Wednesday, September 21, 2011

India Travel Guidelines

India Travel Guidelines

A general guide to ensure you has a pleasant time in India.  
  • Carry your passport, other travel documents and your money separately. You don't want to lose them all together.
  • Keep extra photocopies of the relevant pages of your passport. This is needed for various reasons in India, at the hotel, to buy a SIM card etc.
  • Never travel without mosquito repellents and other essential medicines. Carry a doctor’s prescription all the time if you are on specific medication.
  • Inform your tour operator beforehand if you are allergic to a particular substance or a drug.
  • Ensure that your luggage is waterproof.
  • Many women travellers prefer to carry a high pitched whistle that would scare away stalkers.
·         Travel as light as possible. Clothing and laundry are both affordable in India.
·         It’s better for women to avoid tank tops or short skirts / shorts.
·         Winters are pleasant in southern India while you will need heavy woollens as you progress in the Northern region.
·         Summers are harsh throughout, so light cotton clothes are most comfortable.
·         Best to avoid miniskirts / shorts both for men and women while visiting temples. Some temples may insist to cover your head as well. A small handkerchief or a scarf can suffice.
Social Interaction:
·         If you give the impression of being from a different country, chances are that you might be stared at, especially in the smaller towns. Don’t be offended-they mean no harm, it is just curiosity.
·         In India, public toilets facilities are few and far between. Take every opportunity you can to use a clean toilet in places such as hotels and restaurants. Make this a habit wherever you go.
·         Do not let them hassle you, and do not encourage them by giving them money.
Food and Drinks:
  • Drink only bottled water. Many popular brands are available. In restaurants insist that they bring a sealed bottle to your table.
  • Beef is not served in many parts of India. Pork is also not easily available.
  • Eat non-vegetarian food only in good restaurants.
  • Good quality vegetarian food is easily available.
  • Curd or yoghurt is served with most meals. It is a natural aid to digestion and helps temper the spicy food.
·         India is shoppers’ paradise. From decorative items like pottery, masks, bronze items to jewellery can be purchased at reasonable rates in India. India is the largest producer of branded jewels which are exported and can be bought here at affordable rates.

·         Various types of silk is manufactured in India and is easily available at good shops. Embroidered cloth, leather items, various spices like pepper, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and saffron, miniature paintings, wooden and marble objects, cotton clothes and much more. If you have got the taste of Indian food, ready to eat packets of various dishes are also easily available. Various pickles and snacks can be bought.

·         India also produces a huge variety of tea and you can get a good choice. Along with that you may also go for some herbal beauty products and last but not the least various music and cinema CDs to keep your Indian sojourn going can be bought!
  • In hotels and restaurants, tips are not normally included in the bill
  • Some hotels include service charge on their bills. In such cases tipping is not necessary.
  • The standard tip is 10%.
  • In hotels, porters and room service attendants are normally tipped at the end of the stay,
  • Tipping of taxi drivers is not customary.
Weather in India:
·         Temperature in India can vary from North to south and east to west.
·         There is snow in the northernmost part of the country while you sweat in the southernmost part of the country.
·         The climate is extreme in the north while it is constant in the south. The east and the west do differ but not much.
·         The sun is strong. Remember to use sunscreen of exposed parts of the body. Wear Sunglasses to screen out harmful rays.
·         The dry summer heat can drain you completely. Drink lots of water and fluids.
  • Dress codes for religious places can include covering your head, being barefoot etc. Ask, So that you don’t unwittingly give offence.
  • Some temples do not permit any leather articles at all on their premises.
  • Certain temples are not open to Non-Hindus. Please check with the local tourist Information office.
  • Most museums in India are closed on Monday and Site Museums, those near Archaeological monuments, on Fridays.
  • Photography is not always permissible, and at many places it is permitted only at a fee.
  • There is usually a higher fee for using a video camera.
  • Smoking is not allowed at public places. All properties of the Indian Railways including Trains and railway stations are strictly non - smoking zones with stiff penalties for Violations.
  • English is spoken at almost all tourist centres, but you can also request Government-Trained and approved guides who also speak Chinese, German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Italian or Russian.
Health Precautions:
  • Always drink bottled water.
  • For the first few days it might be advisable to clean your teeth and bottled water.
  • Eat fruit you can peel.
  • Always wash fruit well before eating it.
  • Wash your hands before and after eating.
  • Always keep a tube of mosquitoes repellent with you.
  • Always carry a kit of the basic emergency medicines you might need for diarrhoea, fever Etc. Also, band aids and an antiseptic ointment.
  • If you do catch a bug, do not panic. It will go away in a few days-but try to following Tips to keep it down:
    • Drink lassi - a yoghurt drink. It will help tone down the bacteria.
    • Eat plain rice, or try to simple khichdi – an easily digestible mixture of rice and lentils.
    • Drink plenty of coconut water. It’s cooling, and naturally sterilized!
    • Drink plenty of fluids and take some electrolyte salts if the bug persists.
  • Everything in India takes time- longer than in most places. So always give yourself extra Time for whatever you may have to do- even it is just a visit to the Post Office or Changing money.
  • Keep extra photocopies of the relevant pages of your passport. This will be request for Indian permits. Also, keep extra photographs of yourselves. These will be request for Permits, filling out forms, etc.
  • Voltage in India is 220 V for Plugs C & D. If you have a different plug you will need a voltage converter, and plug adapter in order to use your appliances. We recommend getting a universal adapter and converter kit.
  • In cities you can change most major foreign currencies and brands of travellers’ cheques- but you’ll widen your options and save yourself hassles if you stick to US dollars or pound sterling, and either Thomas Cook or American Express travellers cheques.
  • Most big cities have ATMs which accept Visa and MasterCard as well as American Express. The ATM network is ever expending and in some states, you can find them even in some smaller towns. wishes you a safe and wonderful stay in India.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pushkar Fair, 2011

