On The QT

Holi in Rishikesh

Blogger: Katie Burke

Unnoticed by me the dates of my trip to India managed to eradicate my annual celebration of Paddy’s Day. For the first time in many years I would not have the opportunity to spend March 17th in a drunken stupor with my closest friends. This year it would be much different but potentially as much fun because this year in India March 17th was to be the date for Holi. For those of you who haven’t heard of Holi, you will definitely have seen images. Holi is the Hindu Spring Festival of colour where men, women, children and travelers alike happily throw and rub powder and water based coloured paint at/on one another ( and any innocent by standing animals) freely in the streets.

A gang of seven of us decided to make the trek from Bir to Rishikesh for the weekend to celebrate. This journey was no mean feat beginning with a two hour taxi ride to Dharamsala and then a twelve hour bus trip to Rishikesh. This bus trip quickly became one of the worst of my life. After four hours (one of which was used to change a tyre on the bus) of bouncing out of my eternally reclined aisle seat with the ever present threat of the luggage in the unlocked overhead compartment falling out and giving me a lovely head injury I decided to throw back some sleeping pills and be done with it.

I awoke in a much more peaceful state several hours later to see the sun rising as we arrived into Rishikesh. We had no accommodation and no idea where we were going but as soon as we were off the bus we followed our intuition and found ourselves on the banks of the Ganges (or Mother Ganga as she’s better known in Rishikesh). The water (though most likely terribly poisonous) looked clear and green. And with the sun shining and the little town still just waking up the peacefulness was catching. Feeling more or less relieved from the journey now we set off to find a hostel and to enjoy the rest of our weekend.

And enjoy we did. We found a central hostel easily and cheaply and then had a delicious breakfast in a teeny tiny restaurant overlooking the Ganges. Later we met up with friends from Delhi and went in search of the Ashram made famous by the Beatles but a las could not get in. The rest of the weekend was spent checking out the local shops, having our palms read, chilling out in Little Buddha Cafe, hiking to and then splashing about in a beautiful waterfall and generally having a whale of a time.

Then came Monday and with it Holi. We’d had a taste of Holi the night before when we joined some locals at a bonfire by the Ganges and had some paint smudged on our faces but nothing could have prepared us for the insanity that was to come. We awoke early, donned our white “blank canvas” clothing and set off in search of the celebrations. As it turns out we did not need to search too hard because from the balcony of the hostel we could already see that madness had ensued. There was colour everywhere. Pairs of Indian men riding around on motorbikes throwing powder at innocent pedestrians, small children giggling as they smudged paint on one another’s faces and unsuspecting cows who had been partially dyed bright pink. We couldn’t wait to get involved.

Armed with our small bags of powdered paint we set off to the other side of town. What we had failed to account for was the frenzy that gang predominantly made up of white girls would cause on the streets during Holi. We became the main targets and every man woman and child in the place wanted a piece of us. Children and families just wanted to say hello and wish us “Happy Holi” while gently rubbing some powder on our cheeks and foreheads and wishing for us to do the same to them. However most Indian men had a very different idea. They shouted “Happy Holi” at us while spreading powder all over our faces and then pulled us into tight hugs with an attempted grope here and there and then made us pose for a photo. There was no escape but despite the groping it was all in good spirits and we didn’t feel unsafe.

Destroyed in paint from head to toe and everywhere in between we continued our walk and took joy in throwing paint at passers by and at each other when the mood struck. As we reached the opposite side of town we had not anticipated families, business owners and other travelers in hostels waiting on rooftops with large buckets of water ready to soak the unlucky, already fully painted passers by that crossed their paths. Needless to say we were hit badly despite some crazy sprinting in attempt to escape. But by the time we returned to out hostel we were dry again and oh so colourful.

It took considerable time to scrub out the colour and even as we walked to the bus stop when things had calmed down that evening some of us still had stubborn patches of colour on our faces and arms. Proud badges of a day well spent and a very successful first Holi celebration.

Blogger: Katie Burke - Adventures in India
Katie is an aspiring writer who is originally from Galway. She has been travelling in India for the past two months. She has had an eclectic journey including everything from experiencing the culture shock of Delhi to teaching baby Buddhist monks in Dharamsala and so much in between. This blog covers the highs, the lows and the hilarious of each site and situation visited and reveals the madness that is India from the naked eye of a first time visitor.
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