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Holidays in India

As an intrepid traveler poking around in South Indian cities, you need to think about two kinds of holidays. One are the public holidays declared by the state or central governments, which might mean that everything from banks to post offices and other government services will be unavailable.

These holidays include everything from Republic Day and Independence Day to Mahatma Gandhi's Birthday, and religious holidays like Good Friday, Christmas, Eid, Vinayaka Chaturthi, Ram Navmi, Janmashtami, Guru Nanak Jayanti, Maha Shivratri, Mahavir Jayanti, and so on.

The second set of holidays that might cause havoc to your travel plans and vacations are the fun kind like Holi, Diwali, Dussehra, Pongal and Onam. Not only are they government holidays, but you’ll also find that all the usual tips and suggestions provided in the guidebooks and tourist brochures are pretty much useless during these special holidays.

For example, you’ll have the time of your life a few days before Diwali, when the shops are all lit up bright and everyone is out shopping. It’s an infectiously happy vibe that makes you want to celebrate too. But once the clock hits 12 am on Diwali, kids and adults alike start setting off firecrackers on the streets. It goes on for at least 24 hours, and the streets are deserted and shops and restaurants shuttered. Anyone walking the streets or driving around at this time has to navigate a minefield of firecrackers thrown by people along the streets that could go off right under you.

Ditto for holi when anyone can throw colors on you. This includes colored water and water balloons. If you’re all alone and well-dressed on the streets, gangs of kids armed with colored paste and balloons will attack you without mercy and every inch of your skin and clothes will look like a drunk artist’s version of modern art. Again, the streets are deserted and shops closed, with the marauding bands of colored brigands in full control.

Pongal and Onam aren’t dangerous for tourists, but most shops and restaurants are still closed for 2-3 days as the owners enjoy the holidays with their families and friends.

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Holiday Calendar India

  • January - Starts with New Year’ Day on Jan 1, followed by four days of Pongal in mid-Jan and then Republic Day on Jan 26.
  • February - A quiet month with no festivals or public holidays other than Maha Shivratri right at the end of the month.
  • March - The big one in March is Holi, which falls sometime in the first half of the month. After that, it’s Ugadi - the Telegu and Kannada New Year at the end of the month.
  • April - Ram Navmi is a big holiday that will fall in the second week of April, followed by public holidays on April 13 and 14 for Mahavir Jayanti and Ambedkar Jayanti. This is also the time in mid-April for Puthandu, the Tamil New Year in Tamil Nadu and for Vishu, the Malayalam New Year in Kerala. Then there’s also Good Friday.
  • May celebrates workers on Labor Day and Vesak Day, mostly celebrated by Filipino Buddhists.
  • June has Manila Day and the 12th is the Philippine Declaration of Independence and the establishment of the Philippines as a republic.
  • May - May 1 is also a holiday in some places in South India as Labor Day. The first week of May is also the time to celebrate Basava Jayanthi in Karnataka.
  • August - This is where the fun kicks off big-time, with Independence Day on Aug 15, followed by Janmashtami, Vinayaka Chaturthi and Onam.
  • September - The 10-day Onam fun usually spans across Aug-Sept, so the first week of Sept is going to be all fun and games and feasts. Later on in the month, people in Karnataka will celebrate Mahalaya.
  • October - October kicks off with Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on Oct 2, followed by major festivals including Dussehra, Diwali and Bakrid.
  • November - November has Muharram and Guru Nanak Jayanti as public holidays.
  • December - Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

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