The unusually warm winter is melting into summer and falling in the cusp of this yearly weather transition is Holi — a heady festival of colour and laughter. If you love the sights, sound and colours of Holi, then travel to some of the most spectacular places in India where it is still celebrated in a deeply traditional manner. Here’s a list of six such places where Holi celebrations are still full of verve and vigour.
* Lath Mar Holi, Barsana, Uttar Pradesh: It’s one place on earth where people from all corners want to be at during the festival. No wonder Govardhan, Barsana and Nandgaon are the most visited places. The festival is popular here because of the way it is celebrated.
The women of Barsana village near Mathura in Uttar Pradesh beat up men from neighboring Nandgaon village with sticks — in what is known as Lathmar (stick-beating) celebrations.
Lathmar Holi takes place around a week before the main day of Holi. It’s worth going to Barsana a couple of days in advance so that you can also experience the Laddoo Holi festivities there. Sweets are thrown around and spiritual songs related to Radha and Krishna are sung.
* Basant Utsav, Purulia, West Bengal: This is a three-day folk festival where you’ll get to sing and play Holi with the locals, as well as enjoy a wide variety of folk art. This includes the remarkable chau dance, darbari jhumur, natua dance and songs of West Bengal’s wandering Baul musicians. What makes the festival special is that it is organised by villagers as a way of sustaining themselves. The location is around 5-6 hours by train from Kolkata.
* Hola Mohalla, Anandpur Sahib, Punjab: The best way to experience Holi the Sikh way is at Anandpur Sahib. During the festival of Hola Mohalla, it is enthralling to see Nihangs — Sikh warriors — in action on the banks of the Charan Ganga.
Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib is one of the five temporal seats of the Sikh religion — where lakhs of devotees visit during the three-day festival to seek the blessings of the Almighty. It is an extremely colourful festival where Nihangs dressed in their blue/saffron clothes engage in mock battles with their weapons before an extremely receptive crowd. This is a boon for photographers and for those who would love to experience an Indian religious cultural mela.
* Traditional Holi at Mathura and Vrindavan: One must experience the festival in Mathura and Vrindavan and also pay a visit to the famous Banke-Bihari Temple. The crowd’s enthusiasm for their beloved Lord Krishna needs to be seen to be believed. In Vrindavan, the festival is celebrated for a week.
* Basantotsava, Santiniketan: This is one place that should be visited during the Spring Festival that falls during the Holi festivities. Students dress up in spring colours and stage a huge cultural program for visitors — including dancing to Rabindranath Tagore’s songs. This is followed by the usual exchange of colours. Basantotsava has become a cherished part of Bengali history and culture and attracts numerous tourists.
* Royal Holi, Udaipur: The experience in this majestic place is of course royal. A day before Holi — which is celebrated as Holika Dahan — hundreds of pyres are lit all over the city. But the one at the Jagdish Temple is the biggest. The Holi experience here is grand.
So this Holi — which also happens to be a long weekend — celebrate with more vigour and, of course, safe colours.