When Shannon and I realized that our trip to India coincided with the Indian celebration of Diwali, we were thrilled. Diwali is the festival of lights – it sounded beautiful. We imagined hundreds of tiny twinkling lights, beautiful candles adorning historic monuments….
We were … wrong.
We planned our trip so we would be in Delhi during the celebration. We arrived in the mid afternoon from Rishikesh and after checking in to our hotel, headed out for dinner. We arrived before nightfall and our window was far from the window. We were disappointed to miss the start of festivities but pleased to see that the restaurant was making an effort to celebrate. They had hung signs wishing us “Happy Diwali” and they passed out candles for us to light at our tables. It was cute.
Things got considerably less cute as soon as we finished dinner and stepped out side. Suddenly, we were in a war zone.
The restaurant was less than a block from our hotel. As we dodged rogue fire crackers and huddles away from children with sparklers, it took us over thirty minutes to get back to our room. The street was filled with explosives.
Despite the fact that I was cowering in a corner, I did notice a distinct pattern to the people celebrating in the street. They were almost exclusively young men and pre-teen boys. Practically no women and no families were on the streets. I think they were smarter than us.
As we attempted to walk down the street, fireworks bursted very near over head. Roman candles were set up in the streets and poppers went off almost right next to us. Even in the narrow alley, the loud crackers were everywhere. I narrowly avoided stepping on one as I battled my way to the hotel. As we made our way through the door, another one went off loud enough that Shannon and I literally leaped into the lobby. There we found several other Westerners huddled in fear.
The guy working at reception looked at us sympathetically and suggest we go to the roof to watch the festivities. That seemed safe enough.
Up on the roof, things were better, but not by much. It still seemed very frightening. Fireworks, sounding like bombs, went off in every direction. I feared there wasn’t much regulation to this holiday. Firework accidents happen everyday in the US, and I’ve never seen this many at any celebration anywhere in my lifetime. It seemed impossible to me that this celebration wouldn’t end in tragedy – I sure didn’t want to be involved. (Side note – found this list of 2012 Diwali accidents.)
Instead, we headed back to the room. We had hoped to spend the evening out celebrating, but we were much to worried. We ventured out a few more times to the roof, but for the most part we spent Diwali hidden in our rooms, listening to the loud sound of firecrackers exploding way too nearby.