tales of travel

Stories, insights, recipes and more from all over Asia.


There is quite possibly no better way to truly connect with a foreign culture than to join in a local festival. Asia’s festivals are as diverse as its landscapes—each one a vibrant distillation of a destination’s complex history, culture, art and traditions.

1. Sing-Sing Festival: 
Mt. Hagen, Papua New Guinea

Off the mainstream tourist radar, Papua New Guinea is a truly fascinating destination. And going in time for the annual Sing-Sing festival in Mt. Hagen elevates the trip to another sphere. Here you’ll join the locals in celebration of “Taim Bilong Tumbuna” (the time that belonged to the indigenous people). Prepare to be dazzled as a marvelous mélange of tribal peoples gather from all over the country for a spirited competition and review of costume, dance and music.

This festival draws thousands of highlanders representing dozens of tribes, and is a psychedelic smorgasbord of outlandish, ritualized ancient theater paraded to vocal accompaniment—each tribe’s chants are alternately haunting, happy or warlike, and range from dizzying whoops to subtle, wind-like murmurs. The festival is definitely a highlight of this trip, but we also explore beyond it with opportunities to experience traditional villages in the remote Karawari Region, marvel at authentic tribal handicrafts and enjoy some amazing birding opportunities.


2. Uthralikavu Pooram Festival: Wadakkancherry, Kerala, India

Join the locals of the small town of Wadakkancherry, Kerala in celebrating the yearly Uthralikavu Pooram Festival (pooram is the term used locally to describe festivals honoring the divine forms of Durga or Kali). During this exuberant celebration, processions of caparisoned elephants are united, admired, and sway in rhythm as traditional musicians serenade the crowds.

The festival culminates in the joyful reuniting of three sister goddess icons who reside in Wadakkancherry and two nearby villages and are transported to the festival ground atop the festival’s three tallest elephants.


3. Kandy Esala Perahera Festival: Sri Lanka 

We love Sri Lanka for Asia travel, because it’s still such an emerging destination filled with contrasting landscapes, cultural treasures and wildlife packed national parks. We also really love the Kandy Esala Perahera festival, which is a magnificent cultural experience that culminates with a procession of dancers and drummers in traditional costumes along with whip crackers, flag bearers, chieftains in medieval court dress, torch bearers and more than a hundred caparisoned elephants.

This trip also includes a search for Sri Lanka’s elusive leopard and other fauna on wildlife safaris, a visit to the historic Galle Fort with a fourth-generation local as the guide and a chance to converse with a wildlife biologist who has been studying Sri Lankan primates for decades. You’ll stay at quintessentially Sri Lankan hotels including one of Geoffrey Bawa’s modernist masterpieces along the way.


4. Hornbill Festival: Nagaland, India 

Every year, in the month of December, Nagaland (a state in Eastern India) which borders the state of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and the country of Myanmar to the east, hosts the amazing Hornbill Festival. This area is not only home to a wonderful cache of wildlife and a mixture of rich landscapes, but is also home to approximately 16 tribes, all drawing upon a deep-rooted history of celebration and devotion, which is what brings us here. People from far and wide – who flock to watch the colours and cultures of the state unfold. A curated event, the Hornbill Festival has become the poster child for the state’s rich diversity of dances, music, martial arts, sports, handicrafts, religious ceremonies and cuisine.

With performers from all corners of Nagaland, as well as from other north-east Indian states – the festival offers a glimpse into the cultural heritage of a once-forgotten people. Spend the day at the Hornbill Festival grounds, attending performances, bargaining at the vibrant wayside markets and gorging on ethnic specialties. Our home base? We stay at a deluxe tented camp with all the services and amenities needed, and more, to make our stay here phenomenal. Step back in time to soak in this classic Indian experience and call now, space is very limited here due to the remoteness of this area. 


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