As the only democracy in the Chinese speaking world and the most progressive city for LGBTQ+ rights in Asia, a legacy of artists and activists have worked to make Taiwan’s capital a place where culture, progression and creativity thrive.

Now, a new wave of resident creatives are re-energizing the city. Cutting-edge art galleries stand next to traditional teahouses, and basement club techno still murmurs in the streets as local markets set up their fare with the sunrise. Affordable, safe, efficient and exciting, this sea of glass, concrete and palm trees is an urban explorer’s dreamland. For travellers looking to unearth Taiwan’s underground scene, here are eight tips for discovering cool Taipei at its best.

1. Don’t stop drinking coffee

Taiwan’s celebrated tea culture can be traced back more than three hundred years. Home to some of the world’s best greens and oolongs, tea here is both a science and a philosophy, a remedy for body and soul.

While you’ll find no shortage of old-school teahouses, the same spirit of craft and pride has been applied to Taipei’s third wave coffee scene – and the results are glorious. Interesting cafés are popping up everywhere in the city, from over the top chemistry lab-esque B Coffee & Space in Da’an to the award-winning baristas and Scandi-inspired minimalism of Fika Fika in Zhongshan.

Whether you spend the day shooting espresso or sipping cups of siphoned single-origin brew, you’ll quickly discover why Taipei seems set to become the world’s next hub of café culture.

coffee 1

photo by Colt St. George

2. Tap into the city’s creative scene in Zhongshan and Dongmen

Taipei was named World Design Capital 2016 for a reason. Everyone from young architects to underground record labels seem to be embracing a new “made in Taiwan” pride that’s at once trendy and distinctly Taiwanese. The neighbourhoods of Zhongshan and Dongmen are perfect for testing the waters.

While the main streets may feel a bit commercial, amble the historic back lanes of Zhongshan district and you’ll discover well-curated vintage shops like Blue Monday, cute design boutiques and stylish records stores like Waiting Room. Taipei Artist Village – an arts institution and residency open to local and international creatives – is also worth popping by.

Dongmen is even more gratifying. While the upscale main streets boast everything from craft bubble tea to the latest in Taiwanese interior design, hit the quiet residential alleyways and you’ll find quirky art cafés, craft beer bars, dusty Chinese antique shops and good old fashioned Taiwanese comfort food spots like James Kitchen on Yongkang Street.

3. Sample the street food, especially stinky tofu

Be it in London, New York or Berlin, street food has become undeniably, and often tragically, hip. Forgo the pomp, faux-grit and absurd prices of the latest in questionable Western street food trends and rejoice in Taipei’s affordable authenticity.

From notable night markets like Ningxia and Liaoning to nameless back alley daytime stalls serving dishes perfected over generations, there’re an overwhelming variety of delicious local dishes to sample. Fatty braised pork on rice, oyster omelettes, beef noodle soup, dumplings and shaved ice piled high with fresh fruit are good for starters.

However, your ultimate quest should be to conquer the infamous chòu dòufu, or stinky tofu. It smells like a rotting corpse, but possesses a flavour profile of such intense complexity most hardcore foodies call it sublime. Others spit it up immediately.

asia-700610 (1)

Pixabay / CC0

4. Give vegetarianism a try

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian having trouble finding meat-free eats, keep an eye out for restaurant signs with enormous, glaring swastikas. The symbol is associated with Buddhism in China long before it’s appropriation in Europe and marks the restaurant as entirely vegetarian.

There are loads around the city, selling delectable Buddhist meals at ridiculously cheap prices. Many are buffet style, where whatever you’ve stacked on your plate is paid for by weight. The selection is usually too vast to try all of in a single go, which will keep you coming back for more.

5. From dilapidation to design: check out the city’s former art squats

Maverick Taiwanese artists were the first to recognize the potential of Taipei’s abandoned industrial buildings, squatting and staging illegal performances in these derelict-turned-creative spaces. Though authorities were quite resistant to their presence initially, after much protest spaces such as Huashan 1914 Creative Park and Songshan Cultural and Creative Park have become governmentally protected cultural centres.

Today these spaces are generally buzzing with life, hosting a plethora of fun adult and family events in on-site galleries, concept stores, cinemas, studios, concert halls and more. While governmental commercialization of these spaces has blunted their cutting-edge origins, they still feel undeniably special and worthwhile.

taipei street 3

photo by Colt St. George

6. Lose yourself in Taipei’s nightlife

Home to a thriving underground scene, Taipei’s nightlife and music scenes are simply awesome. From indie garage rockers like Skip Skip Ben Ben, to techno, noise and experimental hip hop, putting the effort into exploring Taipei’s underground sounds will reveal an entirely different dimension to the city and provide opportunities to mingle with the artists who are making it happen.

Revolver in Zhongzheng is a laidback and friendly institution that throws everything from metal to indie nights, while F*cking Place (though the club doesn’t use an asterisk) is definitely among the city’s coolest dive-bars – with the added bonus of ridiculously cheap beer. For techno and electronic parties get to Korner, a subsection of well-known club The Wall. Pipe and APA Mini are also great venues for live music.

7. Not feeling the party? Try a reading rave

With a vibrant population of artists, intellectuals and activists perhaps it’s no surprise that print still holds a special place in Taiwan. The popularity of Eslite in Dunnan branch, Taipei’s massive 24 hour bookstore and one of the world’s only to keep such hours, speaks for itself. Curl up in this beautifully designed booktopia and join the locals as they pore over pages all night long.

On a smaller-scale, keep an eye out for the artisanal stationery shop Pinmo Pure Store, Gin Gin Store (the first gay bookstore opened in Greater China) and hip new bookish concept stores. In this respect, Pon Ding is an absolute standout – a friendly, three-story collaborative creative space housing art, independent publications, quality magazines and pop-up events. Of course, they’ve also got a brilliant café.

inside pon ding 1

photo credit: Pon Ding

8. Get back to nature

Every once in a while you need to leave the urban grind behind and unwind in the natural world. Thankfully, nature is never far off in Taiwan.

The high speed railway from Taipei can have you beaching on the island’s subtropical southern coast in less than two hours, while verdant mountain trails and popular surf breaks are easily accessible by bus. If you’re feeling adventurous, delve further into the mountains to experience the colourful cultures of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.

But whenever you find yourself recharged and craving that big-city buzz it’s a quick train trip back to the creative playground that is Taipei.

