Visiting India in July—regardless of what region—means you're in the thick of monsoon season. But if you don't mind braving the relentless downpours, July is a great time to visit India because travel is cheaper, the landscape is greener, and there are plenty of festivals happening around the country to keep you busy. From religious pilgrimages to elephant feeding rituals to cobra worship, you should have no problem finding some type of celebration to enhance your trip to India.
The two-day Hemis Festival commemorates the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, who founded Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. The highlight is the masked dance, performed by the lamas, that illustrates good prevailing over evil. The performers wear elaborate and bizarre costumes and brightly painted masks. The music is characteristically punctuated with sounds of cymbals, drums, and unwieldy trumpets. It's an amazing spectacle.
- When: June 30-July 1, 2020 (Pending government approval)
- Where: The festival is held at Hemis Monastery, near Leh, Ladakh, in the northern part of India.
Puri Ratha Yatra
The exuberant 12-day Ratha Yatra festival sees Lord Jagannath (a reincarnation of lords Vishnu and Krishna), along with and his elder brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra, venture out of their abode in Puri's Jagannath Temple. The gods are transported on massive towering chariots, that are a spectacle in themselves. It's Odisha's most popular festival.
- When: Puri Ratha Yatra is canceled in 2020.
- Where: Festivities are at Jagannath Temple, in Puri, Odisha.
The famous Amarnath cave temple, one of the top caves in India, houses a Shiva lingam made out of ice—an important piece of iconography in Hindu beliefs. It's one of the toughest pilgrimages in India to complete, as the five-day journey entails inclement weather, slippery paths, and very high altitudes.
To embark on this treacherous pilgrimage in 2020, it will be necessary to register beforehand. This year, there will be strict caps on the number of daily pilgrims allowed onto the mountain and mandatory health checks before registering.
- When: July 21 to August 3, 2020 (Pending government approval)
- Where: The trek navigates Mount Amarnath, about 140 kilometers (87 miles) from Srinagar in Kashmir. There are two routes to the shrine: 16 kilometers (10 miles) from Baltal in Ganderbal and the traditional 45 kilometers (28 miles) Pahalgam track in Anantnag district, approximately three to four hours from Srinagar by car.
Bonalu (Ashada Jatra Utsavalu)
The over 200-year-old Bonalu festival is a celebration of the Mother Goddess and Shakti (female energy). Rituals, dedicated to Goddess Mahakali, take place on Sundays during the Hindu month of Ashadha. Bonalu means feast in Telugu, and it signifies the offerings—rice cooked in milk and jaggery sugar—presented to the goddess in return for fulfillment of vows. Women carry decorated clay pots on their heads to the temple.
The festivities are first held at Mahakali Temple in Golconda Fort. The next main celebration is at Ujjaini Mahakali Temple in Secunderabad, with Rangam (predicting the future for the forthcoming year) and Ghatam (a procession of the goddess) the following day. The final (and biggest) event happens at Simhavahini Sri Mahakali Temple of Lal Darwza in the Old City of Hyderabad on the last Sunday. Rangam and Ghatam procession takes place the next day.
- When: The Bonalu festival is canceled in 2020.
- Where: Events are held in Secunderabad and Hyderabad, Telangana, are twin cities located in central India.
The most important festival of the Pnar tribe of Meghalaya, Behdienkhlam is celebrated after agricultural sowing is over. Khlam means plague and beh dien means to drive away with sticks. Hence, the festival is held to drive away any negative forces that may affect the crop. The festivities take place over three days and culminate with a procession of chariots and ceremonial tree trunks (khnongs) to a sacred pool full of water. Another highlight of the occasion is a football match between locals. The winner is believed to have a bumper harvest.
- When: July 8, 2020 (Pending government approval)
- Where: The celebration is in and around Jowai, Jaintia hills, Meghalaya, in Northeast India.
Champakulam Boat Race
The Champakulam Boat Race is the oldest snake boat race of Kerala. It's also the first boat race of the wild racing season. A stunning procession is enacted prior to the race taking place, featuring exotic water floats, boats decorated with colorful parasols, and performing artists. This exciting festival in the lush Kerala backwaters is a must-see event if you're in Kerala during July.
- When: The Champakulam Boat Race is canceled in 2020.
