The Hindu festival of Holi marks the beginning of Spring and is celebrated mostly in northern states of India. Bidding goodbye to the chilly winters, celebrating the playful love between Lord Krishna and Radha and many other legends corroborate the good-natured raucousness that surrounds the festival. Arm yourself with a big plastic squirty pichkari (a large syringe of sorts to deliver a large amount of coloured water on an often unsuspecting victim), white clothes, a bag full of colours and a good measure of mischief, before you head out to celebrate Holi this year. But if you want to add a dose of tradition to your Holi this year, head to Mathura and the nearby villages.
During the day, people of Mathura come out on the streets in in small troupes, dousing each other in wet and dry colours. The whole town appears as a joyous mass of colours, erupting from every corner. Krishna temples like Banke Bihari in Vrindavan and Gulal Kund in Braj are the major venues near Mathura, where you can witness an action packed day of colours, bhaang, sweets and ‘lath maar’ Holi. Lath Maar Holi is played between men and women where the fairer gender mockingly hits the other with large wooden sticks, enacting the role of Radha’s friends chasing Krishna away. This can also be seen in the nearby village of Barsana. The festivities in Mathura and around go on for an entire week.
The wonderfully delirious celebration of Mathura can only be matched in Varanasi. The ghats of Varanasi come alive with loud dhol, mish-mash of colours and free flowing bhaang induced thandai. If you are there just as a spectator, bag yourself a high perch on one of the terraces near Dashashvamedh Ghat to watch the fun below. For a more dignified celebration, visit the Shantiniketan University in West Bengal, where Holi is celebrated as a part of the Vasant Utsav, with not just colours but by Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry, his songs, dances and folk music.
For a modern take on the festival, there is nothing better than the Holi Cow festival in Delhi. Here, you will be treated to live music with over 70 artists, stand-up comedy, art installations, a massive dunking pool full of colour, foam showers and of course, plenty of food and drinks. It will be held on the massive grounds of Zorba on Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road, New Delhi. (Passes for Rs 1500/3000. For more details, call Sarah at +91-9999-215749).
How to Get There
Mathura is well connected to Delhi by both trains and buses. Choose from over 13 trains that take about 3 hours for the 160 km stretch. You can also hire a cab to ply you from one village to another around Mathura.
Varanasi is well connected by flights and overnight trains from Delhi. Santiniketan lies 150 km away from Kolkata and 4 km from the closest rail-head, Bolpur. The university is well connected by trains and buses from Kolkata.
Where to Stay
In Mathura, you can choose from a paltry list of good hotels. Hotel Goverdhan Palace, Radha Ashok and Brijwasi Royal are some of the best options.
If in Varanasi, you will best enjoy Holi at the ghats in the old city. Stay at Ganpati Guest House or Jukaso Inn, both close to the maximum action.
Try Mitali Homestays close to Santiniketan, for proximity to the university and warm hospitality.
Pin the tail on the donkey’ kind of travels are Supriya’s favourite! Arrive at a bus stop, point towards a destination and just head out. It’s rather ironic that from her ‘Google-less travel’ days, she is now on to writing her second Lonely Planet travel guide. Supriya also runs a travel photography outfit called ‘Photography Onthemove’ and is based out of Bangalore. You can read more about her on www.supriyasehgal.com.