EVA Air, a Star Alliance member, flies daily from London Heathrow to Taipei, offering passengers award winning service and a choice of three cabin classes: Royal Laurel Class (Business Class), Elite Class (Premium Economy) and Economy Class. Featured image: Pon Ding. See more of Taiwan with the Taiwanese tourist board

We sent Rough Guides editor Rachel Mills to the southernmost tip of the Indian Subcontinent to research Kerala for the upcoming Rough Guide to India. From tea estates in lush green hills to sultry palm-fringed backwaters, plus a host of deserted beaches, she dove beneath the surface and immersed herself in the region’s natural wonders, lavish festivals and heavenly South Indian food.

In this video, Rachel shares tips on the top five things to do in Kerala. Here’s her expert travel advice for your trip to “God’s Own Country”.

Bobby’s mullet blows in the wind as he pilots his dinky motorcycle down Copenhagen‘s cobbled backstreets. Wobbling past kebab shops and contemporary design stores on his way to work, he looks like a living relic from a bygone era: the 1980s.

A turtleneck peeks out from beneath his blue denim jacket, which perfectly matches the wash of his jeans, and a Freddie Mercury-esque moustache conceals his upper lip. This getup is, in part, why he’s often referred to as “Retro Bobby”.

But it’s his unconventional barbershop that’s truly earned him his retro reputation – the perfect place to unleash your inner-child, or your inner-geek. Ruben og Bobby is a basement world crammed with vintage video games, hulking pinball and arcade machines, classic consoles and old-school toys. Thoughtfully posed action figures are stuffed on shelves, curated in self-evident categories such as Ninja Turtles, He-Man, Pokémon and Power Rangers.

retro1Image provided by Ruben og Bobby

Though Bobby’s own hair is – to put it mildly – bold, he’s a skilled barber capable of all kinds of cuts, from the 90s bowl to the latest in disheveled-chic. In a tiny room behind the salon’s front desk, there sits a single barber’s chair in front of a mirror and a first-generation Nintendo for customers to play during their snip. Beat the high score and receive a 20% discount off the price.

Customers pay for their new doos in Danish Krone, Bitcoins or cool retro stuff – because Bobby also accepts trade-ins for his goods and services. Though his business model might not conquer the world, in Copenhagen Ruben og Bobby works. But why?

Retro Bobby's Barbershop, Ruben og Bobby, is a must visit when in CopenhagenImage provided by Ruben og Bobby

He has created something much more than a barbershop or vintage toy store. The space functions as both an interactive museum and art installation of sorts – a nostalgic homage to a time of chunky plastic, ground-breaking creativity and experimental design left behind in our race towards a more virtual future.

The shop is a refuge from Copenhagen’s crowded hotspots and a worthwhile place to hang, whether you’re due for a trim, looking to buy or just feel like playing some vintage games. With special events like 8-bit music parties and arcade tournaments it’s a social environment too – so don’t be surprised if you end up befriending a bunch of Danish locals, including Retro Bobby himself.

Retro Bobby from Copenhagers on Vimeo.

Ruben og Bobby is located at Bjelkes Alle 7a in Nørrebro, Copenhagen‘s hippest and most multicultural neighbourhood. To book a haircut, and for more on the shop, check out Explore more of the city with the Pocket Rough Guide CopenhagenCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Last week, Porthcawl in South Wales hosted Europe’s biggest gathering of Elvis Presley lookalikes. This annual festival sees the small seaside town flooded with Elvis fans and tribute acts for a weekend-long rock ‘n’ roll romp. The action culminates on Saturday night at the The Elvies award show, “the World’s leading award show for Elvis Tribute Artists”, with awards dished out for the best “Movie Elvis”, “Vegas Elvis” and more. Here are 17 pictures from this year’s event.

Elvis Festival, Portcawl, WalesImage by BA Photojournalism USW

Elvis Festival, Portcawl, WalesImage by BA Photojournalism USW

Elvis Festival, Portcawl, WalesImage by BA Photojournalism USW

Elvis Festival Portcawl 2015Image by BA Photojournalism USW

Elvis Festival, Portcawl, WalesImage by BA Photojournalism USW

Elvis Festival, Portcawl, WalesImage by BA Photojournalism USW

Elvis Festival Portcawl 2015Image by BA Photojournalism USW

Elvis Festival, Portcawl, WalesImage by BA Photojournalism USW

Elvis Festival, Portcawl, WalesImage by BA Photojournalism USW

Elvis Festival, Portcawl, WalesImage by BA Photojournalism USW

Elvis Festival, Portcawl, WalesImage by BA Photojournalism USW

Elvis Festival, Portcawl, WalesImage by BA Photojournalism USW

Elvis Festival, Portcawl, WalesImage by BA Photojournalism USW

Elvis Festival, Portcawl, WalesImage by BA Photojournalism USW

Elvis Festival, Portcawl, WalesImage by BA Photojournalism USW

Elvis Festival, Portcawl, WalesImage by BA Photojournalism USW

Elvis Festival, Portcawl, WalesImage by BA Photojournalism USW

It was not too long ago that Lisbon was often dismissed as the unfashionable capital of Portugal, the ‘Poor Man of Europe’. This was harsh on a city that spectacularly straddles the River Tejo with a flurry of old world architecture, rich African cultural influences and a notoriously wild nightlife scene.

Today, savvy city breakers are finally cottoning on that budget airline flights have opened up the city. Delights such as the old world streets of the Alfama and the Biarro Alto, plus one of Europe’s most impressive urban renewal projects, the Parque das Nações, await.

Why is Lisbon great for a weekend break?

Because it has never been easier nor cheaper to get to Lisbon. Gone mercifully are the days when the only ways of getting here were ridiculously expensive flights with scheduled airlines. Budget carriers now compete, on the London routes especially, making a weekend break more tempting than ever before.

Castle in Lisbon, Portugal

Getting around Lisbon is both easy and a joy. In fact, the city is like a giant theme park for adults. Myriad little cruisers and ferries ply the river, trundling old trams rattle on up to its landmark castle and suburban trains drift off to the Atlantic beaches at Cascais and Estoril. There are funiculars too, as well as the unique Elevador de Santa Justa, an early twentieth-century lift you go up just to take a look at the view then nip back down again.

What is there to do and see?

Kicking off in the heart of the city, the Baixa is based on an easy to navigate grid system built after the devastating earthquake of 1755. The new viewing gallery at the landmark Arco Rua Augusta lets you enjoy a bird’s eye view of the area.

The Baixa and the nearby Chiado are ideal for a shopping splurge with plenty of pavement cafés on hand for respite.

