Holi in India: Everything you need to know about The Festival of Colour to stay safe and happy
IT’S NOT INDIA’S biggest festival, but it’s the most colourful — and probably the one most beloved by foreigners. Many people have “experience Holi in India” on their bucket lists, and for good reason. How often do adults get to throw coloured powder at each, and squirt each other with water guns filled with coloured water? And … for those who are more adventurous than me … there is the bhang lassi, too.
Holi does not happen on a fixed date each year; it takes place on the day after the full moon in March. This year it’s March 13 (2017). I’ve been in India three times for Holi, and my experience is that it’s a holiday best celebrated with family and friends, especially if you are a female and a foreigner. Here’s my top 5 tips for playing Holi safely.
Top tips for Holi
1. Find a family or group of people to play Holi with; don’t go out into the street by yourself in India’s metros.
I’ve celebrated Holi three times in India. Twice I was with my Indian family at a private club in Delhi; and once I was with my Indian yoga teacher at an ashram in Rishikesh. I found these were the perfect venues for safely experiencing Holi. I got to get drenched with colour, have fun, eat loads of sweets, and not worry about getting attacked by out-of-control boys and men. (Which can happen: I’ve heard lots of stories about foreign women walking out into the street during Holi and finding themselves targeted by males who were using the festival as an excuse for groping.)
Read the Essential Guide to Celebrating Holi from About India.
2. Cover your skin with oil and wear clothes you can throw away.
The first time I played Holi in Delhi, no one told me you should oil your skin first and I had a hot pink face for a week! That’s not the worst thing in the world, but it is much better for your skin if you cover it in some kind of oil (I used almond oil) so that you can wash the colour off easily. Clothes are a complete write-off. It’s fun to wear something white that you don’t want anymore, so then you can really see the colour!
Holi Festival of Colours in Pictures from BBC News
3. North India does it better
Holi is much more exuberantly celebrated in North India, and many towns and cities claim to have the “best” Holi atmosphere, but I would probably try Mathura/Vrindavan; or Jaisalmer, Udaipur or Jaipur in Rajasthan. Visit Maps of India: Best Places for Holi to check out their interactive map.
There’s also a celebration called Lathmar Holi in Barsana, U.P., before the other more well-known Holi takes place.
My friend, travel blogger Sid The Wanderer, has compiled an incredibly comprehensive guide to Lathmar Holi (and more). A must read.
4. Go very easy on the bhang lassi.
Okay, I’m not writing from experience because my Indian family did a really good job of dissuading me from trying it. Bhang lassi is a very powerful intoxicant, disguised as a sweet, delicious drink. If you know what it’s made from, you will know why I was surprised that it was being served at the very upscale private club in Delhi where I celebrated Holi. Naturally, I had to try it, but I only had a few sips. I heard too many stories about aunties ending up in hospitals. Bhang lassi is one of the reasons it’s not safe for women to wander in public on Holi in India — lots of people are seriously intoxicated.
My colleague photographer Deepti Asthana had a very bad experience celebrating Holi, and has a warning for other women. Please read Un-Holi and Un-safe in Vrindavan.
5. Learn about the significance of Holi.
Holi does not seem to have a singular significance, the way Diwali does for example. It’s a celebration of spring, of unity and brotherhood and — like many festivals in India — of the triumph of good over evil. There are of course mythological stories attached to Holi. The most popular one is that Krishna applied colour to Radha’s cheek. And as these sweethearts represent harmony in love, it’s a charming image and connotation.
Hope you have as much fun as these people — I took this video at a private club in Delhi during Holi celebrations three years ago.
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