Everyone told us that since we were already in India leading up to the holiday period of Holi, we should go to Jaipur a day earlier than we had planned for the Elephant Festival.
Although there is a Hindu religious legend associated with Holi, the festival is also a celebration of the colors of spring. To this end, celebrants throw colored powder on each other, which is called “Playing Holi.” The expectation on Holi is that people get a little raucous in the name of having fun. (Think St. Patrick’s day or Mardi Gras in the U.S.)
We found out our couch surfing host in Jaipur was also hosting about ten other surfers, and was making a big party for Holi in his home. Apparently, it’s not always safe for single women to be out and about in India. This is especially true of foreign women, and especially true on Holi. I think some of the local guys get a little carried away applying the colored powders and dyes to women. No matter – to celebrate a local holiday with a local family was too much fun to pass up. Our host even provided us with the colors we would use: powders in green, red, yellow, blue, orange, pink and purple, silver body paint and some black powder which turns an eye-watering – and semi-permanent – shade of fuchsia when mixed with water. I resolved to stay well away from that stuff!
The day before Holi, our host took us all shopping for traditional white clothing. After all, if people are going to be slinging color all over you, you need to be able to show it off. We then hired a minibus which took us for a little sightseeing before the Elephant Festival n town that evening. We had been especially looking forward to this festival where the people paint the elephants for Holi and then parade them around. There also used to be an elephant polo match. We were more than a little disappointed when we learned that the authorities canceled the elephants THAT MORNING!
When we asked our host why they would cancel the elephants, and why they gave such little notice, he said the animal rights activists had been complaining for years. The authorities probably knew a long time ago that there would be no elephants, he told us, but they wanted things to look good up until the last possible moment so that the tourists would still come. Not cool!! The Holi Festival was still quite interesting without the elephants though. There was still traditional dancing, music, and a tug of war (which should have been humans vs. elephants). Interestingly, this celebration was almost completely dominated by tourists. By the end of it, more than a few of us had some colored powder on us.
The next day, Holi, we got up early and dressed in our new whites. The original plan was to take a before and after photo, but I didn’t even make it down the stairs before being dusted heavily in green powder. Stephanie burst out laughing but was suddenly afraid to leave our room. One by one, all of us clean surfers were colored up and coloring each other’s faces. The powder is traditionally spread gently on the cheeks and forehead, but we learned quickly that these days people go for hair, necks, arms, and anything that is exposed.
We left the house and wandered the streets of the neighborhood mixing with and coloring the neighbors and wishing everyone a Happy Holi. The neighborhood kids were better armed than us; they had water guns and water balloons, often filled with colored water. There was no choice but to chase them down and color them liberally. The best was when our host would spot “fresh meat” – anyone who was not yet covered in colored powder. And woe to any cows that got in our way!
Back at the house, our host’s rooftop was prepared for some serious partying with a DJ spinning Bollywood tunes, and catered food. When his friends and *their* friends showed up, it started to get crazy. Most of them went straight for the deadly fuchsia powder. They mixed up huge full buckets, and turned each other purple in no time. Then they set their sights on all the white girls. I thought I was safe being male, but no such luck. I had my shirt removed, my arms held, and was turned into a giant pink smurf.
Once everyone was legitimately colored up, our host brought out the bhang lassi. I had never heard of this before. This drink tastes kind of like eggnog, but (apparently) contains herbs that act in a similar fashion to marijuana and/or alcohol. (Our host swears it’s legal.) He warned us that we would feel happy, and then once we ate, we’d fall asleep. We each had a glass before lunch. Then, during lunch, our host wanted to get rid of the last of it, so some of us had a bit more. I got the dregs of the pot with extra bits of stuff inside. Bad idea!
Sure enough once lunch was over, I found myself getting sleepy. As I looked around the rooftop, it looked like more and more people were winding down. As the roof slowly emptied out, I went downstairs to sit in my room. All of a sudden, I realized I wasn’t just tired, I was dizzy. Very dizzy. I went to lie down, but kept having the weirdest thoughts. It was like dreaming while awake. I slept off and on for over four hours. Apparently most of us did (except for Stephanie who seemed to suffer no ill effects). I felt much better when, during a bathroom break, I noticed our host’s brother in law stone-cold passed out on the kitchen floor.
The worst part of sleeping the afternoon away was that I missed dinner being cooked. The traditional way is over an open fire made by burning dried cow dung. Apparently it’s good for you. Who knew? I did get a good photo of the chapatti – rolls cooked right in the ashes. Dinner certainly was tasty and filling! Our host said they only cook this particular dinner on Holi. Afterwards, we all slept a full, good night’s sleep.
The saga of Holi certainly didn’t end there. Remember that pink dye? Remember I said it’s semi-permanent? I scrubbed for almost an hour in the shower, but could not get all the pink color off. Our white Holi clothes will never be white again. Our hair is streaked in purple. (The blondes were especially upset about this, but Stephanie and I think it’s kind of cool. We never thought we’d see *her* hair purple!) Stephanie’s right contact was pink, and three of the keys on our netbook are now pink. Anything we wore under those clothes seems to be permanently dyed – even my money belt and boxer briefs. In fact, every part of me seems to have been dyed pink. Every. Part. My eyes look like I lost a boxing match, my beard is purple, my armpits, behind my ears. Worst of all, my toenails are all bright pink. It’s fading from our skin, but very slowly. As we continued to sightsee in Jaipur, we could always spot the other people who did Holi right – they too were purple. It’s like a little semi-permanent club. Stephanie and I both agree – we need this holiday back in the States!