Holi Crap! India’s Festival of Colors

“Are you insane? I don’t think that’s a very good idea. Please be careful! Make sure you rub oil over your exposed skin before going out. Don’t drink the bhang! Make sure you try bhang!” These were the warnings hurled at me from my Indian co-workers when I told them I’d be going to Jaipur for the Hindu festival of Holi.

Before moving to India for 4 months, I had already seen and heard lots about Holi, and I was ecstatic to find out that I’d be here during the festival. You’ve all seen the photos of deranged mobs lobbing multihued powder at each other, shooting streams of color out of water canons, and just generally being boisterous and rowdy. To my complete satisfaction, I was exposed to it all!

I had decided to meet up with some fellow volunteers in Jaipur for the occasion. Rajasthan had a reputation of being a lively and festive place during Holi, so Jaipur, as its capital, was a logical choice. Plus there would be plenty to see and do once the celebrations died down.

A couple weeks prior, back in Delhi, I was treated to a sample of what was to come. Walking down a residential street with a couple friends, I was struck hard in the upper arm by a perfectly aimed water balloon, completely soaking the side of my shirt. A flurry of movement in the periphery of my vision told me it was a group of mischievous boys who had been laying in wait for some unsuspecting dope to walk by. That dope had been me.


So when I got to Jaipur, I was ready for stealth guerrilla tactics, on alert for any suspect activity in windows, on balconies, and behind cars. Unfortunately, by the time Holi rolled around, the game had changed completely. It was all-out open warfare.

We started small, walking around the residential neighborhood surrounding our hotel. There in the driveway of their apartment complex, was a small family who good-naturedly explained and demonstrated the different methods of attack. They also let us sample some homemade sweets that are traditionally eaten on Holi, which were absolutely delicious.


Filled with a false sense of confidence, armed with our newly attained knowledge and experience, we strode bravely down the road. In about two minutes, we encountered what was to be the bane of our neighborhood tour: a roaming pack of young men on motorcycles who were cruising the streets looking for victims. The sight of 4 white women was too much for any of them to resist. Time and again, they would pull a giant U-turn, fling their legs over their seats, and ambush us with powder, smearing our faces and necks until we begged for mercy. If we were lucky, they were gentle and friendly enough to let us smear them back, but that was more the exception than the rule. More often than not, it was practically a dog pile with us at the bottom, finally emerging bedraggled and splashed with a new hue each time.

By the end of our tour, I was satisfactorily Jackson Pollock-ed and exhausted. I sort of felt like the Lost Boys in Hook after their epic food fight, but in my case the colors stained my skin pink for the next few days. As if I didn’t already stand out enough! But all in all, it was an amazing experience. I’m glad I wasn’t scared off by my colleagues’ warnings! Although, I didn’t try the bhang. I’ll save that for round two!

March 27, 2012

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