Pushkar Fair with Golden Triangle

Every November, the sleepy little township of Pushkar in Rajasthan, India comes alive with a riot of colours and a frenzied burst of activity. The occasion: PUSHKAR FAIR. Very few, if at all any, fairs in the world can match the liveliness of Pushkar. Most people associate the Pushkar Fair with the world's largest camel fair. But it is much more than that.

It portrays vivid images of the rich culture and the benevolent face of this mesmerizing state. This popular tourist destination is also known as the land of Lord Brahma. It has the only temple dedicated to the creator of the universe Lord Brahma in the entire country.Over 50,000 camels find their way to the Pushkar Fair to be traded off or display their best features, beauty and tricks - yes, that's true. Pushkar Fair brings you unique competitions that are as funny as they are entertaining. These include Camel Beauty Contest, where camels vie with each other adorned with painted motifs and wearing beautifully embroidered and mirror-worked saddlecloth. Camel Race and Camel Dance are other highlights of the fair.

The Route: Delhi-Agra-Jaipur-Pushkar-Delhi

Highlights: Rajasthan’s most famous fair, Pushkar brings together camel traders, pilgrims, visitors and those who are here simply to participate in one of the season's most colorful social events. It is one of the largest and most colorful animal fairs in the world. Besides tented camps, there are hundreds of shops selling everything from handicrafts to spices, foodstuff and jewelery. For visitors, a number of activities are also arranged, but the best is to simply stay within the fair grounds to watch the fascinating Rajasthani village metamorphose before your eyes. Pushkar Fair is from 2nd till 10th November'11.


Friday, August 26, 2011

The Best of India (30 Days / 29 Nights)

The Best of India (30 Days / 29 Nights)
The tour that shows you India at its best! From beautiful palaces and huge forts to the vast deserts and deep seas, this tour takes you to the most beautiful locations in India. A monument dedicated to Love, The Taj; a divine feeling at the Ghats of the Ganges in Varanasi; the eroticism sculpted on the Khajuraho temples and the life of Buddha depicted in pictures in Ajanta; this tour shows you the best of India. To top it all take a short trip to Goa, a place always on a vaccation... come and enjoy India to the fullest.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Signature Travel, India

There is Travel for All,
And then there is travel for You!

Prakriti Inbound welcomes you to the best of India Travel. Our selection of travel plan and services are handpicked.  Great experience of Indian Hospitality is a hall mark of this specially made line of services.

Signature travel is for you, for your standard of life and expectation from life. Only the very best of hotels, vehicles and servicing personnel are handpicked. In signature travel it takes a great care to make every journey worth remembering, every journey should be worth your imagination and your expectations. 

We have tried to offer everything that is best. But when it is you, we shall not take any chance in presuming. That is one reason why we would always love to hear more from you and your expectations on your signature style of travel.

We sincerely hope our travel planners and travel executives shall be there all the time to look after your signature, whenever you wish to call on them for a travel to India.

Day 1: Delhi
Day 2: Delhi
Day 3: Delhi-Agra
Day 4: Agra-Jaipur
Day 5: Jaipur
Day 6: Jaipur-Udaipur
Day 7: Udaipur
Day 8: Udaipur-Delhi

Here is you Signature Travel :

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Festivals of India

The first full moon falling in August celebrates the relations between a brother and a sister. On this day sisters tie a sacred thread called Rakhi on their brothers' wrists and pray for their well being while the brothers return the love by gifting them and promising to take care of the sisters for the rest of their lives.

In India, festivals are the celebration of togetherness, of being one of the families. Raksha Bandhan is one such festival that is all about affection, fraternity and sublime sentiments. It is also known as Raksha Bandhan which means a 'bond of protection'. This is an occasion to flourish love, care, affection and sacred feeling of brotherhood.

Owing to the regional influence of the local legends and their relevance in different parts of the country, the celebrations of Rakhi vary throughout India. This festival is primarily known as being associated with the north and north western part of the country. But, it can be safely said that with changing times and the world having become a smaller place, this occasion has gained popularity in many parts of this country and even so the world.

According to one mythological allusion, Rakhi was intended to be the worship of the sea-god Varuna. Hence, offerings of coconut to Varuna, ceremonial bathing and fairs at waterfronts accompany this festival.There are also myths that describe the ritual as observed by Indrani and Yamuna for their respective brothers Indra and Yama.

