I’d always wanted to just throw myself into the pictures. Clouds of pink, blue and yellow powdered dye, exploding above people dancing and celebrating. Who wouldn’t want to visit India during the Holi festival?
Celebrated at the start of spring in honour of the victory of good over evil and the end of the winter months, Holi is a chance for everyone to let loose and play – children and older people alike chase each other through the streets with water cannons full of dye, throw water bombs from the tops of roofs, play music, dance and attack each other with fistfuls of iridescent powdered dye. Everyone’s welcome – whether you’re a street kid, a Muslim neighbour or a tourist – it’s the more the merrier as the party takes over the city.
While it’s celebrated in Bangladesh by the small Hindu community, a group of my deshi friends decided we would hop over the border to Kolkata to experience the festival in its home country. And was it worth it.
Kolkata’s an amazing city – a perfect mix of British retro nostalgia (a hang over from its life as the trade hub of the colonial British Raj) and the colour and playfulness of the Indian culture. From the ‘Ambassador’ cars to the amazing food, wide green parks and cheap markets, I pretty much fell in love straight away.
Putting on our old white clothes and wrapping up our hair in bandanas, we asked our hotel manager where the best place was to ‘play holi’. We were pointed in the direction of the flower market under the famous Howrah Bridge – as we wound our way through the city we started to see people walking down the street with fuschia dust in their hair and rickshaw drivers with bright red faces, and we knew we’d found the right place.
We stopped at a market stall to buy bags of dye and had a few first blessings of ‘happy holi!’ from grinning bystanders.
While the major streets were fairly quiet, once we turned into the alleyways the fun really started. We were beckoned into a small courtyard where at least 50 rainbow-soaked people danced to music playing from one of the upper floors. With cries of ‘happy holi, happy holi!’ people shook our hands and welcomed us by rubbing dye between both hands then smearing it down our cheeks, poured liquid dye over our heads, and shoving our faces full of special festival sweets made of rice, milk and spices.
(I took my little point-and-shoot in a plastic bag, so most of the photos aren’t great! Even then, all the buttons on my camera are now bright pink. 🙂 )
On our way out, a gang of five-year-olds carrying waterguns and soaked in red dye ambushed us at a narrow intersection. The dye gets EVERYWHERE – in your mouth, in your ears… After that, we were varying shades of dark purple and red.
We spent the rest of the weekend walking around town, visiting the Indian Museum and eating. Happy Holi, everyone!