Travel Desk

Top 10 holidays in April: Trek in Sikkim, watch tulips bloom in Kashmir, listen to ragas in Banaras

A list of places to go and things to do this month.

Baisakhi in Amritsar

Credit: Angad Pal Singh Kingra/Wikimedia Commons
Credit: Angad Pal Singh Kingra/Wikimedia Commons

An eternal favourite destination for the gorgeous Golden Temple and its glorious street food, Amritsar in April is extra special with the added festivities of Baisakhi. Partake in that famed Punjabi hospitality, as Punjab celebrates the festival on April 14 with much revelry and fervour. It’s a day when farmers celebrate a good harvest, the calendar heralds the beginning of the Sikh New Year, and that marks the founding of the Khalsa in 1699. Devotees pay their respects at the Golden Temple, take a dip in the holy water tank, and feast on a volunteer-prepared, communal langar. Also visit the new Partition Museum, which documents the story of over 14 million people affected by the division of India.

High-Altitude Treks in West Sikkim

Credit: Proxygeek/Flickr
Credit: Proxygeek/Flickr

Between Sikkim’s snowy winter and wild monsoon, a short summer season between April and May reveals rhododendron-laden trees, clear skies, and the best chance to spot the elusive Kanchenjunga from West Sikkim’s Khangchendzonga National Park. Vast tracts of cherry and oak provide a habitat to wildlife such as the tahr and red panda. The long road journey into this untamed high-altitude region is best now before the rains hit, and April also marks the beginning of the short summer trekking season on the popular Dzongri and Goeche-La routes through the park. Both trails take around 10 days, but shorter, easier day hikes are possible from Yuksom.

Road Trip to the Tirthan Valley

As summer rolls around in North India, the time is ripe for a road trip in Himachal Pradesh, as the snow melts away to reveal lush valleys and forest-draped peaks. In Kullu district, the roaring Tirthan River carves out the Tirthan Valley, far removed from the bustle of the state’s other popular summer getaways. Stay in traditional wooden pahari homes in quiet settlements such as Gushaini and Nagini, camp under the stars in a flower-studded meadow, and try angling in the cold streams. Gushaini sits on the fringes of the Great Himalayan National Park, where the best season for day hikes and longer trails through the UNESCO World Heritage Site has just begun.

Witness the Darjeeling Tea Harvest at Sourenee Tea Estate

For endless cups of tea and plenty of quiet time, head to Darjeeling’s Mirik Valley, where the Sournee bungalow sits within an expansive 100-year-old tea estate. Watch tea pickers as they practise their delicate art, and indulge in tea-tasting sessions, where estate-grown varieties of the famed Darjeeling Orthodox tea are on offer. The advent of the spring rains in early March denotes the beginning of the tea season in the Darjeeling hills. Experience the season of the First Flush, or the first plucking, which yields the very best of Darjeeling tea and lasts until the end of April.

Track Rhinos in Kaziranga National Park

Credit: Himanish Dutta666/Wikimedia Commons
Credit: Himanish Dutta666/Wikimedia Commons

On the southern banks of the Brahmaputra, within the tall elephant grass of Assam’s Kaziranga National Park, lurks the endangered one-horned rhino, alongside an abundant population of deer, water buffalo, and the rather elusive Royal Bengal Tiger. Look up into the branches to spot pelicans and kingfishers. Jeep safaris go deep into the park, while elephant safaris offer a better chance at spotting animals hidden in the tall grass. Head into this thriving landscape before it closes for the rains, usually in May, only to reopen in November.

Go River Rafting on the Ganga

Add a little adventure to your next family holiday with a spot of river rafting on Ganga’s whitewater rapids. Stay at a tented riverside camp on the white sands of Devaprayag and Shivpuri near Rishikesh. Reserve your mornings to navigate a series of rapids and bodysurf in the shadow of forested peaks. Spend the rest of your days taking forest walks, lazing by the river with a book, and sitting by a bonfire under the stars. The rafting season lasts until early May and starts again only in late September.

Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh in Varanasi

Credit: Sankatmochan-Sangeet-Samaroh/Facebook.com
Credit: Sankatmochan-Sangeet-Samaroh/Facebook.com

Every April, Varanasi resounds with the strains of Indian classical music and dance as the five-day Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh takes place within the compound of the Sankat Mochan Hanuman temple. Free to attend, the annual festival has seen some of the biggest names in the industry over the years, including Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, and L Subramaniam. Performances last all night, and the air is festive as the audience flits in and out, sharing tea and snacks. (From April 15-20)

Unwind at Aranyakam in Wayanad, Kerala

#aranyakam #wayanad #kerala #meppadi #rippon #godsowncountry #india

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Cradled between the Nilgiri Hills and the Nilambur Forest, Aranyakam offers a homestay experience within the lush coconut groves, coffee, tea, rubber and cardamom plantations of Wayanad. Choose to stay in the main house – a grand, wood-lined heritage Kerala home – or independent tree house huts, with sweeping valley and forest views. Meals consist of authentic, home-style Kerala cuisine. Days here are best spent taking lazy walks through the surrounding plantation and savouring the glorious absence of city sounds.

Experience the Tulip Season in Kashmir

Credit: Abdars/Wikimedia Commons
Credit: Abdars/Wikimedia Commons

April signals the start of the tourist season in Kashmir, as cool climes and spring blooms beckon. Plan a visit to coincide with the 15-day Tulip Festival, on until April 15, in Srinagar’s Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden – Asia’s largest tulip garden. The summer capital comes alive with colours as 20 lakh tulip bulbs, spanning 46 varieties, bloom in the garden overlooking the postcard-perfect Dal Lake. On the side, expect poetry recitals, handicraft stalls, and traditional Kashmiri cuisine.

Kasauli Rhythm and Blues Festival

Courtesy: Kasauli Rhythm and Blues Festival
Courtesy: Kasauli Rhythm and Blues Festival

Head to the hills this Easter weekend as the sixth edition of Kasauli’s annual music festival returns from April 14-16 at Baikunth Resorts. In the foothills of the Himalayas, the outdoor festival will see acts across a span of genres, including fusion-jazz, sufi, folk, indie, and Bollywood. Up-and-coming young acts such as the Kamakshi Khanna Collective are slated to play alongside Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Café, Nasya from Delhi, the Jonita Gangdhi Band, and Late Too Soon, among others. Proceeds from the festival go towards treating critically ill children with heart disorders.

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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.