Q: I've heard that north India is a great place to visit during spring for the festival of Holi. My friends and I want to spend a couple of weeks exploring various cities, including Delhi and Agra, and are hoping to join in the festivities. Are there travel companies offering such tours?
A: North India is wonderful to visit in spring - the climate is mild and Holi (it falls on March 20 this year) is celebrated with raucous outdoor festivities - there's lots of paint-throwing, great food, music and dancing. Keep in mind, however, that things can get quite rough. Crowds of people take to the streets armed with paint-filled balloons and pails of coloured water, and can get quite aggressive in their determination to let no one pass without a thorough drenching. Make sure your clothes cover your arms and legs, wear a hat to protect your hair and carry a large bottle of water to wash off stubborn stains. It's not a bad idea to put an extra set of clothes and a hand towel in a plastic bag in your backpack, just in case.
On the Go Tours has an 11-day "Taj and Raj" package from March 19 to 29, with stops in New Delhi, Agra, Shimla (a pretty colonial hill station in Himachal Pradesh), and Rajasthan's Shekhawati region. A tour of Old Delhi, marked for the second day of the trip to coincide with Holi, is one of the best places to watch the riotous merrymaking. If you want to get involved in street celebrations, go to Chandni Chowk, the city's iconic market, for pichkari (traditional "water guns") and tiny packets of gulaal (dyed herbal, rice or limestone powder). Don't forget to try the tasty snacks and traditional sweets sold here. The trip costs £599 (Dh3,528) per person, including most meals, transport and accommodation, two nights on a train, a guide, all sightseeing, entrance fees and passes to some sites and round-trip airport transfers. Also included is an elephant ride in Jaipur. Visit www.onthegotours.com/india/ for more information.
Bales Worldwide's luxurious Classic India is a 14-day comprehensive trip from March 11 to 24 through all the major cities - New Delhi, Udaipur, Varanasi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, and an extra day in Jaipur to enjoy Holi. Here, celebrations include folk dances, cultural peformances and a mela (fair). The land-only trip costs from £2,295 (Dh13,518) per person, with accommodation in five-star hotels, including the 300-year-old Deogarh Mahal in Rajasthan, air-conditioned transport, a tour manager and experienced guide, sightseeing, entrance fees to sites, and meals as mentioned in the itinerary. Visit www.balesworldwide.com for more details.
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