India is a tapestry of varied cultures and traditions. Each nook and cranny
The festival of colours adds another dimension of the exotic in your India travels. The festival is celebrated mostly in North India, though some pockets of the South Indian communities celebrate Holi in a local fashion. Expect rainbow coloured mayhem, for the celebrations might get a little overwhelming. Here are some cities where Holi is an experience of sorts -
Jaipur, Rajasthan. This city takes mammoth celebrations to literal levels by kicking-in the festivities with an elephant festival on the eve of Holi. What’s now come to be known as the Eleholi Fest is the way to experience this.
Udaipur, Rajasthan. The Mewars are as aristocratic as they come and you can be sure to experience the whole nine yards of royal revelry at Udaipur. Participate in holika dayan, a ritual practiced on the eve of Holi to ward off evil spirits. The palace procession features the majestic marwari horse decked in all their finery.
Anandpur Sahib, Punjab. Trust Punjab to have its own spin on the stereotype. Known for its brave people, Holi is celebrated at the Hola Mohalla with a show of physical skill, martial arts, wrestling, acrobatics, swordfightng skills.
Mathura, Uttar Pradesh. If you’ve seen pictures of Holi, in all likelihood it’s from Mathura, the birthplace of Krishna. Since it’s a place of pilgrimage, expect things to get quite crowded and a bit out of hand with the influence of bhang. Travel companies often advise going with a tour.
Purulia, West Bengal. The Basanta Utsav, is one way to experience local culture while playing Holi. Featuring indigenous cultural performances, the festival is organised by the villagers themselves as a way to sustain themselves and their art.
Dharavi, Mumbai. If you’d like to make a difference while partaking in the festivities, these celebrations at Mumbai’s biggest slum are where you should go. Not only do you celebrate with slum kids in a safe environment, but a sizeable portion of the proceeds go towards improving the quality of life at Dharavi. But do find a tour operator who conducts these tours.
International Yoga Festival, Rishikesh 1-7
Yoga in the foothills of the Himalayas - idyllic settings meet the best and most renowned names in yoga. Rishikesh is home to some of the best yoga ashrams in the country and so it’s no surprise that this picturesque city hosts India’s biggest yoga retreat.
Chapchar Kut, Aizawl - 2nd
The Mizo spring festival celebrates the safety of the people after the arduous task of clearing forests. It’s a great opportunity to learn about India’s lesser known indigenous cultures.
Attukal Pongala, Trivandrum, (Kerala) 2nd
A ritual that has found its way to the Guinness World Book of Records has the faithful women taking over the streets leading to the temple. Each and every one of them sets up a stove and prepares a sweet pongal or pudding made of rice, jaggery, coconut and plantains to find favour with the resident goddess of the Attukal Temple.
Gudi Pawa/Ugadi - 18th
The lunar Hindu calendar New Year is a harvest festival. Celebrated as Gudi Pawa in Maharashtra and Ugadi in Karnataka/Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, it marks a period of plenty and new beginnings. Watch out for the colourful processions and have some kanangachi Kheer.
Uthralikavu Pooram, Sree Ruthira Mahakalikavu Temple Vadakkancherry, Thrissur (Kerala)
Typical temple festivities in Kerala include caparisoned elephants, fireworks, panchavadyam (temple drums and horns) and crowds. Typically called poorams, this one comes only second to the famous Thrissur Pooram in terms of popularity.
Kodungalloor Bharani, Kodungalloor 20-21
The mythic and the mystic mix in a blur of vermillion at this festival as oracles (vellichapad) work themselves into a frenzy, as they become mediums for the goddess.
Konkan Turtle Festival Velas village, Ratnagiri, Maharashtra 10th March to 15th April
If you’re an animal lover, this is the festival for you. As part of the Olive Ridley turtle conservation efforts undertaken by the residents of the Velas villages, the festival brings much needed support to the cause.
Matho Nagrang, Matho 1st - 2nd
A monastic festival with the masks and the dancing and borders on the larger than life, this out of the way village comes alive with ancient rituals of the oracles.
Thirunakkara Arattu March 24th (10 day festival)
This ten day festival is a crash course in getting acquainted in the myriad folk art forms of Kerala. Kathakali performances that last through the night, mayilattum (peacock dance), caparisoned elephants, panchavadyam - the works.
Tulip Festival, Kashmir, first two weeks
In April, a land that is heralded as paradise on earth dons the shades and the scapes of a far more blessed land. Kashmir in spring is a waking Dionysian dream, and nature’s way of paying scant regard to the ugly political scene man has made. Asia’s largest tulip garden, Siraj Bagh will be in full bloom in early April.
Thrissur Pooram, Kerala 25th
The grand daddy of all temple festivals in Kerala, Thrissur Pooram is the stuff of legends. The Vadukmnathan temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is one of the oldest, largest and most beautiful examples of traditional Kerala architecture.
Chithirai Festival, Madurai (Tamil Nadu) April 18 - May 3
The Meenakshi Temple plays host to the marriage of the resident deity and Lord Shiva. A four-hundred-year old visual extravaganza brings out processions, kavadi, elaborate and colourful kolams, the faithful dressed in the best silks, etc.
Bhandara Festival. Khandoba Temple, Jejuri, Maharashtra 16th
Temple festivals in India are by no means low on visual impact. And this temple festival is no different. Prepare for a golden horizon as turmeric is thrown up in the air, bathing the temple in solid ochre. There are apparently two Khandoba Temples, you need to be looking for the newer temple where the festivities happen.
Ganga Dussehera May 24
Believed to be the day that the Ganges depended from the heavens, the banks of this holy river turns into a song of flickering lights with floating diyas, lit up temple gopuras and pujas.
Moatsu Festival, Nagaland First week of May
The Ao tribe treats themselves to this festival after a period of toil and diligence of clearing forests, tilling the fields and sowing seeds. It’s literally a song and dance, and apparently here’s where the best rice beer is to be found.
Ramdan May 15-June 14
Find yourself near any mosque at Iftaar and fill your heart and soul with some of the best local Muslim delicacies.
Saka Dawa, Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir) 29th
A sacred festival that commemorates the key events of Buddha’s life namely birth, nirvana and par nirvana. Masked dancing, processions, elaborate rituals make for an experience of a lifetime.
Yuru Kabgyad, Lamayuru, Ladakh 11th-12th
Another Buddhist festival that’s celebrated with much pomp and devotion. Buddhists from other parts including China, Japan, South Korea and Tibet come to partake in this mystical event that adds more colour and storyline to the aura of magic that’s characteristic of the Himalayas.
Hemis Tseschu, Hemis, Ladakh 23th-24th
Heading to the Himalayas a little later than early June? Well then, the Hemis Tseschu is a way to experience a truly Buddhist monastic festival. Just 45 kilometres from Leh, it’s not too out of the way from the average Leh-Ladakh sojourn.
Shachukul Gustor, Shachukul 30th June- 1st July
Monastic Festival celebrated at the Shachukul Monastery, which incidentally is one of the main monasteries.