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Culture Trip

When you want to experience India's vibrant heritage, these places should be among your top choices. 

By Kalyani Prasher  
Santiniketan, West Bengal
A sleepy hamlet in the Birbhum district of West Bengal, Santiniketan is known for its association with Rabindranath Tagore, who first outlined the vision for the famous Visva-Bharati University and established it here. You must visit the Uttarayan complex, Tagore's home, and RabindraBhavana, the museum that houses original letters and documents, including a replica of the great man's Nobel Prize medal.
 
The cultural fair, PoushMela, is a good time to be here if you want to truly immerse yourself in the local flavour. With an array of handicrafts to browse and Baul music to enjoy, not to mention the perfect weather, this is absolutely the best time to visit the culture hub of West Bengal. The mela is usually held in December-end (on the seventh day of the month of Poush, according to the Bengali calendar) and is spread over three days. It draws visitors from all over the world and can get a bit crowded, so book your stay in advance.
 
Getting there: Santiniketan is just over 200 km from Kolkata. It's a great drive most of the way. There are also several trains between Howrah and Bolpur, the station for Santiniketan.

Namchi, Sikkim

Now is the perfect time to travel to one of the most beautiful places you will ever visit, before it gets too cold in the higher reaches of the Eastern Himalayas. Located amid the tall and impressive mountains is Namchi, a scenic town that affords 360-degree views of snow-capped mountains. This is where the NamchiMahotsav is celebrated each year in October.
 
The town has a 135-foot Guru Padmasambhava statue, believed to be the highest one of the saint in the world. The festival also offers a chance to buy local art and crafts, and sample the cuisine of southern Sikkim. The NamchiMahotsav is also when you can join in the festivities and take part in the local dance and music, and other cultural activities organized by the tourism department.
 
Getting there: Fly to Bagdogra, Namchi is a further four hours by car.

Jaipur, Rajasthan

Billed as the world's largest literary event-you'll be forgiven for calling it a carnival-it puts Jaipur firmly on the culture map of India. Over 50,000 people attend the Jaipur Literature Festival every year, from ages five to 95, for the unique opportunity to hear, meet and interact with their most beloved writers. If you lean more towards current affairs and analysis than literature, this is still a good place to be-a range of hot-button topics of the world are discussed by the best minds during the fest.
 
Usually held at the end of January, the Jaipur Lit Fest often falls on the Republic Day weekend, making it a convenient getaway from Delhi. This is also the ideal time to be in Rajasthan, when the afternoon sun is mild and evenings just a bit nippy. When not attending lectures and talks, you can explore the exquisite heritage of the Pink City, or shop for the lovely handcrafted silver jewellery Jaipur is famous for.  
 
Getting there: You can drive down from Delhi in about five hours, or take the early morning Shatabdi Express to be there by 11 a.m.

Valvande, Maharashtra

You may have seen and loved Warli paintings but few would have heard of Valvande, the small village in Maharashtra where the indigenous Warli tribe create this delicate craft. About 120 km from Mumbai, this is a slice of pastoral bliss, a journey back in time, to explore and discover a way of life lost and forgotten.
 
It's the people who make a culture, and interacting with the tribal artisans here will be more memorable than looking at or buying the beautiful, white and intricate Warli paintings. You can dine at a village home, walk around in the green and clean hamlet, photograph the waterfall nearby and take back a precious piece of art, a slice of Indian culture, when you return.
 
Getting there: While you can do this trip on your own, it's perhaps best to book a tour. The eco-tourism initiative Grassroutes can arrange a trip to Valvande; contact them through www.grassroutes.co.in.

 Chennai, Tamil Nadu
It's the unofficial cultural capital of the country, hence a must on this list. With its many bookshops, dance and arts festivals, and a general reading and music-loving citizenry, the city is an obvious choice for people with a love for culture.

 The Music Academy holds the annual Dance Festival in January, which is a great opportunity to witness Indian classical dance forms, such as Bharatanatyam and Odissi, performed by leading artists. There's also the Spirit of Youth Festival in August every year where you can savour the latest local talent in music and dance. You must not return from the city without visiting Giggles, the hole-in-the-wall bookshop run by NaliniChettur for the past 40 years, located on the premises of Taj Connemara-a total delight for book-lovers.
 
Getting there: You can either fly or take a train to Chennai from any metro city.

 Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh
The capital of Bastar district, Jagdalpur is the green heart of Chhattisgarh's tribal belt and also the centre of arts and crafts in the state. This is where you can buy bell metal, wrought iron and other famous Bastar crafts directly from artisans. It's also here that you can witness, and take part in, the unique BastarDussehra that is celebrated over 75 days! The BastarDussehra has nothing to do with Lord Rama or Ravana. It is, instead, an ode to the goddess Danteshwari, the revered deity of the erstwhile royals and Bastar's tribes. Starting in August and lasting till the end of October, the last 10 days are the most magical with celebrations reaching a feverish pitch across the district, and at its height at the Danteshwari Temple in Jagdalpur. Started over 600 years ago by the then royal family, this is a glimpse into the life of the tribal community.


Getting there: Fly to Raipur and drive about 285 km to get there.

 

 

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