India is a land of colours. And nothing epitomises it better than the boisterous, noisy, colourful festival of Holi. One of the most unique festivals on the planet (except for that colossal wastage of food they call La Tomatina. Just kidding), Holi is eagerly awaited by almost everyone with a beating heart. To give you a low-down on the best places to celebrate Holi, the best food to eat on Holi, and to give you survive tips for the zombie apocalypse-type scenes on the streets, here’s our ultimate guide for the carnival that is Holi
Best Places To Celebrate Holi
Holi the traditional way, Mathura/ Vrindavan-
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Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, and Vrindavan, where he spent his childhood, have elaborate Holi traditions that have continued since time immemorial. Celebrations begin over a month before, in the temples here. The highlights are the Flower Holi celebrated in the temples of Vrindavan a day before the main day, and the grand decorations and celebrations at the Baanke Bihari Temple in Vrindavan. Of course, the best known affair here is the ‘Latthmaar Holi’ in Barsana, the ancient village where Krishna’s paramour Radha was born. Women try to beat up the men using lathis, and the men do their best to defend. Participate at your own risk.
Shantiniketan, West Bengal
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Rabindranath Tagore started the tradition of grand Holi celebrations at his Vishva Bharti University, and the students here have continued it since. The festival is called the ‘Basant Utsav’ because the celebrations begin from the onset of Spring a month ago. The festival attracts many outsiders from near and far, and the students prepare plays, dance performances and other cultural presentations to entertain them.
Anandpur Sahib, Punjab
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Anandpur Sahib, home to one of the largest and most-believed-in Gurudwaras in the world, the celebrations here an be traced back to Guru Gobind Singh. Called Hola Mohalla, the month-long celebration attract lakhs, if not millions, of people from all over the country. The celebrations have a twist though; there is wrestling, swordfighting, and other shows of strength to celebrate the warrior history of the Sikhs.
The word Holi invariably invokes images of North India, with its loud, colourful celebrations. But Hampi is a notable exception in South India, and how The whole city and all its residents come together in the celebrations, with the bright colour powder (gulaal) up in the air, amidst loud drumming and happy cheers from the crowd.
Holi in Purulia is celebrated in true rustic, tribal fashion. The locals play with the fiery-red Palash flower that blooms in the spring, along with abir and gulaal (traditional colour powders). The locals perform the famed Chhau dance, which is a delight to watch, and you can participate in other cultural activities as well.
Best Food To Eat During Holi
Bhang and thandai-
Bhang is an inseparable part of Holi, being consumed on the day for centuries now. Prepared by grinding cannabis leaves to a paste, it can be mixed with milk and milk shakes or fried to make pakoras. The most popular way to have it, though, is to mix it with thandai, a cold drink made by mixing almonds, saffron and other rich ingredients in milk and sugar.
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How do you do Holi without gujiya? Gujiya, a fried sweet dumpling made of maida (fine wheat flour) filled with khoya, nuts and dried fruits, is a permanent fixture of the festival’s cuisine.
A sweet dessert made of hot milk thickened with dollops of sugar, rice and nuts, kheer is a favourite dish in most Indian households. Though not as identifiable to Holi as bhaang and gujiya, Kheer is served on all major festivals. Why should Holi be any different?
Dahi Bhalla/ Dahi Vada-
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A popular Indian snack, dahi vada is prepared by soaking fried flour balls in thick curd. The tangy, refreshing flavours of the dish come from the spices added to the curd, and the tangy chutney and garnishing.
You need constant sources of energy to be an active Holi participant. And there aren’t many sources of that better than sweet and salty savouries. The most popular ones, called namak paare and shakkar paare, are popular with the Holi crowd. Just grab a handful,stuff your face with them and be playing again.
Survival Tips for Playing Holi
OK kids, now that we’ve got the Holi destinations and the Holi cuisine out of the way, let’s come to the most important aspect of the festival: survival strategies to get through the day in one piece and without looking like a baboon.
Apply oil and/or moisturiser
This is important, not for beauty but for self-preservation. If you don’t want to look like an ugly peacock for the next few days, and you don’t want your skin to be dry and chafing like an alligator’s, apply copious amounts of oil to your hair and moisturiser to your skin. Your body will thank you.
Wear old clothes-
That’s pretty logical, isn’t it? Only wear clothes you’re okay with not wearing ever again. So either go buy a couple of cheap ones, or wear old clothes that you were planning to give away.
Avoid using and playing with chemical-laced colours
Holi is anyway heavy on the nature and your own body. Don’t worsen the burden with chemicals, grease or any other not-eco-friendly products the kids are using these days. Stick to playing with gulal Holi powder if you can, and if you intend on using water, try to keep it to a minimum. Encourage your friends to do the same. The nature will thank you and so will your post-Holi healthy skin.
(Especially for the women) Don’t wander off alone-
Unfortunate but true, the loud boisterous Holi celebration is the perfect breeding ground for hooliganism. Young guys get intoxicated and race through the streets in a blur of drunken misconduct. So, celebrate in groups and try not to go too far off alone. Or at least be adequately armed.