured on the list of T+L Top 500 Best Hotels in the world with an overall score of 92.92, and was ranked 3rd on the Conde Nast Traveler USA Readers’ Choice Awards 2012 list of Top 10 Hotels in India.

When the last of dusk is swallowed by the misty valleys of Kumbhalgarh National Park in the distance, the sky and lakes will ignite with a million hand-lit lights and fireworks.

You will spend an indescribable evening watching Udaipur celebrate the return of Rama from his conquest of the demon king Ravana, and give offerings to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and beauty.

Day 3: Palatial Pleasures. (4. Nov ’13)

Today we will show you the City Palace, the last capital of the Mewar kingdom.

City Palace of Udaipur

The City Palace, Udaipur

Built in a an extravagant style, this is the largest palace of its type in Rajasthan. It has a stunning panoramic view of the city and its surroundings, and many courts, raised gardens, halls, galleries, shrines and palaces-within-palaces, such as the Queen’s Palace.

In the late afternoon we will take you to the Monsoon Palace.

Towering over the expanse of the city, it was built to watch the

The Monsoon Palace, Udaipur

monsoon clouds. It commands a 360° view of the city and the thick forests of the national park in the distance.

This secluded eagle-nest was the residence of Kamal Khan, an exiled Afghan prince,  in the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy. It has only recently been opened to the public.

You will watch the sun set across the city in front of you from its verandah, and once again bear witness to the incredible play of lights as the second night of Diwali descends on the City of Lakes.

Lake Palace by Sunset

The Lake Palace by Sunset

Day 4: Desert Jewels. (5. Nov. ’13)

Today we will get up early and drive (4hrs) to Mihir Garh.

The Mihir Garh

This extraordinary small fort is perched on a sand mound, surrounded by the vast expanses of the Thar desert.

“Mihir Garh”, meaning ‘Sun Fortress’, is an apt name for this majestic hotel: it basks in the desert sun with 360° views of the surrounding landscape.

It was described as a “Desert Jewel” by Vogue, and named one of the “Top 10 Indian Palaces” by the The Luxury Travel Bible. Enjoy a break from the festival in between the cooling mud walls, with its gently rounded corners, numerous alcoves and fireplaces.

Mihir Garh Courtyard

From conception to completion, every nook and cranny in this dreamy desert getaway was built by local workers and artists.

Spend the afternoon with a village safari into the traditional villages in the area.

Meet turban-clad men with graceful long robes, throngs of laughing children, and beautiful shy women with brilliantly coloured saris, and see how ordinary villagers celebrate the third day of Diwali.

You can also ride a rare Marwari-horse across the vast, virgin wilderness. The equestrian program at Mihir Garh is among the finest in the country, and the Marwari breed, with its characteristic inwards-pointing ears and ambling gait, are known for their purity and hardiness.

Or you may want to take a royal lake-side picnic in an ornate tent, with food and wine laid out on white covers by courteous attendants, and listen to the gentle ripples of the lake.

Mihir Garh Poolside

Mihir Garh Poolside

After a majestic Rajasthani dinner, kick off your sandals by the pool and let the cicadas in the distance lull you into a soothing slumber.

Day 5: The Golden City. (6. Nov. ’13)

Today, we will drive you (4hrs) to Jaisalmer, the “Golden city” of Rajasthan.

The town is built on a ridge of golden sandstone and is crowned by a fort, which contains a palace, and many finely sculptured houses and Jain temples.

You will spend the night at the Serai, a magnificent tented camp laid out on a hundred-acre private estate of indigenous desert scrub.

Inspired by the royal caravan sites of Rajputana, the Serai blends the ancient Rajasthani art of luxurious living with modern amenities and services.

It has its own organic herb and vegetable garden, where guests can learn more about the organically grown produce, pick the ingredients they wish to include in their meals or simply take a relaxing stroll.

All the ayurvedic products used in their spa are made with ingredients from the Thar and are blended with an array of herbs that leave you feeling soothed and healed.

