1. Mathura and Vrindavan: Traditional Holi
Sri Krishna Janmastham
Holi festival celebrations last for 40 days in the temple towns of Mathura and Vrindavan, four hours from Delhi. Mathura is where Lord Krishna was born, while Vrindavan was where he spent his childhood. During the 40 days prior to the main Holi day, dancers from various parts of India gather to put on shows depicting Krishna's flirtations with the village maidens. Singing troupes perform Holi folk songs as well. Make sure you arrive well before the main Holi day. The Sri Krishna Janmastham in Mathura holds a renowned show in the week before Holi. The five day celebrations at Shri Banke Bihari Mandir in Vrindavan are also legendary.
2. Delhi: Modern Holi
Holi tends to be a rowdy affair in Delhi. If you're staying anywhere near Paharganj, be prepared to be covered in color by shopkeepers and children alike if you step outside. If you can, try and get tickets to the Holi Cow festival. A festival of color, music and madness, it's is held a short distance outside the city. The environment is safe, and non-toxic colors are provided, along with bhang lassis, street food, and sprinklers to get everyone in the mood. Both DJs and bands perform. Plenty of expats, as well as locals, attend. You can find out more about Holi Cow on Facebook.
3. Shantiniketan, West Bengal: Cultural Holi
The celebration of Holi as Vasanta Utsav (Spring Festival) in Shantiniketan was started by famous Bengali poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Inspired by spring and the colors of Holi, he introduced the occasion as an annual event in his Vishva Bharati University there. Students dress up in spring colors and put on a huge cultural program for visitors, including dances to Tagore's songs. This is followed by the usual throwing of colors. Vasanta Utsav has become a cherished part of Bengali history and culture, and it attracts numerous foreign tourists. Note that festivities happen a day earlier than the given date for Holi in other parts of India.
4. Purulia, West Bengal: Folk Holi
A three day folk festival takes place in the Purulia district of West Bengal. It runs in the lead up to Holi and on the actual day. You'll get to sing and play Holi with the locals, as well as enjoy a wide variety of unique folk art. This includes the remarkable Chau dance, Darbari Jhumur, Natua dance, and songs of West Bengal's wandering Baul musicians. What makes the festival special is that it's organized by villagers as a way of helping sustain themselves. The location is around 5-6 hours by train from Kolkata, or transport in private vehicles can be arranged. Accommodation is provided in tents and there are portable toilets as well.
5. Jaipur: Holi and Elephants
An elephant festival kicks off Holi celebrations in Jaipur every year on Holi eve. Elephant parades, elephant beauty contests, folk dances, and tug-of-war between elephants, locals and foreigners are all regular events. It makes Holi extra fun!
6. Banswara: Tribal Holi
Holi is the main festival of the tribals in the Banswara district of Rajasthan. They wear their traditional dresses, carry swords and sticks, and perform the Gair dance. It's a typical tribal dance of the region. To get there, the nearest airport is in Udaipur, around 165 kilometers away. Alternatively, there's a railway station at Ratlam (Madhya Pradesh), around 80 kilometers away. More travel information, including maps and hotels, is available on the local government wesbiste.
7. Where not to Celebrate Holi: South India
If you're looking for an exhuberant Holi, give south India a miss. In the south, the festival is quite solemn and subdued. The focus is mainly on religious aspects and temple rites.