Afterwards, jump on vintage Tram 28, which snakes its way from the Baixa in a screech of metal as it lurches upwards, past the city’s cathedral and towards St. George’s Castle, which opens up the finest views of the city. They have a café where you can enjoy a cold Sagres beer or milky Galao coffee as you plan your sightseeing from this lofty perch.

Tram in Portugal, Lisbon

Further seawards there is evidence of Lisbon’s Golden Age, which came in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when its brave explorers sailed out of the River Tejo in search of the New World.

Catch a train or tram to Belem, the historic quarter dedicated to those days. The Belem Tower is the last thing the sailors would have seen of Lisbon as the land shrunk in their wake, while the hulking Monument to the Discoveries strikes out towards the sea, with myriad cultural events breathing contemporary life back into it.

Away from the water, the Jeronimos Monastery is easily the city’s most striking building with its elegant fairytale-esque curves and the flourishes of its Manueline architecture.

Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon, Portugal

The more modern face of Lisbon is on show at the Parque das Nações site, where the Expo 98 was held. It is a model of urban regeneration and home to the Oceanário, one of the largest aquariums in the world, with everything from playful otters to hulking sharks.

There are concert venues, museums and a flurry of restaurants and bars too. Visit the Pavilion of Knowledge science museum and take a ride on the cable car, which opens up the whole site.

So the nightlife is good – where should I party?

The tight, packed old lanes of the Biarro Alto attract a mixed crowd of locals and visitors, who flock to enjoy a chaotic collage of fado groups, characterful independent bars and bustling little clubs.

Walk uphill from the Praca Luís de Camoes and embark on a bar crawl. Clube da Esquina (Rua da Barroca 30) with its live DJs is a great place to take the area’s pulse and pick up flyers for one off events.

Some of the hottest action – especially later on in the night – is out in the converted warehouses of the Doca de Santo Amaro and the Doca de Alcantara, where riverside bars, clubs and restaurants tempt. K Urban Beach is a sushi bar and club rolled into one right on the water.

The more central area around Santa Apolonia is also on the up. Legendary super club Lux, ideal for a cocktail on a sink in sofa before hitting the dancefloor with the locals.

Nightlife in Lisbon, POrtugal

What’s for dinner?

Atlantic seafood is a highlight on many menus in the Portuguese capital. Look out, too, for delicious goat’s cheese from the Alentejo just across the river.

The old world restaurants of the Alfama are the place for simple grilled fish dishes. For a more upmarket seafood feast though – the cod baked in salt is a stunner – head to Frade dos Mares.

Fried chicken is also something of a local budget institution – try it at El Rei d’Frango.

Make sure to enjoy the seriously underrated Portuguese wines too, especially hearty reds from the Alentejo and crisp whites from the Douro Valley.

Out at Parque das Nações, Ilha Doce dishes up the type of hearty, expertly cooked food you find all over budget pleasing Lisbon. Tuck into clams in garlic and white wine or pork Alentejo style with clams and potatoes. They dish up a mean plate of sardines with water views too.

Carne de Porco a Alentejana, Portuguese pork and clam dish served in bowl

Where can I finally get some sleep?

As Lisbon’s popularity has soared so have room rates. Look out for discounted deals at business hotels at weekends, when the besuited crowd flees the city. Apartments are a good value option. The Santos River Apartments are brightly furnished with river views in increasingly hip Cais de Sodre.

If you’re looking to splash out, the new Myriad is a sleek option at Parque das Nações. This soaring five-star tower hotel offers views of the River Tejo, as well as open plan bedrooms and in-room hot tubs. They have spa too, complete with bubble jets, a steam room and a sauna with a view.

Explore more of Portugal with the Rough Guide to Portugal, or buy the Pocket Rough Guide Lisbon to explore the city in more depth. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

So you’ve gawked at the guards of Buckingham Palace, hiked up Snowdon and hit the beach – what next? From lethal motorcycle races to mountain towns that look like something out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, here are 8 unconventional things to do in the UK.

1. Horse about at Scotland’s Common Ridings

The Common Ridings of the Scottish border towns of Hawick, Selkirk, Jedburgh and Lauder are an equestrian extravaganza that combines the danger of Pamplona’s Fiesta de San Fermin and the drinking of Munich’s Oktoberfest. At dawn on each day of the ridings, a colourful and incredibly noisy drum and fife band marches around the streets to shake people from their sleep. It’s a signal: everyone get down to the pub – they open at 6am – and stock up on the traditional breakfast of “Curds and Cream” (rum and milk). Suitably fortified, over two hundred riders then mount their horses and gallop at breakneck speed around the ancient lanes and narrow streets of town, before heading out into the fields to race again.

By early evening, the spectators and riders stagger back into Hawick to reacquaint themselves with the town’s pubs. Stumbling out onto the street at well past midnight, you should have just enough time for an hour or two of shuteye before the fife band strikes up once more and it’s time to do it all over again.

Jethart Callants' Festival Day

2. Find Middle Earth in Northern Ireland

The mountains rise above the seaside town of Newcastle like green giants, with Slieve Donard the highest, almost 3000ft above the sandy strand of Dundrum Bay. Donard is just one of more than twenty peaks in County Down’s Mourne, with a dozen of them towering over 2000ft.

Conveniently grouped together in a range that is just seven miles broad and about fourteen miles long, they are surprisingly overlooked. On foot, in a landscape with no interior roads, you feel as if you have reached a magical oasis of high ground, a pure space that is part Finian’s Rainbow and part Middle Earth. This is ancient land and prehistoric cairns and stone graves – said to mark the resting place of Irish chiefs – dot the hills, peering through the mist to meet you.

3. Mountain bike on world-class trails in Wales

It’s not often that the modest mountains of Wales can compete with giants like the Alps or the Rockies, but when it comes to mountain biking, the trails that run through the craggy peaks of Snowdonia, the high moorlands of the Cambrian Mountains, and the deep, green valleys of South Wales are more than a match for their loftier counterparts. Indeed, the International Mountain Biking Association has long rated Wales as one of the planet’s top destinations.

Over the last decade or so, a series of purpose-built mountain-biking centres has been created throughout the country, providing world-class riding for everyone from rank beginner through to potential-world-cup downhiller. From easy, gently undulating trails along former rail lines that once served the heavy industry of the South Wales valleys, to the steep, rooty, rocky single tracks that run through the cloud-shadowed hills of North Wales, this is mountain biking at its finest.

