India didn’t even make the original cut when I first started planning my 2013 Asia trip. My initial plan was to do the Everest Base Camp trek in Nepal, then make my way around Southeast Asia for a few months.
But then I thought about how India was RIGHT THERE, conveniently situated between Nepal and SEA. And how Holi, a serious bucket list item of mine, was conveniently taking place a few weeks after I was due to complete the EBC trek. Who knew if the time and place would be this right in the future?
And with that logic, India made the final cut as Month #2 of my 5-month journey. I finished up my time there by meeting some friends in Jaipur to celebrate the Holi festival – which, much like my entire time spent in India, can best be described as an intense experience.
What IS Holi?!
Holi is known as the Festival of Colors, an annual celebration of the coming of spring. It’s celebrated mainly in India and Nepal by throwing colored powder – with some music, dancing, and bonfires thrown in as well, depending on the town. One of my favorite things about traveling is getting to be a part of the local festivals. I’ve planned trips around these events and it’s always been an incredible experience. In my opinion, there’s no better way to get a feel of a place or culture.
Celebrating Holi in Jaipur
Though Holi is celebrated all throughout northern India, I chose to be in Jaipur for it because they also had an Elephant Parade the day before. It had to be a pretty big deal if a photo taken from this event made the cover of the Rough Guide to Rajasthan, right?
I met my friends Keina and Pascal for breakfast the morning of the parade, come to find out that it was JUST ANNOUNCED that morning that they were pulling the elephants from the Elephant Parade (due to animal rights protests). What kind of elephant parade has no elephants?! Exactly. So they swiftly renamed the event the Holi Festival. We still went to check it out, but let’s just say it’s not even worth blogging about.
The next day was Holi, which found us dressed in scrub clothes and armed with water guns and colored powder. Multiple people had warned us not to go into the Pink City because it “wasn’t safe”, and to stick to the hotel parties arranged for tourists. In typical Lindsay fashion, I scoffed at the thought of having an inauthentic Holi experience – and since when do I go where all the tourists go? That’s right, never! We all agreed to head to the Pink City, to nowhere in particular… and figured we’d just wander around and see where the action was.
Well, it didn’t take long to find it. In no time, we were bombarded with Indian men and boys who would greet us with evil smiles and smother us with their colored powder. Mostly it was innocent touching of the face and neck – but then I noticed some of them trying to smear the color on my chest area. There were a few men we encountered that were quite belligerent and wouldn’t respect us when we told them not to touch us. I found that yelling “DON’T TOUCH ME” with a stern look on my face usually scared them off. I also may have kicked a few guys who persisted. No one messes with this New York girl!
We soon noticed that there were no Indian women to be found on the streets during Holi – it was just Indian men and some tourists here and there. It was then that we realized that Holi is like a free-for-all for the Indian men to touch western women. All the warnings finally made sense to me after experiencing it firsthand. Yeah yeah, I could have listened to them straight away and done the lame tourist parties instead, but it wouldn’t have been the REAL Holi. Really, Holi was a culmination of all that I had experienced in the previous 3 weeks in India. Despite the intensity of it, I had a blast running from the Indians and playing with my friends. Everyone was in great spirits all day – we constantly heard passers-by shouting “Happy Holi!” to us on the street (which we soon morphed into “Ravioli!”, for kicks).
Tips For Surviving Holi
- SUPPLIES – If you want to stock up on supplies beforehand, you can find vendors in the center of the Pink City selling colored powders and all sorts of water guns. You can use the powder on its own to throw or smear on people – or if you’re especially cruel, you can load a water gun with colored water to shoot. When the powder is wet it tends to stain the skin more, so you’ll really leave your mark by this method. Note: We barely even used our supplies because the locals had PLENTY to go around, so I would recommend NOT buying your own ammo.
- WHAT TO WEAR – Don’t wear anything you actually plan on using afterwards. You can snag some cheap clothes in the Pink City; I bought a white tank top and a crappy tote bag to carry around my camera and supplies and threw both away when I was done. My original thought was to be decked out entirely in white, but I couldn’t find a decent cheap pair of white pants. Black also shows off the colored powder quite well.
- PROTECTING YOUR CAMERA – First, let’s get one thing straight: you are NOT chickening out and leaving your camera at your hotel. No WAY. This event is too awesome not to be photographed. Now, how did I keep my precious camera safe? I used a small clear plastic bag that our packets of powder were sold in, which fit my SLR perfectly. I cut a hole in the middle of one side to fit my lens through, removed the lens before inserting camera into bag, then screwed it back on so that it held the bag in place through that cut-out. The open side of the bag was near the camera controls so I could easily change them without removing the bag. There was definitely colored powder on bits of my camera and lens afterwards, and my camera strap turned out mostly pink. I thought they looked pretty, so the color didn’t bother me too much!
- BRING A MALE FRIEND – As a fiercely independent woman, it kills me to say this – but it would have been SO MUCH WORSE for us girls had we not been with a guy friend who deflected the advances of those Indian men. I don’t know if we would have been *unsafe* persay, but it would have been a whole lot more unpleasant for us without him there.
- WASHING UP – You will probably still have colored skin long after you shower. It tends to linger on the parts of you that sweat the most (e.g. inner elbows, cleavage) or got wet with color from the water guns. After 2 days, I had washed and/or sweat the remaining color off of me.