Celebrating Holi in India with kids is not the first thing we thought of when planning our travels to India. It was however, one of the most memorable parts of our adventures in India! Even the festival name, ‘Holi’ immediately assumes colours flying everywhere.
In saying that, it might come as a surprise to find out that we actually had no idea we were going to be in India for Holi… But read on, and I will tell you what happened when we did find out, and how it changed our plans. Celebrating Holi in India with the kids is a spectacular experience.
- About Holi
- When is Holi celebrated?
- How do you celebrate Holi?
- Celebrating Holi in India with kids
- Tips to be prepared
- Best thing/worst thing
- Where we stayed
WHAT ACTUALLY IS HOLI?
Although the name Holi conjures up immediate thoughts of the Indian festival of colours, what actually IS Holi festival about?
Holi is one of India’s oldest and most well known festivals. The history of Holi being celebrated in the Indian subcontinent is recorded in poems dating back as far as the 4th Century. In summary, the festival marks the beginning of the spring season after winter, celebrating the triumph of good over evil.
In Hinduism, the day of Holi is also believed as the one day of the year where the Gods will not judge, and a person has opportunity to rid themselves of their evil demons before starting afresh. The colour used in Holi is symbolic, signifying the sins that can be washed way at the end of the day before starting anew.
WHEN IS HOLI FESTIVAL CELEBRATED?
Holi takes place each year according to the Hindu lunar calendar. Celebrations start on the day of the full moon in the month of Phalguna, the twelfth month of the Hindu calendar. On the Gregorian calendar that means it usually takes place between late February and mid March.
Upcoming dates for Holi according to the Hindu lunar calendar:
2020 – Tuesday 10th March
2021 – Monday 29th March
HOW HOLI IS CELEBRATED IN INDIA
In the days leading up to Holi, large bonfires are prepared and set up around the streets. (In Jaisalmer, they were literally set up in middle of intersections of on the corners of major roads!). Then, on the night before Holi, these pyres are lit, signifying the burning of evil spirits.
On the morning of Holi the celebrations of colour start; this is the most recognised celebration of Holi. Technically this is the second day of Holi, called Rangwali Holi. And like we see in the media, people take to the streets throwing coloured powder at each other, wiping it on arms and heads, and squirting coloured water and dye everywhere. Water guns are used to squirt the coloured water and powder is mixed with water in small balloons to throw. It’s colourful, alright!
We wondered what actually happens during the festival… Do people dance? Is the party all at one location? Yes and no. There are some organised parties and there is music and dancing while throwing colours. Where we were there was music blasting from houses, and tuk tuks driving around with loud music playing. Mostly though it was people walking around in small groups having fun and painting colours on anyone walking past. (Literally, they come up to you and dip their fingers in the bag of coloured powder and wipe it on your head, shirt, or face).
CELEBRATING HOLI IN INDIA WITH KIDS
Ok, this is where I learnt a lot in only the two weeks prior to Holi 2020, and changed our flights in India.
WHERE IS HOLI CELEBRATED?
Celebrations of Holi in India happen all over the country. It’s just that the celebrations are renowned for being more exuberant in some places than others.
Traditional celebrations of Holi are the biggest in Uttar Pradesh where Hindus believe Lord Krishna to have grown up. Here festivities can extend for more than a week. We know this to be true as we were in Varanasi for the week leading up to Holi, and celebrations were already beginning. Varanasi is one of the most holy cities for Hinduism, and so becomes a centre for Holi festivities.
Our initial plans for travel in India meant that we would end up in Varanasi for Holi. However, on realising this and reading about how safety issues can be a concern during peak times of the festival in Varanasi, we weren’t keen to be at the epicentre of the celebrations. We managed to change our flights and arrive a few days earlier than planned in Jaisalmer.
Rajasthan is also a popular area of Holi celebrations, and particularly in places such as Pushkar, Udaipur and Jaipur. The more we read about this we felt happy with our decision to be celebrating Holi in India with kids in Jaisalmer; a part of Rajasthan but not the centre of celebrations.
HOLI IN JAISALMER
Alright, this is the fun part. We mucked around at our guesthouse until about 11:00am when we could see people outside starting to get into party mode with the colours. (It helped having a good vantage point from the roof of the hostel). We changed into our white clothes (or as white as we had) and took a few ‘before’ photos and headed out into the streets. We didn’t get far before we were approached by the first group of kids who checked first, and then starting painting our heads and faces with powder. “Happy Holi! Happy Holi!”
