festival, india, north india -


Written by Jethro Arun, world adventurer and India enthusiast

The day started with drums at about 6am. Outside people were already walking around with bags of almost luminescent colour and hugging each other. I had already donned by disposable old t-shirt and shorts so I was ready for whatever was going to happen. An old lady approached me, grinned toothily and swiped red colour across my forehead. He then embraced me warmly and did the same to my two friends. He then walked off shouting "Happy Holi" in English and stopping everyone he passed to repeat the ritual. It had begun.

We had a breakfast of paratha and yoghurt and then had a cup of chai. An American couple were sitting on the next table dressed in their best. My local friend warned them of small town Holi celebrations but they exclaimed that they had seen many and would politely ask not to be touched with any manner of colour. My friend smiled and said in Hindi 'We will see'. It was cool to be able to understand, so I giggled knowledgeably and half smiled with a wag of my head. The American man then replied in Hindi that he understood Hindi. He and his wife are permanent expats in Jaipur, having spent 15 years here. My half smile disappeared and I reached for some more Paratha.

We went to the street and there were now throngs of people moving and hugging each other. Everyone was semi-colourful.  From then I was targeted by some, and avoided politely by others. I was supplied with a bag of red colour so I could return the favour. The etiquette is as follows: the person who approaches the other first swipes colour wherever he pleases, and says Happy Holi, then the other person daubs his own masterpiece on the face or neck of his comrade, returns the phrase and both people embrace then move on. This was great, and the kids are especially generous with their colour.

We then took a walk around the town and there was so much celebrating it was amazing. People carry big drums around and then sit down at random points in the street. Huge amounts of onlookers then flock to these gatherings and it becomes a street party with dancing in circles and loud singing of old Marwadi songs. I understood nothing but enjoyed everything.

The tradition was to join in the street celebrations, mark everyone with colour and go around to family and friends passing hugs and greetings and sharing chai and food. We did all of this many times. As afternoon came, the police presence increased all of a sudden. There would be policemen patrolling in sets of two with sticks and waxed moustaches. Throughout this part I didn't dare to take my camera out, for reasons I'm sure you can understand. Now the whisky started to take effect and many people were dancing a bit too energetically and painting each other a little too aggressively. At the point of remonstration, when a fight would start, the police were instantly there, separating the two happy drunkards and telling them to move on. This happened many times. After seeing a dancing camel and being completely covered in pink water by a crafty young girl with a smile, we headed back to the hotel. There I took some more photos, a favourite of mine being a drunk uncle with what is probably turmeric, painting the face of everyone he could see. The boss of the hotel happily succumbed to this with a shrug and a wave. The street parties continued until around 4pm, when I started coughing violently, having probably inhaled too much powder.

At the point of leaving the street to go to shower, there was lots of commotion, drunk people good-naturedly painting each other, drums and singsong, spectators on every roof and wary policemen - it looked to be a long day. I spent the good part of an hour scrubbing green, yellow, pink, red, orange and blue colour from my face, neck, hands, arms and oddly enough my lower back and belly. As I left the hotel room I was stunned by the change. The two bosses were sleeping in the office, the courtyard and kitchen were deserted and outside the only hint of colour was the occasional splatter of pink and yellow on the floor. People were walking normally, dressed in normal attire and completely clean when under an hour ago the street had been booming with chaos, colour, music and dance. This turn around was mind-blowing; it was as if the day had not even happened.

I stepped in to this dream-like world in my normal clothes and clean face, with the only reminder of what had happened being a dark stain of pink colour on my lower back.

Visit in India in March, head to a small village or town and experience Holi like a local! I recommend it to anyone!

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