Day 6 and 7: the Blue City (7./8. Nov. ’13)

Today we will drive you to Jodhpur, the “Blue City” of Rajasthan.

The majestic Mehrangarh fort is the first thing you will notice. It rises high above the city on a rocky mount, where it seems to murmur soft tales of bygone worlds to the sea of roofs below.

The Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

The Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Down below in the maze of Old Town alleyways you will find dye makers, puppet makers, the famous bandhini makers, exquisite handicrafts, and an array of one-of-a-kind local products, like the city’s renowned spices.

The city is alive throughout the year with dye makers, puppet makers, spice makers and the famous bandhini makers. Its striking blue color and cubic roof make it a photographer’s dream come true.

On arrival in Jodhpur, you will check-in to RAAS Hotel. This stunning boutique hotel is located in the heart of Jodhpur, at the foot of the Mehrangarh Fort.

It is the only luxury hotel in the Old Town. While at RAAS you will be treated to the most spectacular views of the Fort found in the city. RAAS has been featured widely in the media and was noted by Condi Nast Traveller in 2010 as one of the best new hotels of the year.

After lunch, a guide will take you around the mighty Mehrangarh Fort, which has been meticulously restored and opens.

Jodhpur, the Blue City

Jodhpur, the Blue City

You will spend the remainder of the day relaxing by the pool or enjoying a spa treatment until…it is time for dinner.

On your second day in Jodhpur, we will make a tour of the museum at Umaid Bhawan Palace, the second-largest private residence in the world.

The Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur

The Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur

Here we will visit the Maharaja and Maharani Suite. The lavish interiors are inspired by the Art Deco style and are complemented by the exotic murals of the self-exiled Polish artist Stefan Norblin.

The Umaid Bhawan Palace hall

The Umaid Bhawan Palace hall

The Umaid Bhawan Palace can surely claim a rightful seat at the world’s pinnacle of luxury – a building so extravagant you will feel transported to the world of the royal family that used to reside here.

You will spend the remainder of the day relaxing by the pool and getting ready for your next festival: the Pushkar Camel Fair.

Day 10: The Pushkar Camel Fair (9. Nov. ’13)

It is time to put down your cocktail, get up from your cozy nest by the pool, and put on your city-boots – it is festival-time again.

Not all Indian festivals are religious. Some are about food, others about art. There are others still, which are about camels.

Today we will drive you (3hrs) to Pushkar, a desert town dating to the fourth century B.C., and home of the Pushkar Camel Fair.

The Pushkar Camel Fair

The Pushkar Camel Fair

This five-day camel and livestock fair is one of the largest in the world. Every year, almost 300,000 people and 20,000 camels converge here to race, sell and exchange, and celebrate their age-old symbiosis.

There are “longest moustache” and bridal competitions, and the infamous matka phod, where groups of men compete to build a human pyramid to knock a clay pot strung high up between two buildings.

There is music, commerce, and an abundance of food, noise, and, well, camels. Lots and lots of camels.

A family at the Fair

A family at the Fair

But fear not, you will stay at the Royal Camp – the most exquisite tent hotel designed and furnished to showcase the skill and expertise of Rajasthani artisans.

The tastefully designed and elegantly appointed rooms have their own individual character and furnishings, attached European-style wash rooms with 24-hour running hot and cold water, and personalized service.

Day 11: Kartik Purnima (10. Nov. ’13)

Pushkar is one of the five sacred dhams (pilgrimage sites), and a sacred place for Hindus.

It was built in the inhospitable surroundings of a desert on the shores of a lake. When the demon Vajra Nabha Bramha Tample killed Brahma’s children, Brahma struck him with a lotus flower.

Vajra Nabha died and the petals of the lotus fell down in three places  – one of them in Pushkar, where a lake was born. Brahma performed a sacrifice at this lake on the full moon day of the Kartik month, making Pushkar sacred to Brahma.

Pushkar has the world’s only temple dedicated to Brahma, and thousands flock to Pushkar to observe a ritual on Kartik Purnima.

