Trail rhinos and tigers at Dudhwa National Park

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Venture deep into the sal forest of Dudhwa National Park, where a variety of rare animal species roam. The little-known park in Uttar Pradesh is one of India’s last remaining refuges of the one-horned rhino, reintroduced here in the 1980s. On morning and afternoon safaris, watch out for the rare barasingha or swamp deer. Birders can spend hours looking for the Sarus Crane, the fish eagle and other species of avifauna. Of course, most visitors head into the park hoping to glimpse the elusive tiger.

Baul music at the Poush Mela, West Bengal

Photo credit: Sourav/AFP

Haunting Baul music is the major draw at the three-day Poush mela in Shantiniketan – home to the Visva-Bharati University, set up by Rabindranath Tagore. In the evening, catch performances under the stars by the itinerant Bengali folk singers. Artisans set up stalls to sell handicrafts from the region, including carved wooden toys and terracotta figurines. Sample local Bengali fare like ghugni and kochuri. Beyond the fairground, use the opportunity to explore the university town. The Uttarayan Complex houses Tagore’s homes, and a museum within the grounds houses many of his personal items. December 22-24.

Music and the arts in Goa

Photo credit: Ganesh Inside Production/Facebook

The sunshine state is abuzz with art and music events this December. Jazz lovers should head to the two-day Goa International Jazz Festival in Bogmalo on December 9-10. Swiss drummer Jojo Mayer, musicians from the UK, Luxembourg, and jazz bands from around India are on the line-up. Later in the month, the Serendipity Arts Festival (December 15-22) brings together photography exhibitions, theatre, and performance and culinary arts events at various locales along the Mandovi River.

Coffee harvest in Coorg, Karnataka

December to April marks the coffee-picking season for the Robusta crop in Coorg. It’s the best time to visit the lush plantations in the Western Ghats, where coffee is carefully handpicked. Wake up with a freshly-brewed cup and spend days walking with a guide through the coffee, cardamom and pepper estates, where elephants frequently roam. Pick coffee beans, and interact with planters to learn about coffee cultivation in India’s foremost coffee-producing region. Sample Coorgi specialties, such as pandi curry (pork curry) and kadumbuttu (rice flour balls).

Sand sculptures and dances at Konark, Odisha

Photo credit: Konark Dance & Music Festival/via Facebook

Elaborate sand sculptures line the Chandrabhaga Beach at Konark as artists from around the world compete at the International Sand Art Festival. The competition, beginning December 1, coincides with the five-day Konark Festival. Classical dance performances including Odissi, Bharathnatyam and Kathak are held against the backdrop of the magnificently-carved Sun Temple near the beach. Winter is the best season to explore this 13th century UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cycle through the hills with Tour of Nilgiris

Photo credit: Tour of Nilgiris/Facebook

Push your boundaries on an eight-day mountain biking expedition through the forest-wrapped Nilgiri hills. For a decade, the Tour of Nilgiris has been a bucket-list item for seasoned cyclists. Starting in Bengaluru and covering nearly 1,000 kilometres across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the route winds through steep mountain trails and three wildlife reserves – Bandipur, Wayanad, Mudumalai – before ending in Mysore. The trail is a true test of grit and endurance, covering a 100 or more kilometres and gaining altitude each day. Changing terrain and stunning landscapes aside, the expedition is a chance to meet and travel with people from widely different backgrounds, united by a common goal: to make it to the finish line. December 10-17.

Magnetic Fields music festival, Rajasthan

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC-BY-2.0]

Experience three days of live music across genres in a grand, 17th century palace hotel in Rajasthan’s Shekhawati region. The Magnetic Fields festival, held annually at the Alsisar Mahal, brings together DJs and musicians from India and around the world. Performances run through the day and night at multiple stages, with activities like stargazing and yoga on the sidelines. This year’s lineup includes Four Tet, Khruanbin, Jayda G, India’s Ska Vengers and Sandunes, amongst others. Club your visit with a wider tour of Shekhawati’s famous frescoed havelis. December 15-17.

Chennai music season, Tamil Nadu

Photo credit: via Facebook

In December and January, Chennai’s cultural calendar comes alive with Carnatic music and classical dance performances across the city. For decades, this time of year has been synonymous with celebration, as locals flock to sabhas, or performance venues, to catch both seasoned and up-and-coming artistes. Margazhi, or the Chennai music season, is the best time to visit the city, when the weather is most forgiving. Performance venues are scattered across the city, though major venues include the Indian Fine Arts Society, Chennai Cultural Academy, and The Music Academy.

Hornbill Festival, Nagaland

Photo credit: Vikramjit Kakati/Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0]

Nagaland’s annual celebration of music, dance, food and Naga culture takes place every December in a grand, 10-day affair near Kohima. Each of the state’s 16 major tribes sets up a morung, a central hut modelled on a village community centre. Dressed in traditional garb, each morung is a platform to showcase the tribes’ traditional music, drumming, dance forms, local cuisine and craft. The festival grounds are always buzzing with events and competitions, like the Naga King chilli eating competition, and displays of traditional fighting methods. December 1-10.

Masked dances at the Kanathoor Theyyam, Kerala

Phot credit: Dhruvaraj S/via Flickr [Licensed under CC BY 2.0]

In winter, Kerala’s northern Malabar region comes alive with vibrant theyyam performances. Elaborately costumed performers don masks and body paint, transforming into spirits, demons and deities. Hundreds of onlookers gather to witness the ancient, trance-like dances amidst frenetic music. With over 40 theyyam performances, the Kanathoor Nalvar Bhoothasthanam converts the otherwise quiet Kanathoor Nalvar temple into a pulsating hub, with performances carrying on well into the night. The performances are scheduled for December 28 to January 1.