Holi is a Hindu festival celebrated in India and Nepal which typically takes place in March. Today, it has become a popular festival among tourists who enjoy its bright colors and playful atmosphere. Those who want to participate should learn a little about the meaning of Holi. Holi in Nepal celebrates the end of winter and beginning of spring, the triumph of good over evil, and it’s seen as a day of love.
While there are several stories about why Hindu people celebrate holi, these are a few of my favorites. Krishna (a Hindu god) played a prank on Radha (the goddess of love and compassion) by applying color to her face. Now, applying color to each other is part of the festival. Another story says that Holi is the day children chased Ogress Dhundhi (a female monster who troubled children) away by playing pranks on her, which is why children play pranks and throw water at those passing by on this day. This article is great at explaining the significance of Holi.
Holi is a special day in my heart because it’s when my husband proposed to me. So, I’m particularly fond of celebrating the day. Here are my tips for staying safe and celebrating Holi in Nepal.
Preparing for Holi in Nepal…
Where to Celebrate
It’s best to check local parks and outdoor restaurants for events. These events are typically small and controlled and make it easier to have fun without having to worry about your safety. If you are in Kathmandu, I recommend Le Sherpa or Electric Pagoda. Thamel and Kathmandu Durbar Square are popular spots to celebrate but they tend to be more on the wild side. We celebrated on the side streets between Thamel and Durbar Square and had a lot of fun. If you are in Pokhara, I recommend Lakeside.
Vaseline Your Skin
The number one tip for Holi is to cover your skin in a thin coat of Vaseline prior to going out. Holi fell two days before my wedding this year and it hadn’t even occurred to me that the color powder might dye my skin. If you put Vaseline on first, the color wipes off easily without staining you at all!
Oil Your Hair
Vaseline protects your skin, but oil is what will protect your hair. If you have dark hair, you don’t have to worry. Blondes should take precautions. My mom ended up with a turquoise streak which honestly looked cool and matched her saree for my wedding and my friend Monet ended up with some purple/pink in her hair that also looked cool. Both washed out after a few showers, but if you want to avoid colors, you can oil your hair with almond oil before going out to celebrate.
Wearing white means you are playing Holi. If you’re not wearing white, it’s likely no one will play with you. Likewise, you shouldn’t try to put Holi powder or throw water at people who aren’t wearing white.
Buying Holi Powder
I recommend buying colors from a local shop prior to Holi. We spent about 20 rupees (less than 20 cents USD) per small pack before the big day. On Holi, the same size was around 100 rupees.
While most of the colors washed off easily and quickly, we found that dark green and dark purple were the hardest to get off. These were also the colors that stained hair the most. In addition, they tended to be too dark and made us look dirty rather than colorful. You can’t control what colors other people use, but I wouldn’t buy these colors in the future.
Go Out Before 1:00 pm
Holi is an interesting day because both kids and adults play. Kids play in the morning starting around 10am. They fill water balloons and water guns and try to soak people passing by. It’s a ton of fun to play with the kids. There were a lot of sneak attacks that had us bursting out in laughter.
In the afternoon, more adults come out. Generally, this is 20-25 year old men who are doing drugs or drinking. Around 1pm the tone of the day switched from fun and playful to somewhat dangerous and a lot less enjoyable. We even saw people passed out on the street in their own vomit and men were running up to us and aggressively putting color on us. We ended up leaving when the mood changed. I wouldn’t go out in the afternoon again.
Have a Squad
For safety, I highly recommend traveling in a group. We never had less than 4 people and I felt safe. I don’t think I would want to be alone. On our way back when guys were getting a little rowdy, I felt much safer in a group. It’s also a lot easier to walk up to strangers when you have a crew by your side.
While Celebrating Holi in Nepal…
Don’t Drink or Eat Unknown Items
I feel like this is probably just common sense, but people in Nepal often like to feed you. I’ve accepted tea from tons of strangers, but on Holi you really need to be careful. There is a special green juice and some edibles that I was told are laced with drugs. At first, I thought this meant weed. Later, I was told it has heroine in it. So please don’t accept anything from strangers on this day.
Take the Side Streets
You’ll see a lot of people walking on the main streets which is fun because you can put a lot of color on each other, but the side streets were so much more fun in my opinion. Little kids were hiding on roofs or in doorways and would jump out with water balloons and water guns laughing and throwing water at us. We wouldn’t see them and would scream and laugh as they caught us. It felt a bit like being in a real life video game where you have to dodge and run through a warzone.
If the Road is Wet…
If the road is wet, it means you’re about to be wet too. We could typically tell where kids were hiding based on whether or not the street was wet. If it was, it meant there’d been a water fight there recently.
Watch for Traffic
Again, this should go without saying, but there are no sidewalks on most streets in Nepal. Therefore, you are playing in the road. Please be careful when dodging water balloons. A lot of bikes will likely be driving by and you don’t want to run in front of any. We saw a few people who weren’t paying attention to traffic while playing.
Don’t Play with Dogs
Please don’t put Holi powder on dogs. A lot of stray dogs don’t have a way to wash the powder off and it begins to irritate their skin. If they manage to lick it off, then they are ingesting the powder. Either way, it’s not good for the dog.
Beware of A**holes
Unfortunately, there is always that one person who ruins it for everyone. By going out in the morning, you should be able to avoid this. One guy threw a handful of powder in my mouth as I was saying “Happy Holi.” I began to choke and couldn’t breathe. I had to rinse my mouth with water and even then it sucked. I’ve also been told to watch out for people who use dirty water in the water guns and people who put rocks in the water balloons. Why anyone would do this is beyond me, but some people just suck. So, be careful.
Don’t be an A**hole
Be respectful while playing Holi. Don’t try to put giant amounts of powder on people. Be gentle. Ask permission before putting color on people. Don’t run at people screaming “HAPPY HOLI” while shoving your hands in their face. Don’t touch people inappropriately.
Most importantly, please be gentle with kids. There were a few kids and babies playing. We walked up to them slowly, crouched down next to them and showed them our hands and pointed to their faces. They smiled, and we gently put the powder on their cheeks. They giggled and did the same to us. It was super cute. This is a day for everyone to celebrate so please respect each other.
When You’re Done Playing Holi in Nepal…
Don’t Leave a Mess
Holi powder is sold in small plastic bags. Don’t just throw the bags on the floor when you’re done. Keep a plastic bag with you and take your garbage with you when you’re done. Dispose of it in a garbage pail. There is no one to clean up your mess once you’re gone.
How to Get Clean
When you’re done playing, it’s best to take your dirty t-shirt and wipe yourself off with it while DRY. I repeat, do this when you are dry. As soon as the powder gets wet, it’s twice as hard to get off. If you dust most of it off you when you’re dry, it will come off pretty easily. Then you can scrub off whatever is left while you are in the shower.
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Michelle Della Giovanna
Writer at Full Time Explorer
I’m just your average New Yorker who quit her job in the fashion industry to explore the world. Come find out what it’s like to trade in five-inch heels for squat toilets.