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South Asia ranks among the most culturally rich and sophisticated regions of the world. Since ancient times, performing arts – whether music, dance or ritual theatre – have played a central role in religious life, as well as that of the royal courts and local villages. Many forms are fast disappearing. But an extraordinary wealth of arts survive throughout India, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.
Moreover, staying in the luxury hotels featured on TransIndus tours, you’ll have no difficulty finding them. Evening culture shows are very much a regular feature of the five-star scene. Even in city centre places, it’s not unusual for sitar players and their tabla accompanists from the local music college to be recruited to serenade diners, or for sumptuously attired Bharatiya Natyam dancers to provide refined after-dinner entertainment.
In Rajasthan, cultural recitals are often staged against a backdrop of flamboyant Rajput domes and pavilions in the palace or haveli courtyard – the perfect setting for the swirling, sparkling dances of Kalmelia dancers, or the haunting desert songs of the Manganiyar gypsies. In Lucknow, you might see Kathak dances such as those that tantalized the sybaritic Kings of Avadh. In Kerala, it could be elaborately costumed Kathakali or graceful Mohiniyattam dance, with performers decked in brocaded silk and gold tend.
Opportunities to see such riches in their authentic contexts – in local temples, shrines and stately homes – may be rarer, but are always worth seeking out.
Whichever of TransIndus’ South Asia tours you opt for, you’re bound at some stage to run into a festival – whether religious, or cultural. The annual calendar is punctuated by literally dozens of national ones, while each of the regions also celebrate their own special events – usually in infectiously exuberant style. If some worthwhile event is being held in reaching distance of your hotel or tour itinerary, our escorts and drivers will help you get there and make sense of the experience.
Deservedly the best known, and most vibrant of all South Asian festivals is Holi – the Hindu spring celebration in which people plaster each other with multi-colour powders and paints – with spectacular, and very photogenic results (though you’ll need to take a set of old clothes along to enjoy the experience)!
For Muslims, the big celebration of the year is Eid (or ‘Eid-ul-Fitr’ to give it its full moniker), which marks the end of Ramadan with feasting and mass gatherings in mosques.
Down south, the rice harvest forms the inspiration for Onam, when Keralan families done their finest new clothes, decorate their homes with splendid flower-petal patterns called ‘pookalam’, and get together for an elaborate sadya banquet, served on waxy green banana leaves. Throughout the winter in Kerala you’ll also come across spectacular processions of elephants and drum orchestras staged by local temples.
Across the water in Sri Lanka, lavishly dressed pachyderms also feature in the famous Buddhist festival of Esala Perahera, in which parades of costumed dancers perform with blazing firebrands in front of the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.
At the opposite extremity of the subcontinent, Buddhist celebrations come in a radically different form in the Himalayan regions of Ladakh, and in Nepal and Bhutan, where the centrepiece of monastery festivals are masked dances performed by the resident monks before huge crowds.
South Asia’s long and complex history has left in its wake an astonishing legacy of historic monuments. Wherever you travel in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal or Bhutan, you’ll you astonished by their sheer scale and sophistication, and by the fact that so many remain very much in use, serving precisely the same function for which they were constructed many centuries ago.
Innumerable historic monuments elsewhere in South Asia, on the other hand, languish in states of decay that’s inconceivable for travellers from countries where such treasures are more highly valued. For want of funds and government will, archeological sites such as Hampi or Mandu in India are literally crumbling into the dust, along with countless domed tombs, hilltop forts, temples and step wells.
TransIndus tours showcase the pick of South Asia’s historic monuments, both large and small, from the most famous (such as the Taj Mahal and Delhi’s Red Fort) to more obscure gems (such as the ruined pre-colonial cities north of Kolkata, or the fabulous lost city of Champaner in Gujarat).
Religion infuses every aspect of life in South Asia – and no more so than at the great pilgrimage centres of the Indian subcontinent.
To witness rituals such as morning aarti on the banks of the Ganges at Varanasi, evening prayers in the Sikh’s Golden Temple at Amritsar, Jain pilgrims prostrating themselves at the feet of the mighty Gomtesvara colossus at Sravanabelgola, or the elephant processions and fire dances of the Esala Perahera festival around Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth in Sri Lanka, is to experience at first-hand faiths whose origins can be traced to India’s distant past.
Other religions were more recently implanted, but are no less fervently followed today. At the Dargahs of Nizzamuddin in Delhi and Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer, Rajasthan, you can see for yourself the passionate, Sufi-influenced brand of Islam which has predominated in the subcontinent for more than one-thousand years. Christianity, too, is widely practised, whether according to the ancient rites of the Syrian-Christian or Nestorian churches found in Kerala, or by more recently converted communities of Catholics of Goa.
Sites sacred to all of South Asia’s great faiths form the cornerstones of most TransIndus tours, and our local experts are always on hand to make sure you get the most from your visits – whether you’re exploring remote Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayas, or their counterparts on the sweltering plains of central Sri Lanka.