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Heritage hotels find a niche in Holi tourism

Luxury boutique heritage hotels have taken over feeds and imaginations as the destinations of choice for Holi celebrations

Traditional musicians perform during Holi celebrations at Suryagarh,  heritage hotel in Jaisalmer.
Traditional musicians perform during Holi celebrations at Suryagarh, heritage hotel in Jaisalmer.

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Travel and food content creator Damini Passi has spent the last three Holis at the Narendra Bhawan hotel in Bikaner, and it seems this year will be her fourth. “I love the hotel and how comfortable the team makes you feel,” she says. “It’s not overcrowded, you meet great new people and some old friends. The music is amazing, the cocktails and food (with a surprise element!) are different. It’s got a vibe that I haven’t experienced anywhere else.”

For inveterate seekers of pleasure, the search for the perfect Holi celebration is a matter of serious concern. Gone are the days when people could simply park themselves in Mathura, Vrindavan, Jaipur or a rich friend’s farmhouse in Delhi. In the age of social media, luxury boutique heritage hotels have taken over feeds and imaginations as the destinations of choice. That is, if you are lucky enough to get a booking.

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“I first saw Holi celebrated at a fancy heritage hotel in Rajasthan on a friend’s Instagram feed, and it looked amazing – imagine the fun of Holi in a beautiful ambiance. But when we tried to book rooms, the price was quite high, and so we reconsidered. Now everything is taken,” says Geet Nagi, art consultant and curator.

Damini Passi has spent the last three Holis at the Narendra Bhawan hotel in Bikaner.
Damini Passi has spent the last three Holis at the Narendra Bhawan hotel in Bikaner.

When it comes to fancy heritage hotels, Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner and its sister property Suryagarh, Jaisalmer, both helmed by the MRS Group of Hotels, are popular choices for Instagram fashionistas and celebrities. In recent years, they have counted the likes of actress Mrunal Thakur and Grammy nominated singer Sanjeeta Bhattacharya among the patrons of the ‘Holi package’, which is spread across two elaborate days.

On Choti Holi, traditionally associated with the ceremony of Holika Dahan, the two hotels organise ‘sundowners’ with open bars and traditional performances by local tribes, often related to a fire ritual. The next morning, they host araucous poolside brunch with organic colours, delicious local cuisine, the best of underground techno music, and a free-flowing bar.

“With each passing year we have seen newer groups of people enquiring about our Holi celebrations and making a trip to Bikaner or Jaisalmer to be a part of them. Today, guests are inclined towards immersive experiences with a touch of culture and tradition and that is exactly what our packages comprise. And with the easing of post-pandemic travel restrictions around the world, we are expecting a full house at both the hotels,” says Siddharth Yadav, Vice President, MRS Group of Hotels.

What is it about Holi that makes a great tourist hook for heritage hotels? Darshan Dudhoria, Director of Bari Kothi Heritage Hotel in Azimganj, Murshidabad, West Bengal, believes it’s the fact that they have the responsibility of preserving the rich cultural heritage of the region. “Holi celebrations at Bari Kothi are an integral part of the hotel’s tradition. The Zamindars of Azimganj were known for their grand Holi celebrations, and Bari Kothi continues the tradition,” he says. Hence, Bari Kothi has adapted the template of Holi as it was played by the Sheherwali Zamindar community in the 1800s and early 1900s, over seven days. 

Each day was dedicated to playing with gulaab jal, attar, kewra jal, kesar and other materials, and the main event would be celebrated with gulaal. Today, the seven-day festivities are compacted to an hourly itinerary for guests. One begins by learning a brief history of Murshidabad upon arrival, before being served a five-course ‘Holi Special Royal Lunch’. Then, amidst a specially curated range of Thandaais and Sheherwali desserts, one plays with a variety of materials in 30-minute slots from 3:30pm to 5pm. The evening’s five-course meal is accompanied by a Sham-e-Mushaira and a Qawwali performance. “Ever since we started operations, we have seen a huge influx of both domestic and international guests. We are booked months prior to the Holi event,” Dudhoria says.

The Holi bar at Daspan House in Jodhpur.
The Holi bar at Daspan House in Jodhpur.

Attracting tourists who are on the lookout for a party like no other, is also high on the agenda for Daspan House in Jodhpur. Varun Jalan and SiddharthDaspan, co-founders of the property, offer a two-day Holi package. As part of the first night, Daspan House serves classic cocktails at the in-house bar, Old Loco, to a curated playlist consisting of indigenous cult songs inspired by the work of artists like MadStarBase and The Bombay Royale. The next day, Holi is celebrated in their Mughal gardens with a mix of old and new rituals. There is traditional food, Rajasthani Chang drums for folk music and gulaal and dry colours.

“The best part of celebrating Holi at a heritage property is the opportunity to celebrate with others, especially the locals. When we visited Bikaner five years back, we stayed at Narendra Bhawan, but the Holi party took place at the larger Laxmi Nivas Palace hotel with folk dancers and traditional ceremonies. I’m not sure if the smaller party with techno music they are promising now is something I would go back for. I think it’s important to have a mix of the two aspects,” says Vandana Chhibber, an avid traveller.

A mix of traditional and contemporary may be the attraction for most tourists, but some seek only a vibrant backdrop to their pursuit of wellbeing. Even wellness retreats like the Six Senses Vana in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, offer Holi packages. “We believe that wellness is not limited to just the physical but also the emotional, spiritual, and mental state of a person. Holi festivities represent the rich culture of India and, therefore, it aligns with our intent of reviving our guests’ wellbeing in a vibrant, colourful and exuberant setting,” says Jaspreet Singh, the general manager of the hotel, adding that the Holi package is popular with foreign tourists too.

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Whether one is looking for the adulation of a party or a spiritual communion, the one thing common to these Holi celebrations is the creation of a specific ambiance. Jalan of Daspan House summarises, “In a hotel everything is well-organised and you are taken care of. Apart from that, the overall charm with beautiful gardens to further enhance the grandeur of a place, and access to great food and drinks definitely pull in discerning customers.”

Noor Anand Chawla writes on lifestyle.

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