If you love the Festival of Colours and your idea of Holi is dancing to Bollywood music at deafening decibels, while consuming potable bhaang and chucking water balloons at others, it’s time to change. This year, visit Mathura and Vrindavan for a total ‘Holi overhaul’.
Immersed in rich history and mythology, Mathura and Vrindavan are the absolute best places to have the true Holi experience, one which you will remember for a lifetime. Festivities begin as early as two weeks before Holi in Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna. Legends tell tales of how Lord Krishna and Radha’s love blossomed in the suburbs of Mathura. In fact, Mathura, Vrindavan, Barsana, Nandgaon and Govardhan are collectively called ‘Brajbhoomi’, with various forms of Holi being celebrated here. Join the festivities with Lathmar Holi, Phoolon-Wali Holi and Widow’s Holi, apart from the main event in Vrindavan.
1. Lathmar Holi
Lathmar Holi, played in Barsana and Nandgaon, is something to be seen. This distinctive form of Holi sees the women of Barsana use sticks to beat men, who come from the adjacent village of Nandgaon. The ritual recreates the time when when Lord Krishna visited Radha, who stayed in Barsana, and played mischievous pranks on her and her friends on the occasion of Holi. In turn, the Barsana women took offence and chased him away with sticks. After the beating, Lord Krishna is said to have fled to Nandgaon.
This re-enactment happens every year, where men from Nandgaon visit Barsana to play Holi and splash colour on the women, only to be playfully beaten up with sticks. The following day, men from Barsana go to Nandgaon to drench the women in water and colour. This unusual celebration is a huge attraction for tourists, making Lathmar Holi a must-experience item on your travel itinerary.
2. Phoolon-Wali Holi
The safest, loveliest and most environment-friendly Holi is played in Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan on the Ekadashi (considered to be an auspicious day) before Holi. The temple gates are opened at 4pm and the priests shower the devotees with flowers and colourful petals for 15-20 minutes. Make sure you reach the temple gate early (or on time) if you want to get inside. Phoolon-Wali Holi is scheduled to be held on March 8 this year.
3. Widow’s Holi
Widows in India usually have a hard life. They are not allowed to participate in various socio-religious activities, are banished from their homes, confined to ashrams, and restricted to donning white clothes forever. But this is one time when the women of Meera Sahabhagini Widow Ashram and Pagal Baba Ashram of Vrindavan break the stereotype. You must visit these ashrams on March 10 (tentative) this year to see them laughing, smiling and playing what is popularly called Widow’s Holi.
4. The Main Event In Vrindavan
If you’re heading to this joyful town, plan your travel in a group, preferably with male members since this event is dominated by men. All set with a fierce Holi army of 4, I set out on a long drive to Vrindavan, reaching one day before the festival.
If you’re ready to take the game a few notches higher, head to the Banke Bihari Temple in Vrindavan on Holi, which falls on March 13 this year. It’s the hub of all Holi festivities and also the largest crowd puller. I love the dramatic display of colours on Holi, so I decided to celebrate the festival with full zeal in Vrindavan last year, away from the highly sensitive city girls who are worried Holi will mess with their skin or hair forever.
Since pleasing the mirror (and Delhi boys) lies pretty low on my priority list, I went ahead with the plan to get all crazy this one time. I can be pretty spontaneous at times, but I do keep a check on things with articulate planning, and so should you. Holi can be pretty rowdy, what with the large crowds of people, so your safety rests in your own hands.
Once we reached our hotel, we unpacked and headed out for food and conversation with the locals. We were advised to leave for the temple as early as possible (preferably between 7 -8am) to avoid the crowd. If you’re a photographer and plan to click lovely shots from a distance, head out well before time and book yourself a great spot on the temple rood for some amazing photos.
Our group woke up early the next morning, ready to join the festivities but with the promise of staying together at all times. I personally recommend lathering your face with layers of foundation and sunscreen, so that dry Holi colours stay on the surface and are easier to rinse off. Our first taste of Holi included being greeted with dry colour by our auto driver, who took us to Banke Bihari temple.
Outside the temple, huge queues of people stood, chanting to be let into the premises. The temple gates opened at 9am and the crowds rushed in to witness a glorious display of dry colours and holy water, which the priests sprinkle on the incoming devotees. Although surrounded by my male friends, I did experience a lot of pushing and pulling. The temple gates close at 1:30pm but the festival continues within the premises.
Just outside the Banke Bihari temple, the streets are filled with people selling snacks and bhaang. A few dhabas are open until lunch time (you’ll be starving before noon), but I suggest you to stock up on food in your hotel the previous day since most places stay shut. Savour a good meal, take a long shower and get some rest like we did. That same evening, we started our return trip to Delhi, happy with our share of memories and a little bit of bhaang.
1. Dress appropriately. Cover your head with a scarf, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes (they won’t stay on for long though), and apply sunscreen (and foundation) generously to protect your skin from harmful colours. Ensure you wear proper footwear – preferably shoes, so you don’t slip.
2. Do not carry any valuables with you. Clip on a waist pouch, with a small water bottle or eye drops in it in case of emergencies.
3. If you’re a photographer, protect your camera lens from water and colours. Reach the venue well in advance to save yourself a good spot to get some amazing pictures.
4. Beware of miscreants. Girls are advised to travel in groups with male members shielding them at all times.
5. Do not consume bhaang if you cannot handle it.
6. Stock your hotel room with food, lest you starve on the day of Holi.
7. Pick a hotel close to the venue so you don’t have to travel much on the day.
Location: Mathura and Vrindavan
How to Reach: You can drive your own car, hire a taxi or take a bus or train to Mathura. On reaching Mathura, take a cab to Barsana. The distance from Delhi to Mathura is around 141kms (by train) and 162kms (by road), and Mathura to Barsana is around 50kms. Vrindavan is about 12 kms and a 30-minute cab ride away from Mathura.
Language: Hindi and Braj. Many understand basic English so they can converse with tourists.
Food & Drinks: Completely Indian vegetarian food with no alcoholic drinks. You may find Indo-chinese food at the restaurants, but the dhabas usually only offer filling Indian meals.
Time zone: UST+5:30
Holiday For Holi? Explore India!
About The Author
Just another girl posing to be Instagram-worthy by documenting her seemingly exotic travel escapades. Pretty much stuck in earn-eat-travel-repeat cycle.