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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Bhutan’s Fascinating Festivals

Landlocked between India to the South and China to the North, this small Asian country has a cultural presence much larger than the country itself. Staying completely independent over its history, the Bhutanese people have a strong devotion to their faith, with almost 75% of its population practicing Buddhism. To represent and revel in this devotion to their beliefs, locals of Bhutan participate in many festivals—all throughout the year—to flaunt their bright and vivacious values. Every one of the departures of our Beautiful Bhutan small group tour is scheduled around a real Bhutanese festival or authentic festival performance. So check out some highlights below from the festivals we visit in one of the world’s happiest countries, then take the road less traveled and experience Beautiful Bhutan for yourself!

Bright masks accompany almost every Bhutanese festival! © Arian Zwegers/Flickr

What are Teschu festivals?

All the festivals we have on our departures are called Tsechu festival (Tse-Date Chu–Ten). These festivals are celebrated to commemorate the great deeds of 8th century Tantric master Guru Padmasambhava who is credited in spreading of Mahayana Buddhism in the entire Himalayan region. So it is commemorated on the 10th day of every month (according to the lunar calendar) in different states.

These Tsechu festivals are dominated by ancient old religious Mask Dances that are performed by both monks and lay person in brilliant costumes re-enacting the legendary events, accompanied by blaring horns, booming drums, and clashing cymbals as they whirl and leap around the ancient old courtyard of a Dzong (Fortress) or in a small temple at a village. Crowds gather in their finest hand woven dress, brightly patterned for which Bhutan is renowned, creating an intensely colorful and exciting atmosphere that had remained unchanged in its traditional purity for centuries. Locals believe that by dressing in their finest is another form of offering that could bring them blessings, give them an opportunity to please the deities which in return bring them merit, luck, prosperity and also an occasion to see people and to be seen. The dance itself is believed to be the representation of the deities that are encountered during the intermediate period of death and rebirth.

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Hiking the Tiger’s Nest

Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan ©PROGöran Höglund (Kartläsarn)/Flickr

Last year we received this wonderful letter from one of our travelers, John Monahan. His beautiful story about a trek to The Tiger’s Nest Monastery—a famous Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and temple perched high on a cliff in Bhutan—reminds all of us here at Friendly Planet why we do what we do! This experience will stay with John the rest of his life, and we’re humbled to be a part of it.


Dear Friendly Planet,

I am sending you this because I want to share an experience that I had hiking to Tiger’s Nest monastery high in the Himalayas, the Mecca for Buddhism in this part of the world. I had many good experiences in Bhutan, but this one in particular was really special. You see, I was supposed to spend the last two days in Paro, the town below the monastery, before leaving Bhutan for Bangkok. But my flight in Bumthang was cancelled because of rain and the only road was not passable because of rock slides. Luckily, I was able to get on a late afternoon charter the following day, but that also meant I only had one night in Paro. Turns out, this was not enough time to visit the Tiger’s Nest, because my guide, Karma (I hope that I am spelling his name correctly), said that we would need at least five hours to complete the hike; the flight to Bangkok was at 1PM. So I asked if I could do the hike at 5AM. He agreed, even though he didn’t think that we would make it to the top in time.

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Our Travelers’ Favorite Airports (Infographic)

We asked our travelers on Facebook to weigh in on their favorite airports across the globe. Check out what they had to say!

Top 5 Ways To Get Internet Abroad

Top 5 Ways To Get Internet AbroadIt’s the age old question on every international traveler’s mind. More important than flight details or where they’re going to stay. More pressing than the sightseeing or the dining or the evening entertainment. The answer to which assures their very survival while away….

Will there be WiFi?

Ok. So maybe this is a much more recent phenomenon. And maybe access to the Internet isn’t really all that important while traveling. But the truth remains: the ability to keep in touch with friends, family and work, to use your GPS location to find a restaurant, to post a picture to show everyone else what they’re missing out on – these things are important to today’s traveler. And you can’t do them without Internet access.

So here we demystify the process of accessing the Internet while traveling abroad and provide you an overview of your options.

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Havana’s Malecón, a stunning Sea Wall

We think experiencing the authentic side of Cuba is a bucket list item every traveler should check off! That’s why, as one of the first US tour companies to have been awarded a People-to-People license for Cuba travel, we’ve worked hard to send thousands of American travelers to Cuba to participate in unique, inspiring, and affordable encounters with the Cuban people. Recently, we asked one of our fabulous Cuba Tour Managers, Gary White, to tell us about one iconic Havana landmark that really immerses you in the ‘authentic’ Cuba.

