When I planned my trip to India earlier this year, I was actually unaware that I would be there during the country’s most colourful festival, Holi. What a fortunate stroke of serendipity. Celebrating Holi was easily one of the top highlights of my India trip. The colors, the music, the dancing…Oh my gosh, the dancing. Let’s just say I can die happy knowing that my Bollywood dream came true. While playing Holi is an incredible experience, you should definitely be prepared so you can stay safe and healthy throughout the event. Here are some handy tips for Holi to know for travelers.
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What is Holi?
Holi is a popular ancient festival celebrated by Hindus in India and all over the world. As the story goes, the event commemorates the killing of demoness Holika, by God Vishnu in order to save Prahlad, a devotee of God Vishnu. On the eve of Holi, large bonfires are lit to burn demoness Holika. This is known as Holika Dahan.
During days of Holi celebration, people throw colours on each other, which signifies the triumph of good over evil, as well as the spread of joy and happiness. The event is also meant to welcome spring and give thanks to an abundant harvest season.
When is Holi?
The Holi festival lasts for 3 days, starting on the day of the full moon around the middle of March.
Where to best enjoy Holi in India?
Holi is celebrated throughout India, although some places are more extravagant than others. The general consensus is that northern India does Holi a lot better than southern India. The biggest parties are traditionally held in Mathura and Vrindavan, the birthplace and childhood town of Lord Krishna, respectively. However, it has been said that they are not the safest destinations for women, due to how crowded they get and how the local men tend to take advantage and behave inappropriately. *This is unfortunately what I heard. I had never been there myself, if you have different views about Mathura and Vrindavan, please do share in the comments below.
Big cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Jaipur all hold amazing celebrations. I participate in Holi in Udaipur. It was a part of the 2 weeks India tour I was on with G Adventures. I had an absolute blast with my fellow travellers and local friends, dancing our hearts out in the sun, laughing hysterically and hitting each other with colour powders all day long. Thanks to the planning and advice of our guide, we had a very joyous holi. I highly recommend the Western India by Rail tour I did. As things can get hectic during Holi, it is helpful to be a part of an organized group tour.
Best Tips for Holi for travelers
Wear clothes you won’t be sad to ruin
Don’t bother planning the perfect outfit for Holi. Come in your worst clothes. Seriously, just grab an old t-shirt. The reality is, whatever you end up wearing during Holi, it will be ruined. Destroyed. Demolished. Annihilated. Leave your pretty dress at home, or you will be crying when the colour powder won’t come out.
Our crew went to a shop in Udaipur and each bought a set of white PJs for 500 rupees. It was the smartest idea ever. White clothing is actually great because you can see all the wonderful colours that get splashed on it. You can even keep your Holi outfit as a souvenir after.
Have an underlayer
Having recommended white coloured clothing, I must also suggest wearing an under layer like a tank top. The main reason is that you will get wet. Besides throwing powders, water games are popular. Some kids (and adults) are brutal with their water guns and even hoses. It’s all good fun until you realize you are soaked and your white t-shirt is suddenly transparent. Um yes, a little awkward.
Coat your body with moisturizer
Unfortunately, a lot of the colour powders sold by stores in the markets are actually heavy with chemicals that are not natural. The artificial ingredients can make skin dry and rash. It is important to take skincare measures, especially for those with allergies and sensitivities.
The key is to moisturize. Put some coconut oil over your body to create a protective barrier for your skin. Cover up any cuts or open wounds on your body with band-aids. Finally, stick with long sleeve tops and pants.
Tie up your hair
Ponytails or braids are the way to go when playing Holi. Be warned that light coloured hairs tend to catch the dye more and could take days to fade away. Remember to put some coconut or olive oil in your hair. Head bandanas are also helpful.
Put on sunscreen
Since Holi is played outside, sunscreen is super important. Lather up to prevent burning into a crisp under the harsh UV rays. The bonus benefit is having another protective layer on your skin from the powder. 😉 As you will likely be playing for hours, don’t forget to reapply often.
Powder in the eyes is painful and no fun. Get a pair of cheap sunglasses to shield your eyes (They will get ruined as well so don’t wear anything expensive). Also, avoid wearing contacts in case pigments still fall in and cause irritations.
Bring as little stuff as possible
There is going to be a lot of people and you don’t want to become a target for theft. Besides, dancing with a bulky purse is just clumsy and restricting. Stick to a small money belt you can wear under your clothes. And make sure it’s waterproof.
Protect your camera
For photographers, Holi is a dream and a nightmare. All the colours are absolutely gorgeous to photograph, but the risk of getting your camera wrecked is very high. I looked into all sorts of ideas to protect my DSLR camera during Holi. In the end, I gave up because there were just too many parts to worry about. The lens, the camera body, the sensor…If pigment got into any of them, the equipment would have been f*@#$ked. Instead, I just went with my phone sealed in a clear waterproof pouch. It turns out, that was all I needed. The photos and videos taken on my iPhone X turned out fantastic. The image quality was clear and my phone survived no problem.
Drink a lot of water. It’s a hot and active day. I was at a Holi party that was catered so the water was free and unlimited. But I soon realized that the paper cups I was given would always be covered in colour because the powder was just in the air and could not be avoided. I did not want to ingest any toxic so I ended up buying bottled water instead.
