holi in jaipur

Celebrating the Color Festival in India

girl in india

Cow dung rings for the bonfire.

Many Westerners have seen photos of the Color Run, where participants run through clouds of colored dust and get covered from head to toe in beautiful vibrant colors. Or maybe you've heard of something called a Color Festival. This Color Festival, or Holi, is a Hindu spring festival celebrating the victory of good over evil.

I’ve wanted to experience the ‘real’ Holi for years. It’s something that I dreamed of crossing off my bucket list. This year I was able to do just that. I booked a cultural tour of India and packed my bags for an adventure.

The night before Holi, Holika Dahan, people will bring twigs and branches to the side of the street to light a bonfire. We saw local people making cow dung rings to help make the fires burn even brighter. They pray that the fire will destroy their internal evil. The giant bonfire is lit between 6:30 and 6:40pm.

holi in jaipur

Before and After

On the morning of Holi, you should put on as much moisturizer as possible, even on places of your body that aren’t exposed. It’ll save you the scrubbing later. My entire bra area and stomach were a dark purple for a day or two after. We also bought some natural color that has less chemicals to layer on first.

You want to wear white clothes (especially ones that you can throw away) so the colors can pop. If you’re a female I would strongly recommend not wearing exceptionally tight clothes, or anything revealing.

We started the day by throwing colors at our hotel amongst friends and family. What I learned as tradition, was to dip your fingers in the color power and wipe it on a person’s two cheeks while saying, “Happy Holi.” When someone does this to you, you reciprocate by doing the same back. Then of course you can get a bit crazy and rub it all over peoples’ faces and hair. The little kids had water guns and would spray us with cold water when we weren’t looking. After a few short minutes, we were completely covered in powder.

holi festival

After we were caked, our guide, Rajesh, and our driver took us to a local celebration. No person can avoid getting color on them. Strangers and friends, young and old, rich and poor, will get colored by someone passing by on the streets. People were throwing colors in the air, singing, and dancing. I was really impressed with how quickly we got even more color on us. My face was completely purple before leaving.

One of the first things you notice is that there are hardly any women on the streets, they typically celebrate in the home. As we walked through the streets, many men would put color on our cheeks and try to hug us or take selfies with us. In the throng of it, things got intense, but Rajesh and our driver were constantly by our sides and making sure we were safe. I was so grateful to have them both with us.

After leaving the street celebration, we went to a temple. Inside, everyone was chanting and waiting eagerly for the exact moment to throw colors in the air. I could feel the excitement building in the crowds. When the time came, it was magical. I could see clouds of color in every direction. People praying, laughing, and shouting, it was really a beautiful experience.

Following the temple, we went to a Westerner Holi celebration. I had to laugh how different it was from the local celebrations. As we were walking in there was even an Indian couple that was trying to join and the guard said, “No Indians,” which really surprised me, considering it's their holiday.

When we went inside, sure enough, there was only white people and a few tour guides. They were playing Shakira and latest hits music, which I found hilarious for a Hindu festival. One of the local guides showed us some Punjabi dance moves, which was really fun.

color festival in india

A little boy getting his pay back from squirting me with a water gun.

At the end of the day, we went back to our hotel to shower and nap. It took me about 40 minutes to get most of the color off my skin and out of my hair. The entire bathroom was a bright purple by the time I was done.

I really had one of the best experiences of celebrating Holi in Jaipur, India on my 10 day Cultural tour with Travel As a Volunteer. Had it not been for Rajesh and our driver, who knew the best spots, telling us what the rituals meant, and what to do, I don’t think Holi would have been half as fun. It was an adventure I’ll never forget and will always treasure.


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