Cox & Kings rounds up the most exciting, do-not-miss festivals in India, including their dates and where to celebrate for 2014. If you can’t make them this year don’t worry – they’ll all happen again.
Holi – 17 March
Also often referred to as the ‘festival of colour’, Holi is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated mainly in India and Nepal. The night before Holi, large bonfires are lit to rid the area of demon spirits, and people meet to sing, dance and rejoice. The next day is always the first day of spring – and when the world-famous, vibrant celebrations begin. Water guns and balloons are filled with coloured water, and powders of bright blues, greens, pinks and yellows are flung cheerfully while musicians play their instruments in the streets. Whether young or old, friends or strangers, everyone participates (and anyone is a friendly target). After the day’s frivolities, locals wash up before visiting friends and family in the evenings, and gathering to feast on Holi delicacies, which vary from region to region. The festival is a community celebration, and is symbolic of forgiveness and new starts.
Where to go
For some of the best experiences, head to northern India, which hosts grander celebrations than the south. Cities in Rajasthan are especially energetic, and in Udaipur even the royal family participates. Otherwise, Holi celebrations in Delhi are a good option, although can become quite rowdy. Be sure to go out with a friend – and to wear old, comfortable clothing.
Diwali – 23 October
This festival dates back to ancient India, with Diwali mentioned in early Hindu religious texts. Although nowadays the festivities are more modern, the overall message remains the same – it is a celebration of light over dark, and of good over evil. Before Diwali begins, houses are cleaned, renovated and decorated, and rooftops are all adorned with long chains of lights. On Diwali night, which is the darkest night in Autumn, revellers dress up in their best outfits and use diyas (clay lamps) to further embellish the inside and outside of their homes. Puja (prayers) are then performed to Lakshmi – the goddess of prosperity and wealth – to ensure success in times ahead for the family. Fireworks top off the splendour of the night, and the bursts of colour in the sky show off the millions of lights, strung from temples, streetlamps and houses in the city. It’s no wonder Diwali is also referred to as the ‘festival of lights’.
Where to go
The holy city of Varanasi is even more magical during Diwali, with thousands of diyas lighting the ghats, and vivid fireworks bursting over the Ganges. Jaipur is another great option, as all the local markets compete to be the most ornate in the city. Wherever you go, look out for rangoli – squares of intricate Indian folk art made from flower petals and coloured sand or rice.
Pushkar Camel Fair – 30 October to 6 November
The Pushkar Camel Fair is a five-day festival held in the desert city of Pushkar, Rajasthan. More than 11,000 horses, cattle and camels, and over 400,000 people attend this epic gathering in the desert. For tourists, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the spectacle of well-dressed farmers and herdsmen negotiating the sale of their livestock, and to browse the small market stalls selling bracelets, fabrics and clothing. There are plenty of entertaining activities from the camel race and traditional dance presentation that opens the fair to the ‘longest moustache’ competition or the camel beauty pageant. Travellers can get involved in a friendly cricket match where it’s foreigners versus the locals.
Where to go
There’s not a lot of choice here – it’s Pushkar or nothing. However, for a smaller affair, try the Bikaner camel festival, a two-day event normally held in January.
For trips to India, Silver Travel Advisor recommends Cox & Kings.