Witness the Rann Utsav in Kutch, Gujarat
From November to February, Gujarat’s great white salt desert explodes in a riot of colour as artisans, folk musicians, performers and tourists gather to celebrate the region’s culture. One of the largest salt deserts in the world, the great plains of the Rann of Kutch remain submerged under water for much of the year. Once the water recedes, the Rann Utsav is a great way to experience both the monochromatic landscape and the rich heritage of the state. Head into the desert in the morning when the sun is mild and spend the day enjoying folk music performances and browsing handicrafts such as mirror work and bandhej textiles at the many stalls.
Learn to dive in the Andamans
February is a great month to head to the archipelago in the Indian Ocean. The water is clear, the weather is pleasant, and conditions are ideal for beginners to learn how to dive. A host of dive shops operate on Havelock and other islands, offering single dive trips for newbies to experience the underwater, as well as longer courses to master the skill. The coral reefs thrive with colourful marine life. Even non-swimmers can experience the stunning underwater world from a glass-bottom boat though the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park. Boats wind through water channels between mangrove-covered islands. Visibility is best during this season, ideal to spot rare aquatic species.
Attend a festival in a Nashik vineyard, Maharashtra
Sula Fest, the annual wine and music festival at India’s best-known winery in Nashik, is scheduled on February 3-4 this year. Camp out at the Sula Vineyards in specially set up tents to be closest to the festival action. The harvest season lasts until March, so this is a great time to visit and see ready-to-be-picked grapes. Learn about the grape-to-bottle process on vineyard tours, tasting sessions and through grape-stomping. The highlights, of course, are the live music acts at the festival. This year’s line-up includes electro-jazz musician Parov Stelar, alongside a host of homegrown indie bands.
Join a parade at the Goa Carnival
Parades and floats take over the streets of Goa in February when the annual carnival rolls in. The procession moves through Panaji, Margao, Vasco and other parts of Goa, with music and dances. The carnival has its beginnings in the 18th century, when it was celebrated as an occasion to eat, drink and make merry before the 40-day period of Lent began. The highlight of the parade is the crowning of King Momo, who presides over the festivities. February 10-13.
Attend the Khajuraho Dance Festival, Madhya Pradesh
From February 20 to February 26, the UNESCO World Heritage temple complex at Khajuraho transforms into a stunning backdrop for classical dance performances. Indian classical forms like Kuchipudi, Kathak, Odissi, and Manipuri take centre stage at the Khajuraho Dance Festival. Use the chance to explore the intricately carved eastern and western group of temples, which were built by the Chandela rulers in the 9th century. Dance performances take place mainly at the 11th century Chitragupta temple in the western complex.
Explore the Borra Caves, Andhra Pradesh
Before the scorching summer sets in, head to Andhra Pradesh to explore a stunning natural phenomenon. The Borra Caves are a 150-million-year-old cave system in the Ananthagiri Hills of the Eastern Ghats, near the Araku Valley. Descend deep into the earth to explore the illuminated interiors. Magnificent limestone stalactite and stalagmite formations rise from the ground and hang from the cave ceiling. Over thousands of years, the Gosthani River, which originates in these caves, has eroded the limestone to create fantastical shapes, such as the human brain, a mother and baby, animals and gods
Celebrate world music at Jodhpur, Rajasthan
Sufi and folk music, qawwalis and ragas will fill the air around Jodhpur’s grand Mehrangarh Fort at the annual World Sacred Spirit Festival on February 15-18. With the 15th century fort as the backdrop, the setting is magical as performers from around the globe bring together world music and poetry. Performances take place in stunning venues, such as the chhatris of the Jaswant Thada, or the Chokhelao Garden at the foot of the fort. Listen to soulful performances by children of the Manganiyar and Langa communities, and look in at the Jodha Desert Rock Park, where folk tales are enacted through music and dance.
Watch turtles nest in Odisha
Massive Olive Ridley turtles come up to Odisha’s beach to nest every year, usually between January and March. Witnessing them lay their eggs, after an arduous journey across the ocean, is an unforgettable experience, and Odisha’s Gahirmatha beach is one of India’s prime nesting sites for the species. Watch the hours-long process as the turtles painstakingly crawl up on shore, dig a hole in the sand, lay a hundred or so eggs, cover them up, and finally head back out into the open ocean.
Go to a festival by the Taj Mahal, Agra
With art, craft, music and a general carnival atmosphere, the 10-day Taj Mahotsav (beginning February 18) at Shilpagram near the Taj Mahal, is a good time to visit Agra. Browse crafts from across the country and experience folk music and dance performances. The marble monument is best explored before the summer sets in. Agra is also home to a bear rescue facility, run by Wildlife SOS. More than a hundred sloth bears, rescued from being made to dance, are housed in this facility. For something different, visitors can tour the facility, interact with the team, and watch the bears go about their daily activities.
Music and the arts in Mumbai
Every February since 2011, Mumbai’s iconic Mehboob Studio has played host to renowned blues musicians from around the globe at the annual Mahindra Blues Festival. This year, on February 10-11, the legendary John Mayall is set to take the stage, along with other acts including Walter Wolfman and Indian band Blackstratblues. From February 3 to February 11, Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda district will come alive with art installations, cultural performances, workshops and open-air craft stalls at the annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. With several galleries and iconic heritage buildings, Kala Ghoda is an ideal location for a vibrant, open-air cultural festival that’s accessible to all. Attend a stand-up comedy gig, go on a heritage walk, and visit the David Sassoon Library for a selection of sketches on Kala Ghoda.