It is known as the Festival of Colors and it is unlike anything you've ever seen. Holi is a Hindu festival that takes places across India but nowhere celebrates the Holi Festival with more spirit than Mathura, the birthplace of Krishna.
Holi Festival India
We were traveling in Punjab before Holi wondering where we should celebrate.
There are several places that are good to experience Holi, but when our friends Julian and Becca told us that Mathura is the best place for Holi we hopped on a train and took the 12-hour journey to meet them there.
And I'm glad we did!
What is Holi Festival?
Holi Festival takes place across India each year to celebrate the arrival of spring and to signify the victory of good over evil.
It is a Hindu festival but most Indian's celebrate Holi since it is such a vibrant and festive occasion.
It is also a time to bring everyone together as one.
It doesn't matter what your caste, creed, or religion is, Holi evens the playing field.
What Happens at Holi?
People throw colored powder through the air covering everyone with hues of the rainbow.
Everyone looks the same as their skin is coated with red and green and yellow creating a feeling of inclusiveness.
You can purchase powders from vendors on the street, but even if you don't, you'll be covered in powder regardless.
When is Holi India?
Each year the date changes for Holi as it takes place on the full moon day of the Hindu calendar month, Phalunga. That means it can happen anytime between February and March.
In 2019, Holi falls on March 21.
Holi is really meant to take place over just one or two days, but it has grown into a week-long celebration.
It is the ultimate spring festival!
Mathura is the main location to celebrate Holi, but it is celebrated in other parts of India as well. Northern India celebrates it with more vigor, but it is catching on in other parts of the country.
Holi Fast Facts:
- Everyone looks the same when Holi is in full swing. You cannot tell if someone is dark skinned or light skinned, blonde or brunette.
- Never does the essence of Holi ring more true than at this time.
- Colour, class, and religion are wiped away by the colors of Holi.
- For this moment, all people are equal. This is especially important for India, which still follows the caste system, so the Holi Festival is a day to break free from your caste.
- Holi Festival in Mathura is probably the most famous place to celebrate.
- Fires are lit on the eve of Holi to burn away the Witch of Winter on the eve of Holi known as Holika Dahan
- The following day people throw colorful powders all morning long.
- However, don't be surprised if powders are being thrown days in advance.
Where to Celebrate Holi in India
- Mathura is the number 1 place to celebrate Holi as it is the birthplace of Krishna
- Jaipur - The elephant festival is celebrated on the eve of Holi here
- Udaipur is India's most beautiful city and the streets come alive during Holi.
- Goa - South India doesn't celebrate as much as the North, but because Goa is a popular tourist destination, Holi is celebrated.
- Hampi - this was one of our favorite places in India and they have started celebrating Holi to appease tourists
- Mumbai is another great place to celebrate with the Holi pot competition to become the Holi King.
- Delhi - The Holi Cow festival makes Delhi unique for Holi
Mathura is located south of Delhi and just 50 km north of Agra (home of the Taj Mahal). It is very easy to reach by train from Delhi or Agra.
Agra, in Uttar Pradesh also celebrates Holi if you find yourself exploring India's most famous attraction.
How Long is Holi Celebrated?
Officially, Holi happens over two days - Holika Dahan and Holi.
But the celebrations have extended to several days beforehand.
For several days leading up to Holi, people gather wood to make large bonfires that are lit the night before on the day of Holika Dahan.
Holika was a demon in Hinduism who was burned to death by Vishnu.
Holika represents evil, and once the sun goes down, people light the fires to burn Holika celebrating the triumph of good over evil.
The fires burn into the night and people are out dancing and celebrating to the wee hours of the morning.
Holi Festival is an exciting time to be in India.
The entire country is alive with energy.
Holi Festival in Mathura
Word of advice, if you are going to celebrate Holi at one of the popular celebration destinations, book your hotel in advance.
When we got off the train, we couldn't believe the crowds!
We foolishly arrived in Mathura with no plans or hotel and were stuck in a $4 per night hovel that left me not even wanting to use the toilet.
But at least we found a place, I have a feeling many people were left sleeping on the street!
And besides, we were celebrating Holi in India, man! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Holi can be overwhelming
On the day of Holi, we wandered aimlessly through the streets of Mathura because we weren't sure where we should start.
There were crowds building along the sidewalks, but we weren't quite sure where the epicenter of Holi took place.
