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!
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”).
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.
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?
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?