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Preparing for India’s Unusual Holidays & Festivals

One certainly doesn’t need to be religious in order to visit India, but it’s impossible to escape the importance of religion and ritual to most of the people you’ll encounter on an India trip. Whether you happen to be traveling during a specific holiday on the Hindu calendar or you’re just running into people on a yoga retreat, the country attracts people in search of something beyond the usual vacation checklist.

This is one of the many reasons that after you’ve arranged your flights to India, the next best thing to do is read up on some of the tips for surviving India. The country is intense no matter when you visit – it’s an assault on the senses, in both good and bad ways, and that’s on a normal day. Add a religious festival to the mix and you’ve really got to be on your toes.

Some of the festivals and religious holidays in India are marked by innocuous traditions – intricately designed carpets made of flower petals, offerings made at specially-created deity statues, feasts and parades – but there are other more unusual religious rituals in India that you might also encounter. In particular, the Thaipusam holiday in February can be difficult to witness if you’re not prepared for it – participants engage in extreme self-piercing, so it can get fairly bloody. If that’s not your thing, then be sure to find out when and where it’s occuring so you can avoid it.

On the plus side, many festivals in India last for several days – some up to 10 or 11 – so if it’s a celebration that’s notably different depending on where you are in the country, you can easily hop on domestic flights within India to get from city to city and experience the same festival in a couple different ways.

photo by mckaysavage