Luckily, we stumbled across a small courtyard where a man caught our attention. He beckoned us to join the festivities inside. Never being ones to refuse an invitation, we accepted.
Everyone welcomed us with open arms and smears of color.
We all came together under the colors of Lord Krishna.
The vibrant colors of Holi represent love.
The Holi Head of the Temple told us that Holi is a time in India for all people to let go of prejudices, creeds, castes, and discrimination.
We certainly felt the love with Holi
Women took turns dancing with Becca and me, swinging us around one after another. It was exhausting yet exhilarating all at once!
Everyone wanted to dance with us. As the only westerners in the temple, we were somewhat of a novelty, but the people of India are genuinely welcoming and friendly.
I believe they wanted us to have the best time possible.
The men loved holding Julian and Dave’s hands high in the air as they danced and laughed in a circle, and children and adults alike threw handfuls of colored powder overhead.
During this festival, the men and women didn't hold hands; they instead kept the touching to the same sex, making sure that everyone had the utmost respect.
The feeling was jubilant. Holi falls on the full moon at the end of February; it marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
The four of us became mini-celebrities.
Television cameras were covering the energetic dances in the courtyard and we were all encouraged to join in.
We were even stopped to give our views and comments on Holi.
We were filled with joy and praised the festival as one of the best and most unique we've ever seen. And we weren't joking!
If you celebrate the Holi Festival in India, you will have one of the most memorable travel experiences of your life!
The camera operators followed each of us as we did everything from dancing and spinning to drumming and singing.
We were interviewed on live TV and asked to explain the essence of Holi for all of India to hear.
Luckily, we had Julian along who had explained it all to us the day before.
Before that, Dave and I admittedly didn't know much about Holi besides the fact that colorful powders are thrown through the air.
Tips for Celebrating Holi Festival in India
- Mathura is where we celebrated Holi, but no matter where you are in India, it will be celebrated.
- Go to local parks and residential neighborhoods, or ask at your guest house.
- Don't wear anything that you want to keep. Every piece of clothing will be ruined.
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts so as to have minimal skin exposed.
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, but buy cheap ones that you don't mind throwing away afterward.
- Take off all watches and jewelry. (as you can see, I didn't and my watch was trashed)
- Ladies, wear your hair back.
- Use only waterproof camera gear: Holi is messy. It's not just water, but thick powder. It can ruin cameras so keep them in waterproof dry bags and only bring them out when necessary. Even GoPro housings can get ruined.
- Don't carry any valuables.
- The Holi Festival of India is the most exciting and unique celebration in the world.
Holi Festival of Colors
During our time at Holi in India, the colored powders were being spread in full force four days in advance.
On the day we arrived, parades took place in the street with dancing and music blaring from loudspeakers. Everyone has taken to celebrating Holi for days!
What to Watch for at Holi
Everyone dances with each other and are thrilled when some purple and green foreigners enter their circle to dance.
The events of Holi can get a little hairy at times, and you have to keep an eye out for one another. It's easy to get lost. Everybody starts to look the same and it is easy to become separated.
I just held on to Dave's hand with all my might when weaving my way through the thick crowds.
As a foreigner, you are sometimes targeted by overzealous festival goers.
They can be a little too aggressive, and some men can cross the line and grab and touch women a little too aggressively.
I am sad to report that women are often groped during Holi and men can be aggressive when throwing foam or powder in your face, so be on your guard.
But for the most part, the Holi Festival is a wonderful and fulfilling experience.
Celebrations Winding Down
Holi goes on for hours on end, and it eventually caught up to us as we had been the center of attention for more than 6 hours straight.
Happy be in the moment, we rarely refused a dance with the women and gents, but in time we were exhausted and needed to get back to our guesthouse to wash up.
Cleaning up after Holi
It is not a fun process cleaning up after Holi.
The sun is hot and the mix of colored foam, water, and thick powders has baked on our skin.
The mixture of powder and water stained our skin and hair, and we have to scrub until our skin is raw to eventually look close to normal.
It takes over an hour to clean ourselves up with the bucket and scoop bath and the four of us never quite make it back to our former selves.
Becca got it bad when an overzealous fan sprayed a can of red foam all over her face, and she remained red for days to come.
My hair was pink for weeks, and our feet? Well, our feet never did recover from Holi.
It is worth every moment though.
Holi Festival is a once in a lifetime experience to take part in Holi, and enjoying with great friends is something that we will never forget!