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Happy Holi: Experiencing the Festival in Himachal Pradesh

Happy Holi: Experiencing the Festival in Himachal Pradesh

By Soumya Pawaskar

04 Mar, 2024

Over the past few years, spots like Pushkar, Vrindavan, and Barsana have become hotspots for backpackers during Holi. Travel photographers and influencers often swarm to these places before the festivities begin. However, Himachal, despite being renowned for its festival celebrations, has yet to make headlines. It could be an excellent choice for a unique experience this season. Here are our top recommendations for the area. Are you interested in learning more? Keep reading!

Significance of Holi

Mesmerizing view of Holika Dahan in a small village of Himachal Pradesh

Mesmerizing view of Holika Dahan in a small village of Himachal Pradesh (Source - inextlive.com)

Before diving into Holi celebration in Himachal Pradesh, let's understand what Holi is and its significance. Most of you must already be aware of this vibrant festival, but for those who need to learn about its mythological importance, let us shed some light on it.

Holi is a famous Hindu festival, widely celebrated as the festival of colours. It is celebrated to mark the end of the winter season and the joyous arrival of spring, invoking the anticipation of a good harvest season. Holi typically spans over two days. It begins on the full moon evening, celebrated as 'Holika Dahan' when the enormous wood pyres are lit. The following day, known as Rangwali Holi, is filled with powdered colours and water.

Holi is associated with numerous legends and folktales within Hindu scriptures. Among them, the tales of Prahlad-Hiranyakashipu and Lord Krishna-Radha are two of the most significant and famous Holi legends.

The love story of Lord Krishna-Radha

A painting depicting Radha-Krishna playing Holi with Gopis

A painting depicting Radha-Krishna playing Holi with Gopis

Holi is celebrated as the festival of colours, symbolizing the divine love between Lord Krishna and Radha. According to the legend, with his dark complexion, young Krishna felt envious of Radha's fair skin. One day, he questioned his mother, Yashoda, about this disparity and injustice by nature. To appease him, Mother Yashoda suggested Krishna go and playfully colour Radha's face with whichever colour he desired.

Known for his mischievous nature, young Krishna followed his mother's advice and applied colour to his beloved Radha's face, mirroring his complexion. Lord Krishna extended this playful act to other Gopis as well. This beautiful incident is depicted in many paintings and murals. This prank by Lord Krishna is believed to have been integrated with the Holi festival ever since.

The story of ‘Holika Dahan’

A picture of Lord Vishnu in Narsimha avatara killing evil King Hiranyakashipu

Lord Vishnu in Narsimha avatara killing evil King Hiranyakashipu

Another symbolic legend narrates the story of Holika Dahan, explaining why Holi is celebrated as the festival of the triumph of good over evil in honour of Lord Vishnu and his devotee Prahlad. This story revolves around a demon, King Hiranyakashipu, who had earned a boon from Lord Shiva, granting him five special powers for his protection. This made him think he was superior to all, and he arrogantly asked everyone to worship him.

However, Hiranyakashipu's son, Prahlad, remained a devotee of Lord Vishnu. This infuriated Hiranyakashipu, and after subjecting Prahlad to many cruel punishments, he ordered his demon sister, Holika, to kill Prahlad. Holika tricked him into sitting on a pyre with her as she was immune to fire. As the pyre was lit and the fire spread, to everyone's surprise, Holika was burnt down to ashes, and Prahlad emerged unharmed from the fire. Later, Hiranyakashipu was brutally killed by Lord Vishnu in the fierce form of Narsimha - half human, half lion.

Circling back to the Holi celebration in Himachal Pradesh, let us take you through some of the fabulous Holi festivities that exclusively take place in this picturesque region. Below are some must-visit spots:

1. Paonta Sahib

A view of majestic Paonta Sahib Gurdwara in Sirmour district

Majestic Paonta Sahib Gurdwara in the picturesque Sirmour district (Source - discoversikhism.com)

Paonta Sahib is a historic town in Sirmour district situated on the banks of the River Yamuna. This river is closely connected to Lord Krishna's childhood days. This is the same river through which his father Vasudeva safely carried a newborn Krishna on a stormy night.

