How to be in the right place at the right time during the festival of spring
If you haven’t decided whether you should take a quick break for the ‘Holi’days this year, we help you decide. While the cities can be fun or mayhem, depending on your involvement, we suggest you try something a bit different — a religious stint in Mathura or a quirky celebration in Varanasi, let the celebrations begin!
Mathura and Vrindavan
Saujanya Shrivastava, Chief Marketing Officer, MakeMyTrip, suggests the twin cities, Vrindavan and Mathura for long-lasting celebrations (almost 40 days) before the actual feast. “Vrindavan is perfect for the ultimate cultural experience. The Shri Banke-Bihari Temple there is one of the biggest attractions and tourists enjoy camping out here and engaging with the locals.” The drive from Delhi is four hours and flights to the capital start at Rs.6,000. Details: makemytrip.com
Coinciding with Braj Mahotsav, the Mewar of Udaipur usually hosts a carnival in the city with folk music and dance. Strangers are sprayed with gulal and you are encouraged to linger by a large bonfire. Do shield your ears though as it is actually filled with fire crackers! Stay at Shiv Niwas Palace hotel (`16,000 upwards a night) for a royal experience in the hub of festivities. Later rub shoulders with the guest of the former ruler himself. Flights to Udaipur start at Rs.7,000. Details: hrhhotels.com
Ela Nobbay, of Travel Consult, a boutique agency, suggests ‘good old Banaras’, “where no one can escape gulal,” she says. “Make sure you sample the gujiya stuffed with khoya, and malpua, both traditional desserts. She also hints that no Holi visit to Varanasi is complete without experiencing a hint of bhang. Thandai or ladoos infused with light bhaang are available at paan stores, mithaiwalas and even street vendors. Stay at Suryauday Haveli, just near the river, or The Gateway Ganges for a slice of luxury. Flights at Rs.9,000 each way. Details: 9886025000
“In the town of Lord Krishna’s Gopis, women enjoy keeping the tradition of playfully beating men with bamboo sticks, alive,” begins Sujatha Shetty, owner of Shreya Travels which specialises in themed holidays. “Called the Lathmar Holi, the men return the next day to splash colour around,” she says. Stay in Vrindavan as there are only ashrams in Barsana. Details: 23339393
Around 250-kms from Kolkata Purulia, hosts a three-day celebration of folk culture as part of their Basant Utsav. You can watch a Chau dance which blends folk movements and martial arts, or the lesser-known but as lively Darbari Jhumur and Natua dances. The mystical minstrels also known as the Bauls, will add their melodious Sufi songs to the celebration before aabir (colour) takes over. The dancing carries on well into the night against the backdrop of the lovely terracotta temples. Garpanchakot Resort, a little way out, is a prime spot for the quiet forest feel at Rs.2,000. Flights to Kolkata start at Rs.6,000.
The hub of culture and colour, the elephant procession and polo match here is a must see. The entire city turns into a gigantic fair, with the streets lined with vibrant stalls to get visitors in the mood. You’ll find plenty of street dancers, folk musicians and performers from magicians and mystics to puppeteers and others affably throwing water balloons and colour at each other. Samode Haveli in all its regal glory is the ideal set up to squirt colour on fellow travellers. The courtyards provide a great maze to make it like a paintballing session. `15,000 upwards on samode.com
At Jagannath temple, celebrations kick off with a processional display of idols. Holi is celebrated along with the Dola yatra, be prepared for a real feast. Mithai is taken seriously here and among the favourites is chennapodapitha, a custard-like dessert. Chhenna jalebi, enduri pitha and chittau pitha are all typical festival goodies you must sample. Bollywood takes over from bhajans as the sun sets and the beach becomes a perfect spot for local handicraft and handloom shopping, sand art and performances. Stay at the Hans Coco Palms, which is right on the beach. Flights start at Rs.6,600 one-way to Bhubaneshwar.
In Guggar, Palampur all roads lead to Pragati Maidan for the mela. Townsfolk get into the spirit of the festival dressing up as deities, while enactments of the mythical stories add to the lively atmosphere. Stick around for the cotton candy, hot jalebis and pakora in true Kumaoni style. The rassa-khasi (tug-of-war) is another highlight, and sees revellers compete. Ride on the Laxman jhoola (ferris wheel). Old-school toys like flutes, whistles, dolls, spinning tops and catapults are charming takeaways. Stay at the Norwood Green B&B, set amidst tea gardens. Flights to Chandigarh (three hours away) start at Rs.6,500 one way.
Be a part of the celebration and pack wisely for the occasion Sunglasses – These will help shield your eyes when people smear you with colour but ensure they’re not metal.
White clothing – If you are up for joining the locals, then make sure you take a pair of white clothes to get coloured. A great reminder of the fun festival, we think!
Carry oil – Cover your entire body in oil and you’ll thank us later when the colour comes off easily
Pack a pichkari – While throwing gulal is fun, get serious with a pichkari if you want to win the war of colours!
Puran Pholi – A special Maharashtrian dish for the festival, this jaggery, nutmeg, saffron and cardamom laden delight is best had in Pune or Mumbai. 96 K Select Maratha Restaurant in Pune has a whole thali to celebrate the festival, including these specials. Details: 09552580818
Gujiya – Best described as sweet dumplings, these are also a great favourite for Holi. Haldirams are very well known for this, so we suggest you stock up on the treat at any of their outlets. The best though, are at the original outlets in Nagpur. Details: 41154467
Chaat – Lucknow will drown you in colour and chaat, we assure you.
Head off to Jain Chaat (0522 2286745) in the Lalbagh area for the best of papri (made with extra toppings for the festival). Since your hands are likely to be messy, chaat is a great option. Royal Cafe (0522 409 5555) on Shahnazaf Road, is also highly recommended for street chaat.
— Aakanksha Devi