Indian Festivals – Travelling during Diwali, Holi and Co.

One universal truth about India is that festivals are probably the best firsthand look at its culture. Most have colorful stories and rituals attached to them and the people really know how to have a good time. Let’s just take you through a few of the most famous ones so that you can plan your India travel around a festival in India.

DIWALI – Festival of Lights

It brings in the Hindu New Year – the day Ram, the hero in the ‘Ramayan’ returned home after defeating Ravan, a ten headed demon who abducted his wife. They call it the festival of lights and it’s easily the most celebrated in India with lamps, lanterns, firecrackers and the Diwali Pooja (prayer ceremony).

When is Diwali celebrated?

The dates of the festival depend on the moon calendar and fall usually between mid-October and mid-November. The festival lasts five days and begins with preparations, shopping and decorations and end with family gatherings. On the third day is New Year’s Eve or the actual Day of Diwali. In 2017 Diwali will be on 19th of October, on 2018 on the 7th of November and on 2019 on 27th of October.

To find out what else to look forward to around this time of the year check out our blog articles on weather in October and November.

Where is the best place to enjoy Diwali?

Diwali is mostly celebrated amongst family and relatives, similar to our Christmas celebrations. However, it is still a fantastic time to visit all over India as houses are being decorated in lively colors and bright lights and on Diwali itself the fireworks are fun to watch.

Celebrations are a little bit more extensive in North India. In Varanasi they conduct huge Diwali aartis (religious ceremonies) with elaborate lamps and chants at the Ghats. Rajasthan is a great place to visit as it has many homestays where guests can participate in the family’s festivities. As a metropolis Delhi and Mumbai offer large celebrations all over the cities but due to the firecrackers the noise and air pollution are a real nuisance.

If you’re travelling to India during the Diwali season, make sure you book well in advance – train tickets, hotel bookings, guides, everything becomes harder to get and/or more expensive at this time.

Holi – Festival of Colors

This vibrant festival celebrates the bounty of spring and is called the “Festival of Colors”. People bathe each other in dry and wet colors, have rain dances, drink bhang (drink with cannabis paste) and thandai (drink with milk and many spices).

When is Holi celebrated?

It’s usually the day after the full moon in March (day before in some eastern parts). On the night of the full moon people burn a Holi pyre on which the mythical demon Holika is placed to symbolize the destruction of evil. On the next day people start the color party early in the day and rest on the afternoon. In 2018 Holi will be held on 2nd of March, in 2019 on 21st March and in 2020 on 10th of March.

Where is the best place to enjoy Holi?

Holi is almost entirely celebrated in North India. Some places in the south also have religious ceremonies on the same day but those would only happen at a small scale at certain temples. Often resorts and hotels in Goa offer commercial Holi Parties

North India offers unique Holi experiences in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh (Barsana, Mathura, Vrindavan), Shantiniketan (Kolkata), other parts of West Bengal as well as Delhi and Mumbai amongst the metros. Almost every household and especially young people in North India celebrate Holi by going outside on the streets and playing with dry colors and water.

We are not happy about saying this but it is not always entirely save for women and girls to play on the streets, especially in busy places like Vrindavan, Varanasi or Pushkar. Clothes are completely drenched, everyone is a little high and amongst the crowd young boys feel very brave and sometimes decide to leave any moral standards at home. It is your choice but we recommend girls to rather stay and play at small guesthouses and homestays, amongst other travelers and local families than huge crowds of local boys and men. Another thing to be careful about is checking if the colors you’re using are organic and not toxic which could cause rashes and other issues. All in all, the trick to enjoying this one is to stay safe but go into it with no inhibitions.

Onam in Kerala – Harvest Festival in Kerala

This is South India’s harvest festival with flower decorations on floors outside all houses. They’re meant to welcome the mythical King Mahabali’. People shop and prepare feasts. There’s a lot of singing, dancing and games but the highlight are the snake boat races. You absolutely must catch one of these.

When is Onam celebrated?

Onam starts in the first month of Malayalam Calendar and last 13 days. In 2017 the first day will be on 25th August, in 2018 on 15th of August and in 2019 on 1st of September. Day 10 is the most celebrated day.

Where is the best place to enjoy Onam?

Celebrated in Malyalam speaking parts of South India, Onam is really big in Kerala. Especially Thrissur’s festivities with its Puli Kali (tiger play) festival on the last day of Onam, are fun to attend. If you’re travelling to Kerala during Onam make sure you make bookings much in advance before ticket prices sky rocket and the best accommodations gets occupied.

Check out these route for these four travel routes for Kerala.

Ganesh Chaturthi – Birthday of the elephant-headed god Ganesha

Eleven days of festivities and colorful processions carrying Lord Ganesha idols characterize Ganesh Chaturthi. It is a celebration of the birthday of the Hindu god with an elephant head. Ganesha statues are brought home and placed in public stalls, worshipped for a few days and then submerged (Visarjan) in style.

When is Ganesh Chaturthi celebrated?

The popular festival falls on the 4th day of the new moon in August or September and lasts 10 days. In 2017 that will be the 25th of August, in 2018 the 13th of September and in 2019 the 2nd of September.

Families can choose how many days they want to celebrate it with poojas (praying ceremonies) happening at home every day. Most families celebrate it in a small scale at home for 1.5 to 3 days. However, many families, companies, housing societies, religious organizations etc. with bigger statues (=more wealth) celebrate it for 10 days at home or the public stages. On the 11th day the icons, sometimes up to 70 feet tall, get paraded to the sea and submerged in the water.

Where is the best place to enjoy Ganesh Chaturthi?

Mostly celebrated in the state of Maharashtra and by Maharashtrians elsewhere in India, you can find the biggest public Ganesha displays and processions in Mumbai. The festivities go hand in hand with heavy traffic, blocked routes and a lot of noise on the streets, especially in Mumbai and Pune. The crowds at the beaches of Mumbai, especially at Chowpatty in the South, are extremely large. However, due to its quirky character and intenseness it would be a great experience.

If you want to travel south from Mumbai after Ganesh Chaturthi check out this route suggestion.

Pushkar Camel Fair – A quirky and impressively big livestock fair in Rajasthan

This 15-day-long camel trading fair is held in Pushkar, near Ajmer in Rajasthan. It is actually less of a festival and more of an interesting get-together of camel owners and cattle merchants, a sight which is fun to observe for strangers. People come here in huge throngs to see the biggest amount of camels at one spot.

When and how is Pushkar Camel Fair celebrated?

The dates of the fair are linked to the Hindu Lunar calendar and lasts 12 days. In 2017, the official Pushkar Fair dates are 28th of October to 4th of November, in 2018 from 15th to 23rd of November and in 2019 from 4th to 12th of November. The first five days are for camel trading and fair activities at the outskirts of the city. Camels are all decked up and shaved. There are camel beauty pageants, dancing contests, races and whatnot. Musicians, acrobats, dancers, magicians, carousel rides, snake charmers; this fair has everything you’ve associated with India before coming.

The last days are used for pilgrimage activities as Hindus flood to the city to take dips and conduct rituals in the holy lake. On the last night the lake lights up with oil lamps and fireworks while thousands of people participate in the celebrations.

If you’re planning on visiting Rajasthan during the fare, book well in advance and be prepared to pay 10 times as much as you would usually in Pushkar around the year. And be careful of god men and other freeloaders trying to fleece you. Find out here what other places you can visit in Rajasthan here.

Do you want to experience any of the Indian festivals while visiting? Or do you want to find our what other festivals might happen during your travel dates? Plan your trip with us now and we make sure you can experience the whole cultural richness of India and its exotic festivals.