Friendly Planet Blog

India’s Major Festivals

With a population of over 1.3 billion, and about 90% of the world’s Hindus, it’s no wonder India’s festivals are so engaging and larger than life. And every year, countless travelers flock to India to be a part of these culturally immersive celebrations. Below are three of the most iconic of India’s festivals, which you can actually visit on a Friendly Planet Tour.

Illuminated ©Jasleen Kaur/Flickr

Diwali

Known as the “festival of lights” in Hinduism, Diwali literally translates to “a series of lights”… and what an appropriate name given the ancient tradition of lighting lanterns, candles, and prayer! This annual holiday takes place on the night of the darkest new moon of the Hindu Lunisolar month. To brighten this seemingly hopeless darkness, millions of twinkling lights shine outside homes, windows, temples, and other community buildings; a shining beacon designed to be seen by all, and a confirmation that light has won over darkness, hope over despair, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil. You can visit India during Diwali on our Taj Mahal Express & Diwali, Festival of Light small group tour.

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The epic love story that built the Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal: it’s one of the most gorgeous buildings in the world, the icon of India, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the Seven Man-Made Wonders of the World. But do you know what this architectural marvel was built for, and the love story behind it?

Romeo & Juliet, Cleopatra & Mark Antony, Tristan & Isolde—to these famous tales of love, we must add the no less legendary (and tragic) story of Shah Jahan and his queen Mumtaz Mahal.

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Discovering the magic of ageless India

Amer (Amber) Palace, near Jaipur  Photo by Firoze Edassery

We initially posted this story in January 2014, but it still perfectly represents the exhilaration of traveling in India. It is written by Cherie Thiessen, a traveler on one of our Taj Mahal Express tours, and ran in an issue of Senior Living Magazine.


We’re swerving and bumping our way along one of the world’s oldest roads: the historic Silk Route, one of a network of connecting trade routes linking East, South, and Western Asia with Europe and North Africa. We’re only taking this impossibly congested road from Delhi as far as Agra, a mere 240 kilometres, but that will nevertheless take us all day. Here’s what will slow us down:

  • Cows lying in the middle of the road, nonchalantly munching on garbage. The drivers all manage to veer around them without altering their speed.
  • Two truckloads full of students, standing cheek-to-jowl in the back as they jerk and jostle to the music spilling out of the front. Every time the vehicles slow, some of the agile youths rappel out of the trucks and swap places, nonchalantly flicking in and out of traffic. Our driver brakes.
  • Women in rainbow saris balancing bales of chaff the size of smart cars on their heads, the edges of which scratch against our windows.
  • Vehicles ahead of us abruptly stopping in the middle of the road to enable occupants to pray alongside three-storey Hindu statues whose large eyes eerily track our every move.
  • A school bus crammed with tidy, uniformed children, barreling down on us on the wrong side of the freeway, forcing our two lanes of traffic to further divide into a very emaciated three. An overloaded fruit truck inching past the school bus so closely that a young arm is able to reach out and grab a banana from the teetering pile.

We wave and the children wave back exuberantly. Read more…