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Celebrating the Holi Festival in India is high up on the list of must do’s for many travellers. When I was in India at the beginning of this year, I had the privilege of celebrating Holi among the locals in Rishikesh while staying at Parmarth Niketan Ashram and what an experience it was! I’ve seen numerous photos online of the crazy and colourful festival that draws millions into the streets to throw brightly coloured powders at each other and leave them looking like a Skittles rainbow. Never in my life would I had thought that one day I’d be able to participate in such a world renown festival that many people only get to dream of seeing up close and personal.
Read more: How I Spent Two Weeks Travelling In India
The Holi Festival is an assault on the senses. You’ll hear men, women and children yelling and screaming, “Happy Holi,” as they run up to you in the streets giggling and smiling. You’ll smell street vendors cooking up a storm to feed the masses on the streets as they too, get marked with colourful powders. You’ll feel dozens of locals come and give you a hug and wipe your face, head, arms and any exposed skin with the neon Holi powders. You’ll inevitably taste that colourful powder in your mouth, without a doubt and no matter how hard you try not to get it in your mouth, there’s always a little that sneaks inside. What will you see you ask? Well, you’ll need to see it to believe it because your eyes cannot believe all the colourful madness happening around on the streets and it’s something that you, yourself need to experience to fully appreciate the beautifully chaotic festival.
What Is The Holi Festival
Holi is a Hindu spring festival that celebrates the arrival of spring and to provide thanks for the harvest season. Holi also commemorates the victory of good over evil and is a time of pure joy and happiness for all. It also symbolizes rebirth and new beginnings within the Hindu culture. The Holi festival always falls on Purnima, which is day of the full moon (Holika Dahan) and is a two day holiday. During Holika Dahan is when a huge bonfire is lit for a puja (prayer). The bonfire is cleansing and meant to burn away all the bad and evil. The next day is all about the festival of colours and happiness. The Holi Festival is also known as “The Festival of Colours” because of the brightly coloured powder that is used to throw at each other during the festivities, which creates a spectacle unlike anything else in the entire world.
When Is Holi Celebrated
Holi is celebrated the day after the full moon in March each year. This year in 2019, Holi fell on March 21st, with Holika Dahan on March 20th. In 2020, Holi will fall on March 10th, with Holika Dahan being celebrated on March 9th. On the eve of Holi, large bonfires are lit to mark occasion and to burn evil spirits. This is known as Holika Dahan and draws crowds from all over to witness the massive fire show in the streets.
Where To Celebrate Holi
If you want to celebrate Holi, than India is definitely the place to do it. The most traditional places that Holi is celebrated is in Mathura and Vrindavan, which sits about four hours from Delhi and is where Lord Krishna is believed to have grown up. The crowds of intoxicated men get wild and crazy here and the place gets rammed with visitors, so it’s not an ideal location for a woman to visit. If you do decide to visit these places as a woman, go with a guided group, or some male friends to act as protection against others’ unwanted behaviour. Rajasthan and Rishikesh are popular places of celebration for tourists and some hostels and hotels even offer private Holi celebrations, which can be enjoyed in and around the hotel grounds. While in Rishikesh, my group celebrated early in the morning to mid-afternoon and we branched off in groups of two, three, or four to explore the streets like the locals do. Everyone was very kind, respectful and non-intrusive for the most part, so my Holi experience was a great one!
What You Should Expect During The Holi Festival
The Holi Festival is a time where people are carefree and having a great time, albeit some get a little too crazy, but overall, it is a happy time. You’ll end up saturated in bright neon coloured powders, paints and splashed with water, which I tried to avoid at all costs from little grannies throwing buckets from their balconies. You will be approached by numerous locals and curious onlookers asking where you are from and what brings you to India to celebrate Holi. You will also become somewhat of a celebrity during Holi, especially as a Western foreigner. I can’t even count how many times I was asked for a selfie, or posed with an entire family in a group photo in the streets during the celebrations.
Tips To Keep In Mind For The Holi Festival
- Wear old cheap (preferably white) clothes that you can throw away while celebrating, as you will look like a rainbow threw up on your afterwards.
- Try to cover your hair with coconut oil, or conditioner so that the colourful powder does not sink into your hair. If you have blonde hair, well, good luck.
- Wear face and body cream, so the colours come off your skin easier when you have a shower.
- Not all of the powders are eco-friendly, or safe for you, especially ones containing metals, so just be cautious about your mouth, eyes and nasal area.
- If you bring a camera, or phone, make sure to cover it up safely with a special waterproof case. If you have a GoPro, or any other type of action camera, use the waterproof casing to capture the action.
- Go out early to avoid rowdy crowds and enjoy the festivities with locals and families.
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the powders. If contact with your eyes occur, rinse it out immediately with clean bottled, or filtered water.
- If you are driving in a car around town, keep the windows closed to avoid getting ambushed by crowds. Nobody cares if they ruin your car interior, there are no rules during Holi.
- Be safe, have fun and don’t forget to say Happy Holi!!
Safety Measures For Women During The Holi Festival
As much as Holi is a time for celebration and happiness, a lot of safety precautions for women need to be taken into account. With the amount of rowdy men and boys running around the streets intoxicated and inebriated throughout the afternoon, some women have claimed that they have been harassed, groped, or even worse. These are only isolated incidences of course, but nonetheless, they do happen. If you are a woman and plan on celebrating the Holi Festival in India, it is best if you go with a friend, or even a group. My friend and I went out very early in the morning and had no issues, but upon returning to our Ashram in Rishikesh, she got surrounded by a group of young teenage boys that were aggressive with her and wouldn’t let her go. I thought she was behind me the entire time, but when I turned around, she was stuck inside a circle of men that wouldn’t let her go. Eventually they did, but it was pretty unnerving for her. My advice? Try to go out first thing in the morning and be back to your accommodations by mid-afternoon before things get a little too crazy. If you find men are being too aggressive, be firm and say “that’s enough” and they should back off. 🙂
If you are thinking about visiting India in the near future, I highly suggest trying to visit during the Holi Festival. It’s an experience that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and to be a part of something so celebrated is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
Is the Holi Festival on your bucket list? Have you ever been to the Holi Festival? If so, share your experience in the comments below! xo
I travelled to India with Vivid Life Journeys in partnership with Toerboer based in South Africa and Ashoka Holidays based in Jaipur, India.