7174028403_510f7cf652_b_MTB1662 by Dai Williams (license)

4. Explore Britain’s most mysterious beach in Scotland

Cape Wrath is a name that epitomizes nature at its harshest, land and sea at their most unforgiving. In fact, the name Wrath denotes a “turning point” in Old Norse, and the Vikings regarded this stockade of vertical rock in the most northwesterly corner of Scotland as a milestone in their ocean-going voyages. As such, they were surely among the first travellers to come under the spell of Sandwood Bay, the Cape’s most elemental stretch of coastline.

Here blow Britain’s most remote sands, flanked by epic dunes and a slither of shimmering loch; a beach of such austere and unexpected elegance, scoured so relentlessly by the Atlantic and located in such relative isolation, that it scarcely seems part of the Scottish mainland at all. Even on the clearest of summer days, when shoals of cumuli race shadows across the foreshore, you are unlikely to encounter other visitors save for the odd sandpiper. You might not be entirely alone, though; whole galleons are said to be buried in the sand, and a cast of mermaids, ghostly pirates and grumbling sailors has filled accounts of the place for as long as people have frequented it.

5. Discover heaven on Earth in Cornwall

A disused clay pit may seem like an odd location for Britain’s very own ecological paradise, but then everything about Cornwall’s Eden Project is far from conventional. From the concept of creating a unique ecosystem that could showcase the diversity of the world’s plant life, through to the execution – a set of bulbous, alien-like, geodesic biomes wedged into the hillside of a crater – the designers have never been less than innovative.

The gigantic humid Rainforest Biome, the largest conservatory in the world, is kept at a constant temperature of 30°c. Besides housing lofty trees and creepers that scale its full 160ft height, it takes visitors on a journey through tropical agriculture from coffee growing to the banana trade, to rice production and finding a cure for leukaemia. There’s even a life-size replica of a bamboo Malaysian jungle home, and a spectacular treetop Canopy Walkway.

Inside the Eden Project, Cornwall, England, UK

6. Call in the heavies at the Highland Games

Throughout Scotland, not just in the Highlands, summer signals the onset of the Highland Games, from the smallest village get-togethers to the Giant Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, which draws a crowd of around 20,000. Urbanites might blanch at the idea of alfresco Scottish country dancing, but with dog trials, tractors, fudge stalls and more cute animals than you could toss a caber (tree trunk) at, the Highland Games are a guaranteed paradise for kids.

The military origins of the games are recalled in displays of muscle-power by bulky bekilted local men, from tossing the caber to hurling hammers and stones, and pitching bales of straw over a raised pole. Music and dance are also integral to the games, with pipe bands and young girls – kitted out in waistcoats, kilts and long woolly socks – performing reels and sword dances. A truly Scottish sight to behold.

7. Take bonfire night to extremes in Lewes

The first week of November sees one of the eccentric English’s most irresponsible, unruly and downright dangerous festivals – Bonfire Night. Up and down the country, human effigies are burned in back gardens and fireworks are set off – all in the name of Guy Fawkes’ foiled attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 – but in the otherwise peaceful market town of Lewes, things are taken to extremes. Imagine a head-on collision between Halloween and Mardi Gras and you’re well on your way to picturing Bonfire Night, Lewes-style.

Throughout the evening, smoke fills the Lewes air, giving the steep and narrow streets an eerie, almost medieval feel. As the evening draws on, rowdy torch-lit processions make their way through the streets, pausing to hurl barrels of burning tar into the River Ouse before dispersing to their own part of town to stoke up their bonfires.

Forget the limp burgers of mainstream displays and lame sparklers suitable for use at home – for a real pyrotechnic party, Lewes is king.

Bonfire night, Lewes, England, UK

8. Browse one of England’s oldest markets in Birmingham

There’s enough chaos and colour to rival any frenetic southeast-Asian market here, as a stroll around Birmingham’s Bull Ring markets is an overdose for the senses. The pungent aromas of fresh seafood; the jewel colours and silken textures of miles and miles of rolled fabrics; the racket from hundreds of vendors bellowing news of their latest offerings in hopes of making a sale.

Around 850 years ago Birmingham became one of the first towns in medieval England to hold a legitimate weekly market, selling wares from leather to metal to meat at a site they named the Bull Ring, and cementing the Anglo-Saxon settlement on the map for centuries to come. But while Birmingham has much-changed since medieval times, the noise, excitement and commotion of its Bull Ring markets have barely changed at all – only now you can buy almost anything from neon mobile phone cases and knock-off superhero outfits to fresh meat, fruit and veg.

MTM3 coverDiscover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

Manchester is Britain’s new cultural capital. No, really. The city may have been built on the heavy industry of the Industrial Revolution but since the 2002 Commonwealth Games, it has re-invented itself as a world capital of the arts.

Today Manchester dominates the headlines with a slew of galleries, venues and festivals. It’s home to some of the UK’s most forward-thinking developments, one of the coolest music scenes and a fast-expanding range of great hotels and restaurants. Then there’s Russell T. Davies’ new Channel Four series, Cucumber, set along Canal Street in Manchester’s Gay Village, and the Royal Exchange Theatre’s Hamlet, set to be screened in cinemas across the UK.

Is there any doubt that Manchester is starting to take centre stage in the UK? David Atkinson makes the case for why the city is the UK’s cultural hotspot.

1. It has the most intriguing art gallery

The Whitworth Gallery recently re-opened to the public following a £15m redevelopment. The new building features a glass-promenade gallery overlooking the new Art Garden in Whitworth Park. The opening show, a solo exhibition from the respected contemporary artist Cornelia Parker, runs until summer, while the permanent collection showcases the gallery’s eclectic range of fine art, textiles and wallpapers.

2. It’s about to get the country’s top arts centre

HOME, the city’s new multi-artform centre opens on the 21st May with a funfair theme for the opening weekend. The £25m development includes a 500-seat theatre, flexible studio space and five cinema screens. It will commission, produce and present a programme of contemporary theatre, film and visual art, drawing on resources of the former Cornerhouse and Library Theatre Company, both of which have evolved into the HOME project.

HOME, ManchesterImage courtesy of

3. It hosts the most dynamic festival

The bi-annual Manchester International Festival (MIF) kicks off in July with 18 days of premieres, performances and events. The festival, described by The New Yorker as “probably the most radical and important arts festival today” puts Manchester on the international stage. One of this year’s cornerstone events is the premiere of, a new musical inspired by Lewis Carroll’s iconic Alice in Wonderlandwhich turns 150 this year – with music by Damon Albarn.

