Sunday, March 6, 2011

Choosing the Right Time

     Wonderful, unique happenings abound in the Third World but it takes a bit of research to access them. I strongly recommend a search of holiday celebrations, memorial events, religious festivals and other special moments to be in a particular destination. All things being equal, it is more exciting to be in Salvador, Brazil during Carnaval or at least around Carnaval time to see the wonderful decorations and experience the lively spirit associated with that event. Carnaval dates and places are easy to ascertain but more obscure events take some tracking. When my wife and I decided we wanted to visit tribal societies in India, our research unearthed a celebration we had never heard of. It was called the Bhagoria Festival and it took place in several villages in Madya Pradesh, primarily in the tribal area of the Bhils and Bhilalas. It involved thousands of tribal peoples assembling in dusty towns, dressed and decorated colorfully and imaginatively for the celebrations, a horde of young men and women dancing and flirting and playing music on flutes and drums-all the trappings of a cultural get-together. The festival, we discovered, was an opportunity for young people to meet prospective spouses from other villages and overcome the distances and isolation caused by the sparse, rural nature of their living circumstances. The festival was worth the entire trip. Of course, we did have to stay in tents on the grounds of a local Maharaja to experience this party, but that inconvenience was a very small price to pay.

      I also mark our Bhagoria experience by the celebration of my 69th birthday in the dining tent where we and other members of our group met each day. (We almost never travel with groups but we had no choice in this case.) In the city where the group met right before our stay in the little village where the festival was held, some folks who knew it was my birthday bought a cake and kept it well preserved for my surprise party. It was a birthday I will never forget. Doing something special on a day which is already special to you is a doubly exceptional experience.

     There are happenings like the Bhagoria Festival all over the world. Almost every culture sponsors celebrations and parties of incredible diversity. These events not only offer a chance to see the people of the area but also to interact with them and take photos of various activities. In Mt. Hagen, a city in the hills of Papua New Guinea, there is a festival where the attendees paint themselves and wear meticulously fashioned, feathered wigs and all sorts of creative jewelry to distinguish one group from the other in a competitive setting. It is incredibly colorful and exciting. In India and Sri Lanka, there are Periheras or parades associated with some temple or other featuring dozens of painted elephants and bands and paraders of all kinds. In Southeast Asia, there are water festivals annually and events like Diwali and Holi are lively opportunities for visitors to India to interact joyfully with folks on the street.

     The difference between being someplace on an ordinary travel day as opposed to the unique time when there is a cultural celebration is probably best illustrated by my favorite festival of all- the Camel Fair of Pushkar in Rajasthan, India. Pushkar is a quiet town of some 15,000 or so inhabitants customarily. During the week of the fair, the visitors swell the population to over 200,000, not including the 50,000 or so camels that are brought to sell or parade or compete in the races. This great animal gathering is combined with a holy day for the God, Brahma, that brings many pilgrims into the city for purification in the lake. It is an incredible event which should be a travel destination for the curious and adventurous but only at festival time. Check out what is happening around the world before you go. You might want to organize your trip around those special events.

Bridge We Crossed, Sumatra, Indonesia

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