Saturday, 26 March 2011

India - The first Holi festival

March 18-21

Hello everyone!

After the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, many people would head to a more secluded area of India to recharge and reflect. Well, as secluded as possible considering the one-billion-plus population. But not me. From Mumbai I headed back south, but also inland, to India’s very own silicon valley – Bangalore.

A friend I worked with in the casino, Kev, is from this city. It is smaller than Mumbai, but a population of almost 6 million people allows Bangalore – which means ‘Town of Boiled Beans’ – is a giant in its own right. It doesn’t really fit into any stereotypes that could be associated with the places I have been to in India thus far…it’s all a bit Western, here…

Not as Western as other places in Asia – step forward Singapore – but a bit of a surprise. Bangalore is one of the more affluent cities in India, yet manages to maintain a down-to-earth charm. The city itself is very green, with the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens eerily quiet, save for the chirping of the birds in the trees. That peace is violently crushed just outside the greenery, however. It was at this gate that a cyclist who was cycling the wrong way down a one-way street opted to smash into me. At least it wasn’t a motorbike, eh.

The people, as ever, were very friendly. An elderly man on the crowded, sweat-infused bus insisted I sit next to him and listen to him declare his unhappiness at the United States. Men in restaurants would debate the World Cup. Various people aided me in finding my coach on the train I took to leave the city, on which a man who used to live in Singapore chatted with me enthusiastically before buying me chai, flatly refused my attempts to pay for it. Kids on the street shouted ‘India! India!’ in my direction as I strolled slowly along the streets in my Indian cricket top. These occurrences are making this trip so enjoyable and fulfilling.

It also keeps me sociable. Travelling alone is harder in India than in many other places I have ventured to. A combination of a lack of hostels and a lack of common meeting points – bars – renders it difficult to meet other travellers. So any social contact I experience is good, even though it has been nice just to sit in my room – complete with water bucket as shower – and watch the cricket on TV, drifting away from the cacophonic roars of the outside world.

There was one particularly social day that occurred whilst I was in Bangalore. Hindus have numerous festivals, but to my unknowing mind there was only one which I figured was truly important – Diwali. Of course, there are many more, and I was in Bangalore for a fiesta known as Holi. I don’t know the story behind it – go on Wiki if you’re desperate – but the main theme of this day is to be showered with coloured powder that then refuses to wash off.

It was a riotous day. I extended my tight budget to go to a Holi event in the grounds of a hotel. Free food and alcohol – can’t go wrong! There were a few Westerners milling around who I spoke to – many of them work in the city’s infamous IT sector. I entered with three middle-aged men from Chesire, and we were immediately offered bhang milk, which has a very mellowing effect on the body.

The scorching sun beat down on the grounds of the hotel as locals piled in and raced to small circular tables, each holding colourful, vibrant powders. The idea is that you bless the other person by putting powder on them. In reality, you have a few beers and then launch it at each other. Getting the beer to relax your mind sufficiently to throw potentially poisonous powder into another person’s eyes was a tall order, however, as you can see from the outstretched hands below.

If you got too hot, there was a dancefloor near to the entrance where you could cool off. That sounds contradictory, I know. But when the dancefloor has four hoses lightly spraying cool water onto its revellers, it is a refreshing and joyous experience. Even when one of the final songs they played was ‘Summer of 69’. Gets everywhere, that Bryan Adams.

It was a fantastic day, a wonderful occasion filled with smiles of unrivalled joy and happiness. Such a festival would be a disaster in the UK – I can imagine the headlines in the Daily Mail already – but it was a great experience, and arguably my best day in India thus far. As a result, I leave Bangalore with fond memories…and purple powder stained into my head which I just cannot wash off. Happy Holi!

Love you all


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