The Best Places to Celebrate Holi

The Best Places to Celebrate Holi

When it comes to religious festivals, India is undeniably the biggest champion. From Ganesh Chaturthi in September, which sees parades of elaborately crafted statues of the beloved Hindu elephant god weave through its city’s streets, to November’s Diwali - otherwise known as the ‘Festival of Lights’ - India is a country of carnival aficionados. It is Holi, however, which leads its festival fervor. Combining India’s flamboyant colour wheel with its love of street celebrations and moreish roasted snacks, it is celebrated through colourful gulal powder fights in the day and bonfire parties at night. The best way to experience Holi’s kaleidoscopic skies, however, is to place yourself right in it. You can get a good idea of it from watching Bollywood classics like Baghban and Mohabbatien, but until you’ve been covered head to toe with florescent powder, which also blankets surrounding regal palaces, spiritual rivers and ancient cities in rainbow hues, you haven’t truly experienced Holi. Read on to discover the best places to celebrate Holi in India…



If there was one city that was designed specifically with Holi in mind, it would be Jaipur, aka the ‘Pink City’. While the dusty pink on the buildings of its old town were actually painted to welcome King Edward VII, it is now the perfect backdrop to celebrate the world’s most colourful festival. Made even more striking by the festoons of colourful flowers and decorations draped along their blush walls, the city’s Holi celebration attracts not just Jaipurites and tourists (who are actively encouraged to join in), but the region’s royal family, who begin the festival by lighting the pyre and can be spotted cavorting in colour clouds the following day. Jaipur also understands that no festival is complete without snacks. In between partying, indulge your tastebuds in Jaipurite favourites such as gunjjias (desi ghee with a coconut filling) and thandai (a cold drink prepared with nuts and spices), and once the sun has set you’ll see how world-renowned DJs are taking the city’s Holi celebrations to new immersive dimensions.



One of the best places to celebrate Holi in a truly authentic way is Shantiniketan. Despite being tucked against the Bangladeshi border, this unassuming West Bengali district is famed for its traditional Holi and Basanta Utsav celebrations (which, simply put, celebrates Holi at a much slower pace). In keeping with the town’s cultured and arty vibe, Basanta Utsav is commemorated through mesmerising cultural dances, euphonious university-produced performances (students wear red and yellow dress for the occasion), folk art and – of course –  colour fights. The perfect happy medium for those who find the dizzying sights of India’s larger cities a little too overwhelming, Shantiniketan offers a truly authentic Holi experience that strips the festival right back to basics. 


Mathura, Vrindavan and Barsana

You’d be forgiven for not having heard of these sacred cities nestled between Delhi and Agra before. Overshadowed by Agra’s ivory Taj Mahal and New Delhi’s Red Fort, they tend not to get a look in… except at the end of March. Historical hotspots for the Holi festival, they are where Krishna spent his childhood and where his foster mother convinced him to smear gulal on his face (to appear lighter for his beloved and fairer Radha). These acts inspired Holi, and as the festival’s birthplace, it is expected that celebrations in the Braj region begin earlier and go on longer. They also sport slightly more unusual traditions. While men decorate the women with the gulal, the women, in playful retaliation, hit them with lathis (sticks); processions of children dressed as Krishna and Radha march through Mathura and priests open the gates of the Banke Bihari Temple to throw flowers at swarms of eager revelers. The Hindi saying may go ‘bura na mano, Holi hai’ (‘don’t feel offended, it’s Holi’), but in Braj it is worth noting that the party spirit can sometimes get a little carried away. Make sure that when the festivities get really started, you enjoy them with your guide or fellow tourists. 



If you ask young Indians where the best places to celebrate Holi are, they’ll probably point you in the direction of the mega metropolis of Mumbai. Refuting the idea that religious festivals have to be spent within eyeshot of ancient temples, Mumbai has become the go-to destination for Holi hootenannies and hardcore Bollywood raves. While throwing colours and cutting shapes under strobe lights may not be everybody’s cup of chai, festivals like Imagicaa and Bolly Boom interweave tradition with contemporary celebrations, so much so that you can dance to the beat of dhol drums one minute and spin next to exuberant electronic-loving DJs the next. If you’re after a more low-key affair however, head to the beach in Alibaug, just three hours south of Mumbai, where you can sleep under the stars in glamping tents, get to know locals around crackling bonfires and revel in the colourful showers falling from florescent gulal-filled skies.