Diwali, as we all know, is one of the most important and celebrated festivals in India. Every year, millions of people celebrate this festival of light which draws its origin from the legend of Lord Ram’s return to Ayodhya after spending years in exile. For most families, it is the time of the year where everyone gets together with prayers, lights, and firecrackers. For those of you who are looking forward to travelling during this long Diwali weekend, however, here are a few places where the celebration of Diwali reaches a different level altogether.
Varanasi, or Banaras, is located on the banks of the River Ganga and is considered to be the holiest city in India for Hindus. During Diwali, the celebrations in Varanasi are held with a pomp and circumstance that can’t be found anywhere else in the country. The ghats of the holy city are awash with the lights from thousands of diyas, and the mesmerising view certainly earns Varanasi the title of ‘City of Lights’ in Diwali. On a boat ride at sunset, soak in the sight of the lamps by the shore as they slowly illuminate the dark, and the spiritual aura lent by the chants and recitals on the riverside during the special ‘Ganga Aarti’. The festivities culminate in loud and colourful firecrackers being set off in every little lane of the city. Stay a week longer to witness the even more festive Dev Deepavali, ‘the Diwali of Gods’, celebrated as part of the Ganga Mahotsav festival to showcase Varanasi’s cultural heritage.
The city of the Golden Temple is a treat at any time of the year, but particularly so on Diwali, which coincides with the Sikh celebrations of Bandi Chhor Divas. It is celebrated to mark the return of the Sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind Ji, from Mughal imprisonment in 1619. The already magnificent Golden Temple gleams with a ferocious aura thanks to the numerous lights covering it and it forms the perfect backdrop for the lake which carries thousands of floating oil lamps and candles. Club that with the infectious spirit of the people of Punjab, the culinary delights of a typical Amritsari dhaba (eating joint), the cool weather, and the majestic fields of sarson (mustard) in the countryside, and you’ve got yourself a winner.
Celebrations in Jaipur start on Dhanteras, the first of the five-day Diwali celebrations. The pink city is adorned in varied colours and the lights that will greet you will be like none that you have seen before. Apart from the houses being decked up, the entire markets are decorated with lights. One can also see musicians on the streets of the city. The markets here sell over a thousand types of earthen lamps in many shapes, sizes and colours. The decked up markets are flooded with traditional clothes and handicrafts. Apart from a feast for the eyes, you can treat your palate to delicious sweets and food items which are a hallmark of the Rajasthani culture in Jaipur.
If you want to celebrate Diwali but don’t want it to be the only thing you do during your holiday, then Goa is the place to be. Diwali in Goa and its surrounding areas begins on the day of Naraka Chaturdashi. While cleaning the houses is a norm all over, people decorate their front doors and windows with kandeels (lanterns). Paper-made effigies of Narakasura, filled with grass and firecrackers, symbolising evil are made on Naraka Chaturdashi, and then burnt down around four in the morning the next day. While you can observe the traditions in Goa, you can also enjoy a vacation by visiting the beaches and casinos in Goa.
For a quiet Diwali, away from street fairs and firecrackers, visit Purushwadi, a small village located on a hill along the Mumbai-Nashik highway. Families in this little hamlet light a bonfire on Diwali night and cook local food, while children move from door to door, singing traditional songs, inviting each household to pour oil into their oil lamps, mounted atop a handmade bundle of sticks. Immerse yourself in the village life by helping the local women make Rangolis, assisting in the rice harvest, going for a dip in the river, chopping wood for the bonfire, and toasting your own barbeque dinner on the bonfire. It will certainly be a Diwali the likes of which you have never experienced before.
If you’re planning to visit one of these places last-minute, you’ll surely end up spending a lot plane/train/bus tickets. For the most affordable, and indeed fun way to travel, simply rent a bike in Pune, Bangalore or Delhi of your choice from Wheelstreet and head over to the destination of your choice this Diwali.