When we first planned to come to India we decided it best to make the most of the timing of Diwali festival. I had heard a little about it, in that it involved fireworks, candles and a celebration of light. This on its own sounded great, and to be honest was all I knew about Diwali. Time to see what Diwali as a tourist was like.
As the naive firework hunters we are, we were metaphorically blinded by the fireworks and didn’t bother looking how it might have affected our trip. Fireworks and the fact it is a religious festival mean that the majority of India also think it sounds like a great time to see their country so it meant we had entered into India, an already busy country, during what is perhaps it’s busiest time of year… trains were fully booked, sites were more expensive and trying to move around in Delhi was horrendous. The fact that Diwali hadn’t even happened yet was making is think we had made a bit of a mistake in choosing this time.
Luckily we managed to get out of the city and were heading towards Ranthamborne National Park, in search of the elusive tiger for Diwali. Before describing our experience it is probably best to discover what Diwali actually is.
On the Saturday, the day of Diwali, the streets were lined with flower sellers selling long chains of orange flowers, as well as stands selling the infamous Diwali sweets. It was actually hard to understand where all of the flowers had come from, the vast sea of them seemed unfathomable, and this was just one small town. Alongside both of these goods, the far more important (in my eyes) fireworks were being sold by the absolute bucket load, no seriously we saw people turning up with buckets to pick them up. Apparently the Indians pride themselves on making their own fireworks and claiming them as a much higher quality to Chinese ones. Whatever the case they looked pretty similar and with names like sky destroyer and sexy sparklers they sounded like the business.
On the night of Diwali, we headed for dinner in a restaurant that was a 20 minute walk down what had been a fairly dark road. The outrageous amount of fireworks being let off absolutely everywhere meant our way was completely illuminated. Rather that have a private display, Diwali seems to be about showing off your fireworks, the louder the bang and the brighter the lights, the better. Every single person seemed to have fireworks, and as we ate dinner the sound can only be described as what I imagine a war zone to sound like. The only reminder that everything was all good were the kids running around with sparklers and the distinct lack of screaming or general negativity that might be associated with war. Huge explosions of light burst what seemed like metres away and for someone that likes fireworks (everyone) it was fantastic. Everywhere I looked there were rockets going off, sparklers, catherine wheels set off on the ground to become fairly dangerous hovering things and every other type of fun explosive.
By the time we got back to the hotel I thought I had had my fill. But oh no, guess what, then came desert. Everyone knows you have a separate desert stomach so even when you’re full you can still pile on more. A family staying at the same place as us where just starting their display and invited us along to dive into their seemingly endless shopping bag of fireworks. They greeted us with sparklers as if we had never seen fireworks before. We did think about trying to explain bonfire night, but it is actually a pretty weird festival and in the end decided it would work out best to pretend ignorance. Ignorance was great and we lapped it all up like delicious Nesquik. The family even let us set off a load of fireworks. However, not all of them worked that well. While Indians may claim their fireworks superior, from experience the reason that the fireworks seemed so close was that about 30% explode almost as soon as you have lit them, or if they are rockets squirt up about 10 foot and decide there is a very nice place to unleash they luminous bounty.
To be honest though I think this only just adds to the experience of Diwali as a tourist. As we revelled in near death fireworks, the hotel came out to offer us all traditional Diwali sweets. Cashew based sweet biscuits covered in silver leaf paint. Fireworks that are so close they singe your face and delicious silver covered delicious sweets is fairly close to my absolute situation. While bonfire night is a time to celebrate with people you know, Diwali has a much more community feel to it. Diwali is sort of like bonfire night on steroids or acid that has got a little too wild. A constant attempt to out-do anything in terms of sound and colour with a perfect disregard for safety. It is an unadulterated outburst of light and colour, all the senses heightened to perhaps near uncomfortable levels. While the sky is filled with deafening booms, and you genuinely have to watch out as to where the next rocket might fly, it is super rad. As a celebration of light and colour, Indian Diwali as a tourist definitely sits up their with my favourite fireworks shows.