Travel Light

Seven Spectacular Festivals of Light You Must Not Miss This Year

What if you could walk with E.T. for one night? What if the stars fell across your face? The ghoulish creatures from your worst nightmare cascade across a 16th century cathedral and send you the shivers? And buildings and civilizations rise and fall on a giant spectacular scale? Painting with light has become a THING. Ginormous luminous installations have now been curated as festivals of light around the world. Designed to make even your wildest imagination go completely beserk. If the Lord of the Rings series and the Game of Thrones sit inside your head, here’s your chance to live those adventures and make that your next holiday. It isn’t just a vacation, it’s a fantasy.  Here are the seven you must not miss. Especially not our very own home-grown festival of light in New Delhi from the 20th to the 23rd of March. A first for India. Here’s our pick of the show-stoppers to plug into your calendar.

Harbin, China in January, February: If you thought ice castles were only part of movies like Frozen, you thought wrong. In a province in north-eastern China, every winter, they celebrate with ice and light. They’ve turned the fabled Chinese lantern into a new-age spectacle. So enter the festival of ice and snow and be struck by a sky high castle in pink and green and blue, lit up to shine neon. Enter it and discover that it’s all made of ice. Enter Chinese pagodas, all lit up and made of ice. Or cross the Bering straits. Or see a slippery, enchanted version of the Niagara Falls. When art is inspired by old folk traditions and paper lanterns fuse with new-age ideas, you can only be enchanted.

Singapore in March: Light isn’t just about illumination. It’s about the shadows. Now you see two faces of people – giant cutouts displaying time past in projections of shadows. Meanwhile along the Singapore waterfront, a ghost ship glides past. And you can walk through a corridor of dunes that look like bright porcupine quills. That remind you at every step – what would happen if we lost our friendly hedgehogs? i Light Singapore is all about promoting sustainability. Using energy efficient light, building bridges to the past. Painting with light to illuminate the ideas of times gone by, when we watched birds on trees and told stories of them. Go here for a bit of the future that makes you nostalgic about the past.

New Delhi in March: At New Delhi’s Garden of Five Senses, here’s a sixth. That intangible but all important need to connect. To be part of that collective consciousness that tells us we are not alone. Emrg 2020 is about that inner light that shines when we come together in celebration together. Now your feet will trip over neon butterflies. Now you will see the Panchatantra stories light up like the time your grandma told them. A Soul Tree will light up only as much as the number of people hugging it. Owls loom overhead like watchful giants. Trees turn purple with pleasure. You can make your own lights dance. Or sing. And you can lie on a shiny blue sea, made of light. Delhi at its dazzling best. It’s a magical mystery tour like nothing you’ve seen before.

Sydney in May, June: You may know of the lotus-shaped Sydney opera house – a series of brilliant white shells on the harbor. Wat if they mutated suddenly and dramatically into a stegosaurus – the dinosaur with a shell-shaped back? Vivid Sydney outdoes itself each year. Now you see gorillas flying across buildings. Now the buildings are seized by a series of fierce looking snakes with charming aboriginal patterned backs. Are you in the future or in the past? Does it really matter when you’re having this much fun? Lights are not just lights. Festivals are not just festivals. Illumination is about connecting. It’s a group thing. It gives you soul. Go get some!  

October in Berlin:  In the centre of Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, giant hands rose and made the building shake. Angels flew out of cathedrals and the Konzerthauz collapsed inwards in prisms of pristine blue. Ghoulish white faces tore out of buildings, defacing them and neon pedestrians accompanied you on walks. Berlin has risen and fallen, seen days of glory, days of terror and now, people thronged to this festival of light to go back in time and forth. Whatever you may say, the Germans do really know how to make your head spin. This art is dramatic and dazzling.

November to January in Amsterdam: There is a boy in blue who walked across the canal in Amsterdam mid-air, on webs of light. You can see him do it, if you go to the city of dykes, the city of water and come November, the city of lights. Isn’t it romantic to be gliding on a dark late on a gondola by night and have blue lotuses of light pop up midstream? Or a submerged car made of neon? They say cities are full of lonely people but here, immersed in these young Amsterdam lights, there are no strangers. You lean across beams of light into this spectacle, this collective that holds people together. Come here for this unique futuristic commune. Made energy efficient with low intensity LEDs.

November in Baltimore: When is the last time you sailed paper boats on a lake? Brilliant Baltimore lives up to its name because it makes you a child again while also taking you into the future. The paper boats are made of light. They glow in the dark, setting off a riot of colours on the shiny black waters. Along the bay, a fluorescent octopus the size of a house hovers around. People hop around on discs of light. Some installations are interactive. There’s a `waterlight graffiti’ that asks you to spray a drawing onto a wall and watch it light up. Go paint with light on water!