Beware of the bhang lassi
You may come across a mysterious delicious drink called bhang lassi. It is a very popular beverage during Holi and honestly, a cause for a lot of boisterous behaviours. Why? Because mixed in with all the sugar and milk is cannabis. Is it surprising that people get high during Holi? Probably not. I personally did not drink any bhang. If you are curious and want to try a little, I will not dissuade you. Just be careful not to over do it. The last thing you want to happen in a foreign country is to get sick and have to go to the hospital.
Remove the colours properly after Holi is done
Eager to take a hot shower right after Holi? Wait. There are certain tips you should follow if you want to remove the colours properly without harming your skin and hair.
- Hot water will cause the colours to cake so use cold water to wash instead.
- Do not rub hard as it will cause skin irritation. Treat stubborn spots with lemon slices, a natural bleaching agent.
- Apply egg yolk mixture to your hair for 30 minutes before washing your hair with mild shampoo.
- Moisturize your body and face thoroughly after cleaning.
Note* The colours may take a couple of days and washes to come out completely. Be patient with it! Read more tips on how to treat your skin after Holi here.
How to stay safe during Holi for female travellers
It was Holi eve and I was at a bonfire in Udaipur with a couple of my fellow travellers. We were standing in the massive crowd when a firecracker was lit and suddenly a stampede started. People were yelling, shoving and running. And that’s when it happened. I felt a hand grab me in between my legs. It lasted for just a couple of seconds and I honestly could not even process what happened at the time. Only when the people dispersed and it was all over, did my mind realize I was just violated. From talking with the other girls I was with, they told me that they were groped too. Sadly, this kind of story is common during Holi. The big crowds, the alcohol, the chance of body contact all provide excuses for certain men to make disgusting moves. Thankfully for us, there was only one time something like this happened and we did not let it ruin our Holi experience. Ladies, Holi is a CRAZY time. Here are some tips on staying safe.
Be a part of a group
I was so glad I was on the G Adventures India tour, through which I was able to meet trustworthy friends. It was really comforting to have had a small tight-knit group to travel with. Our guide JD was also amazing in looking after us. He was like a protective papa bear who always made sure we were ok. JD was the one who planned our main Holi experience in Udaipur and it was a blast. We were able to celebrate in an environment that was safe and fun, unlike the night before Holi when the girls and I wandered on our own and the whole stampede fiasco happened.
Join a hotel Holi Party
If you are travelling alone, look for a Holi party hosted by a hotel or hostel. These parties usually have an entrance fee, but it is worth it for the security and organization.
We played Holi at the Labh Garh Resort in Udaipur. It was a gorgeous property with an outdoor pool and a big green grass field. The party was totally lit with live drum performances, rain dance, and my favourite part: unlimited FOOD (really good food if I may add). As if all this wasn’t impressive enough, the hotel also provided organic colours for playing. We didn’t have to worry about the chemicals being toxic, and the colours washed out after way easier than I anticipated. There was good music throughout the day, even a featured appearance by international DJ Julia Bliss. I danced my butt off with not a care in the world. If you will be in Udaipur during Holi, I definitely recommend the party organized by Labh Garh Resort.
Avoid big crowds
Of course, you will run into crowds wherever you go during Holi. So “big crowds” is a relative concept. I’m talking about avoiding circumstances where people are so tight that it’s literally skin on skin, with little room to escape. This was exactly the situation we found ourselves in during the Holi eve bonfire. When people started moving, I felt like a piece of driftwood caught in a wave. I got separated from my friends and it was a bit terrifying. In hindsight, I should have seen all the people and recognized the danger. Luckily, no one got hurt at the end of the day.
Fun Photography tips for Holi
Now for the cool stuff! Holi is so much fun to photograph. Here are some best photography tricks to try during the Festival of Colours.
Before and after shots
Before everyone gets down and dirty, gather your crew together and take a “before” photo. And when all the dust has settled, take another photo of the aftermath. It will be hilarious to compare them side by side and see the contrast.
Close-ups can often produce interesting perspectives and lead to some cool photos. Can you spot a pile of colour powders? Or maybe a reflection of the party from the lens of a sunglasses? Look for details. 🙂
I love how much joy you can see in everyone’s faces during Holi. Turn your phone camera to portrait mode and capture all the smiles and laughter. Candids when people are dancing or throwing colours are really wonderful. For those who are not familiar with portrait mode, it keeps the main subject sharp while blurring out the background, which gives the photo a very captivating look.
While photos are nice, the energy of Holi can be conveyed even better through videos. Play with the slow-motion effect on your phone and I guarantee you will love how it turns out. The beauty of making slow-motion videos is that camera shakes won’t matter. You can be dancing yourself while filming and the video will still turn out smooth since the speed is slowed down so much.
Tips for Holi – Bonus advice
Holi is such a special and glorious festival. Bring your dance moves and have the time of your life! I recommend downloading the free app Shazam. It’s a music app that is super useful when you hear a song you like and want to figure out who sings it. All you got to do is turn on Shazam at the party and it will tell you the song title and artist. Isn’t that genius! I curated myself a Holi playlist this way. Still can’t shaking my booty to Aankh Marey, my now favourite Bollywood dance jam of all times. 😉
Have a safe and happy Holi!
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