Holi in Vrindavan: FUN, But A Gropefest (Women Beware!)

Male tourist celebrating Holi in India
Taken at Bankebihari Colony during Holi in Vrindavan.

Holi in Vrindavan is a phenomenal fixture to celebrate “The Festival of Colours,” which is the second biggest festival on the Hindu calendar after Diwali.

However, it can be considerably less pleasant, if you happen to be a woman.

I enjoyed the event for the most part, but some realities of the festival that were unearthed admittedly left a bitter taste in my mouth.

My goal with this article is to give logistical advice on how to get to Vrindavan and around it, explain why it’s so special to celebrate Holi there while giving an open, honest account of Holi in Vrindavan; for better or worse.

What is The Holi Festival? (Aka “Festival of Colours”) All About?

Holi originates from Hindu mythology, with the legend of Hiranyakashyap being the most prominent. This legend tells us of the megalomaniacal Demon God Hiranyakashyap’s wish for everyone around him to worship him as God, only for his son, Prahlada, to refuse.

Prahlada devoted himself to the God Vishnu, known as “The Preserver.” Vishnu was deeply impressed by his rebellion against evil and ultimately killed the demon king, Hiranyakashyap, after saving Prahlada from a burning fire started by his own father. 

Another Hindi legend spoken of during Holi is the tale of Lord Shiva and Kamadeva, the God of passion, the latter of which woke Shiva from deep meditation in order for him to save the world.

The essence of the festival holds that throwing colours during Holi symbolizes the burning away of sins and clearing out negative thoughts such as anger, hatred, jealousy, and suspicion.

Holi is a festival of celebration, where people aim to forget their hardships and unite to celebrate victory over evil. Also known as the ‘festival of love,’ Holi marks the start of spring and is a national holiday in India and Nepal – two countries with a significant Hindu population.

What Date is The Holi Festival Celebrated?

The lunar calendar determines the Holi festival’s date and always falls on a full moon. The corresponding date in Western calendars varies each year, but it usually occurs between late February and mid-March.

If you want more specific dates for the year you plan to visit; you’ll need to plan ahead to avoid missing out on the celebrations. In 2023, for example, the festival will take place on Wednesday, 8th March.

How is Holi Typically Celebrated?

Holi Festival usually takes place over two days, with the celebrations commencing at dusk the night before the main event, known as Holika Dahan. Rituals and prayers occur during this time, with bonfires lit to burn effigies of Holika, a demoness in the scriptures and the sister of Hiranyakashyap, who was said to have lured her nephew into the flames of a bonfire, before burning in them herself after the betrayal. 

The next day, Holi in Vrindavan really ramps up the party. Those taking part gather in public spaces to greet, dance, and throw coloured powders at each other. Your senses will be overwhelmed as the concoction of colours dances around your vision, powder and water are thrown at you, with different music blaring from all over and a combination of smells attacking your nostrils. 

People use buckets, water balloons, and water guns, with many people decorating their faces with coloured powder (some more aggressively than others).

‘Bhang,’ a cannabis paste drunk in India since 1000 BC often mixed with sweets and drinks, is also popular on this day, with some younger men choosing to drink alcohol too on the down-low (booze is generally frowned upon in India).

By the afternoon, the rowdiness increases until people eventually head home to wash the colours off their clothes, sober up and finish the day with peaceful celebrations.

I will touch on that ascending level of rowdiness later on in the post.

Where is The Holi Festival Celebrated Outside of India?

If you’d like to celebrate the Holi Festival but can’t visit India when the celebrations take place, you’ll be happy to know that many places outside India celebrate Holi as well.

The most significant is Nepal, a country widely known for its Holi celebrations, with almost 82% of its population following Hinduism. Nepalis celebrate Holi with a three-day event in some cities with Basantapur, Jhamsikhel, Thamel, and Lainchaur being the most popular.

India’s neighbours, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, are also known to celebrate Holi, They may have a Hindu minority, but it’s a passionate minority that does a smashing job of maintaining its cultural identity. 

