Unmissable Winter Festivals In India That Make The Season Bright

From the parades and dances of the Goa Carnival to the desert festival of Rann Utsav, winter festivals in India have something for everyone
Hornbill Festival celebrates the tribes of Nagaland
Hornbill Festival celebrates the tribes of NagalandSamrat Sengupta/Shutterstock

The winter season in India is much more than just chilly weather and cosy sweaters; it's a time of vibrant celebrations and cultural extravaganzas that light up the country. With diverse traditions and festivities, India becomes a kaleidoscope of colours, music, and joy during winter. From north to south and east to west, here are some unmissable winter festivals in India that illuminate the season and captivate locals and travellers alike.

Rann Utsav, Gujarat

The Rann Utsav, held in Kutch, one of Gujarat's most ethnically diverse districts, is a four-month festival that celebrates the vibrant culture and the people of Kutch. What began as a three-day event in 2005 hosted by the state tourism department has grown to become one of India's largest and longest-running festivals. The centre of attention is the vibrant Tent City built on the salt desert, bordered by the magnificent White Rann and the Wild Ass Sanctuary. From ATV rides to yoga, music and dance performances, and stalls showcasing textiles and embroideries of Kutch, which tell the story of communities in the region, there is something for everyone here.

More info here.

When: October 26, 2023 to February 10, 2024

People in the tent city in Kutch
People in the tent city in Kutchmridulablog/Shutterstock

Hornbill Festival, Nagaland

This December, you should hit up the Naga Heritage Village in Kisama, Nagaland, for the 23rd edition of the Hornbill Festival. Nagaland is home to 16 major tribes and numerous sub-tribes, each of which holds a festival every month. The festival is named after the Indian Hornbill, a common bird in Nagaland's folklore and often seen in the state's forests. It was created to bring the tribes together under one roof, to show the world their rich culture, traditions, and rituals, to foster unity among the tribes, and to resurrect some of the fading traditions.

More info here.

When: December 1, 2023 to December 10, 2023

Christmas, Across India

Carols, delicious food, midnight mass, Christmas trees... you're missing out if you haven't experienced Christmas celebrations in India. One of the best places in India to experience Christmas festivities is Kolkata, where Christmas feasts and charity sales pop up with homemade wine, cakes, and roast turkeys. Park Street, Kolkata's main thoroughfare, is decked out with trees and lights. The hub of celebrations is the Kolkata Christmas Festival, which is held on Park Street for around ten days, with choirs and live bands, and dioramas of Nativity scenes. There are several other Christmas destinations you can head out. Check here for a comprehensive list.

When: December 25

Park Street in Kolkata is decorated with lights for Christmas
Park Street in Kolkata is decorated with lights for ChristmasAbir Roy Burman/Shutterstock

Jaisalmer Desert Festival, Rajasthan

In February, visit the Golden City of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan for the Jaisalmer Desert Festival. Also known as the Maru Mahotsav, it will be held in Pokaran village in Jaisalmer from February 22 to 24, 2024. You will get to rub shoulders with balladeers, puppeteers, acrobats, and folk dance and music performers, such as Kalbelias, as they throng the fete to take the stage at Maru Mahotsav. The bedecked camels that take part in processions, parades, the much-anticipated camel races, and the camel polo match always draw the most attention at the Desert Festival.

More info here.

When: February 22 to 24, 2024

Dancing and floats at the grand parade
Dancing and floats at the grand parade GSK919/Shutterstock

Goa Carnival, Goa

Come February, and it's time for dancing on the streets and Viva La Goa in the sunshine state. Celebrated since the 18th century, the carnival in Goa is a time for revelry and feasting that precedes the 40 days of Lent. The focus of the celebrations is the colourful parade of floats that begins in Panjim and travels to cities such as Vasco, Madgaon, and Mapusa on subsequent days. Don't miss the famous Red and Black Ball, which is usually held at Panaji's Clube Nacionale. Throughout the festival, street plays, dances, music performances, and fancy dress competitions are hosted in Panjim, Madgaon, Vasco and Mapusa.

When: February 11 to 14, 2024

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