Let me begin by admitting that the timing of this post is a little off, since it is a little over 2 months after the last Holi and a long stretch before the next one. However, I still decided to publish this post while the colors and memories of experiencing Holi at Rishikesh this year are fresh 🙂
Over the last few years, I have felt that the enthusiasm for Holi is slowly fading away, in Delhi at least. Holi, which used be an affair stretching for days, involved throwing water balloons and buckets filled with water from the terrace, on unarmed and non-suspecting mortals – of experiencing the sheer joy and glee in “hitting targets”, ducking and hiding from those who may not have shared the same enthusiasm and shouting “Bura na mano Holi hain (Don’t mind it’s Holi)” to cool tempers. All of this has now given way to a shorter, milder, and may I say more boring version of the festival which involves getting together on the D-day at a friend’s or family member’s house, or doing the rounds of your colony and wishing everyone with a civilized smear of the mandatory gulal. A fancy few city slickers end up going to the farm house parties, complete with pools, coolness and the like. I have never experienced the same, so I can’t vouch for their fun element. So this year, I wanted to do something different, and having heard so much about the Holi celebrations at Rishikesh, I decided to head there and experience the same in all its glory.
Holi, the festival of color and love, also signifies the arrival of the spring season, and is held in the month of March, the day after the full moon. The festival begins with the lighting of the Holika bonfire the night before, which represents the victory of good over evil. There are many legends associated with this festival, one of the more prominent ones being of demon King Hiranyakashyap who wanted everybody in his kingdom to worship him but his own son, Prahlad became a devotee of Lord Vishnu which the king could not tolerate. He ordered his sister Holika, to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap to kill him, since Holika had a boon which made her immune to fire. The legend goes that Prahlad was saved by the lord himself for his extreme devotion and Holika was burnt to ashes. The other more widely known legend is that of Lord Krishna applying color on Radha to make her look like him, since he was dark and she was fair. Places associated with the birth and childhood of Radha and Krishna such as Mathura, Vrindavan and Barsana thus celebrate Holi in a grand way every year.
What Rishikesh is like during Holi- If you are in Rishikesh at this time, you will come to the realization that the Holi fever has spread far and wide and there are people, many people who come specially to India to experience the same, with Rishikesh being one of the sought after destinations. Also, the 15th Annual International Yoga festival, organized by the Parmarth Niketan Ashram was on at the same time which draws in a huge crowd. There is a general air of merriment and excitement as you walk the narrow lanes of this town. The night before, the “Holika” is burnt at Laxman Jhula chowk (main crossing), which signifies the start of Holi. People gather around the fire, sing and wish each other. On the day of Holi, the Laxman Jhula chowk becomes the venue for a very public party, crowds gather, both locals and otherwise, there is popular Bollywood music blaring from loudspeakers, everyone is smearing everyone else with colors and wishing each other, and the atmosphere is very fun and festive. Worry not if you don’t come in a big group, you will find lot of takers to play Holi and dance away with. The whole fun of being in Rishikesh is to experience the enthusiasm that non-nationals have for this wonderful festival of colors, and the general camaraderie going around. Make sure your are armed with the mandatory Holi staples – bhang thandai , gujiya and of course, colors, water guns and water balloons(managed to click some pictures from my phone, which aren’t that great but hopefully give you some flavor)
I have been to Rishikesh before, and a lot seems to have changed over the years, it has become more “commercial”, if you know what I mean. Besides Holi, there are a lot of things you might want to do while you are there –
1. Yoga – Rishikesh is after all known as the “Yoga capital of the world”. Parmarth Niketan Ashram, one of India’s largest yoga centers, has more than 1,000 rooms dedicated to the practice of yoga and offers daily classes year round. There are many small centers and ashrams as well, if you want to take a few classes.
2. Ganga Aarti -Rishikesh, along with Haridwar and Varanasi, is one of the three holy Indian cities that perform the Ganga Aarti every day at sunset.
3. Rafting – Nobody leaves Rishikesh without the rafting experience. If you are in the mood for more adventure, stay at any of the river front camps.
4. Cross the Laxman Jhula on foot or a scooter- it is a narrow bridge; wide enough for 1 person and 1 scooter side by side, but it offers a great view and monkeys for company.
5. Get a scooter to roam around – it’s cheap and fun
6. Eating out – Rishikesh is now full of café’s (all vegetarian) and you can get a decent spread and quality. Food comes cheap, but service is a little slow, as the environment is more laid back and relaxing. Below are my top picks –
- Beatles Café – This was by far my favorite place. The view is great, the service is way better than the others and almost everything we ordered tasted good. They serve an amazing spinach soup and spinach salad, completely yum and comforting. Try their red and green Thai curries as well.
- Tattv Café – An open terrace café, good views and probably the best home-made bread you will find in Rishikesh. They have a wood fired oven and the pizzas are supposed to be great, but I didn’t try them as I was too busy overstuffing myself on the fresh bread. Great for breakfast or in-between coffee.
- Buddha Café – Dark dim lighting, cozy seating, excellent views but service is extremely slow. Food is okay, and you can get a mix of Italian, Tibetan, Middle Eastern and Indian. If you go in a big group or are too hungry, you will need to be patient.