4. It’s home to some of the best libraries

Manchester always had a rich literacy legacy – from Karl Marx observing working life in the mid nineteenth century to the UK’s current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy via the punk poetry of John Cooper Clarke. Manchester Central Library, reopened last March as a living-room space for the city. The nearby Portico Library is a Neo-Classical gem with a dusty-tome-filled Reading Room and Chetham’s Library is the oldest public library in the English-speaking world.

Central Library, ManchesterImage courtesy of

5. It has the coolest music scene

Manchester has brought us bands from Joy Division to Elbow and the city’s best record shop, Piccadilly Records, remains the lynchpin of the Manchester music scene. For live bands, pick of the venues is The Deaf Institute a three-floor independent operation at the heart of studentland where you can catch bands on the way to stadium slots and cool new comedians, while supping on craft beers and tucking into tasty burgers.

6. It’s one of the best places for urban living

Looking for cool bars, trendy boutiques and lots of independent-spirited places to soak up the urban-cool vibe? Look no further than the Northern Quarter, the city’s thriving off-duty hub. Try North Tea Power for café-culture, surviving old faves like Afflecks Palace for vintage and vinyl, and Dry Bar for beers and bands.

Shops and cafes in the Northern Quarter in ManchesterImage courtesy of

7. It celebrates industrial heritage

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, the family home of the Cranford author, reopened last year after a three-year project to restore the Grade II-listed Regency villa. Gaskell documented Manchester’s burgeoning industrial revolution from her writing desk at 84 Plymouth Grove after the family moved to the house in 1850 and her views contrasted starkly with the ideals of the Victorian era.

8. It has some fantastic places to stay 

With over 6,500 hotel rooms in the city centre, places to crash range from bijou boutique hotels to homely hostels. The Radisson Blu Edwardian, the former Free Trade Hall where The Sex Pistols invented punk in 1976, is now synonymous with urban cool while The Lowry, Manchester’s first five-star property, remains the place to see and be seen. 

Lowry ManchesterImage courtesy of

9. It’s home to boundary-pushing chefs

The restaurant scene has exploded, with the Manchester Food & Drink Festival now a cornerstone of the foodie diary. Simon Rogan of Michelin-stared L’Enclume fame is currently cooking up a storm at The French in the Midland Hotel. Other highlights include Cloud 23, the panorama bar at the Hilton Manchester Deansgate, for fancy cocktails, and The Briton’s Protection, one of Manchester’s favourite traditional boozers, for local ales and spoken-word nights.

10. It’s about to get some serious investment

The government announced a £78m cash injection into Manchester’s creative economy in last year’s Autumn Statement. The cornerstone of plans for the ‘northern powerhouse’ is The Factory, a new artist-led, creative hub on a site to the west of the city centre that was previously home to Coronation Street. The Factory, a homage to Manchester’s legendary Factory Records, will combine an array of arts spaces with a permanent home for the Manchester International Festival. It’s due to open 2019.

Explore more of the region with the Rough Guide to Britain. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

So how exactly did the Croatian coast become Europe’s favourite festival-going riviera? Much of the credit must go to the Zadar-based Garden organisation, who organised the first ever Garden Festival back in 2006. The Garden’s combination of niche music, small numbers, blissfully unspoiled beaches and slightly bonkers boat parties laid down the template for events elsewhere. Today, The Garden Festival is still going strong, and the Garden site at Tisno remains buzzing throughout the summer with a string of associated events.

Numerous other festivals up and down the coast have taken up the creative baton; Hideout at Zrće, Outlook in Pula, and Unknown outside Rovinj are just three of the most successful. If the Adriatic festival boom does have a downside then it is simply that most of these events are marketed towards young Brits, and you won’t necessarily meet many Croats there other than the ones working behind the bar. If you want to hang out with people you haven’t already met down at the students’ union, then head instead for the kind of indie-rock events (Zagreb’s InMusic, or Šibenik’s SuperUho) that are well patronized by locals, or visit a fun-for-all-the-family urban festival like Varaždin’s Špancirfest. Here, in chronological order, are ten of my top festival recommendations for summer 2014.

For, Hvar, June 19-22

Boats moored in Hvar, Croatia, Europe

If the island town of Hvar increasingly enjoys a chic, boutique-tourism profile, then For, with its 2500-ticket limit, is the festival for chic, boutique people. This year’s outing consists of four nights of live music at the Veneranda Club followed by four early mornings of DJ-induced thrills and chills at Carpe Diem Beach, a short boat journey off-shore. The impressively strong line-up, headed by Californian rock sisterhood Haim, also includes Neneh Cherry, Darkside and Klaxons. Mark Ronson and Erol Alkan are among those lugging their record boxes to the beach.

InMusic Festival, Lake Jarun, Zagreb June 23-25

Recent years have seen InMusic in danger of falling victim to over-hype; rated somewhat ridiculously by National Geographic Traveler as one of the top three festivals in the world, and puffed-up by the Huffington Post as the “Woodstock of the twenty first century”. What’s great about InMusic is that it is nowhere near being either of these things: it’s a medium-sized indie festival on the outskirts of Zagreb: small enough for the lakeside site to be easily manageable, large enough to attract 2014 headliners The Black Keys, The Pixies, Foals, Bombay Bicycle Club and MGMT. InMusic’s capital-city location ensures that you can spend your days enjoying an urban break, your nights staggering carefree around the grassy shores of Jarun.

Electric Elephant, Tisno, July 10-14

If the Garden Festival is the godfather of Adriatic festivals then Electric Elephant is the groovy uncle. Crucial to its success is the music: a well-curated mix of eclectic, old-school and cutting-edge dance sounds that appeals to music obsessives as well as the party crowd. Based at the Garden’s summer HQ in Tisno, Electric Elephant follows hard on the heels of this year’s Garden Festival: two-week tickets covering both events are a steal at €150 (£120/$200). The enclosed bay in which the Garden site is located creates a unique community-festival atmosphere; the town of Tisno with its stone houses and fishing boats is only a short walk away. This year you can see the likes of Tom Findlay (Groove Armada), Simian Mobile Disco (Dj set), Derrick May, Francois K and many more.

Argonaughty action at The Garden Festival - credit Garden Festival by Heather Shuker

Seasplash, Fort Punta Christo, Pula, July 17-21 

This long-standing celebration of reggae culture is the first of this summer’s festivals to take place at Punta Christo, the Habsburg-era naval fort that also hosts Outlook (see below) and Dimensions (on the same site in August). This year’s Seasplash is set to be a dub-lover’s delight, with a host of local and international sound systems, plus live sets from Asian Dub Foundation and Gentleman’s Dub Club. With Weekend tickets costing a reasonable E49, and cheaper day tickets relatively easy to get hold of, this is one of the Adriatic’s more accessible festivals.

