Travel to Punjab to witness a spectacle of valour, faith and humanity.
An electric atmosphere seizes you as you set out on the route from Chandigarh to Anandpur Sahib.
Tractors, trolleys, bikes – all are heading to witness the three-day festival; and so were we after an early morning cup of coffee at the Casa Bella Vista Cafe in Chandigarh.
On the highway we are startled to find people jumping in front of our vehicles flagging us to stop. Are they asking for a lift? No! They are insisting you partake of breakfast at their LANGAR (community kitchens).
The love, affection and belonging starts right here right now: Free food and free way (Nakkain) toll plaza, to ensure a smooth journey to Anandpur Sahib.
Our host Sodhi Vikram Singh is waiting for us at the ‘Sodhiyaan di Haveli’ …Beautiful and untouched, the vintage haveli was at a walking distance from Keshgarh Sahib Gurudwara.
Vikram is the descendants of the 4th Guru, Ram Das, and was born and brought up in Anandpur Sahib. He takes us to the terrace and, as he share with us the history and lineage of this City of Bliss, we witness the sun melting behind the Gurdwara, making us privy to a spectacular sight.
Lights, Kirtans and Kadha Prasad: Through the narrow lanes of the bustling main market, we reach the Keshgarh Sahib Gurudwara compound. Everything wears a festive air! The Gurudwara, the markets, the tractors, and trolleys… everything is lit and decked up like a bride.
Thousands of devotees are gathered to seek blessings and witness the spectacular weapon display of Guru Gobind Singh and his warriors —swords, guns, daggers …all the armoury blends seamlessly with soulful bhajans wafting in the air, making for an unusual combination.
The Karaha Prasad at the Gurudwara is so finger-licking good that you will want second helpings! And while we are on food, the incredible langars where the simple chapatis and dal taste like food fit for the gods will have you going back daily for meals. The effort, faith, and the service put into cooking in these massive community kitchens is so pure, that the flavour reflects it.
Enroute Shaheedi Bagh early morning, we are set to get glimpses into the life of the incredible Nihangs. This is a day filled with Nihang Dal Deras, Markets, Cultural events, Langars and a polo match!
At Shaheedi Bagh, also a Dera to Tarna Dal, you are greeted with a buzz that is infectious… rows of tents, horses, open kitchens preparing breakfast and Shardai, the traditional drink of Sikh warriors.
Meeting the Nihangs – You feel as if you have stumbled upon a movie set. We get to speak with Jathedar Baba Gajjan Singh of Tarna Dal. He attends to each and every visitor lined up to meet him. “There is no age or gender to be a Nihang. The minute a child can start walking, he can join the dal,” he shares with us.
Nihang Dals are traditionally known as waheguru ki fauj… Warriors of God. The two main surviving ones today are Tarnone’sl and Buddha Dal which have their headquarters in different parts of Punjab. Nihangs are trained and practise to keep themselves militarily fit to answer the call of God or Guru for war at these hubs.
The markets during Hola Mohalla are electric! There are milling crowds and a vibrant buzz. We are fascinated by the weapons on sale which include swords, daggers, lances… and other souvenirs to take back home include mini tractors toys and the most adorable Nihang dolls.
Trolley houses – Makeshift tractor/trolleys are housing people from neighbouring villages as their base for three days at the festival.
A group of young Sikh boys invites us to one of their trolley, and, to our utter amazement, we discover the trolley comes equipped with all amenities – Wi-Fi, LCD, fans, phone charging points and of course, a proper bed!
A dose of sports and culture – : A high energy warriors’ ballad (Dhaddi) session proves a fabulous experience. A troupe of Dhaddis with sarangi performing electrifying ballads is drawing big crowds.
The polo match is a tournament no less than a tribute to the valour of the Sikhs. At Hola Mohalla, international teams are invited to participate. This year, teams from the United States are playing for the Sodhi Kishan Singh Memorial Polo Cup.
Today is the day of the famed procession. We are excited and in anticipation! The Nihangs are smeared in colour and the lanes are crowded, but everybody is high on energy. We reach Shahedi Bagh from where the Hola Mohalla procession kick-starts, in military style– war drums, standard-bearers and vibrant colour play leave us mesmerised!
An amazing factor is that despite a high spirited crowd and not an inch to move, no untoward incident has ever happened here. The parade moves via the gurudwaras towards Mela Grounds in a grand procession with horses, jeeps and people.
It peaks with the mock battles where the Nihang Sikhs showcase a sizzling display of martial arts including Gatka (mock battle), archery, swordsmanship, tent-pegging and horse-riding. As the Nihang riders gallop bareback, riding astride two horses and sometimes four horses in a row we can feel goose bumps setting in.
We now realise why we must travel for festivals. The destination somehow feels more alive and the energy is unbelievable.
What is Hola Mohalla
Back in 1700s when Guru Gobind Singh founded Khalsa (an army of warriors), he started holding a sports day to see the war preparedness of his army and reward the outstanding warriors. Since then, this day became an annual event where all the warriors would come and showcase their martial skills and be a part of the cultural magnificence.
Today, as we experienced the event first-hand, these warriors gather to display their skills of the martial tradition and horsemanship with spectacular mock battles (gatka), swordsmanship, archery, tent pegging and bareback horse riding. Adding more favour to the fervour around were the buzzing markets, langars, cultural music events and activities.
When : A day after Holi, usually in the month of March
Where: An annual festival held at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, India.
Good To Know: Accommodation at Anandpur Sahib is limited and in tents that are set up for the occasion. Do ensure prior bookings.
Weather: is nice at this time of the year. Not too cold and neither too hot, yet.