Once, Lord Indra stood almost vanquished in a long-drawn battle against the demons. Full of remorse, he sought the advice of Guru Brihaspati, who suggested for his sortie the auspicious day of Shravan Purnima (fullmoon day of the month of Shravan). On that day, Indra's wife and Brihaspati tied a sacred thread on the wrist of Indra, who then attacked the demon with renewed force and routed him.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

الهند لا تصدق

ما أكثر الهند تجذب زائرا إليها هي تعددية فريدة و تنوع مذهل . مما لا شك فيه، أن التجار القدامى و الغزاة التاريخيين الذين قدموا الى الهند من مناطق بعيدة باحثين عن الثروات، وقعوا في الحب مع تربة الهند و وجدوا وجهة ومكانا للتسوية لهم في شبه القارة بدلا من أن تكون نقطة انطلاق. و ارتبط هذا التنوع بطبيعتها الجغرافية التي تتميز بتباينها الكبير من مكان لمكان و من بقعة إلى أخرى، فهناك الجبال ذات القمم الجليدية و السهول المنخفضة، الصحارى الشاسعة و الوديان الخصبة و المروج الخضراء. و كان من الطبيعي أن تنشأ في كنف هذه التضاريس المتباينة أنماط مختلفة من الحياة و ثقافات تعكس هذه الاختلافات الجغرافية. و إلى جانب هذا التنوع الأصيل جاءت ثقافات وافدة و موجات متعاقبة من الغزوات من شمال البلاد و جنوبها ساهمت في إدخال سلالات عرقية جديدة و لغات و ديانات مختلفة مما أدى إلى ظهور هائل من العادات المختلفة في الملبس و الماكل و الطقوس و الاحتفالات. بالتالي وصف جواهر لال نهرو، رئيس وزراء الهند الأول، بالظاهرة المذهلة كوحدة في التنوع ، مزيج من الثقافات والشعوب، والذي يعطي الهند هوية متميزة لا مثيل لها في العالم، ولا يفوت الهنود أبدا فرصة لتأكيد افتخارهم بتنوع أراضيهم.

الهند بلد واسعة و رابع أكبر الحجم على مستوى العالم ، والهنود سادس البشرية على الارض ، و يبلغ عدد السكان أكثر من 1 مليار نسمة ، بحيث أنها تقف في المرتبة الثانية بعد الصين المجاورة. واستغرب دائما الوافدون الجدد بالتعددية المتواجدة في الحضارات و اللغات و الديانات و الألوان، والتكوين البدني، و كذلك خصائص الأنثروبولوجية، وميزات الاجتماعية بين الناس في شبه القارة. و يوجد تقريبا جميع الأشكال من الجنس البشري و العديد من المجموعات العرقية المختلفة من الآريين و الهنود والأوروبيين إلى السلالة الدرفيدية من البحر الأبيض المتوسط و كذلك المغول و Negrito و Proto- Australoids على هذه كرة الأرض. مما لا شك فيه، أن الهند ثرية بمتعدد المجتمعات و اللغات و الأعراق و هي أيضا موطن التنوعات في الحياة البرية بأنواع من المحميات. لو أنت ذهبت من الشمال إلى الجنوب، فتجد أن شحوب لون الناس يبدو أن يعود تدريجيا إلى لون داكن بشكل عام. و في عائلة واحدة، سواء في الجنوب أو الغرب، يمكن لأحد أن يشاهد أعضاء الأسرة بألوان مختلفة من الشعر والجلد والعين. وإضافة إلى مجموعة متنوعة من العظمة، ربما تمتلك الهند أكبر عدد من الماشية في العالم ، يبلغ عددهاحوالي 200 مليون نسمة. و رغم ذلك، تتسم الهند بدرجة عالية بالتوفيق بين الأديان و تعددية الثقافات و الألوان.

ارون سادهو ( الصحفي الشهير ومؤلف هذا المقال)
محمد راشد كمال (خبير اللغة العربية و مترجم هذا المقال)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Temple Tour of Tamil Nadu

Temple Tour of Tamil Nadu (7 Days / 6 Nights)
Route: Chennai - Mahabalipuram - Mahabalipuram - Kanchipuram - Mahabalipuram - Pondicherry -Thanjavur - Tiruchirappalli - Madurai - Chennai

Once ruled by the Dravdian kings like the Cholas and the Pandyas, the state of Tamil Nadu can be called as state of temples. In numerous beautifully carved temples, dedicated to various Hindu deities dot the state. Most of the temples are nearly 2000 years old with an architecture of Dravidian influence and many mythological stories attached to it. Be it the Meenakshi temple, the largest temple in India with musical pillars or the shore temple of Mahabalipuram, each has its own story giving these small towns a mystic touch!

The tour takes you to Pondicherry which showcases a drastic difference from the rest with the heavy influence French culture.

Come and enjoy this 7 day sojourn with mystifying stories, beautiful temples, great cuisine and the calmness of the Ashram in Pondicherry.

Day 1: Chennai
Day 2: Chennai-Mahabalipuram
Day 3: Mahabalipuram - Kanchipuram - Mahabalipuram
Day 4: Mahabalipuram-Pondicherry-Thanjavur
Day 5: Thanjavur-Tiruchirappalli-Madurai
Day 6: Madurai
Day 7: Madurai-Chennai

Click here for a detailed itinerary...

Travel Map

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ladakh Himachal Tour, India

Ladakh Himachal Tour (11 Days/10 Nights)
Route: Kolkata - Leh-Alchi-Sarchu-Jispa-Manali–Dharamshala-Amritsar–Delhi

During the tour you will visit the most popular and famous monasteries of the Ladakh region built by different rulers. In this tour you are reaching the highest motor able road in the world. Here the landscape assumes fantastic view of the mountains. Visiting the most charming and beautiful Kulu valley spread out its charm on either side of the river Beas. The valley is also famous for its exquisitely woven colorful handmade shawls. We take you to Dharamshala known as Little Lhasa in the gorgeous Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh in North India.

