It was a beautiful morning, which seemed even more beautiful for several reasons. For one, summers were approaching! As the cool breeze brushed past, it immediately put a smile on my face - I could finally get rid of those boring sweaters! The weather was perfect for a trip to the mountains. Our bags were packed and we were headed to the railway station to board our train to Dehradun to explore the beautiful Doon Valley, the shimmering rivers, rivulets and the enchanting hill temples.
February to April is the best time to visit the hills of Uttarakhand. Rains are yet to create a mess and for all of us who come from hot states like Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi, the hills offer a respite from the scorching heat. Interestingly, this is also the season for a number of local and national festivals that people celebrate with utmost enthusiasm. While we had no plans to attend a festival on the trip, we were lucky and got to attend a local festival, Phool Dei, which falls in mid-March.
After a rejuvenating outing at Kempty Falls, we headed to Mussoorie, where we visited a friend for a day. It was a pleasant coincidence for we got to be part of Phool Dei celebrations at her house and neighbourhood.
One thing that I love about Indian festivals is that no matter which region or religion you belong to, there is always space for an eager soul to be a part of the festivity. My friends and I got talking with the ladies of the neighbourhood who told us that the festival was celebrated on the first day of the month of Chaitra. In a way, I think, it is a celebration of harvest and the welcoming of spring. Young girls dressed up for the day and sang folk songs called chatis and gently threw flowers and rice puffs or kheel. They prayed for the wellbeing of their brothers and families and were given money and sweets in return. The scene reminded me of the navratra poojas when as a young girl, I would be invited by the neighbours for prasad of kheer, chole and puri.
There, I was thinking about delicious prasad and soon enough a lady brought plates of a delicious-smelling pudding – dei. So that’s the mystery of the name of the festival! Made out of jaggery and milk, the dish was quite something. In the evening, the girls of the neighbourhood danced to folk songs. Being dance lovers ourselves, it did not take much urging for us to get up and shake a leg.
On our long tour to Uttrakhand, there was everything from the ropeway ride and unlimited splashing at Kempty Falls to the street food and shopping at Mussoorie’s Mall Road, from bungee jumping at Rishikesh (not for me though, the height scared the peeves out of me) to the spectacular morning aarti at Harki Paudi... but the decorated doorsteps, lively music, heart-warming people and the delicious food we enjoyed during the festival, made us feel very much at home.