Sunset at the Sea Wall ©Ashu Mathura/Flickr

For decades, as a forbidden country to US citizens, Cuba was only in our imaginations. We had seen pictures of 1950s classic American cars plying down the dark streets of a crumbling Havana, or of an enthusiastic Fidel Castro gesturing to the masses as military trucks pulling missiles passed in review. And, of course, the island was riddled with aged women who enjoyed oversized cigars tilting down from one side of their mouths.

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“What’s the best place you’ve been to?”

As travel professionals, we get this question all the time, “Where’s the best place you’ve ever been?” So we asked one of our amazing Reservation Agents Liz to weigh in! See below for some of her personal travel favorites…. so far! 
Wat Rong Khun, Thailand ©Carlos Adampol Galindo/Flickr

5 Thailand (Wat Rong Khun AKA White Temple)

Bangkok is of course the favorite city of most visitors, but I also loved northern Thailand, especially Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Among the tiered tea fields and charming villages, you’ll encounter treasures around every corner. One of my favorite memories was of Wat Rong Khun, AKA White Temple, en route to Chiang Mai. After seeing so many temples in Asia, this one stands out with its modern and incredibly detailed design. In 1996 the artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, using his own money, chose to completely rebuild this temple himself. Over a million dollars later, it’s still a work in progress, and is hoped to be completed by 2070. Aside from traditional Buddhist imagery, you’ll see movie references like the monster from Predator rising from the earth. Eliciting both smiles and serious thoughts, this stop on the tour was well appreciated.

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Experiencing the real Downton Abbey

Highclere Castle © Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP
Our Product Development Manager, Judy Poliva, traveled to London and Iceland as the tour leader of our Downton Abbey Christmas Ball passengers, and here is her account.

Being a true Downton Abbey fan, I didn’t hesitate to volunteer to lead our Downton Abbey Christmas Ball with London tour two years ago. In fact, the only hesitation I experienced was selecting my outfit for the ball. So many options! So many accessories to consider! After months of planning, and brushing up on my Downton knowledge, our departure day finally arrived.

On our way

The true Downton experience started right away, on the flight over the pond, with episodes from seasons 1 and 2 of Downton Abbey on the in-flight entertainment. What a coincidence! It felt like even the airline wanted to make our tour the memory of a lifetime. I got to experience great moments of the show again, like Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley meeting for the first time, as we made our way. During our layover, we all reminisced about our favorite scenes from the show, and of course discussed what we’d be wearing to the ball (a very common conversation on the tour!). The buzz of anticipation was palpable, and the common thread of a love for travel and Downton Abbey was on full display. I already knew it would be a great trip. Read more…

Singapore: Five Cultures in One

Singapore skyline © Singapore Tourism

The sun rises on Singapore, an island-nation only miles away from its neighbor, Malaysia. Morning rays reflect on breathtaking modern architecture, from gleaming towers to fascinating futuristic structures, dotted with glowing colored lights as day breaks. But beneath the rush of this 21st Century wonder there is a treasure trove of ancient cultures, each quietly thriving and making their mark on Singapore. As morning breaks, temple bells and bustling markets ready for the day.

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#FriendlyFiles: Denise explores Ireland!

Recently our Groups Manager, Denise Barnes, traveled to Ireland to meet with our partners on the ground there and experience all that the Emerald Isle has to offer!

Dublin Musicians © Tourism Ireland
I grew up in London, but this was my first trip to Ireland! I can’t believe I hadn’t made the trip before, and from the moment I arrived, I fell in love. Its diversity, people, traditions, and history—and yes, more shades of green than can be counted—made for an unforgettable trip. There were so many amazing experiences, but here are a few that stood out the most:
Epic Ireland, Dublin © Tourism Ireland

1 Epic Ireland: The Irish Emigration Museum, Dublin

Arriving at the Irish Emigration Museum was truly a 21st century experience. It was inspiring to hear and see the stories of millions of Irish emigrants who left for all corners of the globe (including the U.S.) on display as we wandered through this modern museum. With more than twenty exhibits, it helped me really understand more about Ireland and its colorful history—including how Irish emigrants have influenced and shaped the world both in the past and today!
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