Day 1: Leh
Day 2: Leh
Day 3: Leh
Day 4: Leh - Alchi - Leh
Day 5: Leh - Sarchu
Day 6: Sarchu - Jispa
Day 7: Jispa - Manali
Day 8: Manali
Day 9: Manali - Dharamshala
Day 10: Dharamshala - Amritsar
Day 11: Amritsar - Delhi

Click here for more details…
Travel Map



Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sikkim and Darjeeling Tours, India

Eastern Golden Triangle with Sikkim and Darjeeling (16 Days / 15 Nights)
Route: Kolkata - Bhubaneshwar- Konark - Puri - Gopalpur-Kolkata -Darjeeling – Gangtok- Kalimpong - Kolkata

This itinerary will take you to the journey of eastern India. Starting from the largest city of India, Kolkata, which has a wonderful fusion of modern and ancient with rich and poor, to the religious and ancient towns of Konark and Puri. The world heritage temples will give you an insight of the East Indian architectural prowess of the ancient days. Experience the soothing sea at Gopalpur and the calmness of the Chilka Lake. Take an extension to the tiny state of Sikkim, nestled at the foothills of the Himalayas and shadowed by the majestic Kanchandzonga. With spectacular view of the Himalayas, Sikkim is one of the largest orchid producers in India which bloom at every nook and corner of the state.

Day 1: Kolkata
Day 2: Kolkata
Day 3: Kolkata - Bhubaneshwar
Day 4: Bhubaneshwar - Konark - Puri
Day 5: Puri
Day 6: Puri - Gopalpur
Day 7: Gopalpur
Day 8: Gopalpur
Day 9: Gopalpur-Kolkata
Day 10: Kolkata
Day 11: Kolkata - Darjeeling
Day 12: Darjeeling
Day 13: Darjeeling - Gangtok
Day 14: Gangtok
Day 15: Gangtok - Kalimpong
Day 16: Kalimpong - Kolkata

Click here for more details…

                                                                        Travel Map






Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Khajuraho Varanasi Tours

Khajuraho Varanasi Golden Triangle Tour, India (11 Days/10 Nights)
Route: - Delhi - Jaipur- Agra - Jhansi – Khajuraho – Varanasi – Delhi

India is vast and has varied choice of destinations. To have a glimpse of India, visit to the famous Northern Golden Triangle, comprising Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.We have included some of the famous destinations for you to choose from. From the by lanes of Varanasi to the erotic temples of Khajuraho, this journey holds a beautiful surprise at every turn that leaves you enchanted.

Day 1: Delhi
 Day 2: Delhi
 Day 3: Delhi - Jaipur
 Day 4: Jaipur
 Day 5: Jaipur - Agra
 Day 6: Agra
 Day 7: Agra - Jhansi - Khajuraho
 Day 8: Khajuraho - Varanasi
 Day 9: Varanasi
 Day 10: Varanasi - Delhi
 Day 11: Delhi

Click here for more details…

                                                                      Travel Map







Saturday, April 16, 2011

Kashmir and Leh Valley Tours, India

Discover Kashmir and Leh Valley (9 Days/8 Nights)   
Route: - Delhi - Leh - Srinagar - Gulmarg – Srinagar- Delhi – Agra- Delhi
The Trans Himalayan region in the Northern part of India is one of the most spectacular destinations of India. The Kashmir valley, once the favorite summer halts of the Mughals, has been described as paradise on earth by various writers and poets through ages. Its bountiful natural beauty with sprawling greenery, verdant lakes and magnificent bloom of flowers in the shadow of the great Himalayan snow capped mountains, has allured many tourists over the years. The northern most inhabited place of India, bordering Tibet is Leh. The land where snow, sun and silence prevail and time seems to stand still. Lands abound with majestic mountains; land where human bows to the bounty of natural beauty and rigidity, land with vast mountain ranges, clear blue skies and the Indus River flowing by. A mixture of Buddhism and Islam, with monasteries and festivities, Leh is the place for exploration and adventure as well.
  Day 1: Delhi
Day 2: Delhi - Leh
Day 3: Leh
Day 4: Leh
Day 5: Leh - Srinagar
Day 6: Srinagar-Gulmarg-Srinagar
Day 7: Srinagar - Delhi - Agra
Day 8: Agra
Day 9: Agra - Delhi
  Click here for more details…
                                                                   Travel Map





Thursday, April 14, 2011

Scenic Tours in India

Essence of North East, India Tour (9 Days / 8 Nights)

Route: - Kolkata-Darjeeling-Gangtok-Kalimpong-Kolkata

Land in the Country’s largest city -Kolkata, one of the most populous in the World. Onto Darjeeling from where one can watch the sunrise over Mount Everest from tiger hill, the legendary Darjeeling teas are cultivated here and Toy train is a memorable experience. Sikkim is the paradise placed in the Himalayas. Cocooned for centuries by the great mountains, its forests have over 500 verities of orchids. Sitting pretty on the erstwhile trade route between India and Tibet, Kalimpong has a diverse and rich heritage coming from the various people that inhabited it. It offers the visitor a glimpse into the rich cultures of the Bhutanese, the Nepalese, the Tibetans and the Lepchas.
Day 1: Kolkata
Day 2: Kolkata - Bagdogra - Darjeeling
Day 3: Darjeeling
Day 4: Darjeeling - Gangtok
Day 5: Gangtok
Day 6: Gangtok - Kalimpong
Day 7: Kalimpong
Day 8: Kalimpong-Bagdogra-Kolkata
Day 9: Kolkata
                                                   Travel Map

