We arrived back at our hostel to a warm welcome from the manager, Dhruv. He was super excited about Holi and the event that he had got us all tickets for. We had a chat with some of the others in the hostel to suss out who was coming with us before heading out to find food and buy supplies for holi.
Holi fever was well and truly already in the air. People rushed about the city trying buy last minute supplies of Holiday paint and wood for the bonfire night that night, while the youth ran through the streets plastering people with colour and giggling manickly. I suppose the feeling it resonated most with me was the feeling I used to get on Christmas eve as a kid, when all the families in our town would get out and walk around with their kids to see the Christmas lights. It had that special mix of last minute bustle and sheer excitement and anticipation that makes the air electric.
After buying paints, a water gun and me getting a fist full of paint directly to the face thanks to a super cute 3year old, we made our way back to the hostel to find out more about where we could go to watch the bonfires that night.
The Bonfires honour the Mythological story of King Hiranyakashyap. The King wanted immortality and had convinced the gods through his worship to grant him 5 powers that he thought made him invincible. Now full of arrogance, he made his people worship him as a God and killed those who refused. His son was one of those who refused, so Hiranyakashyap asked his sister, Holika, to take the boy trick him into being burnt to death. Holika had a magical cloak that stopped her from being burnt by fire, so the King told her to take the boy, place him in her lap and sit in a Bonfire. The next part of the story apparently changes depending on where in India you are, but the version we were told goes as follows: Holika took the boy onto the fire and before the flames could burn him the cloak flew from her onto him, burning her to death and saving the boy. Vishnu then appeared and killed the King, hence freeing the people of his terror.
We went to a small street near our hostel where a local bonfire was to be lit. People came and said prayers and caught the flame of the bonfire on sticks etc so that they could take them home to their families to light personal bonfires.
The bonfire festivities looked set to last for a long while that night, so we decided to head back to the hostel so that we could catch some sleep as the holy festivities were to kick off early the next day.
Arriving back at the hostel we were greeted by a sea of colour. The hostel both inside and out was covered with Holi paints. Apparently, Dhruv and the other staff hadn’t been able to wait for the next day to start the party. Running around like school girls, they giggled as they splattered guests with colour and encouraged them to join in and have a beer. We couldn’t say no so we joined the rest of them in a bit of pre partying before we all decided it was best to head to bed.
Sunrise the next day saw only a few of us stir. Stu, a lovely guy called Alex and myself were first up and decided a chai was needed. We donned our old clothes just incase the kids were already up ad ready and headed out to find Chai.
The kids (and adults alike really) were definitely up and were armed and ready and with glee in their eyes they set about launching colour from all directions at the three of us. By the time we got to the Chai shop we were covered and so were all the locals who were there for their daily dose. We all laughed at each other and banded together when passers by tried to get the Chai man. No Chai or its maker was getting coloured on our watch.
Full of Chai and now basically covered in colour we did the mad dash back to the hostel where the others were starting to stir. A few had been about to go for Chai and thought the best of it after seeing the state we were in.
As everyone awoke, we all had a drink and got ready for the day. By 10, Dhruv was navigating the difficult task of getting all 15 of us into 3 Tuk Tuks and getting us breakfast on the way there. This somehow all came together and we were soon at the house that hosted the Holi festivities Dhruv had organised for us.
At first we felt a bit unsure. The event was upmarket, and not a lot of Indians were there. Stu and I were worried, and considered bailing to go back and continue Holi with the locals and street kids, but decided to give it half an hour.
We are glad we did.
Half an hour later music was blasting, Indians were dancing up a storm and the party vibe was well and truly on. The day was filled with smashing people with colour, dancing and drinking and talking with locals.
While it was upmarket, it was still a blast but I am glad that we had spent the morning with locals as the smaller Holi festivities felt like the heart of such a day. Dhruv is a legend for organising such an event though and we are so thankful he was willing to take time out on a day he loves to help us enjoy Holi and feel at home.