Festival report: A splash of luxe fun, opulent glamping and adventure at Jal Mahotsav
India’s largest water carnival at the ‘tent city’ of Hanuwantiya, set up along the banks of the River Narmada, is also an ideal festival for adventure seekers and adrenaline junkies.
After a three-hour drive from Indore city, the first thing that struck me as I approached the Hanuwantiya Tent City, was the vast and expansive basin of water. I was convinced that my taxi driver had brought me to the wrong location, as this was clearly a sea beach.
As a panicked single woman traveller, I was about to complain to the tour manager, but somehow, the concierge managed to calm me down.
Turns out, the gushing River Narmada that cuts through wide swathes of deciduous forests has rested into a 100km-wide manmade lake in the backwaters of the Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh.
This ‘sea beach’ is a quarantined area dedicated solely towards the celebration of the Jal Mahotsav, and the ‘tent city’ of Hanuwantiya is set up on its banks for tourists who swarm the area to partake in the month-long festival.
The illusion of a mighty water body with turbulent waves that crashed against jagged rocks made it hard to believe that it had indeed rested in the form of a placid lake.
Multi-coloured flags, green carpets juxtaposed with beige tents set against a vibrant blue, make for an otherworldly setting.
I inhaled the crisp morning air that mischievously swirled over the crystal-clear waters of the Indira Sagar Lake and feasted my sore city eyes that hadn’t stepped out of a concrete jungle in a while.
Glamping in style
Glamping or luxurious camping is the latest global trend and I was a bit sceptical regarding the arrangements.
Rows of identical tents (104 to be precise) are neatly laid side-by-side on a green carpet complete with art installations, a stage with a façade and lantern-lit pathways that lead the way as guests scramble their way to the rooms, late at night.
The tents don’t disappoint. I glamped in one of the luxury tents (they start at INR 10,000 per night and include food) and was amazed at the international standards maintained and lived up to.
It’s an ideal mix for city slickers who want to live amidst nature but with amenities that neither hinder their lifestyle nor push them to get out of their comfort zone.
For example, the toilets are in-built in each tent with geysers, flushes and ceramic sinks as opposed to handpumps and a grungy outdoorsy unit.
Every small detail is looked into and organised even before you set foot inside the area.
The four-poster beds, draped with soft cotton weaves, the camp linen adorned with aesthetically pleasing and minimalistic Maheshwari prints, tiled bathroom spaces and a large wooden dresser with lanterns… all add to the luxe experience.
Ideal for adventure
The activities began with the hot air balloon ride at dusk. Due to windy conditions, our balloons weren’t set loose in the sky and went up a mere 30-40 feet upwards.
Next came a set of cultural performances by a professional troupe on an extravagant stage, complete with laser lights and sound effects, and a façade in the shape of a fort.
The mesmerising performances showcased popular folk dances by artistes in attires native to the region.
However, water sports are the main attraction at Jal Mahotsav. This is an ideal spot for not only adventure seekers and adrenaline junkies, but even those who want to play it safe.
There are skilled instructors using top-of-the-line equipment for every ride.
I started off jet skiing as a pillion, but soon switched positions with my instructor and took a sharp spin around the jetty.
Gaining control and manoeuvring the engine requires a certain amount of skill and if you don’t want to get wet, then it’s best to let someone else take the lead.
The waters are clean with freshwater fish, birds and devoid of any form of plastic, so getting soaked wasn’t a worry.
Other than adventure sports, there are small group excursions, DIY hiking trails and yoga classes at dawn, which one can avail at leisure.
If you have come in a large group and aren’t afraid of toppling into the water, then the banana boat is your best bet.
A slightly expensive option is para motor-sailing, which takes you for a short spin around the tents.
For INR 2,500 per person, it lasted just under three minutes, but the aerial view of Hanuwantiya was worth every pie.
Tips for next year
Arm yourself with sunscreen as the winter sun is harsh and unforgiving if you take it lightly.
I came back a few shades darker and sunburnt, and I speak from experience.
Carry your shades, mosquito repellent, an extra change of comfortable clothes and sturdy shoes.
The tariffs vary from year to year, but one thing is certain — they more than double during the New Year’s season, so advance booking is the sensible thing to do.
Besides, it has many inclusions. Yoga camp, bullock cart rides, water zorbing, trekking tours are all available, but they fill up quickly and last-minute bookings prove cumbersome.
— Nikita Chawla