Ethno Ambient, Solin, Split, July 18-19

Despite a 17-year track record Ethno Ambient remains the rough diamond of the World Music calendar. Offering two nights of international music beside a ruined amphitheatre in the ancient Roman city of Solin, it certainly enjoys a unique setting. This year’s line up features amazing acoustic-electronic fusionists Greekadelia; Irish ethno-folk veterans Kila; and Kries, the Croatian ethno-rock-beat-electro group who have done so much to stimulate the local scene.

Outlook 2013_ credit Marc Sethi-9983Outlook Festival by Marc Sethi

Lost Theory, Deringaj, near Gračac, July 22-28

Located in a beautifully unspoilt corner of the Lika (described with some accuracy as the ‘Croatian outback’ by the festival website), this celebration of far-out, experimental, electronic dance music features the kind of acts that even long-term denizens of the psychodelisphere will have trouble pronouncing, never mind remembering. You can also watch films in the Culture Dome; or chill with nature in the Dub Forest. Lost Theory’s other main other main attributes are ecological consciousness, community spirit, and a lot more facilities for families and children than you will find elsewhere.

Super Uho, Šibenik, August 3-5

If there’s one festival that has the Croatian press agog with interest in 2014 it’s Super Uho (Super Ear), the boutique indie festival set to take place on the Šibenik waterfront. Headlined by The National (whose love affair with the Croatian audience goes back to their early, pre-fame days), Super Uho is in many ways a riposte to Terraneo, the alt-rock festival that put Šibenik on the map between 2011 and 2013 only to be cancelled by its mysterious new owners in 2014. Super Uho is organized by Terraneo’s original co-founder, Mate Škugor, and is named after Žedno Uho (Thirsty Ear), the cutting-edge music festival Škugor runs in Zagreb. What will make Super Uho special is the relatively intimate scale of the event and the history-soaked Mediterranean-city location.

Špancirfest, Varaždin, August 22-31

There’s nothing quite like arriving at a destination where the whole town is out on the tiles; and in Varaždin the party goes on for well over a week. What began as a festival of street entertainment has grown to become the biggest single summer event in the this area of Croatia; with clowns, jugglers and children’s theatre shows taking over the town centre during the day; live music on open-air stages at night. As a family-oriented festival with a touch of party-hard nocturnal energy, Špancirfest is unique, and fully deserves the inland detour.

_MG_5062Unknown Festival, sourced by Maouris Music

Outlook, Fort Punta Christo, Pula. Sept 3-7 

In its seventh year it’s already an institutional pillar of the Croatian festival scene, Outlook is a fantastic treat for fans of reggae, jungle, dub, dubstep and beyond, with stages set up in the former bastions and moats of the Punta Christo naval fort. One key to Outlook’s success is the way it mixes sound-system culture with the kind of live acts that long-term fans of the genre are eager to see – Busta Rhymes, Barrington Levy, Jah Shaka and the incomparable Horace Andy are just some of this year’s living legends. Ms Lauryn Hill will be performing just down the road in Pula’s Roman arena on Outlook’s opening night.

Unknown, Rovinj, September 8-12 

Offering a perfect blend of the mellow and the motivational, Unknown in many ways represents the perfect end-of-summer party. This year’s festival is a typically shrewd piece of eclectic programming, aimed at kind of music lover who wants to witness a live performance by one kind of band before dancing to a DJ spinning a completely different genre. On-stage acts include Chic, Churches, London Grammar; DJ sets are provided by Disclosure, DJ Harvey, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and many more.

Featured image: Electric Elephant by Heather Shuker. Explore more of Croatia with the Rough Guide to CroatiaBook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

It was around 3pm on the Saturday that I had the first Brighton moment. We were upstairs in a local boozer, watching a woman in her underwear recreate the lift scene in Dirty Dancing. ‘(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life’ blasted through a laptop while a gaggle of half cut women raised jugs of white wine in the air to cheer her on. Three unfortunate men were holding her skywards, paying penance for their decision to sit front and centre at a stand up gig, while the rest of the pub convulsed in laughter. Gloriously wild and chaotic, it was an archetypal Brighton scene.

We  were in town for The Great Escape music conference and festival, one of the world’s best gatherings of new bands and East Sussex’s decent riposte to SXSW, but we ended up witnessing a host of other attractions. May is party time for the city, as the Brighton Festival, Brighton Fringe, and Artists Open House events vie for your attention in a place already brimming with nooks, crannies, and a classic pier to explore.

So while the semi-naked show, entitled Am I Right Ladies? and created by rising comic Luisa Omielan of What Would Beyonce Do? fame, was a worthy pit stop, we were soon back out into Brighton’s high winds looking for the next kick.

The Great Escape swamps the city with bands, cramming over 400 gigs into 35 pubs, churches and subterranean sweatboxes across the centre, all accessible with a wristband costing around a quarter of a standard weekender.

We couldn’t get into many of the shows we wanted to see – Future Islands, Jon Hopkins and other hyped acts were one-in-one-out and the wind was hooting and howling too much for us to stay in the queues – so we ended up experiencing the pleasant surprises for which the festival is known. We caught a number of buzz bands, from Glass Animals’ hypnotic Alt J-goes-trip-hop to Brooklyn trio Wet’s seductive Alpines-esque pop to Charl XCX. The electropop teen behind mega hits for Icona Pop (and forthcoming tracks for Britney Spears), is now going through a punk phase, and spent her Corn Exchange set channeling the spirit of the Runaways.

Charli XCX at The Great Escape.  Photo: Milo Belgrove

Charli XCX at The Great Escape.  Photo: Milo Belgrove

We were laying our hats at the excellent Nineteen B&B a pebble’s toss from the beach, where owner Mark makes you feel right at home. A cosy, friendly treat of a place, they offer breakfast in bed and supercharge your day with free Bloody Marys or Champagne on the side.

Each morning was spent exploring the idiosyncratic centre, wandering past the intriguing Royal Pavilion, losing ourselves in The Lanes’ twisted passageways and making friends among the Peter Blake artworks in the Art Republic shop, fuelled by bacon and egg cupcake bites from Café Coho, before hitting the gigs from around midday.

Royal Pavilion Brighton


TarO & JirO were perhaps the oddest proposition we saw. Comprising two guitars, one electronic bass drum, and all manner of needless noodling, the Japanese duo blasted any hangovers away at the Japan Rising show. We nearly choked on our free sushi during their reworking of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.

