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India, the land of ancient culture and rich heritage, has a treasure trove of experiences to offer to its visitors. Tourists in India generally prefer to go soul searching in the Himalayas or revel in the backwaters of Kerala. But there are so many more ways to explore this colourful and diverse continent.

If you are looking for something off the beaten track in India, why not seek the spirit of the subcontinent through its most popular festival – Diwali?

Diwali is a five day festival,  which takes place from mid-October to mid-November every year. The very first day is celebrated as “Naraka Chaturdashi” by many Tamil, Telugu as well as Assamese communities. Narkasur was an evil king who was killed by Krishna- an incarnation of Vishnu, the great God of protection and preservation. Narkasur had placed 16,000 girls under his captivity and committed mass plunder and exploitation until he was trampled by Krishna. The main day of Diwali or Deepavali is celebrated to mark Lord Rama’s (another incarnation of Vishnu) return to Ayodhya with Hanuman, Sita and Lakshman after a 14-year exile. During this time, Lord Ram also defeated the evil king Ravana. Thus Diwali also signifies the victory of good over evil.

Yet another legend says that when the Devas(gods) lost their all their power because of a curse of a powerful sage, they approached Vishnu for help. Vishnu suggested the Devas get together with the Asuras (demons) and churn the ocean to create the nectar of immortality that could restore their power. During this churning of the ocean (or “Samudra Manthan” ) 14 gems arose (besides the nectar). One of these was the goddess of wealth and prosperity – Lakshmi. And hence, the third day of Diwali is generally celebrated as Lakshmi Puja. With Padwa or Balipratipada on the fourth day (celebrated to mark the auspicious relationship between husband and wife) and Bhai Duj on the final day(a celebration of the bond between sister and brother ) Diwali winds to an end across most of India.

Diyas adorning balconies like the brightly lit night sky, fireworks exploding in joy – every city in India has its own way of celebrating Diwali. Read on to know more about the best deals and places to celebrate Diwali in India.

Varanasi

Varanasi, the holiest city in India, located by the banks of the River Ganges, is undoubtedly the best place to celebrate Diwali in India.

Begin with a bath in the holy Ganges, which is said to wash away all of your sins. Next, explore the immense markets of Varanasi. Here, you can find everything from Varanasi special silk sarees to colourful glass bangles.

But, undoubtedly, the highlight of Diwali in Varanasi is the night. This is when under a dark night sky, an equally dark face of the Ganga is illuminated by the light of a thousand Diyas set afloat by multitudes of devotees. An ongoing Aarti along the length of the Ghats heightens the sheer beauty of the spectacle. You can also stay in absolute luxury at Taj Ganges Varanasi, the options are infinite.

Jaipur

Jaipur is an incredibly stunning city to visit during the rest of the year. However, during Diwali, it decks itself in a veil of gold, making it all the more breathtaking. The majestic Nahargarh Fort is the place to be if you are celebrating Diwali in Jaipur. It provides some of the most incredible vistas of the glittering walled city, a sight that is simply an unforgettable experience. Jaipur during Diwali is also a special treat for shopaholics as the major markets such as Chaura Rasta and Johari Bazaar remain open deep into the nights. Find meticulously made intricate lamps and other souvenirs.

For a taste of authentic Rajasthani culture make sure you don’t miss out on the ethnic shows and performances organised by these markets. They have musicians playing the flute and the tabla at various major market squares.

Kolkata

Kolkata brings its own unique brand of energy and fervour in its incredibly enthusiastic dusk to dawn celebration of Diwali

Diwali in Kolkata takes place at the same time as it’s famous Kali Puja. After Durga Puja, this is the biggest festival in Kolkata. It is dedicated to Maa Kali, the goddess of time, creation, destruction and power.

Offerings to the goddess include meat, flowers, sweets and sometimes, even fake blood!  Along with the usual paraphernalia of diyas and firecrackers, you can participate in the auspicious and puja. This is done in huge pandals erected all over the city. You can also go Pandal hopping or see grand fireworks displays that happen on every corner and street. You can also visit major shrines like the Dakineshwar temple and Kalighat Temple where the goddess is worshipped by hundreds and thousands of devotees. While you enjoy all this, don’t miss out on the luxury that Kolkata has to offer by living at incredible hotels like Tulip Salt Lake and Ratnakar Inn.

 Madurai

Located down south in Tamil Nadu the ancient city of Madurai is a location you must not miss if you are looking for an authentic Diwali experience. Its centuries-old Meenakshi temple with it’s intricately carved pillars and roofs are bedecked like a bride during the auspicious season of Diwali. With intricately drawn rangolis and a brightly lit arcade, the whole complex is a sight to behold. At Vengala Kadai Street and South Masi Street, you can engage in shopping for fabrics and jewellery to your heart’s content. Enjoy remarkable local fare at the regional restaurants of Jigarthanda and Muttaiparotta. Or just sit in a quiet corner and soak in the buzz and activity around you. No matter what you choose to do once a thing is assured- celebrating Diwali in Madurai will not leave you disappointed.

Goa

The grand Diwali celebrations in the party hub of Goa begin with Naraka Chaturdashi where people burn huge effigies of the demon Narkasura. The whole of Goa is alight with lamps, lanterns and diyas that hang in people’s windows and courtyards. The sight is a bright miracle worth beholding. Several hotels also organise parties on the sparkling beaches of Goa. This is also a great time to visit Goa’s hotels, casinos, restaurants and lounges. La Flamingo and King’s Court are fantastic places to stay in if you are looking to enjoy Goa in the lap of comfort.

Amritsar

A cool, pleasant climate, blooming mustard fields and a friendly, hospitable people- Amritsar is an amazing tourist spot any time of the year. However, during Diwali, it is a particularly great tourist spot. Diwali here happens at the same time as Bandi Chor Diwas when Sikhs commemorate the return of Guru Gobind Singh, the 6th Sikh Guru, from his imprisonment at the hand of the Mughals. To get a full taste of Diwali in Amritsar, visit the ever-beautiful Golden Temple. It is adorned with diyas and lamps, shining even brighter than usual. Various kirtans and bhajans (holy songs) are organised during this time. Once you are done with sightseeing, dig into Amritsar’s lip-smacking cuisine.

Can’t find the perfect Diwali travel package?

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