Rio Carnival rated best festival for travellers of an independent mind

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The Independent Travel

Ever since its explosive inception in the mid-19th century, one public spectacle has captured the world's imagination more than any other by virtue of its noisy flamboyance and lavish, unashamed sensuality.

Rio de Janeiro's annual Carnival has been rated as the number one festival of choice for independent travellers all around the world by readers of the leading travel magazine Wanderlust.

Readers of the publication have compiled a list of their top 10 events around the globe. The Carnival in Rio came top by a wide margin of votes, which reflected its enduring appeal.

"Even if you add up those who voted for the Edinburgh Festival and those who voted for the Fringe, they still wouldn't quite have beaten the Rio Carnival," said Lyn Hughes, the editor of Wanderlust.

The Brazilian bonanza came in just ahead of the World of Music, Arts, and Dance festival, Womad, which showcases culture for people of all ages in 20 different cities across the world and was pioneered by the English rock musician Peter Gabriel, who held the first festival in the Somerset town of Shepton Mallet in 1982.

Edinburgh's annual festival is third on the list. The Scottish capital is the only city to feature twice on the list – its Fringe festival is sixth – confirming the city's blossoming credentials as a tourist haven.

Other British festivals on the list include the annual mud bath at Glastonbury (fourth) and the summer saturnalia in Notting Hill, west London (10th).

But the Wanderlust compilation contains a highly eclectic mix. The Pushkar Camel Fair, at number eight in the list, is the world's largest livestock fare.

Held in the holy town of Pushkar, in the Indian state of Rajasthan, the fare attracts crowds of up to 10,000 revellers and 200,000 locals. Competitions are held to determine which camels are fastest, fattest, or prettiest, helping those who wish to buy cattle make their selections.

The Festival in the Desert in Mali, meanwhile, is ninth in the list. First held in 2001, the festival celebrates the music of the nomadic Tuareg people and is held in the west African oasis town of Essakane in northern Mali. Among the celebrated names who regularly perform there is Ali Farka Touré, who is probably the best known African musician in the West.

Celebrations of the Hindu festival of light, Diwali, were voted fifth on the list.

The Venice Carnevale, famous for the Venetian masks which several Italian governments have attempted to outlaw, comes in at seventh.

Ahead of the pack by a comfortable margin, however, is the carnival in Rio. The carnival is a cause célèbre for Latin American culture. Held 40 days before the start of Lent, it symbolises the final indulgence of sensual pleasures before a prolonged period of abstention. With its street parties, music, and exotic displays, the carnival has long been seen as the highest expression of Latin American exuberance, symbolising the spirit of the people living there.

The idea of holding grand masquerades and balls was originally imported from Paris, whose extravagant public celebrations the Brazilian upper classes sought to mimic. More than a century and a half later, the Rio Carnival has been imbued with a distinctly non-European flavour.