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Ellora Caves

30 km away from Aurangabad in a small village of Verul, are the impressive Ellora caves. Intricately carved into the sides of a basaltic hill of the Sahyadri Mountain this world heritage site is one of the best examples of rock - cut caves in the whole world. It is the meeting point of three faiths, Buddhist, Jain and Hindu. There are 34 caves in all. 12 Buddhist (600 -800 A.D.), 17 Hindu (900A.D.) and 5 Jain caves (800 1000 A.D.).

The Buddhist caves from number 1 to 12, out of which ten belong to the Mahayana sect and two to the Hinayana sect of Buddhism. They all are viharas, Monasteries .Cave number 10 contains gigantic Buddha figure in meditation, seated on a lion throne, flanked by attendants and flying figures. Some caves have the story of the miracle of Sravasti when Buddha assumed thousand forms. The sculpture in the Buddhist caves accurately convey the nobility, grace and serenity inherent in the Buddha.

The Hindu caves starting from cave number 13 are mostly dedicated to Lord Shiva. These caves have intricate carvings with minute details of the ornaments and clothes on the idols. But cave number 16 takes the cake. The most famous of all the Ellora caves is the Kailash cave. It is dedicated to lord Shiva and has many stories depicting the life of Shiva and therefore it has assumed the name of Kailash, the abode of Shiva. A figure of goddess Lakshmi seated on a lotus flower in water is shown at the entrance. Before that figures of Ganesh and Durga can be seen. The cave has huge Shivalingam on the first floor.

This lavishly carved cave has been cut from one rock and is world's largest monolithic cave. Moreover this stupendous edifice, was begun from the top of the rock and worked slowly down to the floor, creating gateway, courtyard, pavilion vestibule and tower along the way with beautiful figures. There are figures of Dashavataras of Vishnu, and panels of stories from the great epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. An important figure of Lanka King Ravana, trying to shake the Kailash, is seen along with various mythological stories related to the life of Shiva, including his wedding with Parvati and Ardha-nari-nateshwar, when Lord Shiva assumed the form of half man and half woman.

Ellora, chiefly patronized by the Chalukya - Rashtrakuta rulers (7th - 10th century AD) are the testimony to the skills and imagination who built them. It took nearly 150 years to complete the Kailash cave with nearly 7000 labourers working round the clock.

The Jain caves can be seen as the amalgamation of Buddhist and the Hindu caves. There are some intricate carvings and painted frescoes in these caves.

The famous magnificent Yakshi statue and ceiling paintings are in cave number 32.

Ghrishneshwar temple: Within five minutes driving distance from the Ellora caves is the ancient temple of Ghrishneshwar. A superb example of medieval temple architecture, it is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is considered to be one of the most important 12 Shivalingam temples, the Jyotirlingas, of India. It has intricate carvings on the exterior and was renovated by Rani Ahillyabai Holkar, of Indore in the 17th century.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ajanta Caves

A two and half hour drive from Aurangabad takes you to the world heritage site of Ajanta. Although it is nearer to the cities of Jalgaon and Buldhana, Ajanta caves are better approached from Aurangabad. The caves are built in a horseshoe shaped curve of the steep rocky gorge that rises above the river Waghore. These rock hew caves, still glowing in their own natural colors, are the finest achievements of the Buddhist monks who arrived here in 2nd century B.C. and reflect the zenith of ancient Indian art and architecture. Though most were carved in the first 400 years span, but the work continued till 7th century A.D. The caves were suddenly abandoned, most probably to the nearby Ellora caves. They remained unknown and forgotten for centuries, until, in 1819, soldiers from a British hunting party found them, accidentally.

The exquisite paintings on the walls of the caves and some sculptures depict the development in Buddhism, over the span of eight centuries. The central theme of the frescoes remain the life and times of Buddha. Then there are descriptive Jataka tales, when Buddha assumed forms of animals on the earth in his previous births. There are lions, elephants, monkeys, peacocks and geese with human forms of 'Yakshas', 'Kinneras' (half human and half bird) 'Gandharvas' (divine musicians), 'Apsaras' (heavenly dancers), which were of concern to the people of that time. All of them decorated with intricacy. Their half-closed eyes giving an air of meditation.

The most important and better preserved caves are cave numbers 1, 2, 16, 17 and 19.

Cave 1:

The doorway has the most seen Ajanta frescoes of Padmapani and Vajrapani; celestial figures holding Lotus and Thunder bolt respectively in their hands. A court scene, from the Mahajanaka Jataka is depicted here. The Ummaga Jataka and the Champeya Jataka are shown in this cave. Interesting in these frescoes is the head gear of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshwara and the ornaments, clothes hairstyles and the purses carried by the womenfolk. They are drawn and coloured with minute intricacy showing the caliber of the artisans.

