Holy Holi!

Another day, another holiday… and so it goes in Kathmandu! Last week we celebrated the Holi festival – ‘the festival of color.’  Holi has its roots in Hindu mythology, particularly one story about the defeat of evil Holika, sister of a demon king. Nowadays, the religious aspects of this holiday have all but disappeared, and the festival is really just a time to play in the streets and celebrate the coming of spring…

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Mostly a young person’s festival, small children, teenagers, and young adults take to the streets all over Nepal, dousing each other with water and colored pigments (in both powder and liquid forms), shouting “Happy Holi!” and generally making merry.

Holi powders for sale in the streets of Kathmandu...

Holi powders for sale in the streets of Kathmandu…

I had been warned about the festival – particularly about the colored pigments and their potential toxicity (eek), as well as their ability to horribly stain your clothes. Deciding that I could handle a little toxicity (hell, I breathe the air here everyday – could it be that much worse?), I set out on my first task – buying something to wear that I wouldn’t care about getting totally destroyed. This sweatshirt seemed a good fit, as it was light enough to see the fun colors in photographs, and had the right spirit about it – Holi is nothing if not a party…

IMG_3701We were invited to take part in Holi festivities with the young friends we met at the Shivaratri festival a few weeks earlier… remember them?

IMG_2718And so we suited up in our ‘dispensable’ clothes and were on our way out the door to meet them, when we got a little side-tracked by the kids from our building “playing Holi” on the roof…

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I was in on the fun, of course, but since I was taking pictures Drew got the worst of it…

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Not even 15 minutes into our Holi excursion and he already had to change his shirt. Ah well – good thing we were still at home!

A quick dig through the luggage for another ‘dispensable’ shirt and we were off. We battled our way out of our dead-end street amidst water gun fire from the neighborhood kids, and about a block from our house, we received our first Holi colors…

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A few more steps, a few more Holi revelers, and the color began to accumulate bit by bit…

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We passed many fellow Holi-goers as we walked through our neighborhood – all shouting “Happy Holi!” and smiling…

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Even some of the street dogs were in on the fun…

IMG_3724We decided it was foolish to be out and about ‘unarmed,’ so we bought some Holi powder of our own…

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… and then we met up with our Shivaratri friends a few minutes later…

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We walked across the Bagmati bridge together to their engineering college, where we took a quick tour around and then sat down for a little break. Our friends and trusty ‘guides’ with whom we spent most of the day were Shamir, Jason, and Dev…

IMG_3761                         IMG_3760 IMG_3759On our way out of the campus, we met up with some more of their friends and they greeted us in true Holi style – now the party was REALLY getting started…

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The city was surprisingly empty, most businesses shut for the day, government offices and banks closed (such a rarity to see Kathmandu a ‘ghost town’ like this in the middle of the day!)…

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But once we made our way to Kathmandu Durbar Square, we found the crowds…

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Possibly one of the more interesting (and entertaining) experiences about being in this crowd was the role reversal we found ourselves in. Usually, I’m the one asking people to take their photo – it’s all part of the strange position of power we find ourselves in here as foreigners (more on this problem with photography in a future post). But on Holi, we were approached many times by Nepalis and other tourists (mostly Asian tourists, it seems) for our photograph. I guess it’s a novel and fun experience to see Western folks all Holi-ed out? I’m not sure, but I actually thought the whole experience was fun, and enjoyed the role reversal. Perhaps it evens out the power imbalance, just a teeny tiny bit? (Okay, probably not. But it still felt good to be on the other side of the coin for a change)…

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Wow. It's the bideshi paparazzi!

It’s the bideshi paparazzi!

One of my favorite shots of the day... Chinese tourists with their enormous cameras (covered in plastic bags), all wearing their Buddha eye matching tee-shirts. There's just so much going on here - the act of looking, voyeurism, objectification through photography, and on and on... So good.

One of my favorite shots of the day… tourists with their enormous cameras (covered in plastic bags), all wearing their Buddha-eyes matching tee-shirts. There’s just so much going on here – the act of looking, voyeurism, objectification through photography, and on and on… So good.