Further afield, the Spanish Fork in the USA is one of the most famous Holi festivals outside India, where thousands celebrate. In fact, it is believed that this area of Utah has one of the largest gatherings outside India, as tens of thousands attend this festival each year across two days.

There are also some other locations with large Indian populations where you can experience the Holi Festival, including the large-scale celebrations taking place in Melbourne, Australia, every year.

London, UK is another place where you can join in with Holi celebrations, although given the cooler climate on British shores in March, the event takes place later in the year, usually in July.

Other (maybe surprisingly) popular places to celebrate Holi around the world include:

  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Port Louis, Mauritius
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Toronto, Canada

How To Get To Vrindavan For Holi Festival 

Vrindavan is a holy town in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. If you are travelling overland in India, the chances are you will need to head to Mathura as a connecting city. 

If you’d like to head here to participate in the festivities, you’ll find it’s easily accessible by road from major cities like Delhi and has airport connections too. Vrindavan also has good rail connectivity, you just need to prepare, take in a deep breath and say “this is India,” accept the chaos and dive right into it.

Here are the options you have at your disposal in terms of getting to Vrindavan for Holi:

Train

I absolutely love train travel (especially in India) and this is my personal shout for transport to visit Holi in Vrindavan. Just make sure you give yourself a lot of time to get there as tickets could sell out due to the popularity of the event and the sheer volume of humans living in India.

A train station is located in Vrindavan, but since not all trains stop here, your best bet may be to head to Mathura, the closest major railway station, around 14km away. The Hazrat Nizamuddin Delhi to Mathura train, for example, will cost you as little as INR 130 for a single fare.

From Mathura, you have various ways of heading to your final destination at Vrindavan, including taxis, hired auto-rickshaws, or a bus, with prices starting from as little as INR 30 for a shared auto-rickshaw.

Air

The nearest airport to Vrindavan is Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. Flight costs to this airport vary depending on your starting point, but you can fly direct from London Heathrow (LHR), with prices often ranging anywhere from GBP 400 to GBP 1200 return.

Based 150km away from Vrindavan, Delhi Airport (DEL) is quite the distance from the town, so you’ll find a taxi journey will take you around three and a half hours and will cost you at least INR 2200.

Road

Several highways and expressways connect Vrindavan with cities including Aligarh, Delhi, and Agra (home of the distinguished Taj Mahal); you’ll head through Mathura along your journey. 

However, a more straightforward and cheaper option would be to take a bus from the cities above. For example, luxury buses are available from Delhi, with prices starting from INR 265. 

You can head from Delhi to Mathura via bus; then you can catch a taxi, bus, or auto-rickshaw to Vrindavan from there. A small auto will cost around INR 150, although you can catch a shared one for as little as INR 30.

Uber is another option you can use on your trip to celebrate Holi in Vrindavan, which is a safe, convenient option for those travelling to Vrindavan. Base fares in the Mathura region are INR 190, with costs per km ranging from INR 9.45 and INR 12.6.

Whichever transport option you choose to get to Vrindavan, it’s highly recommended you experience a few days more beyond Holi in Vrindavan. Doing so will allow you to consume the culture before, during and after the festival.

6 Best Places to Celebrate Holi in Vrindavan (& Nearby)

Celebrating Holi in Vrindavan isn’t just in one concentrated part of town with a huge crowd of people throwing colour bombs. Holi in Vrindavan is all over town, but some places are more significant and alive than others.

Remember that Mathura and Vrindavan are two different cities, about an hour’s drive away (crazy festival traffic pending).

If you’re looking for the best places in Vrindavan to celebrate Holi, those that really crank it up a notch and stand out, read on for some must-visit locations (in no particular order):

1. Banke Bihari Temple 

The Banke Bihari Temple is one of the holiest shrines in India that attracts heavy footfall at all times of the year, particularly during Holi celebrations.

