A country’s cultural festivals celebrate the collective heritage of an entire people and instill in travellers a deeper appreciation for their chosen destination. A&K offers a brief look at five of the world’s greatest cultural festivals reveals their timeless appeal
The Pushkar Fair, India
Of the many reasons to travel to India, its festivals rank among the most compelling. One in particular, the Pushkar Fair, manages to blend camel trading and showmanship with the best aspects of a carnival.
Already a year-round pilgrimage site for Hindus, the town of Pushkar in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan swells to bursting each November with some 200,000 livestock traders from around the country who each have their own take on India travel. They come to buy, sell and swap cattle, camels and horses throughout the event. And, with a flair usually reserved for national holidays, they lavishly decorate their animals and then join in the act themselves, donning their finest turbans and sporting long, flowing mustaches. Beyond the livestock sale, the fairgrounds teem with tribal villagers dressed in their traditional best who mingle with acrobats, fortune tellers, puppeteers, musicians and storytellers. Also on display are a bevy of sporting activities, including tug-of-war, and camel and steer races. All of this takes place simultaneously with the Hindu observation of Kartik Purnima, a sacred cleansing ceremony that offers a solemn counterpoint to the robust activities of the fair. The resulting milieu is a true extravaganza not found on most India tours; the kind of experience that makes a journey to India so deeply rewarding. Visit this festival on A&K's Taj Mahal & the Treasures of India - Pushkar Fair.
The Tapati Festival, Easter Island
The vibrant Tapati Festival on Easter Island, 2,300 miles off the coast of Chile, transpires over the course of a fortnight each February and celebrates the indigenous Rapa Nui culture, which has experienced a rebirth in recent years. Highlighted by music and dancing competitions and accompanied by a mood of general good will toward all, the Tapati Festival also includes the Haka Pei, a contest in which local men wearing nothing but loincloths lie on their backs on lashed-together banana tree trunks and go sliding, toboggan-like, down the side of an extinct volcano to the cheers of family, friends and tourists picnicking at the base of the hill. As day turns to night, grass-skirted women and men with faces painted Polynesian-warrior style perform traditional dances, as onlookers savor dishes passed down through the generations. It’s all part of a friendly rivalry between two island clans who once settled their differences far less cordially, and leads up to the selection of a “queen,” a young local woman whose symbolic reign will last until next year’s fest. If you’ve always wanted to visit this remote green pinpoint in the middle of the vast blue Pacific and stand beneath the watchful gaze of its famous moai statues, time your small group tour to include the lively Tapati Festival. Experience this exotic festival on A&K's Easter Island & the Tapati Festival.
The Chelsea Flower Show, England
There are garden shows and there are garden shows. And then, there is the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Formally known as the Great Spring Show, it runs for five days in May on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in London, and is presented by England’s Royal Horticultural Society. Held at Chelsea since 1912, the show attracts horticulturists and gardening enthusiasts from around the world as well as the attention of members of Britain’s Royal Family, with Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, regularly in attendance. The refined art of the English garden is in evidence at every turn, ranging from traditional flowerbeds to detailed recreations of woodland tableaus, built from scratch using everything from rakes and hoes to cranes and dump trucks. What may not look like a luxury travel destination while it’s under construction is transformed into a blossom-filled wonder by the show’s opening day. In addition to countless species of flowering plants from across the globe and displays of dazzling color ranging from formal to fanciful, attendees enjoy lectures and workshops on gardening from renowned experts, covering topics such as the latest topiary techniques and the best way to bend a bonsai. Witness the beauty of the gardens on A&K's English Gardens & the Chelsea Flower Show.
The Naadam Festival, Mongolia
The Gobi Desert of Mongolia can be an unforgiving place and the skills required to survive in it, and on the expansive steppes surrounding it, are highly prized even today. A fierce, annual competition in such skills, including horsemanship, archery and wrestling — considered by locals “the three games of men” — form the heart of the dynamic Naadam Festival. Scheduled each year for three days in July, and centered in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, the competition attracts male and female athletes alike (although women leave the wrestling to the guys). Festivities kick off with the athletes bedecked in traditional military regalia, accompanied by singers, musicians, dancers and monks, whose presence contributes to the spectacle, which A&K guests can experience on a 2016 Marco Polo Journey. Two days of the rugged contests follow and the festival concludes on the third day with food, drinking and merriment, celebrating the victors as well as the spirit of this age-old culture. What better reason for a group travel tour of this distant, barren corner of the earth, other than the chance to ride a Bactrian (two-humped) camel. Attend this fierce festival on A&K's Mongolia: Naadam Festival & the Gobi Desert.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Scotland
If the organ-like drone of bagpipes and the bracing snap of snare drums sets your heart astir, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is not to be missed. Hosted at Scotland’s legendary Edinburgh Castle, this friendly, but ardently contested, musical donnybrook takes place in August, making it the perfect centerpiece for end-of-summer European travel. Over the years, the Tattoo has attracted military bands from more than 40 countries, which compete with close-order-drill precision, dressed in historically accurate uniforms and kilts. Its international roster of participants has taken traditional forms of martial music from Scotland and other countries, and turned them into rousing entertainment appropriate for all ages. Bands already scheduled to perform in 2016 include the New Zealand Army Band and Lochiel Marching Drill Team, His Majesty’s The King’s Guard from Norway, and the Royal Jordanian Armed Forces Band and Drill Team. There on the ramparts, overlooking the esplanade, attendees watch them carry on traditions that date to the time of Robert the Bruce. Care to join them? To borrow a line from Braveheart, “Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it.” Feel the thrill of the competition on A&K's Scottish Highlands & the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.