India: How to Holi
Everyone has seen the iconic color-drenched photos, participated in the themed 5K Color Runs or even taken part in faux-Holi celebrations in their home country but how many can say they have done the real thing?! Holi, the festival of colors, takes place in India every March in celebration of spring. This world-renowned festival was on the top of my to-do list in India. In fact, I planned my entire trip around it. And it did not disappoint! It was my favorite day of the entire trip and even better than seeing the Taj Mahal in person. Below are my top 5 tips for how to Holi in India the right way!
Location, Location, Location
It is important to note that Holi is a Hindu festival which means that the country’s majority Muslim south is not the best area to celebrate. The two cities that are known for the most insane Holi celebrations are Mathura & Vrindavan. However, these tiny towns are pretty far off the beaten path so I ended up in Delhi. The whole city has the holiday off and which leads to packs of children running around with water guns and color powder in every local neighborhood. Other cities that could be a good home base for Holi include: Mumbai, Udaipur, and Jaipur.
Holi Moo Festival
Holi Moo is a must if you are heading to Delhi. And if you don’t trust my advice, trust USA Today’s as they ranked it one of the top 12 festivals worth traveling to in the world! It includes 40+ artists on 4 different stages and thousands of local and international party-goers. Not to mention, there is gallons of free beer, plenty of dance music, and best of all – lots of throwing Holi powder on everyone you encounter.
adjust your expectations
One thing that initially threw me off about Holi in India is that I was imagining huge crowds of thousands of people gathering around and counting down “3-2-1” before throwing colors joyfully into the air. Maybe I was being naïve with this assumption but that is what it looked like in all of the pictures I had seen. Of course, thinking about this in reality is completely ridiculous. Delhi alone has millions of residents who don’t spend their holiday gathering in one location and waiting for the count of 3 to throw colors.
In reality, Holi is much more a neighborhood event. When walking down the street, it was common for people to come up to me and greet me with a “Happy Holi” before patting color on my cheeks and expecting me to do the same in return. If you want to madly throw colors at random passers-by, check out Holi Moo.
P.S. The one exception to this rule is the children. They were ruthless when it came to throwing water balloons at you from the top of 5 story buildings, spraying you with water guns, and throwing color right at your face.
Dress for the Day
I heard from just about everyone that the Holi powder would stain anything and everything I wore so I prepared with old clothes I didn’t mind trashing. Although all of my clothes (including shoes!) recovered miraculously with just one wash, I would still suggest wearing clothes you don’t mind getting messy. Sometimes the “wet Holi powder” and/or paint that some people buy stain the most while the dry powder comes out much easier. In addition, make sure to wear all white or all black so your colors can shine even brighter.
Holi can get rowdy. In certain cities, it is advised especially for women to stay away from crowds and Holi activities as they escalate quickly. I heard stories of harassment and groping which made me nervous. These rowdy situations are helped along by the fact that many locals consume a substance called bhang. Bhang is a part of the cannabis plant and leaves large numbers of people not in their “right state of mind” to put it lightly. In addition, sometimes the police can hurt, not help, the situation. We were hurriedly called back to our hostel when the police showed up drunk and looking to get people in trouble just for walking in the streets with Holi powder. While all of these things are extremely important, they are not meant to scare you! Only to make you aware so that you can have the best Holi possible! I personally felt safe during the whole day after making myself mindful of these scenarios.
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