One of the best places to worship Lord Krishna, this temple is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Vrindavan and the atmosphere is electric. 

During Holi, you’ll hear the chanting of ancient hymns all-around at Banke Bihari, with the temple priests throwing colours and holy water at the crowds. 

It’s absolutely raucous, albeit a unique experience. Just manage your expectations if you get overwhelmed and are oversensitive to noise.

It can get pretty wild in there.

2. Pagla Baba Ashram

The widows in India have endured a difficult time in the past, as society ostracised them in previous years. Hopefully, things are changing, with the Pagla Baba Ashram now a place that adds beautiful layers to the Holi Festival in Vrindavan.

Witness the widows of India as they play with colours and flower petals during Holi, and allow yourself to join in and potentially capture some incredible scenes if you’re a keen photographer. Just make sure to be respectful in doing so, you will grab a lot of cool photos (or your camera will get damaged) at this event, just give those ladies a bit of breathing space. 

They’ve had a rough ride, already. Don’t spoil their special day. 

Widow’s Holi in Vrindavan commences around noon, after which you will encounter a relatively new celebration that began only in 2013.

3. Gulal-Kund

The Gulal-Kund in Braj is a small lake that locals treat as their own personal Holi festival. The people here act as Krishna and reenact theatrical scenes from his life for pilgrims to enjoy, making it a unique location to celebrate Vrindavan Holi.

Every major Krishna Temple in Vrindavan and Mathura will have their own celebrations during Holi. Still, the Gulal-Kund is an amazing one to check out if you’re hoping to experience something a little different and watch locals pay homage to Krishna.

4. Lathmar Holi in Radha Rani Temple

Lathmar Holi is the traditional ritual in which women chase men and beat them with lathi or sticks. 

It’s not as violent as it sounds, as the men, on their knees, protect themselves from the blows with a heavy shield held above their heads and the women slam the stick into it. Those girls do give it a bit of welly, though!

It’s a tradition kept alive for many years, with its roots tied to the story of Krishna, who would tease Radha and her friends during Holi, which prompted Radha and the Gopis to chase Krishna and his friends and beat them.

It’s perhaps an unusual experience for foreigners, but if you want to experience the many layers of traditional Holi celebrations firsthand, you won’t be disappointed encountering Lathmar Holi.

You’re guaranteed plenty of fantastic photo opportunities during Lathmar Holi if you’re willing to be patient in capturing your shots. But be warned – you’ll undoubtedly find yourself (and even your eyes) drenched in colours.

5. Mathura and Holika Dahan Holi Procession

After you’ve experienced the Holi festivities taking place at Banke Bihari Temple in Vrindavan, it’s well worth heading to Mathura to extend your celebrations if you have time and like to mix it up a bit. Holi in Vrindavan has all you need, but things move fast during the Festival of Colours and you will be tempted when locals tell you the next best thing is happening in another area.

A vast procession begins around 2:00 pm the day before Holi, which involves plenty of chanting, a sprinkling of colours, and vehicles decorated in flowers. 

From the very start, you’ll be drenched in colours as everyone in attendance plays a part in celebrating Holi, and you’ll even see cute children dressed up as Radha and Krishna.

You can experience Holika Dahan firsthand in the evening, which involves a few rituals alongside the burning of an effigy, with the largest one burnt near the Holi Gate.

6. Mathura Holi Celebrations

Head to Mathura on the main day of Holi to witness the grand celebrations taking place at the Dwarakadheesh Temple, with its gates opening around 10:00 am. However, it’s worth arriving much earlier than this to avoid disappointment, as crowds gather in advance of this time.

The day begins with a procession at the Yamuna Ghat, with the playing with colours starting later in the day. Be prepared for things to get lairy here as the day goes on.

Is Holi in Vrindavan Safe For Women?

I really hate to write this. It’s certainly unfair, but I’d much rather be the big bad wolf to many if it keeps the few who listen safer. I care much more about impact over identity and it’s not the first time I’ve written something like this.