Cave 2:

In cave number 2 Buddhist icons were sculpted according to a set of codified rules that used symbolic hand gestures and motifs such as the wheel, the deer, the throne and sacred Bodhi tree. Each represents a stage of Buddha's life. The ceiling and wall paintings illustrate events associated with Buddha's birth including Maya, Buddha's mother. There are many paintings in this cave where the human figures are dressed differently than those of the others. Others are the tales from the Vidhurpandita Jataka.

Cave 16:

In between cave number 2 and 16 are many caves depicting the miracle of Sravasti. A special painting known as the "dying princess" adorns one wall of the cave. This shows Sundari, the wife of Buddha's half-brother, dying when she is told that her husband was going to become a monk. There are many female attendants besides her, one being a nurse. Astonishingly enough, the nurse is shown wearing the same uniform as of today.

Cave 17:

Stories from the Vishvantara Jataka and the Hamsa Jataka can be found here. One fresco shows Buddha preaching, with his right hand raised and palm facing the viewer, in posture of blessing. Buddha is shown seated in Padmasana- the lotus pose of meditation and is often shown with his hair tied in a topknot surrounded by a halo of light, representing nirvana or enlightenment. Another touching fresco is depicted in this cave when Buddha came back to Kapilavastu after enlightenment. He is shown with his wife Yashodhara and son Rahul. Here the figure of Buddha is tall and his wife and son look like dwarfs in from him, depicting his knowledge and prominence.

Cave 19:

Just like the caves in Ellora, all the caves in Ajanta are Monolithic and carved from top to bottom. This cave carries huge Stupa structure with Buddha seated in it and celestial figures flying over it.

Cave 26:

Last of the caves which is intricately decorated and carved. The main sculpture here is that of the sleeping Buddha. It is the legend of his Mahanirvana; i.e. his death. While normal humans are seen mourning below, the celestial figures in the heaven are seen rejoicing.

Ajanta is being restored with the same natural colours that were used, where they have been faded.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cultural Festivals of India

India is a vast country with rich and varied cultural heritage. Folk dance and music is the core of the Indian tradition and culture. Some local festivities have today gained so much importance that people from all over the world flock to see them. The Indian government has enhanced the tradition by holding dance and music festivals in world heritage sites.

January is the coldest month in India with a pleasant climate in the southern parts of India. A number of important cultural festivals take place in the month of January every year. South India hosts many festivals during this pleasant climate. The first and the unique festival is that of the Elephant March. While caparisoned elephants go out in procession, boat races on the backwaters and cultural events lend colour to the festivities. The festival takes place in some of Kerala's major towns – Thrissur, Alleppey and Thiruvananthapuram
The Mamallapuram Dance Festival, held in the ancient port city of the Pallavas of Tamil Nadu, has performances by exponent dancers who perform Bharat Natyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak and Kathakali against the magnificent backdrop of the Pallava rock sculptures. Another delicately carved temple of Pattadakkal, in the southern state of Karnataka, the ancient capital of the Chalukyas, hosts an annual Pattadakkal dance festival, to celebrate the marvelous heritage. The classical dances performed with the backdrop of the elegantly carved temples gives the performances an aura of worship, rather than jus an art form.

Rajasthan pays tribute to the local animal, the ship of the desert in the month of January. In Bikaner the camels are bedecked and taken up in processions and even a few competitions are held. The festival, known as the Bikaner festival draws huge crowds.

The month of February is the perhaps the best of the months in the whole year, throughout India, in the terms of weather. As a result a number of cultural festivals are organized throughout the country during this time of the year. The crisp chilly winters are gone and the advent and smell of spring is in the air. Naturally all over the country the spirits are high during this time of the year and hence many festivals are organized in this month.
Although nearly every state has some or the other cultural extravaganza coming up during this time, there are some which attract tourists from the world over.

The month begins with a 15 day affair with the Surajkund Fair. The Surajkund crafts Mela as it is known all over India is significant due to the place where it is held. Surajkund is in Faridabad near Delhi. It was an ancient city associated with the great epic Mahabharata. Artisans from all around the country come her to display their handicrafts. The open air fair is based on a theme state every year. The ambiance is picturesque rural bazaar of India. Along with a vast choice to shop there are cultural shows arranged pertaining to the local art of the theme state. Cuisines form all corners of India are offered here.

The International Yoga Week held in Rishikesh, a small town in the Uttaranchal state, is to promote the age old tradition of Yoga. This week long event is held at the foothills of the great Himalayas on the banks of River Ganga. Detailed lectures and demonstrations of various forms and arts of Yoga by prominent Yoga masters are held during this week. 

Two cities of Rajasthan come alive and bustle with life in February with the fairs they are host to. The golden city of Jaisalmer is the host to a three cultural extravaganza called the Desert Festival. Fire dancers swaying to traditional tunes, a turban-tying competition and a Mr. Desert contest are part of the fun of the occasion. Camel rides and folk dances at the sand dunes are an added attraction.

The Nagaur Cattle Fair is equally interesting. This annual cattle fair is believed to be the largest cattle fair in the world. Games and races of animals are the part of this festival.

The much awaited event in India, at the most coveted historical monument and epitome of Love, is the Taj Mahotsav. During this festival at Agra, the city of Taj Mahal, the best of the Indian cultural aspects are on display. Indian handicrafts travel from all the corners along with their cuisines for this festival. Great performers come from all over India to perform with the majestic backdrop of the Taj. Being a part of the Taj Mahotsav is a unique and unforgettable experience.

