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On a quest for fests

India isn't just about the Taj Mahal or Konark Temple. Spread across the length and breadth of the country are festivals worth a visit. You just need to know where and when to look

travel Updated: May 21, 2012 16:21 IST

Bored of the usual mountains, beaches and international holidays? "The diversity of India offers you the chance to see and be a part of many interesting and unusual festivals / celebrations," says Sunil Hasija, senior vice president of TUI India, a leisure travel company. Supriya Sehgal of Photography On The Move, which specialises in offbeat travels, adds, "There are the four main festivals that we do -- Kambala Buffalo Race, Ram Lila, Hornbill Festival and Snake Boat Race. Other trips are organised around Theyyam and the Goa Carnival. Unfortunately, these had to be shelved this year." Here are some offbeat fests that will appease the traveller within you and give you a chance to experience the unusual.

Kila Raipur Rural Olympics
Month: February
Where: Punjab

It is one of the more popular rural sports festivals in the country. Held in Kila Raipur in Punjab every year, the three-day-long event sees a variety of activities like bullock cart races, camel races, tug-of-war and tractor races. This festival attracts more than 4,000 sportsmen and women. It is reported that more than a million people witness it.

Turtle Festival
Months: February-March
Where: Maharashtra

The Turtle Festival at Velas in the Ratnagiri district marks the hatching of marine turtles and celebrates their first few steps towards freedom. Each year, the Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra organises this fest that draws visitors to cheer on the hatchlings on as they make their journey to the sea.

Koovagam Festival
Months: April-May
Where: Tamil Nadu

Transgender and transvestite individuals celebrate a religious festival in Tamil Nadu every year. The Aravani temple is located in the village of Koovagam and is devoted to the deity Koothandavar, who is identified with Aravan. During the fest, the aravanis re-enact the wedding of Lord Krishna and Aravan, followed by Aravan's subsequent sacrifice. They then mourn Aravan's death. An annual beauty pageant is also held, along with various seminars on general health and HIV prevention.

Fireflies Festival
Months: May-June
Where: Maharashtra

Witness millions of fireflies light up the Western Ghats in a village setting at Purushwadi. The fireflies emit their glow over a valley of darkness as they court their mates. This once-in-a-year phenomenon happens towards the end of May or early June, depending on the arrival of the monsoon.

Snake Boat Race
Months: July-August
Where: Kerala

The famous Snake Boat Races of Kerala go back 400 years and were started to test the strength and endurance of the local men. Each snake boat is about 90 to 100 feet long and can accommodate up to 110 people. A complete team is made up of about 100 rowers, five guides, a captain and a few people who set the beats for the rowers.

Pulikkali
Months: August-September
Where: Kerala

Pulikkali takes place on the fourth day of Onam celebrations in Thrissur. It offers an unforgettable view in which hunters in bright yellow, red, and black dance to the beats of instruments like Udukku and Thakil. The literal meaning of Pulikkali is 'tiger play' or 'tiger dance' and the festival dates back over 200 years. They believe that Maharaja Rama Varma Sakthan Thampuran introduced the art to celebrate Onam with a dance that showed wild spirit.

Ram Lila
Month: During Dusshera
Where: Uttar Pradesh

The Ram Lila at Ramnagar (near Varanasi) is extremely famous. Though photography is strictly prohibited, you can capture the action outside. The older generation at the ghats gather each afternoon for a month and go to the other side of the river to watch the Ram Lila. They drink large amounts of bhaang, dress up and get new chhadis (ornate sticks).

Hornbill Festival
Month: December
Where: Nagaland

The Hornbill Festival of Nagaland celebrates its heritage with major 16 tribes coming together to showcase the life, music and dance of their ancestors. The fest is named after the Hornbill, the feathers of which adorn the headgear of the tribes.

Kambala Buffalo Race
Months: December-February
Where: Karnataka

Held mainly in the coastal districts of Mangalore and Udipi, the Buffalo Race sees more than 150 pairs of well-bred buffaloes pegged against each other. The word 'Kambala' literally translates into 'muddy field' in Tulu and the fest goes back almost 1,000 years.

Broken Compass and Photography On The Move have provided info for some of the trips mentioned.

To be part of the Ram Lila, Snake Boat Race, Horbill Festival and the Kambala Buffalo Race, contact Photography On The Move. Call 9980655944.

To catch the Koovagam Festival or Pulikkali, contact Broken Compass. Call 9930920954.

To witness the Fireflies Festival, contact Grassroutes. Call 8879477437.

To attend the Turtle Festival,contact Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra. Call 02355253030.