Holi in Vrindavan is a relatively unsafe place for women, at least on their own. Sexual harassment of women at this festival (not just Holi in Vrindavan, but all over India) is prevalent and if I had a rupee for every time I saw a distressed woman, due to some scumbag copping a feel during the melee I’d…probably start a pervert vigilante group to wipe those dickheads out during Holi in Vrindavan.

It seems rather fitting seeing as this day is supposed to be a triumph of good over evil.

With the smokescreen of the colours, crowds, and noise; opportunistic gropers feel like it’s open season on both local and foreign women’s bodies.  

If I was a woman I would probably go with another man or a large group including a man (who you know well). That’s your call. Bullies back down pretty easily when challenged. I’m no Jason Mamoa myself, but the creeps backed off previously assaulted women when they were with me.

Holi in Vrindavan: My (Bittersweet) Experience 

Holi in Vrindavan went from a calm, excitable affair to a rousing, fascinating, smack on the senses (with doses of unfortunate anger) within a Holi heartbeat.

I was in the thick of the action, right in the Holi heart of Vrindavan on the point of sunrise around 6 am. As the city was just waking up, I could hear a variety of chants echoing from around the city.

It was incredibly calming and lovely to witness. “Bit of a tame affair,” I thought to myself, concluding that the madness I’d seen ensuing online with the gigantic spraying of colours was happening elsewhere in India and that maybe I’d gotten it wrong by choosing to celebrate Holi in Vrindavan. 

Oh, how wrong I was.

I bought a couple of powders from a lady on the street, fully armed with my peace bombs should the chaos decide to rear its head. 

I sipped on my lassi and watched the city warm up…WALLOP.

A water bomb smacked off my face, before I had the chance to wipe my eyes I felt a thud hit me in the eyes and it was the powder. I wiped my eyes again and had two more hits on my face within that time.

It was a group of boys around 15 years old giggling as they sprinted away.

That was a wake-up call. I thought going for the face with that force was a little overkill, but I quickly remembered I was a young man once and sometimes you can simply misdirect your hyperactive energy.

I made sure I kept my sunglasses on for the rest of the day and my wits about me. 

I visited about three of the six listed places above. Realistically the city is buzzing with so many bodies and traffic that it would be far too stressful to rush around. The energy from the processions and the spiritual buildings was intoxicating as the mystical chants echoed around the place, sticking in my mind for the rest of the week.

However, one thing that caught my eye on the way out of one temple was nothing short of evil

A young woman, around 18 years old with her head in her lap was having some sort of panic attack. There were a group of five men around her in their early 20s. At first, I thought they were helping her out, but to my absolute astonishment – they were taking turns feeling her up.

I became apoplectic, grabbing the guy who was taking his turn by his throat and squeezing it hard. God knows what I said to him, I must have looked like something out of The Exorcist. His oh-so brave gang members ran away and left him there. I let go of him and off he ran.

I stayed with her until she got her breath back and a group of other women, non-Indian and Indian came over to comfort the poor girl.

One of the women from Australia, who I’d met a few days before told me that she’d been on the receiving ends of a couple of gropes and she’d been smacking the perpetrators over the head. Some of the group members had similar stories and there were a couple of other instances where women were in distress because of these opportunistic touches.

It’s a shame that this happened as Holi in Vrindavan (and I suspect everywhere else in India) is a fantastic affair, but this common theme of a well-organised minority misbehaving certainly tainted the festival somewhat.

Then there were the times when people would throw powder and water bombs aggressively in the faces of people from close range. And I’m not a buzzkill. I’m no stranger to danger or any wild festivals, but this was no Songkran where there is a high enough level of common decency to mitigate any bad actions.

Some people really seemed hellbent on ruining Holi in Vrindavan for the decent folk. 

It’s not my intention to completely rule out the whole Holi experience. These stories are not what Holi is really about and I had some beautiful moments there where locals were dancing, chanting, welcoming and having a good time, the majority of locals are against what I have written about above.