As the weekend continued the epic gigs stacked up: Clean Bandit’s alchemy of strings and dance bangers proved why they earnt their recent Number One while Fat White Family’s two shows combined frantic punk, bass so loud it shifted ribcages in the front half of the audience, and de rigeur nudity from frontman Lias Saoudi. He recently labelled Alex Turner a “moron” and this weekend’s performances confirmed him as a demented genius.

Clean Bandit at The Great Escape. Photo: Julie Edwards

Clean Bandit at The Great Escape. Photo: Julie Edwards

Sadly the embarrassment of things going on meant we couldn’t see it all – I’ll never know what The Barry Experience at the Hobgoblin was like – but we did make time for negronis and margaritas at Twisted Lemon, the city’s most fun cocktail bar, and squeezed in a great feed at 64 Degrees.

Based around an open kitchen at which the chefs take centre stage and 6 Music blasts out, the popular restaurant offers food that excels beyond its modest menu. Small sharing plates came and went amid a flurry of waiters and Rioja, with beer battered broccoli, scallops with lemongrass puree and a cauliflower dish all surprising and irresistable.

As we joined the huddle of music industry bods and journalists at the station for the hour long ride back to London, stuffed full of food and ale and a couple of decibels less perceptive, we realised we hadn’t even made it onto the pier. Next time Brighton…

Brighton Pier. Photo:

Photo: Featured image: Mike Burnell

We stayed at the recently refurbished Nineteen B&B on Broad Street, which offers a variety of rooms, one with a hot tub, and breakfast in bed including that all important Bloody Mary.

This is the second in a two part series where Georgie Pope, founder of Sound Travels tours, goes in search of the people and places that will make up her Great Rajasthani Adventure. You can read part one, where she meets the gypsies of Jaipur and a musical family in the village of Shimla, here. This time, Georgie journeys through the final stages of her adventure to find the characters that make Rajasthani music what it is.

One July evening in 2011 I found in my inbox the best email I’d ever received. It was an invitation for me to bring my Sound Travels guests to India’s holiest and most popular of Sufi shrines – the Ajmer Sharif, the burial site of revered saint Moinuddin Chisti – to witness qawwali (a sacred form of Sufi music performed in Sufi shrines across India).

The email was from Salman, the young director of the Chisty Foundation, which oversees the spiritual and administrative wellbeing of the shrine and its pilgrims. A holy man (or ‘Syed’) who has inherited the mantle from his late father, he had heard of my musical journeys from a mutual friend.

“If you would like to experience the Ajmer Sharif in an intense manner, we can offer help to organize a special evening Sufi concert by traditional qawwāls and a detailed ziyarrat (tour) of the Ajmer Sharif. It would be a wonderful way for us to connect with musafirs (travellers of the worlds) among which we are one. Peace, Prayers and Blessings from the Ajmer Sharif.”

What a glorious proposition – and Ajmer was only two hours’ drive from Jaipur. This would be our next stop!

Ajmer Sharif, Ajmer, Rajasthan

Just after I’d been to stay with Roshani in Shimla, I took a night coach to Jaipur, and then got an early bus to Ajmer the following morning. There had been a light rainfall the night before, so the road was clean and smelt good. The windows were wide open, the sun was golden and we stopped for chai half way. Excited about what I was about to discover, I felt that enormous rush of travel glee.

At the bus station I tried the number Salman had sent me, but got no answer. A moment later a slim young man in a white lace skullcap caught my eye. “Salman?” he said. “Um, yes.” I replied, and he ushered me into an autorickshaw.

Spluttering and juddering along the cobbles, we plunged into one of Ajmer’s jam-packed streets, lined with vendors,  crowded by shoppers and rendered even narrower thanks to the merrily flowing sewers cut into either side of the road. The young man sat in front, practically on the driver’s lap, and directed him uphill into ever-tighter streets until we reached a small square where a butcher had laid out his choicest halaal cuts. Leaving me without a moment to register delight or disgust at the oozing scarlet wares, the slim young man ducked into a side lane. I had no choice by to follow him through the maze of tiny passageways.

I had seen photographs of the Ajmer Sharif, domed and majestic and thronged by thousands of pilgrims. Totally disorientated amongst these winding streets, I couldn’t imagine where on earth it would fit around here. Was I following the right guy?

Ajmer, India - Rajasthani music

Setting eyes upon the magnificent Ajmer Sharif

“Sister!” The young man was beckoning me, a little impatiently now, through a doorway to my right. He led me down a corridor to a small room with two thin mattresses on the floor. “Salman?” I queried, hopefully. “Wait.” My guide flung open the shutters on the single window, marched from the room, and left me to do as I was told.

I was slightly awed. My happy travel rush had become a little diluted with apprehension. Was this where I was to meet Salman? In this little room with the mattresses? I wasn’t sure I liked it. I wasn’t quite sure my guests would either.

I wandered over to the window, and leant out to try and get my bearings. The sight was awesome. Below me, in its full glory, was the Ajmer Sharif – sparkling in the sunshine, surrounded by marble flooring and thronged with pilgrims. I realized that the city streets must tightly encircle this huge expanse of communal worship, and that I was in a room set into one of its great walls. I watched people chatting and praying, making offerings and herding their children, buying floral garlands, entering the holy inner sanctum or just sitting and – like me – observing everyone else.

“Come.” Forty minutes later and my guide reappeared to summon me from my vantage point. He led me from the room, down a flight of steps and into a book-lined study with no furniture except a beautiful Persian carpet. Cross-legged on the floor, in a white kurta and embroidered velvet kufi, was Salman. His voice calm and melodious, he was describing to two transfixed students the mystery and power of Sufism. Unacknowledged, I sat down next to them, and listened to the end of the lesson.

He finally turned and smiled at me in welcome. We would eat lunch, he said, and then he would show me the Sharif.

We dropped off our shoes at a side entrance, and as we entered the holy shrine, bits of rose petal got wedged between my toes. My head was covered by now with my scarf, so very little of my whiteness was apparent. Of the tens of thousands of pilgrims there, I was the only foreigner. Salman handed me a piece of cloth and a huge basket of rose petals, and then led me to the inner sanctum, where the tomb of Moinuddin Chishti lay under a hundredweight of flowers, surrounded by more holy men of the temple, and an intense crush of people. Salman helped me squeeze through the dangerously tightly packed bodies, and towards the wooden railing encircling the tomb. Himself a Syed, Salman was able to stand on the other side of the railing, from where he could help me offer my prayers to the great saint and receive blessings in return.

