When I was planning this trip I planned the timing around two things; the Nepal trekking season and Holi. Initially I thought, Varanasi. Yeah. That seems like it’d be a cool place to celebrate Holi, and indeed it is. Unless you’re female because it all gets a little bit rapey. One bloke I was in contact with said, “Holi? You mean get drunk and grope girls day?” Basically, everyone gets pissed. Blokes who don’t normally drink are wankered by 10am and let’s face it, a lot of Indian blokes (not all, just many) can’t keep their paws to themselves even when they have full control of their faculties. Loads of foreign chicks get randomly groped on buses or trains, or just walking down the street, and the worst thing is the men don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. They don’t see it as the sexual assault it is. A friend of mine had her tits grabbed by a bloke on a bike and her mate chased him down and started punching him. My friend told the Indian bloke it was bad karma on him and he was shocked. He demanded she take it back. You can’t tell an Indian that he’s got bad karma coming to him, it’s one of the worst things you can say, and he genuinely didn’t think that he’d done anything wrong. So take that kind of attitude and add large quantities of booze, and yeah, despite the fact I look like a dude to most Indians I didn’t fancy risking it and it took a lot of Googling to find a place in India where I thought I might be able to enjoy Holi without having to rip anyones bollocks off and shove them down his throat.
This is why I ended up in Darjeeling on account of the fact I’d read it was a more low key affair, but at least there was a chance I could go out and enjoy it with the locals rather than watching it from a hotel rooftop. I asked at the homestay where I was staying if it was safe for me to go out and Anjana responded, “We are mountain people! We are not like the people on the plains!” So that’s a yes then. All that remained was for me and Joe, a bloke I met on the train, to go out and locate suitable quantities of powder to smear on the faces of strangers whilst shouting, “Happy Holiiiii!” Easier said than done. There were loads of people wandering around with varying degrees of colour adorning their clothes and faces, but where could we get involved? Where was the party at? Where could I begin to resemble something a second rate artist on an acid trip would produce? Turns out the bottom of town was the place to be. Literally the bottom of town. This whole place is built on a hill. Not a small incline. It’s not “a little bit slopey.” It’s a proper, honest to *insert deity here*, motherfucker of a hill. And at the bottom of said hill, after a group of blokes had started us off on our mission to become walking rainbows with a spot of green and pink, we followed the pumping choons to a market where we could indeed purchase as much powdered paint as our little hearts desired. Boom.
Armed with a bag of purple and a bag of green, we found a small procession of blokes being followed slowly through town by a truck with a sound system on the back of it. Fucking awesome, though I hung back a little bit at first. A mob of intoxicated Indian men? Nope, didn’t want to get dragged into that one. Didn’t have much of a choice in the end but Anjana was spot on.In places like Varanasi, men surround foreign women and throw the powder in their eyes whilst other blokes cop a feel. But here? Everyone was so polite. They asked first if they could smear paint on us, waited as we reciprocated then it’s traditional to hug which I was a bit like, hmm, nope, that would be a direct violation of my British ideals concerning Personal Space Whilst Sober, and I remembered the signs up in Varanasi stating, “Do not give any hug this day, no one will keep control.” But that was the plains. This is the mountains. They really were just hugs and not excuses to maul anyone, but as polite as they are they’re generally still a bit pissed and you do end up spending a significant amount of time trying to excavate powder from various facial orifices.
The lack of women playing Holi was pretty noticeable though, there were only three chicks playing Holi and we were all foreign, but even the girls who look like girls to the average pissed Indian were having a great, non-rapey time. Even kids got involved, you’d feel a tug on your sleeve and look down to see a child with tiny handfuls of paint which you had to kneel down to receive. Powder was thrown into the air as blokes tried to insist we dance, but I don’t dance. I sort of just flail a bit, and even then only after the appropriate amount of Jägerbombs have been consumed. But we followed them all the way, slowly slowly, back up the hill. It was great fun, I’m so so glad I came here for it. Okay, so it wasn’t the non stop party that you get in other parts of the country, but I was safe, I was happy, I didn’t have to castrate anyone with the nearest rusty tool and I managed to empty my bag of purple powder onto a portion of the population of Darjeeling. And no, that’s not some manner of euphemism.
Darjeeling, West Bengal, India
Stayed at: Joshi’s Homestay