To immerse yourself completely in any Indian festival can be quite an experience, one that people cross the mighty seas for. But no one wants to be left overwhelmed, fighting for air to breathe, and without a place to call home for the night. Here are some tricks every wise traveller should know about when following the festival trail in India.
To arrive on the actual date of a festival and trying to find the best way to experience it never helped any traveller. Most of the local festivals in India tend to be tuned to the lunar calendar. This means, a possible change of dates at the last moment. If you have time at hand, it is best to arrive at least four to five days earlier to ensure that you do not miss any nuance of the festival – from preparation to getting the best spot to watch the festivities. These extra days can lead to many things, including making the right connections (whose help you can avail in the time of a mini-crisis). Always remember, no matter how accommodating the people, you should never trust easily (especially since you’re away from home), and always listen to your gut.
Ditch the most comfortable place to stay for the most convenient one. Many festivals run late into the night or start early morning (also a good time to photograph). It is often not difficult to find a guesthouse or a hotel, which will shrink the distance for you. With traffic cut off on the days of the festival, you have to rely on your stamina to walk those miles. Having a place to stay close by (and having access to a resting place in the middle of the day, if needed) can be quite a relief. Book ahead and bag a room.
Behind the scenes
For many travellers, getting behind the scenes can be just as riveting as the actual show. Finding the place where little kids dressed up as Ram and Sita for Ramnagar’s Ram Lila was a fabulous infusion for me, much more than the ballads itself. It was the same for Kambala buffalo races, where a lunch with one of the main athletes helped me understand the festival better. To really get under the skin of the festival, it is recommended to arrive early and be a part of the preparation.
Mingle with the locals
Never second-guess yourself to give in if a local tugs at your sleeve to share an insight. The best hacks are the ones that come from people who have seen the festival plenty of times. At Bastar Dushera last October, I shadowed a local to ensure that I had the best possible seats to get a bird’s eye view of the sea of people that had gathered there. Do not hesitate to brush shoulders with the people who know the destination far too well.