This small town is famous for its majestic Gurdwara, founded by the tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh. Many people know about the Gurdwara, but they need to know that this town is also renowned for its Holi Mela. This week-long fair is undoubtedly a focal point of interest for the locals. Typically, people engage in Holi festivities until mid-day, followed by an evening visit to the mela for additional fun.

One of the highlights of this mela is that thousands of locals gather at the significant ground in front of this holy shrine of Paonta Sahib, where people seek blessings for good health and prosperity. The whole atmosphere exudes positivity as it is filled with prayers and rituals, enhancing the spiritual experience for all attendees.

How to get there?

By Road - Paonta Sahib is accessible from Dehradun (45km) and Chandigarh (120km) by private cars and cabs. Additionally, numerous state buses connect the town to several cities in Himachal Pradesh.

By Rail - The nearest railway station to Paonta Sahib is Dehradun, which is about 45 km away. Trains from several cities, such as New Delhi, Lucknow and Mumbai, stop at this station. Taxi services are readily available at the station to get you to Paonta Sahib.

By Air - The nearest airports to Paonta Sahib are Chandigarh Airport and Dehradun Airport.

2. Manali

A view of people soaked in colors and dancing their hearts out

People soaked in colors and dancing their hearts out at a Holi dance party

While the traditional Holi celebration in Himachal Pradesh offers a unique and unforgettable experience, the Holi dance parties in Manali are a must-attend if you're in the mood for a more Westernized twist. Holi hai toh dance toh banta hai.

Manali is famous for its dance parties, where almost the entire town gathers in an open ground or town square to celebrate Holi in the most fun way! Street food vendors sure do make a lot of money that day. Whether old or young, rich or poor - everyone comes together during Holi to dance all day. Giant DJ sets are also set up for some Holi remixes. They are making it a Happy Holi, indeed!

How to get there?

By Road - Manali is well connected with major cities like Delhi, Chandigarh, Ambala and Shimla. Several Volvo buses frequently run from Delhi and Chandigarh to Manali.

By Rail - Manali doesn't have a railway station, but the closest one is Jogindar Nagar Railway Station, around 166 km away. Alternatively, Chandigarh (315 km) or Pathankot (290 km) serve critical Indian cities. You can take buses from these railway stations to Manali.

By Air - The closest airport to Manali is Bhuntar Airport, around 50 km away. You may take a taxi or bus to Manali after arriving at the airport. The road journey from Bhuntar to Manali offers breathtaking scenic views.

You can check out The Hosteller, Manali, right here if you want an affordable accommodation option.

3. Sangla Valley

A view of majestic Nag Temple in Sangla

A view of majestic Nag Temple in Sangla

In the enchanting Sangla Valley, the Holi celebration is more like a carnival, which is celebrated over 3-to four days. To be precise, Holi is an integral part of the four-day Faguli Festival, joyously celebrated on its third day.

The Faguli festival, one of the religious festivals of Himachal Pradesh, is primarily celebrated by locals and tribal communities. As part of the festivities, people shoot a dart or arrow at the picture of Ravana. According to myth, if the arrow hits the house wall, it symbolizes God's triumph over the evil spirit. Additionally, during this time, people offer food to animals for seven days.

Himachali people playing instruments during Holi celebrations

Locals of Himachal Pradesh playing instruments during Holi celebrations

As the morning of Holi dawns, people gather at the Sangla Valley's main temple, the Nag Mandir. Men dress up like characters from the epic Ramayana. The celebration unfolds with the melodic singing and spirited dancing of village folks, accompanied by the joyous play of colours by children.

During this festival, people usually serve the local delicacies and traditional liquor known as Phasur. People also light the oil lamps as part of the festivities, similar to Diwali traditions. Therefore, the Faguli festival perfectly blends two of India's most loved and widely celebrated festivals - Holi and Diwali. They are undoubtedly making Sangla Holi an unmissable experience!

How to get there?

By Road - Many private and state buses are readily available for Sangla from Chandigarh. The HRTC (Himachal Road Transport Corporation) buses run regularly from Delhi, Haryana and Punjab.