I also saw local men and women of all ages, chasing after anyone who was up to no good, trying to keep to the true spirit of Holi in Vrindavan (the victory of good over evil). It really can be an unforgettable festival for the right reasons, but sadly the reality is for some it has the potential to be remembered for the wrong reasons.

14 Holi Festival Survival Tips (Safety + Health For Men & Women)

Holi in Vrindavan is one of those places that has become a little too exotified by Instagram culture. Is it loud, beautiful and colourful with an array of senses attacking you from every corner?

Hell yes!

That’s all true and I can’t hammer home enough how true that is. However, as the theme has a non-filtered opinion safety warning, there are other things to be aware of. If you want to get the best out of Holi in Vrindavan, then you have to manage your expectations and come prepared for the big day.

Here is a cheat sheet to do that:

  1. Wear goggles as opposed to sunglasses. I fu***d up so you don’t have to. Get prescription goggles if you need them and also those that offer sun protection too. God bless the laser-eye surgery that I had a year before this event! I would have been a mess as all I took was Ray-Bans sunglasses.
  2. Sunscreen. It gets incredibly hot during Holi in Vrindavan. Lash it on beforehand, waterproof cream is better. Consider a hat too, or a Buff headwear if you’re a baldie.
  3. Put Vaseline on your lips. It creates a barrier to the colour and also stops your lips from drying in the baking heat.
  4. Wear clothes you don’t care about. No-brainer. Your clothes get ruined, bring those worn-out t-shirts etc.
  5. Go easy on the Bhang & Booze. Bhang can cause euphoria and ease pain, it can also make an individual feel anxious and bring on psychoactive effects. This could explain a lot of the deranged behaviour during Holi in Vrindavan. Go easy on the booze too as you will need all your senses and also stay hydrated.
  6. Don’t wear expensive adornments. Leave the sexy watch or your Mam’s necklace at home.
  7. Cover your neck. I learned the hard way on cold mountains that our necks are vulnerable and often forgotten about. Protect it. An old scarf or aforementioned Buff will do.
  8. If possible, stay with a trusted crowd. Already beaten that dead horse.
  9. Don’t feel the need to see every cool “must-see” place. It’s exhausting and will take away the mental energy needed for the festival. Choose a few as a priority and enjoy yourself. 
  10. It’s noisy as hell. For those who are sensitive to noise. Some opt for cotton buds in the ears, I understand why but I think it’s a bad idea (unless you have a medical condition) as it’s better to be as vigilant as possible to your surroundings.
  11. Drink lots of water. It is in abundance thanks to the local vendors. Drink up and hydrate and also you will need them to wash the dye out of your eyes if you get an unfortunate face-bombing.
  12. Be mindful of your power. Don’t be one of those who smash people in the face from up close. You could injure their eyes. Control yourself.
  13. Have travel insurance. You never need it…until you need it. I use SafetyWing.
  14. How do I clean the powder off? Last, but not least! Rinse your face and hair with cold water (hot makes the colour sink in more). Rub your skin with antiseptic lotion and continue to use cold water. Coconut oil also helps to remove the colour. Luckily there is also a myriad of old wives’ tale remedies such as fruits, flowers and oils in India to help you get most of this off. 

I hope I managed to answer all of the questions surrounding this wonderful, imperfect event. It’s often said that India is a love it or hate it kind of country. Well, I love the place and can’t wait to go back once the world starts to open up again.

I’m more than likely done for The Festival of Colours though. Much like the Hindu Thaipusam Festival, I only need to experience that level of intensity once and I hope your Holi in Vrindavan turns out to be a happy memory.  

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Anthony Middleton

A former loser who took a risk. I now live in Chiang Mai, Thailand after visiting over 100 countries. Stay tuned for the next challenge against that clock!
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Hi, I'm Anthony!

In November of 2010, I took on a mammoth challenge against the clock in a quest to upgrade my miserable life. I went out of my comfort zone and turned it all around. Ten years later, I’m completely location independent…

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