Local Color

Trip Start Sep 26, 2010
Trip End Jun 10, 2011

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Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Saturday, March 19, 2011

We had two main objectives in India:  celebrate the Holi festival in Jaipur and see the Taj Mahal in Agra.  In order to get to Jaipur in time for Holi, we had a tight schedule of flying into Delhi at night and leaving early the next morning on a train for Jaipur.  The arrival at the Delhi airport and transfer to the train station on a brand new Metroline went smoothly, but things got a little rocky after that.  After a few hours sleep in a nearby hotel, we walked to the train station at 5 am only to discover that the train was canceled!  None of the train offices were open, so we ended up walking across the street and taking refuge in a tourist office so that we could put down our bags and plan without being surrounded by touts (yes, even at 5 am there were a swarm of them around us).  A man there told us that the trains to Rajasthan weren't running because protesters were sitting on the tracks (true) and that the buses weren't running because of roadblocks (not true).  In the end we shared a taxi with two other couples for the six hour ride.  It was twice as expensive as the bus, but it provided us with a quick escape from Delhi and some good company as well.

Jaipur, and Rajasthan in general, is known for vibrant colored saris and turbans.  While some women were wearing amazingly bright orange or yellow saris (these women stood out like gems on the street), the majority of people opted for styles similar to what you see elsewhere in Northern India.  One thing that was unique was the use of camel carts.  Apparently it was mating season for the camels, which makes them foam at the mouth.  If you've never seen a camel up close, they are huge and ugly and I don't think being in heat improved their temperament.  We'd be sitting on a bus and look over to see this rapid-looking camel pulling a wooden cart running alongside us.

The Holi festival, which celebrates the arrival of spring, is celebrated throughout India, but probably most enthusiastically in Jaipur.  The celebration consists of throwing or rubbing brightly colored dry chalk powder on anyone who passes by.  Alternatively, kids like to use "wet colors" (dye that is added to water) and attack you with water guns or buckets of the stuff.  The dry chalk will wash off, but the wet colors will stain your skin for a few days.  In the days that followed, you could identify tourists who had "played Holi" by the large pink stains on their skin or in their ears.

On the night before Holi in Jaipur, there is an Elephant Festival where chalk-painted elephants parade and traditional dances are performed.  This was something that we were really looking forward to seeing.  For some reason, this year they moved the festival from the stadium to the polo grounds.  This turned out to be a colossal mistake as the polo grounds had no barrier (apart from a few police) between the spectators lining the perimeter and the elephants.  As the elephants came out, the Indians towards the back pushed their way towards the front and stood in front of the front row of spectators.  This obviously bothered the people in the front who pushed forward to regain their position.  The police tried to hold them back, but people ignored them and the wall of spectators kept pushing the elephant path further and further towards the center of the field.  Then people started running to the center of the field so that they could see the elephants from that side.  Within 15 minutes of starting, the show was canceled as the elephants couldn't proceed without the risk of stepping on someone.  We hung back initially and just marveled at the chaos before wading into the crowd to get a close-up view of the prettiest elephants.

The day we celebrated Holi was much like the rest of our Indian experiences - a mixed bag of good and bad, with the bad outweighing the good by a fair margin.  We played Holi using dry colors with the owner of the hostel and some guests before hitting the streets.  Out on the streets, we alternated between being attacked by large gangs of kids or teenagers (who used mostly wet colors) and having dry colors very gently rubbed on our faces by older men. When I say we were attacked by the kids, I mean it - I had the bruises to show for it.  There were some other guests from the hostel who ended up having to be rescued by some Indian men with cricket bats.  We had put coconut oil on our skin and hair and had a layer of dry colors on, so the wet colors had little lasting effect on us, but it was irritating nonetheless.  By the end, our faces were completely covered with a thick layer of chalk and our shirts (which we had bought cheaply for the occasion) discarded.  Overall, Holi was a disappointing experience, which is sad because it had so much potential to be an interesting cultural experience.

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