So after a few fairly traumatic weeks in the Himalayas, we headed back to Kathmandu to give our bodies and souls a few days to recuperate before heading back to Europe.  And what better way to do that than by arriving smack bang in the middle of Nepal’s Holi Festival – aka the Festival of Colours – for reasons which soon become apparent.

The Holi Festival is a religious festival mostly practised in India and Nepal which celebrates the beginning of spring. Originally, it was a festival that commemorated good harvests and fertile land. Hindus believe it is a time for enjoying spring’s abundant colors and saying farewell to winter. It also has a religious purpose, commemorating events present in Hinduism. But in reality much of this holiness seemed, to the untrained eye, as an excuse for children (and a good many adults) to roam the streets covering people, especially foreigners, in all kinds of colourful powder, paint and water. Luckily our mountain guide had warned us in advance so we knew to go out in old clothes!

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A roaming gang bringing colour to the world

We made it about ten meters out of our hotel before we were first approached by one of these roaming gangs armed with bags full of red, yellow, and blue powder. To be fair to the guy who got us first, he seemed almost guilty as he launched into decorating our faces, and Chris’ legs! – shrugging his shoulders apologetically as if to say ‘sorry, I’ve got no choice but to cover you both in paint’. And of course as soon as we’d been hit once the hits just kept on coming, but all done in such a warm and friendly way, and always, always proceeded by the obligatory blessing of ‘Happy Holi’ (usually pronounced “appy ‘oli”).

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“appy oli’ed”!

After a while, being painted by every local we passed became so normal – not to mention very enjoyable –  you completely forgot about it, leaving us free to explore Kathmandu looking like a scene out of a Jimi Hendrix video. But the two-day festival wasn’t just about throwing colours at eachother. A lot of Hindus also practised traditional rituals at Durbar Square and funerals at the ghats were also held en mass.

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Even the holy men are covered in colour

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Local women queuing up for a Holi Festival ritual

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I have to say of all of the cities I’ve been to in my life, few have exceeded my expectations quite like Kathmandu. The old streets look like something from a forgotten age, and the whole atmosphere around town is indescribably relaxed and friendly – perhaps something to do with people’s preferred choice of intoxicant? 

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The sun setting on our Kathmandu adventure

Which meant that by the time we came to leave Kathmandu we were both filled with a big empty feeling in our hearts, and left wondering if the world wouldn’t be a better place if by law everyone aged between 2-30 had to spend at least one day a year roaming the streets with big smiles, bags of colourful powder, and of course the warm, friendly, obligatory greeting of ‘appy oli’!

Have you been to a Holi Festival? What was your experience?

About Tammyonthemove

Tammy & Chris are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between them they are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. Find out why they stopped pushing pens around the British civil service to travel the world on their blog.

10 Thoughts on ““Appy ‘Oli” – Attending the Holi Festival in Kathmandu

  1. I’m floored with how much interest I’ve seen about the Holi festival – my friend organized one at the college she works at, and even Seville’s festival bureau is planning one! I am all in, regardless!
    Cat of Sunshine and Siestas recently posted…Tapa Thursdays: PescaítoMy Profile

  2. Love the new site! Holi looks so cool, I’ve never been in India or Nepal during it… maybe one day!!
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted…On FreedomMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on May 6, 2013 at 1:17 am said:

      Aww, thanks Sarah! I think that the Nepalese festival is a bit calmer than the Indian one. But nevertheless it is great fun!

  3. Wow, they really aimed for your faces didn’t they?! I’d be concerned for my eyesight! It looks great fun though.

    • Tammyonthemove on May 9, 2013 at 1:34 am said:

      Yes, I was a bit as I am wearing contact lenses as well. As soon as the mob came I just closed my eyes and let them get on with it. 🙂

  4. It looks like so much fun! But I suspect that I would somehow end up inhaling all the colors and having a very un-photogenic coughing fit.
    Jess recently posted…Listening to the Chicago Cultural CenterMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on May 14, 2013 at 7:43 am said:

      Ha ha, yes you need to be careful. You will also still find traces of the powder on your body days after, despite numerous showers. But it is definitely worth the fun! 🙂

  5. I’ve always wondered if there are any negative health consequences from breathing all of that powder paint!! Its a once in a lifetime experience but now sure if its save to do it every year!!
    Alex recently posted…What’s the perfect family size for Airport Transportation?My Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on January 27, 2014 at 12:10 pm said:

      Yeah, I am not sure what kind of powder it is to be honest. I just remember that it really dried my skin out and it tool ages to wash it all off. Good fun though.

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