We made our way down the streets of Jaisalmer heading towards the fort. It was a fun atmosphere to be out and about in, with music playing at different spots and motorbikes and tuk tuks whizzing past with people yahooing.
All the way along the streets we were stopped and showered with colours. People wanted selfies and photos with us and the kids. They painted our hair with the powders and put dots of colours on our cheeks and foreheads.
The whole outing lasted a couple of hours before we headed back to Wanderlust. It was an awesome experience to be part of, and we definitely felt the essence of Holi festivities without any hiccups.
SAFETY CELEBRATING HOLI
As with travel everywhere and being amongst large numbers of people, celebrating Holi in India with kids does raise a few concerns.
It wasn’t until we were actually in India and I started researching Holi that I even became aware of bhang as something associated with the festival. Bhang is essentially an intoxicating drink prepared with an edible form of cannabis. Often mixed with a lassi drink, it is commonly drunk in celebrations of Holi. I was glad to find this out beforehand (albeit I did feel slow to the party on just finding out) and the more I read about it, the more I felt the need to change our plans and not be in Varanasi for Holi.
As far as safety when out celebrating Holi in Jaisalmer with the kids, it is a better idea to head out early before things get too out of hand. Avoiding the peak times was a good idea, and we did later watch some carrying on from the safety of our comfortable rooftop restaurant at Wanderlust.
Note: Be aware that it isn’t just the kids you need to be thinking about in regards to safety. Unfortunately, whether intoxicated or not, celebrations at peak times of Holi can get out of hand in other ways. I had more than one instance where young men in a rowdy group were gentle with the kids, but then came towards me to try and touch me. Gavin is 6ft2 and not a small guy, but by the time one man in a group managed to touch my breast we called in quits for the day and retreated back to the guesthouse.
TIPS TO BE PREPARED
- Wear old clothes: This is fairly obvious, however a good reminder. Yes, some of the colour does stain although we were impressed with what did wash off. We try not to buy fast-fashion unless we need to, as don’t like the idea of just throwing clothes away. So as a compromise we wore our own clothes on the bottom and bought the kids and Gavin a white t-shirt (these were easy to find in Jaisalmer and cost a few dollars each). And eek – we also saw a group of tourists all dressed in full PPE style white suits! This is a bit excessive as it made them unapproachable and a whole lot of plastic waste.
- Leave your valuables in your guesthouse: Truly thing do get a bit rowdy. It’s best to leave everything at home base and just venture out to enjoy the atmosphere and throw some colours.
- Cover your camera: You’ll definitely want to get some photos of the event but you will want to protect your camera. Some people use a plastic covering or even plastic bag to wrap around the lens and body. Otherwise, take some photos before and after the event, and just enjoy the moment.
- Wear sunglasses: Trust me. It goes everywhere! Sunglasses are a brilliant idea to stop it going in your eyes.
- Cover your hair: Especially if you have light coloured hair. Oscar has bright white blonde hair and we knew it would stain his hair and scalp. He used a neck buff pulled up over his hair like a head band, which worked effectively.
- Get involved: There are many reasons to consider not partaking, but you are in India, and have the chance to celebrate one of the most iconic and fun festivals out there!
THE BEST AND WORST THING
The best thing about celebrating Holi in India with kids is the atmosphere of the festivities. The colours add to uplifting feeling of the festival but the vibe of people all around is that Holi is a time of celebration. It is a unique festival to experience, and the underlying essence of Holi is one of positivity.
The only thing I can really think of (aside from the aforementioned risk of groping) is a moment right at the end of our outing. We were back outside the hostel door when a few kids from just up the street came out with water pistols filled with dye. Most of the dye we had found to be very watered down and came off our skin. But these boys had a stronger more permanent dye. Fortunately the kids were just heading inside, but poor Gavin was wearing shorts and his legs and arms got sprayed before he could stop them. The dye didn’t come off for almost a week. However, only a slight glitch in the grand scheme of things. The festival is about colour, and we did know it can stain.
WHERE WE STAYED
Jaisalmer: The Wanderlust Guest House
If you are in Jaisalmer anyway – regardless whether it is for Holi or not – I highly recommend Wanderlust Guesthouse. The rooms have air conditioning, and are beautifully clean. The hostel has wifi included in the price. And the best thing about Wanderlust (as well as the camel safari) is the location in Jaisalmer. Oh, and the rooftop restaurant with the best sunset views over the golden city and ancient fort in the distance…
Cost: $35 USD per night for the family room.