Celebrating the Holi Festival in Varanasi, India
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Holi in the holiest place in India; Varanasi
Holi brings a lot of thoughts to mind – mainly of colour being splashed around in a happy array.
Maybe you think of whole Indian families engaging in a coloured dye war on the streets with their neighbours that you can be a part of.
Perhaps the religious importance of the colour festival crosses your mind. And for that reason, you would probably think that Holi in one of the most spiritually important areas of India would be a monumentally fun and interesting affair.
Varanasi was not my first choice for Holi
I’d been warned that the bigger cities would be much more intense and told to steer clear of them. But I usually love the intensity of busy cities and thought; “Bring it on”! Also, my friends were going to be in Varanasi so I decided to meet them there.
Varanasi is one of those places that have to be seen to be believed. You won’t know what I mean by “vibes” until you’ve actually felt them yourself. From the maze of alleyways of old Varanasi to the spectacular decrepit buildings that line up along the Ganges. Every nook and cranny of Varanasi is steeped in interesting history and tradition. Along the ghats of Varanasi, daily life and religious rituals exist each day in perfect harmony. This spiritual town is one of the most sacred religious sites in India.
In the days leading up to the main event, you could feel the vibe of the city becoming more manic. Stranger. There were thousands more people on the streets, some drunk men, some families enjoying themselves and a lot of children pre-soaking you in colour before they were supposed to.
It wasn’t a vibe I didn’t like – but it was strange.
Varanasi is often described as the ‘City of Shiva‘. Shiva being the god of the destruction of the world. On our hotel veranda overlooking the Ganges, a crazy guest whom we chatted with most sunsets described Varanasi as ‘beautifully sinister’. My description of the place might be something like; ‘spiritually sinister’.
Is Holi in Varanasi dangerous for women?
The day before the main colour event we (two women and a man) were warned by at least 10 different Indian men on the street not to leave our hostel the morning of Holi. “Because,” they said, “it was far too dangerous for women.”
The general advice we were getting was that the men who start drinking the night before were so hammered the next day that they could get heavily sexually abusive.
We tried not to let this put us off so we and came up with a plan to participate in the festival from our veranda, which was conveniently located above the main walkway on the Ganges. Armed with colour, countless water balloons and water guns we woke up nice and early to… nothing.
There was hardly anyone on the ghats at all!
After becoming bored by the lack of people and under the guidance of the hotel owner we ventured out onto the streets. It was like a zombie apocalypse. All the shops were shut; the streets were smouldering with the fires from the night before and lined with rubbish and cow shit. The only life we saw was the odd cow or dog, some drunken passed out men and children that poked their heads over the rooftops of their houses to throw paint on us.
It got stranger
The kids were the highlight of the day because from then on it only got stranger. Running out of colour we returned to our veranda where below we could see a group of Indian teenagers setting up large speakers. Almost immediately one of the teenagers spots us and begins to scream at us some of the most disgusting obscenities I’ve ever heard.
He demanded we go down to the ghats so that he could have his way with both of us at the same time, told us he would like to penetrate our behinds and even said to one of the guys that he’d have him after us. And that was putting it nicely…
Though I was warned to expect this sort of behaviour it was still confronting and just such a shame.
The rest of the day was a bit of a letdown
Too scared to leave our hotel, we just sat on our veranda and played cards as we watched the young Indian men below fall over themselves, yell at tourists and try to fight each other.
Though I didn’t really know what to expect, all in all, Holi in Varanasi was a strange experience.
If I were to be in India during this festival again I would go to a smaller town with crowds that would be easier to manage. Pushkar, Bundi or Goa would be better choices I think.
READ: Should you go to India? Can you accept her? An essay about my love/hate relationship with India
Language: The main language is Hindi. English and Marwari are spoken as well, plus hundreds of others.
Currency: Indian rupee (INR, ₹)
$1 USD = ₹64.09
I was here: March 2014
Have you ever experienced the Holi Festival? Tell me how it was in the comments below!
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