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Experience during Holi festival or Festival of Color in Varanasi India.
If you ever get a chance to travel to India, for sure you don’t want to missed one of their festival. India with its strongly rooted Hinduism probably one of the country in the world that have so many festival trough out the year. In a year, India could have more than 150 festivals with the biggest festival probably the Khumbu Mela where more than 20 million Hindus gather during the event. There are also Diwali festival that marked Hindu new year and not to forget Ganesh Chaturthi festival which celebrate the birth of Hindu elephant headed God – Ganesha however one of the most vibrantly colorful festival is the Holi .
I come to visit India in March as it was the month of Holi Festival and there is no better place to celebrate Holi in Varanasi. For many years many people and especially traveler consider Varanasi as the place that held Holi unlike any other place. Well at least that what I was expected. I leave Kolkata a bit early to avoid any hassle on finding some hotel in Varanasi as there will be a lot of tourist flock in the city for the festival also the facts that I get really bored in Kolkata. After taking a 12 hours train from Kolkata I finally reach Varanasi and it was 6 days before the festival so I have no problem on finding a room plus I got a plenty of time to roam around the city. I end up stayed in one of the guest house called Baba Lorak, with its super dooper annoying manager that was located closely to the Ganges.
Now if we talk about Varanasi, it’s one of the most holy cities in India with its sacred Ganges that run through the city. In old days, Varanasi also known as Benares or City of Life so if it’s the first time you step your foot in one of the chaotic bus terminal or train station don’t confuse if you find some sign that said Benares. With its well reputation as the most sacred city in India then I must say I’m in the right city to experience Holi.
Before I talk any further regarding my Holi experience, first I’m gonna give you a little background about what is Holi so you’ll understand my initial expectation when coming to Varanasi. Holi Festival or also known as Color Festival is a spring festival that celebrated by the Hindus all over the world by celebrating a triumph of “good” vs “evil” by throwing colored powder and colored water to each other. Probably almost similar as the one that we had for Moslem which is Idul Fitri. During the Holi eve people will start a bonfire at midnight that marked the day of Holi, in some places it’s also start with drinking some Bhang or Indian local alcohol that made out of rice. In the morning the celebration will start as people throwing colored powder and colored water to everyone. Kids will shoot everyone and also everything which also means their sacred cow. There are 5 main colors that people usually used. Green that represent vitality, red as purity, yellow as religious feeling and blue as calm and sedateness. At mid day, once everyone are full with colors they will go to the Ganges to cleansed them self from all the color before they entitle to wear brand new clothes as a sign of good triumph over evil.
With these in minds, I was imagine that Holi would be a very fun experience that full of laugh and where everyone will splash each other with an ambience that totality represent a festival which unfortunately a bit different as what I imagine. Perhaps my experience will be different with others traveler, maybe I was in the wrong place and wrong time during the festival so I experience something different compare to others. One of the most interesting facts is that during the night of Holi, most guest house and hotel urge the guest not to come out to the street or to Ganges during the Holi because it will be very risky, especially for female. They recommend coming out and walking around in the afternoon when everyone had their bath in the Ganges. For me it was very silly, I mean the reason I come to Varanasi and wait for almost 1 week is to experience the Holi. It’s not making any sense during the Holi for us to sit around doing nothing while people are having so much fun on the street. Well apparently again I have a different perception of Holi then what it’s actually is.
The next morning we went out from our guest house around 8AM and again our supper dooperr annoying guest house manager tell us not to go out to the street. Dressed all white, we walk to the street with the intention to get colored. Oh by the way during the festival Axel and I wear our shoes because some guy told us during festival usually there will a lot of Cow shit and human shit on the street so it will be wise not to wear a flip flop. As we walk a 100 meter from our guest house it was really nice some kids throw colored powder and colored water from the roof top and our white t shirt turn completely into red, blue and green color in a matter of second. However the scene changes completely as we walk toward the main street. There were not so many people especially kids and elderly on the street. Mostly the streets are filled with groups of teenagers and young adult hang around the corner. And as we walk further down town we can feel a completely different atmosphere, not the one that I expected.
