1. Join in Celebrations at an Indian Homestay
While there's plenty of evidence of Diwali on the streets, it's indoors, amongst Indian families, that the really meaningful celebrations take place. If you're visiting India from abroad during Diwali, it's highly recommended that you stay at an Indian homestay so that you can be a part of traditional Diwali family rituals and get a real insight into Indian culture. People usually wear new clothes on Diwali, so if you're a woman, it's a great reason to buy yourself a sari and dress up too! If you'd like to join in the gift giving, your hosts would really appreciate some sweets or chocolates.
2. Jaipur: Admire the Illuminated Markets
Much of the beauty of Diwali comes from the warm glow of lights and lamps which adorn streets, homes, and shops. One of the best places to experience this is in the "pink city" of Jaipur, in Rajasthan, where not just buildings but whole markets are illuminated. Each year, there's a competition for the best decorated and most brilliantly lit up market, and the government foots the electricity bill. It's a dazzling display that attracts visitors from all over India. Just like Las Vegas has a "Strip", Johari Bazaar has earned the title of "The Strip" in Jaipur during Diwali.
3. Goa: Go Gambling and Watch Demon Narakasura Get Burned
In Goa, the focus of Diwali celebrations is on the destruction of demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna. Competitions are held in every village and city to see who can make the biggest and scariest effigy of the demon. Some are really huge! They're burned at dawn on Narakasura Chaturdashi, the day before the main day of Diwali. As gambling is also a popular activity during Diwali, you might want to try your luck at one of Goa's top casinos as well. However, make sure you book well in advance for the floating casinos, as they are very popular at this time of year.
4. Varanasi: See Fireworks Over the Ganges River
Varanasi is a crazy place at any time of year, but it becomes even more so during Diwali with a constant stream of firecrackers and fireworks going off all night long. For the best experience, make sure you stay at one of the riverside hotels in Varanasi, so you have a fabulous view of the fireworks over the Ganges. Other highlights are the special Ganga Aarti, ghats illuminated with candles, diyas (earthen lamps) that are floated down the river, and procession of Hindu deities through the streets.
5. Amritsar: A Sacred and Golden Diwali
You may be surprised to learn that although Amritsar, home of the Golden Temple, is predominated by Sikhs, Diwali is celebrated in a grand way there too. The occasion has been incorporated into the Sikh religion and is particularly significant because it also marks the return from prison of the sixth Sikh guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib, in 1619. He had been unjustly held for his beliefs, along with many other political prisoners who he helped free. What's more, the foundation stone of the Golden Temple was laid on Diwali, in 1577. Expect to see a mesmerizing display of fireworks over the Golden Temple. The Temple complex is also draped in lights, and the edge of the lake fringed with countless oil lamps and candles, lit by devotees.