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India: Gujarat & the Sikh Festival of Holla Mohalla with Karl Grobl- March 2021


Art, ancient civilizations and wildlife thrive in this northwestern coastal state of Gujarat. It is one of India’s richest state both economically as well as culturally. The art flourishes in its cities and artisans thrives in its villages. Gujarat is famous for its exquisite handicrafts like embroidery, tie dye fabrics, enameled silverware and other handicrafts.

No one can traverse the whole of India and not feel the palpable difference between North and South. The dominant features of South India are its tropical climate with lush-green tropical vegetation in the coastal areas, as well as its architecture, cuisine, culture, languages and lifestyle. In spite of repeated exposure to foreign influences, these elements have, at their core, remained essentially Dravidian. We will witness a great ancient Elephant Festival in Palakkad.

We have timed our trip with a spectacular ritual dance of Theyyam. Theyyam is the product of a synthesis of ritual, vocal and instrumental music, dance, painting, sculpture and literature.
It attributes great importance to the worship of heroes and ancestral spirits and is a socio-religious ceremony. The colorful pageantry, the enthusiastic crowd and the religious favor are all worth witnessing.

Hola Mohalla is a Sikh festival consisting of camping out and enjoying various displays of fighting prowess and bravery, followed by kirtan, music, and poetry. For meals, which is an integral part of the Sikh institution, visitors sit together in pangats and eat vegetarian food of the Langars. The event concludes with a long, military-style procession near Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib, one of the five seats of temporal authority of the Sikhs. Throughout this photo tour, we’ll see how India has absorbed the influences of so many waves of colonizers and yet has remained distinctly and proudly Indian.


Day 1 (March 17):  
On arrival in Ahmedabad, you will be met by a representative from our local tour company and be transferred to the hotel. Overnight in Ahmedabad.

Day 2 (March 18): 
One of the intellectual and artistic capitals of India, Ahmedabad is also a repository of architectural styles and now also a UNESCO World Heritage City. It has a wealth of museums (including the famous Calico Museum), performing-arts centers and galleries. Some of the best universities in the country, especially for design and management, are also found here.  This morning, we’ll walk slowly to photograph this ancient city through its narrow lanes and by lanes.   The evening is free to walk around the Old Market of Ahmedabad. Overnight in Ahmedabad.

Day 3 (March 19): 
Early morning, we’ll take a heritage walk in the old city of Ahmedabad. The walled city was meant for pedestrians and bicycles, so its small windy streets are best explored on foot. Visiting and photographing centurys old living quarters of Jains, Hindus and Muslims provides a special chance to relate to the locals. We’ll discover small neighborhoods, called Pols, which are both the backbone and heartbeat of the old city of Ahmedabad.

Many pols are part of a cottage industry, so we may have a chance to photograph locals hand-sewing books or crimping silver chains together for traditional jewelry and various other crafts. After breakfast, we will visit the Ashram of Mahatma Gandhi, where he spent a large part of his later life. Late afternoon we’ll visit Sidi Saiyyed mosque. Built in 1573, the mosque is famous for beautifully-carved ten-stone latticework windows (jalis) on the side and rear arches. This intricately carved stone window is the unofficial symbol of city of Ahmedabad. We’ll also visit two 15th century mosques built by Sultan Ahmed Shah, Jama Masjid and the namesake, Sultan Ahmed Shah. Overnight in Ahmedabad.

Day 4 (March 20): 
After breakfast proceed to (Dasada) Rann of Kutch. On the way, we will stop at Patan and Modhera. In Modhera, we’ll see and photograph the 11th century Modhera Sun Temple. The Temple is said to resemble the famous Konark temple in Orissa. In Patan, the former capital of medieval Gujarat, we will visit the Queen’s stepwell, also known as Rani-ki-Vav. Lastly, in Adalaj, we’ll visit one of the great examples of step wells of ancient times, the Adalaj Stepwell or Adalaj ‘Vav’, as it is called in Gujarati. The stepwell is intricately carved and is five stories deep. Such stepwells were once integral to the semi-arid regions of Gujarat, as they provided water for drinking, washing and bathing. These wells were also venues for colourful festivals and sacred rituals. On arrival in Dasada, check in at lodge. Overnight in Dasada.

Day 5 (March 21): 
Early morning game drive to the Rann of Kutch to see the landscape and unique wildlife that lives here, including the endangered Asiatic Wild Ass. We will also visit the various working salt mines in the area. This afternoon, we’ll visit Rabari villages and Mir settlements. Rabari and Banjara are the two important tribes of the region. While the Rabari, the most nomadic of Gujarat’s tribes, constantly migrate in search for better grazing ground for their camels and sheep, the Banjara and other tribes have settled here. Overnight in Dasada.

Day 6 (March 22): 
Early morning, one more jeep safari to photograph the surrounding villages. After a leisurely breakfast, drive to the Ahmedabad airport to board the flight to Cochin. Overight in Cochin.