During this part of the year the nature is in full bloom. Various types of flowers with vibrant colors are on bloom. The Garden Festival of Delhi is just that. It is a magnificent display if exotic flowers and plants. Definitely a horticulturists’ delight. Rose Show of Chandigarh is also held in the same lines with only roses on display and the magnitude is much larger that of Delhi. Held in the Rose Gardens of Chandigarh, this is the biggest Rose show in the country.

Far in the North east festivals welcoming the spring are celebrated by various tribes of the region.
Down South one of the most famous cultural festivals organized during this time of the year is the Elephanta Festival. The Elephanta festival is a week long odyssey of classical dances, vocal and instrumental recitals and small skits and plays that are performed at the Elephanta Islands near Mumbai. The performers perform with the backdrop of the beautiful rock cut images, artistically developed centuries ago. The audience seats it self under the open sky on the ground. All this builds a perfect ambience for the cultural extravaganza. To reach the place is fascinating as well. Placed on an island, one can reach here only by traveling through the sea.
Near Mumbai the only one of its kind festival is celebrated at the coveted destination of Goa; the Goa Carnival. The exuberant Goa Carnival is the most famous annual feature of Goa which has been celebrated since the 18th century. Held in mid- February, just before Lent, the three day event is a time for feasting and drinking with lively processions, floats, the strumming of guitars and graceful dances. The great finale is with the famous Red-and-Black dance held by the Clube Nacional in Panaji.

Another recently started important festival organized further down south is the Deccan Festival, held in the Nizam’s city of Hyderabad. This annual affair celebrates the soul of the city with the local folk arts of the city. Mushairas are held and qawwalis and ghazals are sung. The pearls and bangles, the local specialties are put on display and so is the ethnic cuisine of Hyderabad.

The Andaman and the Nicobar Islands are the last tips of the vast Indian Subcontinent. The capital of Port Blair celebrates the arrival of spring by organizing a big cultural festival comprising of songs, dances and dramas known as the Island Tourism Festival.

The month of March has some of the most exotic cultural festivals taking place at the equally exotic locations. The Khajuraho Festival is a week long affair held at the erotic temples of Khajuraho. People from all over the world come to watch eminent artists perform under the aegis of the ancient wonderful temples. The sculptures and the stones magnify the performances. The Chandela Kings built the temples as an ode to life and living, the performances are an ode to the beauty within. The cultural festival is an enthralling experience with the ancient stone sculptures forming the background. An annual affair every March, it is a must visit event and a lifetime experience.

The other cultural festival that Madhya Pradesh hosts is the Tansen Music festival at Gwalior. The Gwalior Gharana has always been one of the most prominent styles of the Hindustani classical music. The lineage that Madhya Pradesh and especially Gwalior has provided to the Hindustani classical music under the patronage of various Kings is well known. The patriarch of the Hindustani Classical music and one of the nine jewels of the Emperor Akbar’s court, Ustad Tansen lays buried in Gwalior. This place comes alive with distinguished artists’ performances when the place becomes the venue for the annual music festival. What other better way to pay homage to the great singer but performing on his tomb, under his blessings.

The second important festival is the Ellora Festival that takes place at the ancient world heritage site of Ellora in Maharashtra. These intricately carved caves into the sides of a basaltic hill of the Sahyadri Mountain are the best examples of rock – cut caves in the whole world. It is the meeting point of three faiths, Buddhist, Jain and Hindu and nearly 1500 years old. The cultural programme of Dance and music is performed at the main Kailash Cave which is a lavishly carved cave cut from one rock and is world’s largest monolithic cave.

The Shivaratri Natyanjali Festival celebrated at the Chidambaram temple as a part of worship to the lord during the religious festival of Shivaratri, is a unique mode of worship. Dances and Songs are performed in front of the main deity as a form of worship and this festival goes on for five days.

The Pink city of Jaipur hosts the Elephant Festival in March. The elephants are decked up to their best and brought here. Various games between the elephants are held during this time.

The Hoysala Mahotsav held in the ancient temples of Belur and Halebid is the reminders of the glory of the Hoysala dynasty which promoted and encouraged dance and music during their rule.

The colourful Mewar Festival in Rajasthan is celebrated to welcome the spring in the romantic city of Udaipur. Dances, songs and colours are the essential factors of this festival celebrated in the Mewar region.
Similar festivals which show and encourage the folk culture of the place are held in various places during March. The Pataliputra Mahotsav of Patna in Bihar and the Jhansi Mahotsav of Jhansi belong to the same category.

The beginning of summer season in India is what the month of April brings in. While it becomes scorching hot in the western and southern parts of India, the northern and the north eastern parts still experience a pleasant weather. Normally it is the time when various regions celebrate their New Years according to their own calendars falling tentatively in the month of April. Thus hardly any cultural festivals take place in April. But the month of May which is the vacation time for educational institutes hence  major cultural fairs and festivals take place in May.

The Urs of Ajmer, though a religious festival has become a fair of great attraction. Urs means Fair and this fair is held at the dargah of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti commemorating his union with God. People from all over the world gather here and pay homage to the great saint. Qawwalis and Ghazals are performed in praise of the saint by various artists. People tie threads to the intricately carved windows to fulfill their wishes. 