A great velvet cloth was thrown over my head and I felt the crowd heave me against the railing. As I fought the claustrophobia I heard Salman’s reassuring voice murmuring in Urdu. He blessed me and my family, the success of Sound Travels, and the safe arrival of my guests. In the dark, under the heavy velvet, I was extremely moved.

As evening descended on the Durgah, the ceremony of the lights began. The shrine was set aflame with lamps and fairy lights, and the Syeds lit candles in the inner sanctum. I sat outside with hundreds of others as the place lit up around us, and finally the qawwali musicians gathered to sing their love to the saint.

For the next hour I listened, enraptured by the masculine chorus of praises and watched as as the musicians gathered handfuls of money from a euphoric crowd. They never took their eyes off the entrance to the sanctum, and waved angrily at listeners who blocked their line of vision to the resting place of their beloved saint. The crowd thickened and then gradually dwindled, and I was shown back to my room with the mattresses. I lay down to read a book on Sufism and the salat al-isha, an evening call to prayer, floated over me, as I dreamt happily of the trips I would organize to this magical place.

Nathoo Lal Solanki, the most charismatic percussionist in Pushkar

I’ve known Nathoo for some years now. He plays the nagara drums – like kettle drums but smaller and louder – with an awesome skill and wit. He is no unsung hero, having toured over fifty countries (his passport consists of three passports stuck together, stuffed with valid visas for most countries in the world) and known to nearly every performing artist in Rajasthan.

We were sitting in the uninspiring setting of the VFS office in Delhi, sorting out a visa for him to travel to the UK for yet another show. It irritates him to have my help with these things, because he’s applied successfully for more visas than I’ve had hot rice and dal. But I am better at the online systems than him, so he has to put up with me.

As I was telling Nathoo about my plans for bringing tourists on musical adventures in India, he immediately perked up. If there’s one thing that rivals Nathoo’s musical ability, it’s his entrepreneurial zeal, and I am never afraid of exploiting his skills – I’m generally convinced he’s fleecing me.

“You bring your guests to Pushkar. I’ll teach them to play nagara and make a beautiful concert by the lake. You don’t have to worry. I’ll organize everything.”

I wasn’t worried, but I still thought I would visit Pushkar to look at hotels and work out details of the trip, so in the afternoon following my inspiring visit to Ajmer, I took a taxi over the Aravalli hills to Pushkar – less than an hour’s drive away.

Pushkar, India - Rajasthani music

I had barely had time to put down my bags in the hotel, when a porter knocked at my door and informed me that my friend was waiting for me at the reception. Nathoo was not going to let me enter his city without a proper welcome.

“Why are you staying here? You could have stayed at my house! Or a much better hotel. Don’t worry. Next time I will organize everything.” He told me as he gave me a huge barrel-sized hug.

I squeezed onto his motorbike between him and his son and we whizzed across the wonderful, tourist-tat filled, spiritual, hippy-incense smelling town that is Pushkar.

I’d been wondering about Nathoo’s home life. What must it be like to be married to a man who travels the world, sometimes accompanied by one of his sons (all three accomplished musicians), who hangs out with all sorts of foreigners, musicians, hoteliers and wheeler-dealers high and low, while you remain behind in a simple concrete house in Pushkar?

His wife, a solid, smiling woman, took me in her arms in a hearty embrace, the moment I stepped over the threshold. Taking me firmly by the arm, she sat me down on a bed in a small room full of women and children. There was a pregnant woman lying behind me and two ladies with babies sitting on the floor tucked under a blanket with three older women, who grinned at me broadly. This, then, was what life was like at home: full of women.

I was handed babies and asked about my marital status and the like, until Nathoo – who had disappeared for some time – emerged in the doorway with a bottle of whisky. In the yard outside, I could hear someone playing a nagara rather weakly.

Image by Georgie Pope

“Time for a concert, no Georgie-ji?” Nathoo offered.

I disengaged myself from the ladies room with the familiar but uncomfortable feeling that I was being treated as an honourary man and accepted the attractive offer of a drink: three parts whisky to no parts water.

The hesitant drummer was Nathoo’s youngest grandson, sitting in his father’s lap and being shown – at two years old – how to hold the sticks. Upon my arrival, Narsi – Nathoo’s second son – seized the little hands around the sticks, and started to play a funky groove. The other women appeared and, sitting close to the duo, started to sway and move their wrists, gesturing for me to join them in their seated dance.

Nathoo poured another stiff shot which I refused with a laugh – but it wasn’t for me. His wife took the glass and raised it to an image of Kali, painted in bright colours behind me on the whitewashed wall.

“It’s Kali’s day” Nathoo told me, which didn’t surprise me too much; given the size of the Hindi pantheon you can expect to worship at least one god on any day of the year. What did take me aback was Nathoo’s wife’s next gesture: she held the glass against the wall and drizzled whisky over the goddess.

“First drink for Kali”, Nathoo explained.

Without touching the glass to her lips, Nathoo’s wife then drained the remainder of the liquid. She refilled the glass and everyone did the same.

Image by Georgie Pope

The men of the family then gathered to play a stunning and impossibly loud series of pieces, changing pace and toying with our expectations by rattling off impressive solos before settling back into the groove again. The whisky glass circulated some more, and then the women took over discarding the sticks and playing with their hands and singing in the most uproarious manner I had ever heard. It wasn’t a beautiful sound, but it was certainly a wonderful thing.

I was not allowed to remain seated, so I danced and danced until my bare feet blistered against the blankets, and my head reeled from the whisky. Encouraged to respond in ‘Rajasthani style’ by the ever-ready Nathoo, I pushed banknotes into the hands of the singers who stuffed them in their bras between slugs of whisky.

At around midnight, someone produced dinner, and then I was delivered back to my hotel by one of the sons. The following morning I woke up with a terrible hangover and almost missed my bus back to Jaipur. I hadn’t done much of the research I’d planned and was going to have to leave the arrangements for my tour completely up to Nathoo – as he had intended. I did come away with one vital piece of information though: at least I knew he could throw one hell of a party.

Georgie Pope worked at the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) in Jodhpur, India – a celebration of music from the north-western desert state of Rajasthan. In 2011, Georgie created the Rajasthani Musical Adventure to show off these cultural riches. Head to her website to find out more. The Rajasthani Musical Adventure takes place every October in the lead up to the Rajasthan International Folk Festival. For details and enquiries about joining this trip or other musical adventures in India, please visit

Explore more of India with the Rough Guide to India. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

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