7 Amazing Destinations You can Explore to Make Pongal Special

Ever thought of planning a trip with family to experience a major festival? This holiday season, imbibe the local culture and witness the harvest festivities at these interesting places

By Poongkodi Jose

7 Amazing Destinations You can Explore to Make Pongal Special

India, the land of farmers, celebrates the harvest festival across the country in different ways. The southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka celebrate it with a four-day festival namely Pongal/Makar Sankranti. Also called Uttarayan in the Northern states, it marks the beginning of the sun’s transition into the zodiac of Capricorn (the Sanskrit words Makar means Capricorn and Sankranti means transition). This transition symbolises a fresh new beginning after the harvest is over and thus calls for a celebration and thanksgiving.

With children having a short holiday, families often plan a vacation during this time of the year. And exploring a place through its festivals is one of the best ways to get to know it. We have put together seven great destinations to make this Pongal holiday special.

Madurai, Tamil Nadu

Often referred to as ‘Thoonga Nagaram’, meaning the city that never sleeps, Madurai is famous for the magnificent and most beautiful Meenakshi Amman temple, jasmine flowers (which are also exported), Jallikattu (the traditional sport played during Pongal) and various local delicacies. Madurai is closely connected to the nearby villages and this is where a traditional festival such as Pongal can be experienced in its true sense. On the main day, at sunrise, farmers with their families offer a portion of the harvest to the Sun god and thank him. The celebration includes making of colourful rangolis, and preparing the sweet dish sakkarai pongal, made of rice and jaggery in mud pots. The whole house is painted, and mango leaves are hung at the main door to herald the festivities. There are special poojas for the cattle to thank them. The Thirumalai Nayakar Palace, Gandhi Museum, Thiruppuramkundram temple are other main attractions in this temple city.

Activities:

  • Jallikattu - Alanganallur located around 17 km from Madurai is a hub where the sport of bull taming is played, on the occasion of Pongal. Adults can witness it from a safe distance, while children may find it violent.
  • Walking tours around the Meenakshi Amman Temple
  • Street food tour

How to reach?

By Air: Madurai airport is well connected with cities like Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore

Accommodation:

Hotel Tamil Nadu (Government property)

Moskva Hotel (Economy hotel)

Royal Court (3 star)

Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu

The town of Thanjavur/Tanjore is famous for the Brihadeeshwara Temple (also called Big Temple) and the Tanjore paintings. But what make the town more beautiful are the lush green paddy fields all around and it is also the highest rice producing region in Tamil Nadu. One can witness the old rituals still alive at the special pooja for many cows on Mattu Pongal day at Brihadeshwara temple. The local communities also conduct rangoli competitions making the streets look vibrant. There is something unique about the Big Temple. The main gopuram is constructed in a way that its shadow never falls on the ground (how amazing!). The Tanjore Palace, located close to the temple, houses a museum and is a must visit for children.

Activities:

  • Bullock Cart ride
  • Shopping for Tanjore paintings and local crafts

How to reach?

By Air: The nearest airport is at Trichy (60 Kms)

By Road: Trichy to Tanjore (1 hour) / Madurai to Tanjore (4 hours)

Accommodation:

Hotel Tamil Nadu (Government property)

Hotel Star Residency (Economy hotel)

Ideal River View Resort (3 star)

Ahmedabad, Gujarat

Ahmedabad, one of the major cities in Gujarat is a great choice to explore the rich culture of the state. It is also the best place to witness the beautiful kite festival during Makara Sankranti. Every place is a kaleidoscope of activity, from bazaars that sell colourful kites, the different-hued manjha (the thread tied to the kites), floating lights (that illuminate the night sky) to the kite flying competitions and food stalls selling delicacies such as jalebis. Not to forget the famous attractions in Ahmedabad including Sabarmati Ashram, Adalaj Stepwell, Sidi Saiyyed and Jama Mosque, Calico Museum of Textlies, Auto World Vintage Car Museum and Kankaria lake.

Activities:

  • Kite flying and floating lights
  • Zip-lining at Sabarmati
  • Boating on Sabarmati river
  • Shopping for the well-known traditional crafts

How to reach?

