Travel: A hard sell in the desert

A round-up of what's happening around the world this month
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The Independent Travel
Depressed at the thought of how few (or how many) shopping days are left until Christmas? November, as ever, sees the beginning of the Christmas rush, with yuletidey fairs, markets and parades hitting the streets from Denmark to Australia. Fortunately there is still the option of leaving Christmas until December: alternative activities in the coming month range from Hot Air Ballooning Festivals in Antigua to the annual elephant round-up in Surin, Thailand.

India

Starting 7 November, Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, is one of India's most exuberant festivals. Falling on the dark night before the new moon (14 November), it celebrates the homecoming of Lord Rama - hero of the epic Ramayana and the seventh of the incarnations of Hindu god Vishnu - after a 14-year exile. Candles illuminate temples, houses are whitewashed and rangolis (chalk designs) are drawn on the floors to welcome his return. Celebrations are most extensive in the north, with fireworks and melas (fairs) in the days leading up to 19 November, while the exchange of sweets and traditional games of chance mark its culmination. A little later, on 23 November, the Pushkar camel mela takes place. The Rajasthani village of Pushkar has the annual honour of playing host to the world's largest collection of camels, and a substantial number of tourists, during this fair. Camels are bought, sold, and raced during this week-long trade fair which culminates on the night of full moon with ritual bathing on the 52 sacred ghats (stepped landings) dotted around the banks of the Anasagar lake.

Thailand

Thailand's River of Kings will live up to its name this month when King Bhumibol Adulyadej celebrates his 72nd birthday with a floating procession. Otherwise known as the Chao Phraya, Bangkok's main waterway will welcome a stately flotilla of some 50 ornately carved and gilded barges, originally designed for battle. The royal navy has been making waves along the river all month with rehearsals, and during the coming week, 2,000 oarsmen will pitch up in traditional garb for the honour of rowing the king on his birthday.

On 21 November, on waterways outside Bangkok in the ancient capital of Sukhothai, small lotus-shaped baskets and boats will be floated to honour Mae Khongka "the mother of waters". Traditionally these boats are made out of banana leaves and carry incense, candles and a coin, to give thanks to Mae Khongka for her contribution to the harvest.

On 20 and 21 November, north-east of Bangkok, a less delicate display of tradition comes in the shape of the popular Surin elephant round-up. One hundred of the beasts, dressed in medieval costume, will display the art of log-pulling and, for the finale, one lucky creature will get to test its trunk in a tug-of-war against 100 men.

Bermuda

If the World Cup hasn't left you satiated, the 12th World Rugby Classic from 10 to 16 November in Bermuda might be just the ticket. An annual get-together for former international rugby players to play competitively again, there are 10 matches held over four days. England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales join forces against players from the All Black, Springbok, French, American, Canadian, Argentine and Bermudan teams. Visit www.bermuda.bm/worldrugby for more information, or call Bermuda Tourism (tel: 0171-771 7001).

Australia

From 18 to 21 November, a four-day classic car rally, the Classic Adelaide, in the tradition of Monte Carlo, features pre-1970 sports cars from Australia and around the world. The roads are closed off for this historic rally through Adelaide and the surrounding hills, taking in the Barossa valley and the McLaren Vale wine region. A week earlier, on 13 November, the biggest Christmas Pageant in the Southern Hemisphere hits the streets of Adelaide with 54 floats and 12 bands.

Switzerland

It may all end in tears in Berne on 22 November with the annual onion festival, or the Zibelemarit which dates back to the 15th century Martinmas fair which used to span two weeks. Today, the event resembles more of a carnival, combining business with pleasure, as only the onion market remains.

Antigua

Thirty balloons from around the world are converging on the Caribbean for Antigua's 10-day Hot Air Balloon Festival which lasts from 22 November to 2 December. Daily activities include balloon flights at sunrise and sunset, with champagne breakfasts for those stuck on the ground. Skydivers will provide entertainment during the day and in the evening, "nightglow" shows can be seen from around the island as the sun sets. To round it all off, the weekend gala is an extravaganza with a carnival atmosphere. For information contact Antigua and Barbuda Tourist Office (tel: 0171- 486 7073).

Denmark

Copenhagen celebrates the start of the Christmas season on 27 November with a parade through its streets led by the Lord Mayor. Then, from the end of November to the end of December, a Christmas fair at the famous Tivoli Gardens is set to get everyone in yuletide mood with traditional stalls selling Christmas decorations, gifts and food, and workshops specialising in making "untraditional" presents.

SARAH BARRELL

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