Holi Festival 2022: March 19
The Holi Festival. Also known as the festival of spring, of love and most well known, the festival of COLOUR. It celebrates the coming of spring and in turn, the conclusion of winter. At dawn, after the Holika bonfire, the whole subcontinent has an air of jovialness about it. While areas may celebrate it differently, in the north, people love, laugh and play in the streets, but not without copious amounts of gulal, the powdered paint, close at hand. It isn’t long before the city takes on a warzone like feel, however peaceful and flamboyant.
The Holi Festival in Jaipur
At the time, I’d only heard about the Holi Festival from other travellers mere days prior. The question of the week was, “Where are you spending Holi?”
Well, I didn’t exactly plan around it. From what I gathered there were select cities most travellers wanted to be in. Varanasi, Pushkar, Jaipur, Udaipur to name a few. Falling on March 17th back in 2014, it was a double whammy for foreigners. St. Paddys Day and Holi, and based on my train tickets that were no easy feat, it was already decided. I’d be experiencing the Holi Festival in Jaipur, the pink city.
The state of Rajasthan is already a lot of things. Rich with the history of command and conquer, full of culture and tradition while known for its hospitality and delectable north Indian food. The 50 shades of saris bring rays of colours to the dry desert state. With much to celebrate, they take festivals to a whole new level with Jaipur, the capital, leading the charge. Get off the sidelines, cover the camera and get ready. The colourfulness and enthusiasm, bar none, it’s not a place to sit quietly and watch.
How To Get There
Jaipur is one of three cities included in India’s Golden Triangle. New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur are probably the most visited cities throughout India and luckily that makes it one of the easiest to get to.
The train is my preferred mode of transport throughout India for general city to city transit. If you’re in the country for a short time, I recommend at least one train journey. That said, many trains need to be booked in advance, so plan ahead.
New Delhi – Agra – Jaipur
All 3 cities are connected by busy rail lines and good highways.
Train: Approximately 4 hours and 3 USD from both New Delhi and Agra.
Bus: Dependent on bus stops it takes anywhere from 4-6 hours. If going by road is your style, a private car will save time, but not money.
Plane: Flying is always an option, but of course it is more expensive with the additional fees of transit to the airports. The journey will be a short 1 hour flight from New Delhi for 30-40 USD. From Agra, flights often stop in New Delhi making it inconvenient to choose this method of travel.
A bus or train will cost 5-10 USD for the 300km journey. This price can fluctuate and oftentimes a cheaper deal can be found with a little leniency to your travel plans.
What to Expect
Festivals the world over, all have their similarities. Many businesses and attractions are closed while the country, city, town or household celebrate the occasion. The streets become the playground. It’s an excuse to let loose and the Holi Festival in Jaipur is no different. The streets and people come alive and are stained with colour when the day is through. Chances are your clothes are as well and in my case, patches of my scalp and skin.
Camera gear may be burdensome. A point and shoot or cellphone can be the better option.
Staying within the busier areas is smart as theft is common during festivals not to mention drug and alcohol abuse.
I cannot speak for women, but being a part of a group for the festival is smart. Women in our group reported the odd man groping when giving Happy Holi ‘hugs’.
No matter the occasion or destination, everyone should always be observant and aware of their surroundings.
Where to Stay
For cheaper accommodation Zostel Hostel Jaipur is recommended. Sold out when I was booking years ago and still highly regarded and reviewed.
Basic Dorm cost – 5.50 USD
For more mid-range accommodation there are a number of hotels priced between 30 and 100 USD including bigger names like Hilton, Marriott and Holiday Inn.
No matter the situation, a little bit of insider information never hurt. It is nearly impossible to be 100% prepared for something the first time, but here are some tips to help you along.
Clothing – buy a cheap set of clothing from one of the many shops. If you’re anything like me, you have limited clothing in your backpack and probably none you want ruined. Clothes are very likely going to be fit for the garbage when the day is done.
Sunglasses – these aren’t just for the sun and looking cool. On a day like Holi, they can be some serious eye protection from all the gulal.
Camera – if you plan to bring a camera or phone, a waterproof bag or housing would be recommended.
Weapons of mass colouration – Gulal and water devices will not be hard to come by on Holi or the days leading up to it. Load up and spread the colour.
The Holi Festival in Jaipur 2014
So without further ado, here is my “Apocalypse Now” rendition of the Holi Festival.
I woke in a sweat, wide eyed, heart thumping and this, this feeling. Anxiousness maybe, slightly nauseous. Excited was most definitely in the mix with a few outside factors definitely adding to this smoothie of feelings I had going on inside me. 2 of 11 dorm mates shook walls with their snores and another passed gas with the utmost ferocity as they rolled over. With the monotonous creak of the fan adding it’s piece to the morning choir and the rising temperature amplifying the fart, I simply had to get out… and quick!
As the assault on my senses subsided, I began to ready myself for the day. I had an inkling of what the Holi Festival was, but the day unfolded in a way that can’t truly be told. Sure, there are stories like this one, but some stories just have to be experienced to understand.
I threw on my cheap garments bought for such an occasion. I’ll come out of this alive, but they wouldn’t. Grabbing my pump action water gun and five bags of gulal, there was no way of knowing that it wasn’t enough. Early to the rooftop where the troops were to gather, it is smart to realize quickly there are no allies when it came to a fistful of colour.
The plan was to infiltrate the pink city. One foot out of the door and people swarmed in. There was no safe place. Without hesitation, I drew first ‘blood’, but I was overwhelmed. “Happy Holi”, and I was hit. Smearing gulal into my rat nest of a beard and embraced with a hug. Well, at least this was a peaceful battle.
Hailing a tuk tuk, we crammed in way over capacity as I hung off the back acting as the rotating turret. Grenades had been thrown throughout the city streets. Coloured shrapnel painted walls, cows, cars and people as if the Teletubbies and the Care Bears had an unprecedented showdown. Left in their rainbowed wake, the streets were reasonably quiet until we approached the Old City.
Feet back on pavement looking reasonably clean, we were immediately swarmed. Lost temporarily in a cloud of pigmented dust, it took seconds to transform me into a tie dyed smurf. Snack and drink stalls dotted the streets while vendors sold gulal and water guns in plentiful supply. People danced through the streets while children screamed and played. Smiles were ear to ear and “Happy Holi” was chanted by all. It was a temporary carefree Utopia where reality didn’t seem to exist.
Our next objective was an outdoor party, a haven for those a little more wild than the streets allow. Some R&R, if you will 😉
Inside was a buffet of gulal. The colours of the rainbow filled bowls as if I’d entered the Care Bears afterparty and things were about to get crazy. A large dance floor with sprinklers, a DJ and of course, a bar added to the atmosphere. A beverage break to wash down all the inhaled gulal pasting up my mouth and I hit the dance floor. I can actually manage Indian dance moves as I joined in dipping from side to side, turning a lightbulb. Nailed it.
The energy of the day left with the sun. My clothes were now a muddied brown and I thought I might piss a rainbow after so much gulal was added to my diet that day. My scalp was green, a blue patch stained my leg and my chest hair was temporarily burgundy-ish. Those were my wounds that faded with time, but the memories marked me for life. It was a citywide blitz and I think everyone emerged victorious. Happy Holi!