By Air: Ahmedabad airport is well connected with all major cities in India

Accommodation:

Riverview hotel (Economy hotel)

Rivera Sarovar Portico (3 star)

Amritsar, Punjab

Lohri, observed across Punjab, is essentially a community festival marking the harvest and spreading the spirit of brotherhood, unity and gratitude. It marks the end of winter and the beginning of a new farming season. The festival involves preparing a huge bonfire on the night of Lohri and sharing the warmth with family and loved ones. People dance and sing around the bonfire offering til (gingelly), peanuts and chirwa (beaten rice) to the embers. Preparing the biggest bonfire almost becomes a competition around the neighbourhood. The major attractions in Amritsar are the famous Golden Temple and Jallianwala Bagh. The museums and Wagah Border (India-Pakistan) border are also must visit places.

Activities:

  • Witnessing a Lohri bonfire
  • Flying kites as a symbol to thank the Sun God
  • Change of guards ceremony at the Wagah Border

How to reach?

By Air: Amritsar airport is well connected with Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore

Accommodation:

Circuit House (Government property)

Hotel Hong Kong Inn (Economy hotel)

Regenta Central Amritsar (3-star)

Mysore, Karnataka

Rich with culture, heritage and nature, Mysore holds the tag for the cleanest city in India for the years 2015 and 2016. The harvest festival involves thanking the Gods for a good harvest, wearing new clothes and preparing colourful rangolis. The highlight is the preparation of ellu-bella, which is a mixture of white sesame, fried groundnut, dry coconut and jaggery which is distributed among the neighbours. Along with this, women also share bananas, sugarcane, haldi and kumkum. As a community celebration, people also indulge in kite flying. Special prayers are offered to the cows and they are taken on a procession. On a visit to Mysore, do not forget to visit the beautiful Mysore Palace, Chamundeshwari temple, Brindavan garden, Mysore Museum and Zoo.

Activities:

  • Walking tours
  • Skydiving for the adventure lovers
  • Shopping for the famed Mysore silk sarees

How to reach?

By Air: Mysore has a newly constructed airport and Bangalore airport is 150 km away.

Accommodation:

Hotel Mayura Hoysala Mysuru (Government property)

Treebo Spektrum Suites (Economy hotel)

Regenta Central Herald (3 star)

Udupi, Karnataka

Udupi is a great choice to visit during Makar Sankranti. Nearly 800 years ago, Acharya Madhwa placed the beautiful Krishna idol in Udupi, which is today one of the most sought- after pilgrimages in South India. On Makara Sankranti, the Three Chariot Festival is held with much fanfare. It is a great sight to see hundreds of devotees pulling the chariot, chanting the name of the Lord. Apart from the Krishna Temple, one can visit the Malpe beach, Kaup beach, Ganesh Temple and St. Mary’s island. There are many waterfalls around Udupi that you can check out with the kids.

Activities:

  • Kayaking at river Shambhavi
  • River rafting at Sitanadi (40 Kms from Udupi)
  • Surfing at Malpe beach

How to reach?

By Air: Nearest airport is at Mangalore (60 Kms)

Accommodation:

Hotel Udupi Residency (Economy hotel)

Paradise Isle Beach Resort (3 star)

Hyderabad, Telangana

The metropolitan city of Hyderabad retains its share of history and culture. The harvest festival in this part of India is a four-day affair. The first day is Bhogi which involves burning of old things in a bonfire and singing and dancing around it. On the main day of Sankranti, people wear new clothes, decorate the house, make rangolis and prepare chakkara pongal made of rice, milk and jaggery. Kite flying is also popular during Sankranti. Bulls are worshipped and thanked for their contribution towards the harvest. Hyderabad has some great places to visit like the Charminar, Golconda Fort, Ramoji Film City, Birla Mandir, Chowmahalla Palace and Salar Jung Museum.

Activities:

  • Boating at Hussain Sagar lake
  • Jalavihar water theme park
  • Go Karting at Runway 9

How to reach?

By Air: Hyderabad airport is well connected with the major cities in India

Accommodation:

Treebo Grand Plaza (Economy hotel)

Best Western Ashoka (3 star)