Bucket List: How To Celebrate The 2023 Holi Festival In Pushkar
Bucket List: How To Celebrate The 2023 Holi Festival In Pushkar
Last Updated on January 7, 2023
What Is The Holi Festival?
The Holi Festival, also known as the Festival of Color, is celebrated throughout India, but the traditions and festivities vary from region to region. It is a Hindu religious festival and celebrates the end of winter and the arrival of spring. The main celebration where you see colored powder being thrown takes place on the 2nd day of the Holi. The evening before, people gather to perform religious rituals and prayers to ward away evil.
When Is Holi Celebrated in 2023?
The Holi Festival in India will be celebrated from March 7-8 in 2023. Holi is celebrated each year on the day after the full moon in March. On the eve of Holi, the Holika Dahan is performed in a ritual of bonfires to ward away evil spirits. The next Holika Dahan will be on March 7, 2023 and the next Holi festival will begin on March 8, 2023.
Experiencing Holi In Pushkar
Pushkar is a small holy town in the Indian state of Rajasthan and where my friends, Madeleine, Anahita, and I chose to experience Holi. We couldn’t make it for the Holika Dahan, but our rickshaw pulled up to the hotel just a few hours before the festivities began. Strangely enough, it was eerily quiet when we arrived.
Our fears that we would be disappointed disappeared quickly as a group of children ran up to us and smeared wet colors on our faces before we could even check into the hotel. I wish someone could have captured our wide-eyed moment as we were being “attacked.”
Where Is That Sound Coming From?
From the 7th story rooftop of the Seventh Heaven Inn we where we stayed, we could look down and across the rooftops of all the buildings in the town. In the distance, there was a rhythmic thump and sound that emanated towards us. We couldn’t see what was going on, but this was most likely where the celebration was taking place.
Using the direction of the noise as my guide, I left the girls while they were still getting prepared, and snuck out to scout the situation. It was also my chance to take some photos before we joined in on the fun sans camera. Even as a photographer, I feel like there’s a time and place to carry your camera and capture your trip. Sometimes, it’s better to just leave it at the hotel or in your room.
This was not one of those times. So, photograph first, put everything away, and then celebrate and participate without worrying about my equipment getting stolen or damaged in the friendly fracas.
Am I In India Or At A Rave?
As I got closer to the center, that thumping noise earlier was now the distinctive sound of techno music pumping at full volume through an array of mega speakers. I was blown away by what came next. In the town square, flanked all around by restaurants and shops, a palette of colors was exploding in the air from the hands of people flinging it up and outwards.
At a least a thousand people, completely covered in shades of blues, pinks, greens, reds and yellows, were dancing freely and madly about to the heavy beats of… electronic music. Not what I expected at all, but it was a good thing I came in without any expectations.
In the widest part of the street, revelers young and old, locals and tourists formed a sea of undulating bodies, laughing, jumping, hugging, smearing, spraying, and splashing each other with dry and wet powder. I hugged the edge of the crowd and made my way up to the top of a restaurant, safe and high above the crowd below. Where the hell was I?
I knew it would be playful and spirited, but I didn’t expect a full blown electronic music party in the middle of a small town square. Hundreds of shirts were hanging from a power line above, most likely separated from their owners forever. Blended together, I could hardly make out the foreigners from the locals.
How To Photograph The Holi Festival
For photographers, the Holi Festival is a dream scene to shoot, but at the time, it’s not the most camera friendly event. I follow the same basic rules I use when shooting in any kind of extreme environment. Protect your camera and don’t change lenses unnecessarily.
Weather-sealed cameras, like this Fujifilm X-T4, my current go to travel camera, are a good option, but I’d still try to protect it, especially when I’m not sure what kind of foreign debris might get on my equipment.
Protect Your Camera At The Holi Festival
If you are shooting with most other non-professional cameras, consider putting it in a plastic bag and wrapping a rubber band around the lens or use a proper storm cover. If you need to change lens, try to do it quickly and in as clean of an environment as possible. Even though the area above the crowd looked clean, it was full of microscopic colored particles floating around. I took the shot below with this beautiful Voigtlander lens adapted to a Sony body at the time.
Shoot The Holi Festival With A Telephoto Lens
I highly recommend shooting with a long telephoto zoom lens like a 70-200mm. Getting one with a f/2.8 aperture will allow you to better isolate subjects, but anything in the 150mm and up range will allow you to shoot from a safer distance and not get your camera equipment damaged. I would recommend a good compact mid-range telephoto lens like this or this.
Try Not To Change Your Lens During The Holi Festival
On this occasion, I scoped out the scene and planned my shots in terms of focal length. I then changed my lens only once and tried to do it inside my camera bag. Once you’ve got all this figured out, it’s time to be patient. There’s so much going on that you’ll feel like snapping away at everything.