Day 7 (March 23): 
We’ll start our day with a pre-dawn cruise to photograph the fishermen in the harbor. After breakfast, we’ll spend the day exploring Cochin. Documented since Roman times, Cochin is the oldest European settlement in India. With its enchanting Jewish quarter, picturesque Chinese fishing nets, Portuguese churches, Hindu temples and bustling spice and antiques bazaars, Cochin has a seamless blend of diverse architectural and religious influences. Today particularly offers a diverse array of photo opportunities during several stops including a Jewish synagogue, the Vasco D’ Gama Church, a Dutch Palace and Chinese fishing nets. Our group will take an afternoon walk around the Fort Cochin area we’ll visit and photograph the laundry wala. We’ll also visit various art galleries, coffee shops and designer boutiques in the area. Later, we’ll visit the Kathakali center and photograph artists putting on makeup and later, witness the traditional Kathakali dance drama. Overnight in Cochin.

Day 8 (March 24): 
After breakfast, we’ll drive to Palakkad and on arrival, check into the resort. In the afternoon, we’ll head to the festival grounds to witness the 50 elephant festival. We will also visit an ancient temple to experience and photograph a centuries-old festival, complete with decorated elephants and drummers. The colorful mosaic of Kerala festivals and fairs is as diverse as the land. Overnight in Palakkad.

Day 9 (March 25): 
After breakfast, drive to Kannur. On arrival, check-in to the hotel. This evening depending upon the scheduling of the event, we will drive out to witness the Theyyam dance at the local temple. Overnight in Kannur.

Day 10 (March 26): 
Today and tomorrow we’ll be visiting nearby villages around Kannur and witness various aspects of the Theyyam festival. The festivities may go well into the evening or even all night. Theyyam or Theyyaattam is a pattern of hero worship performed in North Kerala. It is a ritual and a folk-dance form supported by a vast literature of folk songs. ‘Theyyaattam’ means the God’s Dance. This evening/late night, we will photograph additional Theyyam performances at local temples. Overnight in Kannur.

Day 11 (March 27):  
This morning, we’ll recover from the late night and relax on the beach. This afternoon, our group transfers to the Kannur airport to board the flight to Mumbai. On arrival, we’ll head the the hotel for check-in.

Day 12 (March 28): 
Very early morning, transfer to airport to board the flight for Chandigarh. Our group will then board a bus to Anandpur Sahib where we’ll experience and photograph the Hola Mahalla Sikh Festival. Upon arrival in Anandpur Sahib, we’ll check into our Swiss tents complete with electricity, a private attached toilet, running hot and cold water and proper beds. Hola Mahalla or simply Hola is a Sikh event, which takes place on the first of the lunar month of Chet, which usually falls in March. In the afternoon we’ll have an orientation visit of the fair. Overnight in Anandpur Sahib.

Day 13 (March 29): 
We’ll spend the day experiencing and photographing the Hola Mohalla Festival. The colourful festivities include dramatic mock martial-arts battles, impressive displays of weaponry, archery and wrestling. There’s also music, poetry, and prayers, singing and chanting. Food is served to pilgrims from all castes and creeds by women from the neighbouring villages, who set up langars (community kitchens). This is impressive and humbling to watch as, regardless of caste, all Sikh’s sit together.

You’ll have the opportunity to practice your action photography skills while observing exciting horse-riding displays from the Nahib Sikh Army. Riders gallop bareback, performing tricks such as riding astride two horses. One of the main attractions at the festival are the Nehangs – a prestigious armed Sikh order who wear a striking blend of blue and orange, with twisted moustaches and staggeringly giant embellished turbans. Overnight in Anandpur Sahib.

Day 14 (March 30): 
This morning everyone will have a final chance to visit the festival ground. Later, we’ll drive to Amritsar. In the late afternoon/early evening, we’ll visit and photograph the beautiful Golden Temple. Completed in 1601, the temple is the religious place of the Sikh Community in India. Overnight in Amritsar.

Day 15 (March 31):
In the early morning, we’ll again visit Golden Temple to observe and photograph the morning’s activities, including the “langar” or feeding of the devotees. Hundreds of volunteers come every day to help cook food for thousands of devotees.  We will also visit Jalia wala Bagh, a monument of great Indian national importance. Also walk around the old part of the town to see the daily life at this holiest of the holi city of the Sikhs. In the afternoon, we’ll drive to the Wagah Border to photograph the lowering-of-the-flags ceremony by Pakistani Rangers and Indian Border Security Force. This ceremony has been happening daily since 1959. It is one of the most amazing and unique displays of protocol being followed by two armies. Overnight in Amritsar.

Day 16 (April 1):
After breakfast, you have time to relax or if interested, another visit to Golden temple can be organized. Later, our group will be transferred to the airport to board the flight to Delhi.