For years I kept wondering which is that one particular festival captures the sheer essence, excitement and enthusiasm of the festivities that take place in India. This question led me to go on the Holi trail in North India last year.
The sleepy villages of Barsana and Nandgaon around Mathura and Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh become hot-beds of activity during Holi. You’ll see overcrowded railway stations and bus stops, people crowding on roof tops, policeman valiantly trying to keep some semblance of order, street food of every kind– and colour, colour and more colour than you can ever imagine. These are the three essentials stops on this trail.
First Stop: Barsana and Nandgaon, Lathmaar Holi (6th March 2017)
It’s a woman’s world after all and the women of Barsana, a village near Mathura, prove it during this time. The women beat up the men of the neighbouring village, Nandgaon, with sticks, hence it’s known as Lathmaar (beating with sticks) Holi.
Usually this takes place a week before the main day of Holi (13th March 2017), so this should be your first pit-stop in Holi celebrations. The following day, the celebrations move to Nandgaon village, a village near Mathura.
Tip: The Lathmaar Holi can be quite rough and dangerous, so beware of the crowds, especially when the women beat the men, make sure your surroundings are safe.
Second Stop: Banke Bihari Holi (8th March 2017)
Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan is a huge attraction and is beautifully decked up for Holi. If you get to Barsana before Lathmaar Holi, then witness the unique laddoo Holi festivities there in which sweets are thrown around and spiritual songs are sung.
Tip: Entrances to the temple can be tricky and cumbersome. Make sure you don’t get stuck with the huge crowds who line-up to go in the temple. Be there early to skip the long queue.
Third Stop: Mathura and Vrindavan, traditional Holi (13th March 2017)
Mathura is where Lord Krishna was born and Vrindavan is was where he spent his childhood. The Sri Krishna Janmasthami in Mathura holds an interesting show in the week before Holi. The week-long celebrations at the Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan are also legendary, and culminate with the throwing of colours on Dhulendi.
In the morning, I went to Mathura to see the colourful Holi procession that starts from Vishram Ghat and finishes near Holi Gate. This is the best place to catch the throwing of colours is Dwarkadheesh Temple in Mathura.
Try and look for a terrace spot to have a bird’s-eye-view of the proceedings and fabulous photographs.
The temples or on the road is the best spot for a photographer.
Always have a local guide or a person to guide you during the photo tour.
Cover your hair, face with a bandana and wear clothes you don’t mind discarding at the end of the day.
Be a Smart photographer!
Make sure that you cover your cameras well with a plastic cover or a waterproof casing to prevent any splashes of water and colour, which will invariably come your way. Usually kids are very naughty and will make sure to target you and your cameras.
Look for a house in Mathura and Vrindavan and speak to the residents and you might be able to secure a vantage point to shoot some stunning images.
Make sure you go to the main temples of Barsana, Nandgaon, Mathura and Vrindavan as the main activities take place there.
A good wide angle 24 – 70 is perfect for this occasion.
Make sure to have ample memory cards and back-up batteries as you will be out all day and away from your hotel to shoot!