But I digress…

It was fun at first, being part of this enormous party…

IMG_3842But the further we made our way into the crowd, the more intense it became – the mass of bodies pushing and swaying, people slathering each others’ faces with color (a bit too aggressively at times, I felt), music blaring, people shouting and playing, water guns shooting into the air… (Here’s a quick VIDEO to give you an idea of the atmosphere). I’m glad we got the chance to experience the epicenter of Holi celebrations in Kathmandu, but between the intensity of being in the middle of such a huge crowd and being groped by three different young men, using the smearing of color on my face as an opportunity to cop a feel of my chest, I’d had enough.

I'd say this picture pretty accurately portrays how I was feeling at the time...

I’d say this picture pretty accurately portrays how I was feeling at the time…

I had been warned about the “grope fest” that is Kathmandu Durbar Square on Holi, but I foolishly thought that being there with my boyfriend might protect me (not that I SHOULD need a man around to prevent me from being sexually assaulted, but that’s another discussion altogether). Oh, and then there was also that point when I was accidentally head-butted by the back of a young woman’s head (who was wearing a very large plastic hair clip, I might add). Yeah. Ouch. Time to move on.

And so, we retreated out of the crowd and walked around a bit in the surrounding area, shouting “Happy Holi” at the people we passed…

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'Keep Calm and Enjoy This Holi' - well said, sir.

‘Keep Calm and Enjoy This Holi’ – well said, sir.

… and then we sat in a small park for a much-needed respite from the crowds and a mini-photo shoot…

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From there we walked on, dodging sneak attacks from little kids and water ‘bombs’ from the rooftops above our heads…

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We popped into a large park where a Holi music and dance concert was taking place. It wasn’t all that interesting, to be honest, and I was weary of diving into yet another large crowd, so we hung back and took pictures of the colorful festival tents. It’s the ‘festival of color,’ after all!

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After that, we said goodbye to our sweet friends, and Drew and I headed back to our side of town to check out the Holi scene at Patan Durbar Square. It was approaching late afternoon by this point, and things were MUCH calmer there – the perfect antidote to our intense experience at Kathmandu Durbar Square…

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People were mostly just sitting around relaxing, the ground littered with the remnants of the day’s Holi play…

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You wouldn't know this if you didn't come to Patan Durbar Square everyday like I do (my art studio is here), but the bricks are not usually this red!

You wouldn’t know this if you don’t come to Patan Durbar Square everyday like I do (my art studio is there), but the bricks are not usually this red!

Like everywhere else we’d been that day, tourists requested pictures with the Holi-goers…

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… and new friends were made…

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These cuties very gingerly approached us to apply Holi colors gently to our cheeks. It was the sweetest thing... such a refreshing change from the folks who basically slapped Holi colors on your face as you passed them in KTM Durbar Square!

These little cuties very gingerly approached us to apply Holi colors gently to our cheeks. It was the sweetest thing… such a refreshing change from the folks who basically slapped Holi colors on our faces as we passed them in KTM Durbar Square!

Exhausted, we made our way home without incident… well… except for Drew being accosted by some (very) drunk Holi revelers for a quick dance in the middle of the street. He was a good sport while I hid behind my camera…

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After a quick stop for a momo snack (yum), we finally arrived home, dirty but happy.

BEFORE…

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… AND AFTER…

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The following day, signs of Holi were everywhere, a reminder of fun times past…

IMG_4017 IMG_4022And thus went my first ever Holi celebration. Many lessons were learned – don’t wear earrings (mine were almost ripped out by accident twice), close your eyes and mouth when a fellow Holi-goer approaches with colored pigment in their hands, wear comfortable shoes and socks for walking, and by all means, cover your chest with your arms, ladies. Most of all, though, we had a lot of fun! We’re already looking forward to next year. Until then, I leave you with our many faces of Holi…

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IMG_3908 IMG_4005IMG_3764HAPPY HOLI, EVERYONE!

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