Everywhere you walk, all these group of guys try to pick a fight you. I can tell what is a joke or just a teasing around and what a sign to find some trouble whereas all these guys trying to test your nerve and wait for you to make a move so they can start to kick your ass. At first I thought I was in the wrong places and wrong time so we walked away from this area and move further toward the down town. Again I was so frustrated by the scene, atmosphere, and the ambience that we felt. It’s not a fun, colorful, and cheeky atmosphere where people are laugh and have fun. It was a gangster ambience, thugs to thugs situation, where everyone are out of control because of the alcohol. We walked on the main street for an hour’s when we realized that apparently we were the only foreigner or tourist that walked around the main street. As we decide to walk inside the alley hoping that things will be different but again we were disappointed. We expect everything would be so vibrant and alive during the festival but rather we felt like walking in the middle of the ghetto, well probably ghetto is an extreme expression, with all eyes watching and wait for a chance to fxxx you up!
It appears that most tourists watch the festival from their hotel or guest house rooftop rather than down to the street. There were few tourist that also walk but if you compare to all the tourist that were in Varanasi it was like 5 % of the total tourist and there were no female on the street! As we decide to go back to our guest house we were really surprise of what we saw. There were a Japanese girl ride a motorbike with some local guy and as they try to ride pass through a group of people that hang around the street, one of the guy try to stop the bike. It was a group of 5-7 people and they blocked the road while trying to push the driver off the bike and as the same time try to harass the Japanese girl. I mean it was the last thing that I could ever imagine could happen during Holi festival. At that time we were disappointed by the facts of how it goes.
As we get to our guest house we met some locals that live near our guest house that we used to spent time hang out with. There was one guy that we called as Mr. Varanasi because He’s in fact won a body builder competition and crown as Mr.Varanasi. When we met them they were about to take a bath at the middle of the Ganges to clean all the colored. So we hop in into the boat and as we reach to the other end of the river all of them just jump off from the boat and then take a bath in the Ganges. Everyone start to scream saying come on jump! Let’s take a bath with us! I mean it will be very nice with all these color stick in your hair, faces, skins and cloths and also with the heat, just to jump to a river. But it was the notorious Ganges for foreigner. It still takes me a lot time to think to jump into the Ganges. In honoring the boys we make up an excuse that we haven’t take any picture of ourselves and it will be too bad if we don’t have any picture of ourselves covered in all these color.
It took me almost one week just to get rid of all the colors. Some part even more difficult, especially if you get hits with Red color. From all that happen during Holi,I was dissatisfied with what I experienced. I have waited for 1 week for the festival and it turn out completely the opposite. Other people might take this experience differently. Maybe I was just in a wrong places and wrong time of this Holi but if you ever get a change to come to India make sure you get a chance to experience one of their festival.
For those of you that plan to experienced Holi in Varanasi, here are some tips that might come in handy:
- If possible to celebrate Holi with the locals. Its not a bad idea to meet some local a day before and join them not only it will be safer but also to experienced the local ways.
- Dress all white and wear really strong short and nice underwear, especially for guys, as most people will try to torn your t-shirt.
- For photographer, if your camera is insured then it’s OK to walk around the city with camera worth $1500 among drunker. Not to forget to put some waterproof case or you can be creative to made one out of a plastic bag. If down on the street you feel a bit too risky, then a day before you can look around a hotel with nice rooftop where you can shoot from on top.
- For girls, never ever go out alone. Always accompany with some men. Find some guys with nice muscle and find more then 1. For example I walk around the city with my friend Axel and He’s a kick boxer!
- Once the festival finished, as soon as possible to rinse all the color. Don’t spend too long to have it dry otherwise you’ll end up have that color in your face for a whole week. Also I would recommend rinsing it in the Ganges. It’s up to you though.
- And lastly, no matter what happen and no matter what you experience just keep on put a smile in your face. It’s not about the end result of what you experienced but rather about how you experienced it.
For complete Holi photographs just visit my gallery at www.diaryformymother.com