Tag Archives: India

Ideas of India: The Jaipur Literature Festival at the British Library 2017

When events are successful in one place, it often makes sense to send them travelling so that people in other cities and countries can enjoy them, too. The fourth UK edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival, taking place in the Pink City every January and started by writers Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple in 2008, was held for the first time at the British Library, from 20-21 May 2017. I was looking forward to exploring a culture and its literature which I knew very little about before the festival, although India has been on my bucket list for quite some time. The diverse two-day programme with authors from across the globe was made up of 30 tempting sessions for literature lovers and also offered some beautiful Indian live music, including a lively set by amazing Mumbai-based band Kabir Café on Saturday night. I did my very best to attend as many of the events as possible and came home with some great stories and lots of fascinating reading material in my very beautifully designed festival bag.

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The very first event on Saturday morning was a live music session with singer Vidya Shah and poet Arundhati Subramaniam introducing us to some mystical devotional Bhakti poetry in the Piazza tent set up for the festival in the courtyard of the British Library. I stayed on for ‘The Beatles in India’ with Beatles biographer Philip Norman, who had some very entertaining and surprising stories on the band’s time at the ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh.

Academic Rachel Dwyer’s interview of Bollywood director Karan Johar was predictably popular. Having not been much of a fan of this genre of film before, it definitely made me curious to find out more about its history and place in Indian culture in future. One of my favourite panel discussions on Saturday was ‘Migrant Words’ with writers Amit Chaudhuri, Lila Azaam Zanganeh, Meera Syal and Prajwal Parajuly very ably and humorously chaired by Anita Anand. The panellists shared their thoughts on and issues with identity and home, which all of us not living in the countries we were born in can certainly identify with. One of the most surprising and enlightening events for me was ‘The Genetics of Skin’, which I hadn’t originally had on my to-attend-list. Dr. Sharad Paul talked eloquently about the history of the human skin and skin colour and how it affects our health in a myriad of ways.

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The ‘India Votes’ as well as ‘The Rise and Fall of Mughal Art’ sessions were a great reminder why I love festivals so much as places of informal learning, as I picked up a lot of information about Indian politics and art. While most of the other attendees I spoke to had a connection with India and therefore an obvious reason for being there, there were also other members of the audience who had been brought along by friends or were planning a trip to India in the near future. As far as I’m concerned, festivals which promote a particular culture or country are a great place to do research for your travels as – unlike in most regular guide books – they provide you with up to date information on current events (e.g. recommendations for The Sacred Pushkar Festival and The Ragasthan Festival) and access to lots of knowledgeable people to quiz about your chosen destination.

The second and last festival day was equally busy. The ‘Footloose’ travel session, which was one of my favourites purely because it was such a pleasure to hear some of the top travel writers read from their own work, in this case William Dalrymple, Anthony Sattin, Hugh Thomson, Samanth Subramanian and Monisha Rajesh. A little later, British writer Giles Milton told us the fascinating story of ‘Nathaniel’s Nutmeg’, which highlighted the many issues and quite gruesome conduct during colonial times. Food for thought indeed.

‘Shaping the Novel’ with writers Kunal Basu, Sarvat Hasin, Amit Chaudhuri and Tahmima Anam discussing the art of novel writing with festival director Namita Gokhale and ‘Ideas of India’, a panel discussion with some of the festival authors, were a real treat at the end of this wonderful festival, which was illuminating in so many ways. Most importantly, it has put India on the map for me and I’m not just talking about its vibrant, diverse culture, but the many individual voices I listened to over the weekend, the identities this vast country is shaped by and their hopes for a common humanity, which we can all learn from.

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On a more practical note, all weekend the three festival venues inside the British Library, the large knowledge centre theatre, the Piazza tent and the BL foyer (these events were free to attend, which was good to see given that all events at the original festival are free, too) were brimming with lively energy. I have rarely seen such a smiley – even if naturally extremely busy – festival team. Every single event I’ve been to was very well attended, which suggests that the organisers might look into expanding the venues in the years to come. It would also be lovely to see additional, possibly more interactive events, in order to draw in a younger crowd, too, as well as some Indian food and drink to also get to know the various flavours of Indian cooking.

Quite exhausted from the two-day literature marathon, but very happy to have learned so much about the many different Indias, I am now even more keen to make it to Rajasthan for the original Jaipur Literature Festival, which is the largest free festival of its kind. Those of you based in the USA or heading there later in the year might like to know that the festival will also be travelling to Boulder, Colorado (another place on my ever-growing bucket list) in September 2017. You just can’t escape extraordinary literature!

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Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a press pass for the festival.

