For me Holi Festival is a must for any backpacker and definitely an experience that should be added to your bucket list! This colourful, raucous, thrilling spring festival is definitely one of my favourite experiences.
What is Holi?
Holi is an ancient Hindu religious festival celebrated in India and Nepal, which has now become popular around the world including many western communities. The festival known as the “festival of colours” or the “festival of love” signifies the victory of good over evil. It typically falls in March and this year will take place on the 12th – 13th March 2017. Essentially it denotes the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The festival for many is a way to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive and repair broken relationships.
Where to celebrate Holi?
After doing my research, I decided to celebrate with the locals in Pushkar.
Pushkar is a small town bordering the Thar Desert, in the north-eastern Indian state of Rajasthan. Its population is around 21,626 and having read that many of the larger cities’ celebrations could get very out of control and can even be dangerous for tourists, a smaller town such as Pushkar seemed more appealing.
Pushkar is approximately 440 km from Delhi and can be reached by train, bus or taxi. However, you could also fly into Jaipur which is approximately 150 km from Pushkar. I flew from Kerala to Delhi and opted to get a taxi from Delhi airport to Pushkar, as I was travelling with my mum and friend and we split the cost.
If travelling solo, my advice would be to get booked on to a train as far in advance as possible as they are very busy at this time of year. The taxi price can be steep for a solo backpacker and also the roads are not the safest out there.
Where to stay?
I stayed in the beautiful Inn Seventh Heaven, a hundred year old haveli (mansion) which has been restored and converted into a stunning boutique hotel. The ambiance in the hotel is calming, relaxing and a great place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of India.
The rooms are based around the courtyard, and each room is different in terms of décor, style and space. It reminds me the Riads in Morocco.
A room at Inn Seventh Heaven will set you back around Rs. 1200 – £14 per room. Book here.
Alternatively you can stay at their sister hotel, Dia. This is much more of a home stay and a lot smaller than Inn Seventh Heaven. Dia is a little more expensive than Inn Seventh Heaven with rooms starting at Rs. 2400 – £29 for two people. Book here.
The family who run the hotels are extremely helpful and make you feel at home from the moment you arrive. Both are great options for your trip to Pushkar!
What does Holi entail?
Although the main event is on the second day, traditionally the festival starts the night before, when people gather to light huge bonfires. This is when you pray that your inner evil be destroyed and good should triumph!
Holi’s final day, Rangwali Holi is when the real fun begins! It is like nothing I have ever seen before. The centre of Pushkar fills with children and adults throwing colourful gulal (powder) over each other. There is no escaping the craziness of this day. Any means of covering people in colours is used: water guns, buckets, bottles of water or simply throwing handfuls of powder paint at each other.
Everywhere you look people are throwing a rainbow of colours, pouring colourful water over one another and throwing water balloons in every direction. There is loud music and parades moving through the crowds, people are dancing, smiling, laughing and making new friends. What more could you want?
- As a solo female traveller, avoid going out alone during the festivities as it can be dangerous.
- Don’t let men throw paint over you. In my experience this is just a way of touching or groping you!
- Ensure you are covered up. Just because this festival is celebrated in western culture now, does not mean you should disrespect the local customs. I also advise covering up, to avoid men seeing you as an object that they can grope. This has become a known problem during Holi in India. Ensure you are being extra careful around drugged up or drunk men. (However, please don’t let this put you off, it is a fantastic experience and one not to be missed).
- Do not take any valuables out of the hotel.
- If taking a phone or camera, ensure that you have a cover to keep it clean. The paint will get everywhere!
- Where old clothes (I personally bought some clothes at the market the day before reasonably cheap and therefore didn’t mind them getting ruined)
- Bhang Lassi (cannabis-derived drink) – This is completely up to your own discretion whether you partake in drinking this during the festival. However, remember the difference between a Bhang Lassi and a regular Lassi, otherwise you could go a little sideways after your refreshing drink mid festival.
- If you don’t fancy getting involved, make sure you stay in the hotel, as everyone is fair game during the last day of Holi.