- Where: Races take over the Pampa River at Champakulam, not far from Alleppey in Kerala.
The Dree Festival is an agricultural festival of the Apatani tribe in the Himalaya region of Northeast India. It's celebrated by sacrificial offerings and prayers to the gods who protect the crops. Folk songs, traditional dances, and other cultural performances have also become a part of the modern-day festivities. There's even a "Mr. Dree" contest, billed as the ultimate platform for men to show their strength, agility, stamina, and intelligence.
- When: The Dree Festival is canceled in 2020.
- Where: All events are in Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast India.
This full moon day is celebrated in remembrance of the ancient sage Vyasa, who wrote many important holy Hindu scriptures. However, the idea behind Guru Purnima extends further than that. It's also a day for giving thanks to anyone who's taught you spiritual lessons in life. Many people simply spend some time reviewing all the knowledge they've acquired in the last year, and the way it's helped transform them.
It's mango season in India! Don't miss sampling the 500 varieties of mangoes on display at this popular, long-running annual three-day festival organized by Delhi Tourism to celebrate the much-loved "king of fruits," along with various mango products such as mango jam. A mango eating competition also provides entertainment: Contestants attempt to consume 3 kilograms of mangoes in three minutes.
- When: July 9–10, 2020 (Pending government approval)
- Where: The fruit festival is in Dilli Haat in Janakpuri, Delhi, and a free shuttle service is provided from Tilak Nagar Metro station to Dilli Haat.
Njangattiri Aanayoottu (Elephant Feeding Ritual)
Elephants are usually seen decorated and paraded around during temple festivals in Kerala. However, during this elephant feeding ritual, they remain unadorned. The elephants are taken inside the temple premises and given a delicious feast of sugarcane leaves, coconut, jaggery, and other local produce by people who come to worship them. The ritual aims to please Lord Ganesh, for the removal of obstacles and fulfillment of wishes.
- When: July 17, 2020 (Pending government approval)
- Where: The feast is at Njangattiri Bhagavathi temple, Pattambi, Palakkad district, Kerala.
This festival involves an astonishing amount of turmeric being thrown all over the temple premises by energetic devotees, who also sing and dance. At noon, the temple deity is taken out in procession and given a holy bath in the nearby river, which is the main highlight of the occasion. The festival happens on Somvati Amavasya. It always falls on a new moon day that's also a Monday, which usually happens two to three times per year.
- When: July 20, 2020 (Pending government approval)
- Where: Festivities take place at Khandoba temple in Jejuri, about an hour and a half southeast of Pune in Maharashtra. It's possible to visit it on a day trip from Mumbai if you hire a car. However, travel time one-way will be about five hours. Hence, it's more convenient to go there from Pune.
The Teej festival is an important festival for women and also celebrates the much-anticipated monsoon festival in Rajasthan. It commemorates the reunion of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Women apply henna to their hands and feet, get dressed up, and parade around. Artists such as folk singers and dancers follow the procession. Caparisoned elephants, bullock carts, and chariots add to the spectacle.
Nag Panchami, the festival of snakes, isn't for the faint of heart. This unusual festival involves the worship of snakes to appease them and ward off evil. In some areas, live snakes are worshiped as representatives of gods, while people worship snake idols in the form of statues or carvings in other areas.
- When: July 25, 2020 (Pending government approval)
- Where: Snake temples across India celebrate, particularly in and around Nagpur in Maharashtra, and in Battis Shirala village in Maharashtra.
Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey
The Himalayan Odyssey sees motorcycle riders travel across some of the most challenging trails, on an epic journey through some of the highest mountain passes in India. More than 50 riders from all over the world are expected to participate, including about 20 female riders.
Malabar River Festival
South India's only extreme adventure competition, the Malabar River Festival, has been drawing daring kayakers since 2013. Held by Kerala Tourism, it has been nominated as one of the five best whitewater kayak festivals in the world by Kayak Session Magazine in France. It brings together top whitewater athletes from around the world, with kayakers from more than 15 countries expected to participate in Extreme Race, Boater Cross, and Giant Slalom categories.
- When: To be announced
- Where: Kayakers navigate the Iruvanjhipuzha and Chalipuzha rivers at Thusharagiri in Kozhikode district, Kerala.