The Northern and the North eastern states come alive with flowers and lush greenery during this time. Gangtok capital of Sikkim hosts the International Flower Festival during this time. A great variety of exotic Orchids and rare flowers are on display in April. This spectacular event comes with added attractions of mountaineering, Yak Safari and trekking.

Mostly all the hill stations come up with Summer Festivals in April to attract the visitors. Summer Festivals are held at various hill stations like the Mount Abu, Ooty, Shimla and many more. Various cultural programmes promoting the destination are held during this time of the year.

The month of June is the beginning of the rainy season for the southern part of India. Hardly any cultural festivals take place during the month of June due to rains and the heat in the northern parts of India. The only attraction of June is the Hemis Festival of Leh – Ladakh. Hemis is celebrated in the cold desert of Leh and Ladakh in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Hemis is the celebration of Birthday of Guru Padmasambhava celebrated in the monastery of the same name. Masked dances are performed and a huge fair is associated with this festival of the northern tip of India.

The month of July is the full humidity and rains. But one unique festival the Delhi International Mango Festival is organized in the month of July. As the name suggests the festival is dedicated to mangoes and there are innumerous varieties of mangoes present here. Mangoes from all over the world are on display and also on sale. Various products made of Mangoes are also on sale and various competitions such as the mango eating and the cooking various dishes out of mango are held during the week long festival. It is a mango mania throughout!!!

The Champukulam Boat Race of Kerala is another unique celebration of life and devotion. It is less known than the other boat races also held in the district of Alappuzha; it is the most ancient and celebrated boat races of Kerala. Its association with a legend related to Lord Krishna has made the race all the more important for the local people of the area.

Come the month of August and the most auspicious month in the Hindu calendar has arrived. The month of Shravan that falls in August, is dotted with festivals big and small throughout the month. There are so many religious festivals that hardly any cultural occasion takes place during the month of August. The most important cultural event of this month however is the Nehru Trophy Boat Race. This race held in the Alappuzha district of Kerala is an enthralling experience. About hundred men sit in the huge snake boat and row it in the same rhythm and pace to win the coveted Nehru Trophy. It is an amazing sight and tourists from all around the world are attracted to watch the rhythm of the men while one of them stands and coaxes them to follow the rhythm and win the race.

The month of September brings the famous Ganapati festival of Maharashtra. To add more attraction to the Festival, the cultural capital of Maharashtra arranges Pune Festival during the same time. The Pune festival is the cultural festival where artists from far and wide come to perform. The festival is full of various classical dances, music and theatre and goes on for 10 days in a row in front of the Lord Ganesh with his blessings. People from all around the world come to attend this festival. 

October brings in pleasant weather and festivals galore. People are busy preparing for a host of festivals those come up during the month of October. It is the Marwar Festival celebrated in Jodhpur Rajasthan that celebrates the Marwar folk lore on the full moon night that falls in October. The folklore of the kings and their valour are sung and hummed in the Maand style of music, specialty of this region during this festival. Another important cultural festival held during the month of October is the celebrated in the small village of Rajgir in Bihar known as the Rajgir Mahotsav. It is a colourful festival of dance and music which is celebrated at once the capital of the Sakya dynasty and the birth place of Lord Buddha.

The month of November brings in a pleasant climate and high spirits for the people. Many religious as well as cultural festivals take place during the month of November. One of the most famous local festivals which also has a religious association is the Pushkar Mela or the Pushkar Fair. Pushkar in Rajasthan is a small village which comes alive during the fair in the month of November. It has Starting from the full moon in November this fair goes on for nearly 12 days. The Brahma temple that is found in Pushkar is full of devotees. Trading of cattle, their races and everything related to camels along with several handicraft items is the major attraction of this fair.

Around the same time the world’s largest cattle fair is held in Sonepur village on the bank of the River Ganga in the sate of Bihar known as the Sonepur Cattle Fair. This month long affair is great display of bedecked cattle from all over the country.

Reminder of the Nawab era of Awadh is brought alive during the Lucknow Festival. Celebrated in the capital city of Uttar Pradesh this festival celebrates Lucknow's living culture. This ten day long event witnesses colourful processions, traditional dramas, Kathak along with ghazals, qawwalis and thumri. Other exciting events like the ekka races, kite flying, cock fighting and other traditional village games recreate an atmosphere of the by gone era.

Hampi Festival celebrated in the southern state of Karnataka in the ruined temples of Hampi is a unique experience. The dance and the music recitals fill the air to form an ambiguous environment and fascinates all those who come to watch the festival.

December is the coldest month of the year in India. The southern states are pleasant and the northern states face crisp chilly winters. Along with Christmas and the New Year celebrations December brings in a host of cultural festivals and the most prominent amongst them is the Konark Dance Festival. India is a fascinating country with innumerous Gods and their innumerous temples. But the Sun temple of Konark is a unique temple with ancient legacy and surrounded by myth and legends. When these ancient temples form a backdrop to the dance performances, they actually come to be a form of worship or prayers by the dancers to the Lord of the temple. The Vishnupur Festival in West Bengal’s Vishnupur district celebrates the terracotta temples and the silk sarees that it is famous for during this festival.

These are the prime cultural festivals those are held annually in India. Other than these there is the International Book Fair of Calcutta and Delhi and Crafts Fair of Udaipur and Hyderabad. Nearly every state and the small temples or even the churches and the mosques complete the worship by arranging a huge fair for the occasion. India truly is a land of festivals and a land of cultural extravaganza.