Holi Festival — my first.
I was a bit worried when I arrived. I’d travelled a thousand kilometres down from Kathmandu to be there, and had arranged to meet some friends, promising them that Mathura was *the* place to be for Holi. I knew this because I’d read it on the internet.
When I arrived I found the French girl I’d met in Kolkata. She’d been waiting for me all day, and assured me that the town was pretty much deserted, that no-one was coming, and it was all a bit shit. There didn’t seem to be any other travellers around. Or guesthouses. Or restaurants. I went to bed hungry. She went to bed grumpy.
On one of the trains the previous day, I’d met an Indian photographer who was also coming to shoot Holi. Following his recommendation, we found a guesthouse down by the ghats and the whole thing fell into place.
Kids started squirting us with coloured water; powder paint was being thrown everywhere; more friends arrived with a bottle of rum and some Thums Up.
The next morning I wrapped my camera in plastic and gaffer tape and went for a walk.
At around 1pm, all the paint-throwing ceased, and everyone went home to perform their ablutions. The drains overflowed with paint, and everything got washed into the river.
The following day I’d arranged to go with the photographer I’d met to a temple about 30kms away. My traveller friends had had enough paint-throwing (the girls especially had had enough over-enthusiastic strangers rubbing them in odd places) so skipped the excursion.
When I arrived at the temple, the police wouldn’t let me in to the VIP area, which I thought was fair enough. So I ran round to the other side and talked my way in, finally feeling like a real photographer. An aerial view of the temple courtyard saw lots of kids playing with a few water balloons, and some priests throwing paint around. No big deal.
A policeman, recognising my non-important status, came and threw me out of the VIP area. He took me to another door but wanted to see a press pass for me to enter. I didn’t have one on me, so I took myself off for a wander and a cigarette.
Dumping my sandals with the thousands of others, I entered the temple area, and started to wonder just what all these people had come to look at.
I looked up and saw Indian Jaws coming right for me and oh my god he’s going to show me his steel teeth.
Buckets of paint start appearing, and a puff or two are thrown into the air.
The crowds pile up, and I start to wonder if I should move.
The temple floor gets a bit more rowdy and I wonder what kinds of things are in my pockets that I’d really like to still have at the end of the day.
This man stares at me. I know what he’s thinking. He wills me to leave. It’s not safe, he silently intones. You may well die, his heart implores. That much is certain, I blink back at him.
I excuse myself from the crowds, and make my way to the roof to observe what’s going on in the courtyard outside. Queues to get in are no respecters of children or personal space.
I start to notice more and more people leaving the temple drenched in orange. I don’t really think about this.
There’s so much glitter in the air, the police have a hard time looking like they’re there for a purpose. They are, however, impeccably dressed.
I manage to talk my way into the press photographer’s area this time, and finally get to see what I’d narrowly escaped.
I’d noticed the women outside trooping in with their veils pulled right down and their hands over their faces. Once inside, they started ripping the shirts off the men and began whipping them as they walked past. The men in turn poured buckets of orange water over the women.
Up in the VIP area, everyone is now completely covered in pink. I am not. I am happy and more than a little smug. Priests and babas and, well, anyone who wanted to was throwing paints of all colours (pref. pink) at everyone below.
The shirts ripped from the men were thrown up and out of the temple, but as women aren’t always the best at throwing, some got stuck halfway.
Round at the right of the temple, there was this washing area for the men, but I don’t think anyone had really thought through the clean water situation.
It seemed that many of the men, realising that they were approaching the washing area and exit wanted to go back for a bit more of the old whipping business.
The water level on the floor of the temple really started to rise.
Outside, the women got their own little washing room, where they could shed their ingenious disguises in private.
The men continued as planned.
And the scaredy-cats watched from outside.