A Devotee washing himself in the sacred lake

A Devotee washing himself in the sacred lake

Although the crowds won’t peak until the 18th November this year, you will witness how pilgrims, after days of travel by foot, arrive at the sacred lake to cleanse and renew themselves.

Kartik Purnima is also called the “Festival of the Lights of the Gods”, and, similar to Diwali, is celebrated by letting little hand-made boats and candles float across the surface of the sacred lake.

The Kartik Purnima at night

The Kartik Purnima at night

Day 11: Goa. (11. Nov. ’13)

After the mayhem of Pushkar, it is time to unwind on Goa’s silky-white beaches.

Straight from a picture-book: a beach in Goa

Straight from a picture-book: a beach in Goa

For the last leg of your trip, we will drive (2hrs) to Jaipur, and then fly (4hrs) to India’s tropical south, where you will meet another one of India’s many faces.

We will put you up at the Taj Exotica. Located on the southwest coast of Goa, overlooking the Arabian sea, this Mediterranean-style 5 star resort is one of the best five star hotels in Goa and has a way of slowing down time to a tranquil tempo.

At the Taj Exotica

At the Taj Exotica

In 2009 it featured as one of “India’s Most Romantic Places” on travelandleisure.com, and in 2008  featured in the Conde Nast Traveler’s (USA) 2008 “Reader’s Choice Awards” of the “Top 100 Asian Hotels”.

You will spend the day stretching out on a hammock with a drink in one hand and a book in the other, and enjoy one of the the Taj Exotica’s exquisite spa treatments – voted as the 6th “Best Spa” under the category “Hotel spas: Asia & the Indian Subcontinent” in the Conde Nast Traveller’s (UK)  seventh “Annual Readers’ Spa Awards” in 2010.

You will dine at one of the Taj’s excellent in-house restaurants, the Lobster Shack – a thatched beach-front restaurant with a delightful selection of seafood and an impressive array of wines.

Day 12: You won’t want to leave here (12. Nov. ’13)

On the last day of your odyssey through India’s festival culture,  you will visit the Basilica of Bom Jesus, a World Heritage Site which is revered by Christians around the world. Built by the Jesuits in 1594, it is a mixture of various architectural styles including Baroque and Corinthian.

In 1946 it became the first church in South Asia that was granted the status of Minor Basilica by Pope Pius XII. Francis Xavier was sent to Goa in 1542 by Dom Joao III, the Portuguese King. Over the next few years he converted 30,000 people.

The gloomy Basilica of Bom Jesus

The gloomy Basilica of Bom Jesus

When he died on a voyage off the coast of China in 1552, he was buried on an island. Three months later his body was dug up and showed no signs of decay.

A year later, when his body was enshrined in the Basilica, it still had not decomposed. This was declared a miracle and Francis Xavier was canonized in 1622.

You can also take a trip to Polem Beach, Goa’s southernmost beach, for a sea-side picnic. Polem Beach has a very local feel,  with a handful of fishermen bringing in their catch and not much else to keep you company except scuttling crabs and circling seabirds.

A fisherman at the beach

Or, you can take a trip to the famous spice plantations at Savoi Ponda, one of the oldest tropical plantations, and have lunch in typical Goan style served in mud pots and banana leaf.

Day 13: Return. (13. Nov. ’13)

This morning, make a stop-over at Goa’s famous flea-market, held every Wednesday, before taking an international flight back home.

Encore.

Are you hungry for more? That’s great, because you haven’t seen half of it.

Stay another week, and experience another kind of Indian festivals:

  • the 44th International Film Festival of India (20. November) in Goa,
  • the crazy motorcycle get-together that is the 2013 Royal Enfield Rider Mania (22. November),
  • and – our favourite by far – the incredible Puri Beach festival, an enormous religious and artistic gathering where devotees and artists from across the globe create the most stunning giant sand art over the course of a 5-day celebration (23-27. Noevember).

To make this itinerary a reality, or to start planning your very own holiday of a lifetime, get in touch with us at info@natmystic.com.

For more information about who we are, check out our other pages:

www.natmystic.com / www.pinterest.com/natmystic  /www.twitter.com/natmystic

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