While the colors and bodies make for a naturally interesting shot, I took my time to look for moments that told a story. In the shot above, I waited for a man to toss the powder in the air, capturing it mid-action just as the powder begins to spread. Below, you can see two boys packing up the colors tightly in their hands and waiting to unleash it onto an unsuspecting person.
Should You Use A GoPro
I personally don’t recommend using a GoPro even if it’s good compact solution mainly because the powder will cover the small lens very quickly and you’ll just end up with muddy or blurry footage.
If you do bring out, bring a small piece of microfiber you don’t mind tossing to wipe away the powder every so often.
Where to Stay During The Holi Festival In Pushkar
Overall, I found accommodations in Pushkar and India to be very reasonable. I stayed at the Seventh Heaven Inn, which was very clean and nice, but there were quite a few other options that we would have happily chosen based on our curated list.
Hotel Brahma: Recommended to us by several people who visited in previous years. A little further out than Seventh Heaven from the main square, but still only about a 10-15 minute walk. There’s a swimming pool and a lounge with access to a nice garden and terrace where you can take your breakfast and tea.
Madpackers Pushkar: A good backpacking option if you want to meet other backpackers. The place is cute and it’s about a 15 minute walk from Pushkar Lake.
Gulag Niwaas Palace: One of the more upscale offerings, but not without a big difference from the other spots. This one is pretty close to the lake as well and sits atop a sand dune overlooking the town. I recommend this if you want to participate in Holi, but be able to retreat back to a bit more quiet and relaxing when the day’s done. There’s a big pool and large garden.
Pushkar Adventure Camp and Camel Safari: This is a new option and also one of the priciest of the bunch, but it’s a full on glamping experience complete with luxury tents where you watch the sun rise and set in the desert dunes. There’s a bonfire, camel rides, and a show in the evening with dinner. Tea is served at the campfire. I’m shortlisted this one for the next time I’m in Pushkar.
How To Stay Safe During The Holi Festival 2023
Everyone just seemed to be having a good time, possibly too good of a time even. It’s common for people to drink bhang, a lassi yogurt drink mixed with marijuana, during the festival. While our experience was friendly on the whole and I didn’t hear of any assaults, people can get carried away when they are high on a substance that isn’t consumed on a normal basis. There’s the whole ‘when in Rome’ mentality, but partake at your own risk.
This is also a physical type of celebration. If you’re not comfortable with strangers throwing and rubbing colors over you, be a little more careful or avoid the crowd. Many people also celebrate privately amongst friends or within the confines of their hotels. With some of the recent incidents of assault in India, you wouldn’t be considered paranoid to watch your back and be aware of your surroundings, even during a fun and religious festival like Holi.
Last bit of parental nagging. If you are going to dance on a roof with flip flops, please, please be careful. And try to not do it while under the influence of anything. I cringed while watching people dancing about on the lips and edges of rooftops.
Remember To Put The Camera Away And Join In
Believe or not, I spent only about 15 minutes shooting. We were here to experience Holi, and I didn’t want to keep my friends waiting. I ran back to the hotel to get changed into my all white outfit. Unfortunately, I didn’t get back unscathed.
Armed with our own bags of colors, we headed back into crowd. As much as I love being a photographer, it’s always so much more fun being a part of a scene like this than just documenting it. I couldn’t have shared it with two lovelier friends, who flew in from London to travel through India with me.
Where To Buy Colored Powder?
Merchants on the street will be selling all sorts of colored powders leading up to the Holi Festival. Get a mix of different colors and get a few small bags for each color. If you can find small drawstring bags, those are even better. Think chalk bags for rock climbing. You can wear a few of these and easily access them.
How To Make Your Own Holi Colored Powder
Alternatively, you can make your own your own colored powder to use too. This works out better from a health conscious standpoint because you can’t always control the quality of the powders you buy on the street. Some merchants sell powders that use potentially harmful substances. Try this home-made recipe for some harmless fun.
- Combine 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup of water, and a few drops of food coloring in a bowl.
- Mix well and form a ball (wear gloves).
- Using a rolling pin to flatten the ball into a flat disc.
- Let the disc dry overnight.
- Use a coffee grinder to turn the disc back into a powder.
Party…And Clean Up Like A Local
One last bit of advice. Rub baby oil all over yourself before heading out. While the dry powders are relatively easy to get off, a lot of people were using water based powders that really stained. I’m glad I have pictures of this because I paid for it over the next few days.
We forgot to the put on the baby oil and I spent the next 7 showers rubbing my skin raw and still coming out with a painted face. It did not look pretty. They locals have been doing this for a long time. Take their advice.
Is Holi on your bucket list? Sound off and let me know if you’ve already been and where you celebrated. I’d love to return to India and see how Holi is done in other parts of the country.