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Need Some Travel Inspiration? Why Not Try One Of These 11 Diverse Festivals From Around The World

Now is the best time to plan your adventures for the rest of the year and travel shows like Destinations (2-5 February 2017) in London are a great way to get a good overview on what’s on offer. At the show you can listen to travel experts, adventurers and journalists, such as John Simpson, Simon Reeve or Phoebe Smith, talk about anything from travel safety to trending travel destinations and get your most burning travel questions answered. Of course, the main question I had for the exhibitors was what fabulous festivals from around the world they loved best and, after doing all the legwork, I put together the below list for you to add to your schedule for the coming year and beyond. Here we go!

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February: Sami National Day Celebrations, Lapland

Sami National Day is on 6 February, it’s celebrated in most of the Nordic countries and is a great way to get acquainted with the age-old traditions of the Sami people. It includes reindeer sprint racing, learning about the Sami language as well as live music. Cities like Tromso, Jokkmukk, Oulu and Murmansk are good places to visit at this time of the year as they have some of the largest celebrations.

May: Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, Morocco

This Moroccan gathering of high-profile musicians from around the world is an event which has long been on my to visit list and looks like a magical experience, even if festivals are normally not your kind of thing. You can stay in a traditional Riad, visit the sights during the day and immerse yourself in the most beautiful music from around the world at night. Unmissable!

May: Teheran Book Fair, Iran

Iran has a rich cultural and historic heritage and the fact that TIBF had around 5 million visitors in 2016 proves its importance for publishing in the Middle East. Of course, you’ll need to look into visas and other formalities in order to be able to visit, but the fair has around 600 foreign exhibitors and offers an enticing roster of cultural activities (author talks, writing workshops) to boot.

June: Transilvania International Film Festival, Cluj-Napoca, Romania

While you might be more familiar with the novel about Count Dracula, TIFF is a popular film festival taking place annually in one of the most beautiful areas of Romania. In addition, Cluj boasts a vibrant cultural scene and no less than nine universities. If you’re visiting a country where English isn’t the main language, international film festivals are a great time to travel there as they are geared towards visitors from abroad and often offer fun side events like director Q&As and parties. Just make sure you book your accommodation ahead of time, as it will be super busy.

July: Tibetan Hemis Festival, Northern India

This recommendation came from my friends at Earthbound Expeditions and looks fantastic. Hemis Gompa, the largest Buddhist monastery in Ladakh, is hosting this annual event, which is also a state holiday, and remembers the birth of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan buddhism. There will be traditional costumes to admire and the sacred masked dances (‘Chaam’) by the Lamas are the highlight of the celebrations.

August: Garlic Festival, Isle of Wight, UK

Interestingly, the soil on the Isle of Wight is apparently so good for growing garlic, the island used to even export it to France. With their motto of ‘In Garlic We Trust’ you get to try unusual delicacies like garlic beer (not so sure about that one) and garlic fudge and an learn cooking with garlic with some experts.

August: Udaya Live Yoga and Music Festival, Bulgaria

Yoga festivals have been taking most of Europe by storm in the past few years and having been to Yoga Connects and Soul Circus in the UK last year, I started noticing lots of other wellness-oriented festivals, including Udaya Live in the Rila mountains of Bulgaria. Imagine spending a few days in stunning natural surroundings letting go of your everyday worries, doing workshops with world-class yoga instructors and learning about anatomy, nutrition and spirituality.

August: Sziget – The Island of Freedom, Budapest, Hungary

Sziget (which means ‘island’ in Hungarian) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and seems to get ever more popular. Taking place on an island in the Danube, it’s a week-long party of concerts, theatrical acts and other creative fun where you can see well-known headline acts alongside lots of quirky other entertainment. Interestingly, you can bring ‘peaceful pets’, like your dog or even a ferret, along, but not so sure if they’d enjoy the loud music as much as you will.

September: Lake of Stars Festival, Malawi

This was one of the most intriguing recommendations I got, but alas, like quite a few other festivals this year, they are taking a break and will be back in 2018. So plenty of time to plan your visit. The arts festival offers live concerts, children’s activities and other creative events. It has established links with the UK and is also planning some cultural events in Scotland and London for this year, so keep an eye on their website.

November: Kona Coffee Festival, Hawaii

What better combination than sunny beaches and a festival that celebrates the local coffee culture? Welcome to Kona and its coffee culture festival, which is Hawaii’s oldest food festival and revolves around the history of coffee in the coffee-growing Kona region. The yearly harvest is celebrated with tasting events by artisans, farm tours and coffee art exhibitions.

November: Uppsala Light Festival, Sweden

Scandinavia has long been one of my favourite destinations and while there are lots of festivals in Sweden around Midsummer, our Northern neighbours also know how to celebrate the darker time of the year. Head to the fourth-largest city in Sweden for a winter weekend break and experience the magic of ‘Allt Ljus’ – squares and buildings illuminated at night-time. How much more ‘hygge’ can you possibly get?

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a press pass for the Destinatons Show 2017. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers.