There's no other place partying it up right now like Brazil is, as the Rio Carnival officially began on Friday and is set to continue till February 14. Known as the world's largest carnival, people from all over the world make their way to the happening city of Rio to witness the five-day spectacle that takes place ahead of Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of Lent.
Being celebrated since 1723, the Carnival has transcended its religious roots and become a symbol of Brazil's spirit, traditions, and culture. For travellers worldwide, attending the Carnival is a calendar event, for it presents a one-of-a-kind experience with days-long festivities that involve samba performances, street parades, street performances and parties. This year, 49 million people across Brazil will be partaking in the festivities, which is 6.5 per cent more than last year. In addition to the local population, records suggest that the Carnival will be hosting 200,00 foreigners across the five days.
The Carnival in Brazil takes place across multiple cities, but none of them measure up to the celebrations in Rio. Throughout the five days of the festival, Rio's streets are bathed in cheer and colour, with people taking to the streets in vibrant and eclectic costumes. The celebrations go on all night and typically simmer down at the crack of dawn, but these five days are when everybody's regular lives take a pause.
Amidst the many fairs and performances, the hero of the festival is the parade of samba schools that culminates in a competition at the "Sambodrome" venue (located downtown). Each samba school puts up a unique performance involving giant colourful floats and interesting costumes. This year, 12 distinct samba schools will be competing against each other to win the title of the "Carnival Champion."
Besides the parade, the neighbourhood parties are the locus of celebrations. These parties are named after the "blocks", i.e. the street bands that bring the crowd together or the neighbourhoods where they are held. These parties are truly where the action is at, as there is dancing and music at any and every hour of the day and night. These parties begin at a certain time and travel throughout the city, with attendees dancing along to the music played by the bandas. While there are many traditional bandas and blocos that have gained cult status, there are several new ones sprouting throughout Rio that boast unique themes.
Among the approximately 500 bandas, some of the best are Monobloco, Polka Dot Bloco and Armpit of the Christ. And if you are wondering which neighbourhood party is the best, Copacabana, Ipanema, Jardim Botanico, Leblon, and Centro emerge as popular.
Another facet of the Rio Carnival is the Carnival Ball, which is a more elegant rendition of all the parties that take place throughout the city. This Ball is reserved for a certain section of the society and is considered to be the annual black-tie event, held at Aile do Copacabana Palace or the Baile Gay at the Scala. To attend this event, one has to pay a fee of USD 1000.
If you are planning to witness the excitement of this five-day fiesta for yourself next year, it is scheduled to be held from February 28 to March 5. To visit Brazil, Indians need to procure a visa, the form for which needs to be filled out online and then mailed to the Brazilian consulate in New Delhi.