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Udaipur, Rajasthan

INDIA | Sunday, 1 April 2012 | Views [521]

I can see how Udaipur gets its reputation as "the most romantic city" in this part of the world. There is a "floating" palace and several other structures in the lake - it's all lit up at night and is absolutely gorgeous from one of the many colorful (and cheap) rooftop restaurants in town. The winding streets are full of enticing shops, guesthouses, internet cafes and restaurants - and tourists, lots of tourists. But then, I was there for the Holi festival - so it was probably busier than usual. The constant traffic whizzing and honking through the narrow streets was in stark contrast to the tranquil views of the lake.

As I had just experienced the beginning of Holi in Pushkar, I was expecting something similar - but it couldn't have been more different, at least the first day. I guess you could say that Holi is much "holier" in Pushkar - traditional; for real, not staged for tourists - at least not of the Western variety. So I was surprised when the first day of Holi consisted of watching a guy dressed as a woman dance around on stage to indian pop music - culminating in an invitation to tourists to get on the stage and dance too - which they did, of course, and had a good time - but it was so odd standing in the huge crowd of indians watching a bunch of white western people dance on the stage. Then there was a little rap segement where some boys did break dancing. Finally, it was time to light the bonfire - the moment everybody was waiting for. First, they lit fires and set off firecrackers in various corners of town. Then came the grand finale -the torching of a huge haystack held together with wooden poles that was positioned in front of the temple and surrounded by hundreds of people. They cleared the immediate area and people moved back which closed in the crowd until we were packed so tight we had nowhere else to go. A series of deafening firecrackers went off around the perimeter of the giant haystack, then whole thing was set ablaze. It was an amazing sight, and fire was shooting out everywhere. I was in a crowd just outside the perimeter and everybody started pushing and ducking because fire was flying through the air. A guy in front of me ducked down a little too far then couldn't get back up - and he nearly got trampled but I managed to help him up, or at least stop the flow long enough for him to get on his feet. We were all terrified for those few minutes and moved with the crowd whether we liked it or not. After the inital blast, the sparks finally subsided and I managed to hold up my camera and get a few pictures. So that was the first day. The second day every place in town was closed, and people started dousing others with colored powders and water around 11 am. After getting smeared (and smearing others) with colored paste (usually on the face) you hug and say "Happy Holi". It's actually a joyful and beautiful expression of unity and people were hugging one another everywhere you looked. After awhile, the colors turned to mud and the dousing was officially over at 5pm. I was very ready to take a long shower and find something to eat as food was nowhere to be found all day. A couple of not-so-popular restaurants in town opened so they probably did 3 months worth of business in one night.

I got up at 4:30 a.m. the next day to catch an early flight out - next destination: Ft. Cochin, Kerala.

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