Happy Holi

Holi Anni is the Spring Hindu Festival of Colors celebrating love and the end of winter. We had planned to move on from Udaipur but when we learned Holi was coming up in a few days we extended our stay. The city was booked up, including our wonderful guesthouse, but our host found us another room just around the corner.

Last year we were in Bhaktapur, Nepal, for Holi and it was a joyous but rather sedate celebration. We looked forward to the Rajasthani version, which we were told can get a little rowdy.

The day before Holi we crossed the footbridge into the city and visited the main temple. Jack, as always, stayed on the perimeter with his shoes on while I subjected my bare feet to the hot hot hot stone temple grounds to see what was going on inside. There was already quite a bit of color on the people and the temple itself and I could hear chanting and bells and clapping.

I joined the crush on the steep steps but only got a glimpse as I teetered at the top.

I followed the cows down to the street and Jack and I sauntered back to the Old City.

At the crossroads of nearly every neighborhood men were constructing the trees that will be burned to symbolize the victory of good over evil. We’re told the big bonfires will be in the main square in town along with the big crowds but these little neighborhood celebrations appeal to us. Our original host has especially invited us to join his family at their neighborhood full moon ceremony.

They light the bonfires close to midnight so while we waited we took a turn around the Old City. Things were certainly heating up. Down the street from the footbridge we joined a crowd outside an open doorway. Neither of us could figure out what was going on, and while a local next to me tried to explain it I couldn’t make out what he said over the din of traffic, chanting and bells. We could see the man inside quivering, his right leg vibrating so hard it looked like it might fall off.

In the main square the dancing had started.

We made our way back toward our old guesthouse where our host and his family were beginning the ceremony.

First was a blessing and offering, then the lighting of the tree. It was so much more explosive than we expected, and so hot we couldn’t get near it for about 20 minutes. At one point an ember fell on my head and burned a patch of hair. That was about the time one of the overhead electrical wires melted and the power went out. We noticed this happened above several of the burning trees nearby but the lines were reconnected or rerouted quickly and the power was back on in minutes.

The tradition is to walk around the burning tree seven times for good fortune in the year to come. If you can’t do seven then five or even three are enough. We did the optimum seven and I felt like my right side was barbecued.

The actual festival of colors was the next day. You’ve probably seen this in NatGeo where people dance and carouse and throw color powders and colored water on each other. We’ve been respectfully daubed with colors before in Fiji and Nepal but we really wanted to see the full action, if not join in completely. We selected T-shirts that we wouldn’t mind tossing if they got ruined but neither of us has any throwaway trousers. In any case we prepared to make our way to the square to join in. That’s when these two arrived back at the guesthouse from their foray into the city.

They’d had a lot of fun, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience but in the end we chickened out, mostly because of the gauntlet of young kids we’d have to run at the end of our alley before we could ever get to the footbridge. Most of the older folks, tourists and locals alike, also skipped the colors fun. Still, I think we’re both disappointed in ourselves and if we ever intersect with Holi again I think we’ll plunge right in. Why not?

We did get the respectful daub again, so there’s that. Happy Holi!

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