By Rail - There is no railway station at Sangla. The closest railway station is Kalka Railway Station in Shimla. You can take a taxi or bus from Kalka to reach Sangla.

By Air - The nearest airport to Sangla is Jubbarhatti Airport at Shimla, 238 km away.

4. Kullu

Himachali children joyfully posing for a picture during Holi celebration

Himachali children joyfully posing for a picture during Holi celebration

In the Holi festivities, powdered colours and water guns play an integral role, making it a cherished childhood memory for many of us. But have you ever heard of Ice Holi? When delving into the Himachali Holi celebration, there's no way snow is left out!

Ice Holi is very popular and widely celebrated in Kullu. Locals, especially children, blend powdered colours with the snow and go all out. It's basically a snowball fight turned into a big Holi celebration. As this unique Holi is exclusive only to the snowy locales, folks like me from the plains are excited to visit Manali this year to experience this Holi celebration with a Himachali twist.

How to get there?

By Road - Regular, state-owned and private bus services occur regularly between local cities and other states. Apart from buses, one can self-drive or hire a private cab from Delhi, which is 497 km away.

By Rail - the Joginder Nagar Railway Station is the closest railway station to Kullu, about 166 km away. You can also take a train to Chandigarh, which is 345 km away from Kullu, and then grab a bus from the Railway station to Kullu.

By Air - Kullu has an airport situated just 14 km away from Manali. Another alternative is Bhuntar airport (50 km), connected to Delhi and major cities by flight service.

5. Sujanpur, Harmirpur district

A view of Holi mela in Sujanpur

A glimpse into livley Holi mela in Sujanpur, Harmirpur District

Himachal Pradesh is a big fan of Holi fairs. The entire state hosts many melas and small fairs to celebrate the festival of Holi. These events include numerous processions with drummers, local bands, several dancing crews and, of course, a plethora of colours and water balloons.

Holi mela is quite famous in Sujanpur specifically. It starts with a special prayer and offerings to the gods, followed by a full-fledged affair in the open field. Stalls offering authentic local cuisine and tempting fast food, a variety of entertaining games, some fun amusement rides for children and live musical stages stand out as the event's highlights. These melas effortlessly create a joyous atmosphere, guaranteeing a pleased Holi for everyone.

How to get there?

By Road - Harmirpur is connected to all the major cities like Delhi, Chandigarh, Dehradun and Lucknow. Both private and State Transport (HRTC – Himachal Road Transport Corporation) operates its buses to Harmirpur from Shimla, Mandi, Chandigarh and Dharamshala. You can also hire taxis to get to Harmirpur from Delhi.

By Train - There is no direct Train service to this town. The nearest railway station from Hamirpur is Una, about 80 km from Hamirpur. Amb railway station is approximately 70 km away from Hamirpur. Frequent Bus / Taxi service is available to and from all the Railway Stations.

By Air - There is no Airport in the district of Hamirpur. Thus, no direct Air Service / Flight is available to this town. The nearest Airport to Hamirpur is Gaggal (Kangra) near Dharamshala. Gaggal Airport is about 83 km away from Hamirpur, and frequent bus/taxi services are available to and from Gaggal.

Local Himachali people celebrate Vibrant festivities of Holi

Local Himachali people celebrate Vibrant festivities of Holi (Source - ghumoindiacommunity.com)

With the breathtaking backdrop of Himalayan landscapes, Himachali Holi is already a big hit. But what sets it apart is that it's a perfect blend of traditions and fun. From playful snowball fights to lively fairs and dance parties, the air fills with joy and cheerfulness, guaranteeing abundant fun during this vibrant occasion. We highly recommend including the Ice Holi in Kullu and the Faguli Festival in Sangla Valley, as they have been our favourites!

Now that you know everything about the customs and traditions of Himachali Holi, how about planning your own joyous Holi getaway to serene Himachal Pradesh? Explore budget-friendly accommodations in Himachal Pradesh right here. Trust us - it will be a bit different but enjoyable. After all - Holi hai!

What to do now?

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