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India, one crazy celebration at a time

Author: Susanna Myrtle Lazarus
Publication: The Hindu
Date: October 17, 2014
URL: http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/india-one-crazy-celebration-at-a-time/article6511658.ece?homepage=true

International tourists now time their visits to the country to festival hop, hosted by local families who treat them to traditional customs, food and festivities

When 38-year-old Sue Travers, a marine biologist from the United Kingdom, first visited India a few years ago to attend a friend’s wedding, she experienced the festive frenzy that usually goes with a celebration in our country. “I wanted to experience it further, but there were no festivals at that time. During the stay, however, I heard family members talking about various festivals and it intrigued me enough to decide to come back to India during the festive season,” she says.

Sue is just one of many travellers who are opting to come to India just to experience the joie de vivre of Indian festivals. Not only do they plan their vacations accordingly, but they also choose to stay with a host family which celebrates the festival in a traditional way, so that they can fully understand and be a part of the festivities. Avani Patel, Co-founder of travel planners Broken Compass, says, “There are increasing requests for such tours. Not many travel agencies offer this as a regular service, but the fact that travellers are asking to stay in a local host’s house can only be a positive trend for tourism in the country. The best way to do this would be to match the right guest with an appropriate host.”
And so, Sue came back to India with two of her friends in November last year (2013). “I wanted to experience both Holi and Diwali, but since they are at different times, I had to choose one. The stories and five-day-long celebration, each day signifying different events, is what drew me to Diwali,” she says, adding that they arrived at their host’s house in Anand, Gujarat, a few days before the festivities began, to experience the preparation as well. “It’s difficult to put into words, but the seven days we stayed at their house was the best way we could have experienced India.”

Catherine MacDougall and Gary Macnamara, also from the United Kingdom, had a similar experience while visiting Rajasthan to celebrate Holi. “We stayed with a royal family in Chanoud. It gave us a great opportunity to understand rural life and culture while staying at their historical property. We spent a day with shepherds and potters, got custom-made shoes, danced with local villagers and played with coloured powders and got mehendi done. It was unforgettable,” says Catherine.

Their host, Jairaj Singh, says of his experience, “We celebrate every festival with the public. There are traditional rituals to be followed and we ensure that they are done according to the festival. When we have guests, we make sure that they have a wholesome experience: they visit a family in the village to help in their preparations, attend cooking classes and learn to make diyas with the potter.”
Ravi Choksi, who hosted Robecca Jumin from Malaysia in his Vadodara home, has also hosted a number of international visitors. He ensures that his entire family bones up on the history behind the festival being celebrated so that no wrong information is given. “We don’t change the way we celebrate; however, we do make provisions for them in our celebrations and include them in whatever way we can. They come as guests and leave as friends,” he says.

Robecca too was in India to experience Holi: “What amazed me was how warm and welcoming my hosts were. The house was bustling with activity and I was fed home-cooked food till I was full. The best part was playing with the colours, being chased by kids, elders, unknown people. I was dunked into a drum filled with coloured water! I also went with my host’s mother to donate food to the poor and to play holi with kids at an orphanage. That was the most memorable part..
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