Having seen the Top Gear India Special, and Rick Stein’s India documentary series, celebrating Holi festival in India had been a dream of mine for a very long time. I specifically wanted my travels around the country to coincide with this year’s festival. It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least.
On the eve of Holi
Arriving in The Pink City, it was clear that Holi celebrations would be very big. From brightly-coloured, almost fluorescent-looking powders, to clean white Holi clothing, lots of festival paraphernalia were on sale and widely available on the eve of Holi.
At Zostel Jaipur, a police officer and the property manager talked to guests about the possible dangers of Holi to tourists, ways in which we can fully immerse ourselves into the event safely, and the precautions and policies of the Zostel branch regarding the festival. As a solo female traveller, it was very reassuring to find influential figures of the surrounding area taking responsibility in helping make Holi a safe and fun social occasion for everybody involved. It was emphasised that celebrating in groups is most preferred, particularly for females. We were also warned about the probably misdemeanour of locals and tourists consuming too much alcohol or bhang lassi. As someone who has read blogs and articles in depth on the topic of female harassment during Holi, I was very much familiar with how the festival could be for some female travellers.
With our Holi gear in tow (200 rupees for a pair of white trousers), we treaded along Hawa Mahal Road as police officers were on duty, checking the quality of powders used and looking out for any premature Holi debauchery on the streets.
23rd March 2016: Holi celebrations in Jaipur
After breakfast, everyone at the hostel were dressed like puritans: clean, bright white all-in-ones, cameras covered with bags, and GoPros attached to bodies. We were ready for the colourful carnage that we were promised.
Zostel Jaipur kindly organised a Holi celebration on their wonderful rooftop. Bags of coloured powder, water guns, and buckets were all tactfully arranged for a morning of mayhem. Snacks were also a-plenty.
It was organised chaos at its finest: buckets of water were poured over heads, and coloured powder was thrown from every angle possible. I felt like a schoolgirl out on the playground again.
After some dancing, we decided to take on the streets of Jaipur.
Armed with more powder and some drinks, a huge procession of tourists and guests from the Zostel paraded around the streets. We were welcomed by the locals enthusiastically, wishing us all “Happy Holi!”, and wiping our faces with their chosen colours.
We descended into a temple where a big party seems to be happening. Loud drums were bang bang banging, and the air was spitting rainbows. However, this was when it became unpleasant for some females of the group.
As I joined my group’s ascend into the middle of the party, I became surrounded by Indian men very quickly. This was not something that would have distressed me previously, but as soon as I started dancing, I saw far too many pairs of hands trying to grope me. The party quickly ended with the girls watching on the side, for fear that they might get sexually harassed, whilst the boys enjoyed the shindig we all came out for.
I did not see it as a big deal, as I have been forewarned of the dangers of men high on bhang lassi or far too intoxicated during the Holi festival; no matter how conservatively dressed you were, some men would use the religious festival as an excuse to grope tourists. It was sickening, and something that, unfortunately, was expected.
Though we were followed by a young man who was openly groping girls in my group due to his inebriated state, the negative issues did not detract away from the fun day I had celebrating Holi. As a solo female traveller, it was important that I:
- Stuck with a large, mixed group when out on the streets.
- Dressed conservatively.
- Am aware of the state of any men approaching me.
- Was weary of any offerings from anyone that day.
- Kept in mind that Holi is a religious affair.
- Called out (along with the rest of the group) if we saw anyone being hassled.
The above points helped with making Holi a safe and fun affair. It is also wise to remember that you do not have to hug the men who approached you. I noticed that only men were out on the streets wiping colours on everyone’s faces, and that some of them specifically headed straight for the females of the group… Any expansions on this observation, anyone?!
As the majority of the colours were washed away after multiple shower attempts, many looked back on the colourful debauchery that was the Holi Festival in Jaipur. Tales of being invited to people’s houses, drinking far too much bhang lassi and having eggs thrown around were prevalent. Many agreed that the groping resulted from having far too much mind-altering substances, which many people are not used to having at all, let alone the copious amounts consumed around Holi.
While the negative experiences made some females shudder at the thought of celebrating another Holi anytime soon, the welcoming embraces and warmth from genuine locals made for a memorable and kaleidoscopic start to my travels in Rajasthan.
Holi celebrations all over India
A friend in Delhi celebrated with close friends, resulting in egg and mud attacks, whilst travellers stomped to trance music on the streets of Pushkar, famed to be one of the rowdiest Holi celebrations around.
Thank you to Zostel for hosting me during my stay in Jaipur – your wonderful staff made the Holi festival very enjoyable. Views are my own.