Pushkar Holi is a great example of co-existence of two varied cultures – Rajasthan and Israel. During the winter months, one can find as many foreigners, especially Israelis, in Pushkar as the natives. And the festival of Holi marks the culmination of the co-existence of the two cultures. And that’s what sets the Pushkar Holi Festival apart from Holi celebrations in the other parts of the India. The traditional Pushkar Holi celebration of stick dancing and the trance party go on simultaneously within a few 100 metres of each other and the people enjoy both.
In 2018, after many years, I decided to step out of the house for Holi Festival and look where I stepped in… right into the madness of Pushkar Holi. Since Pushkar had been on my go-to list since my last visit and my friends were planning to go there for Holi, so without asking or thinking twice, I joined them. My life had been on hold as I was busy with on a project, and it was time to get back on track… and Pushkar was just perfect.
My Pushkar trip was nothing I had imagined, basis my last trip, but what I experienced is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.
We were 6 people and two cars… and no pets, sorry if that disappoints you, on the trip. Out of the 6 people, only one of us had experienced Pushkar Holi in the past, so he was the torch-bearer.
We had planned to reach Pushkar for Pre-Holi celebration, Holika Dehan, but got a bit late trying to find our hotel – The country side Resort.
Pre-Holi Celebrations at Pushkar
By the time we reached the hub of celebration – Varah Ghat Chowk, Holika Dehan had already happened and people had started celebrating – men dancing with sticks around the fire on dhol beats. The ambience was electrifying, and feet start tapping on their own.
To experience the celebrations in its full grandeur, we went up to the Energy Café… situated right at the Varah Square. Also, our torch-bearer had suggested this as the best spot to watch the famous Pushkar Holi celebration… so we decided to check it out. The celebration definitely looked much grander from the top.
The place was already full, especially the balcony seats. While there, we ordered food – penne arrabbiata pasta, pizza, paneer tikka masala and Chapatis – nothing worthy of mention… just average and disappointing. The colorful place and he energy it exuded though more than made up for the average food.
Shreya, the young bubbly girl taking orders at Energy Cafe impressed me the most. She looked like a college student who seemed to have stepped in to help family to run café during the busy festival days. Really wanted to chat with her but the customers at café were keeping her on her toes… would love to go back and chat with her.
After a while, we decided to experience the trance party too at the end of the lane. It turned out to be such a stark contrast. It felt like we were transported to another world of trance music and people high on weed dancing non-stop like there is no tomorrow.
We hung around for a while and then left as we didn’t want to miss the next day’s event. After a full day of travelling and driving, we wanted to just relax.
Night walk back to Hotel
By then the weather had also cooled down and walking along Pushkar to reach our hotel was fun. And instead of going off to sleep immediately, we sat in the lawns of hotel under a cool breeze listening to some soul-soothing music after the high-energy drums and trance. It was quite therapeutic. Finally when we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore, went off to sleep.
Next day was a lazy beginning and we were on slow-mode just soaking in the festive flavour till we reached the lane leading to Varah Ghat Chowk. Even though our hotel was roughly half a kilometre away from the main square, we could hear the trance music loud and clear. The trance party had gone on full night and was still going steady at 8 am.
Finally oiled, dressed and fed, we decided to go for Holi, primarily to reach the Café before crowd starts getting mad. But alas, we were late. By the time we reached the main market area, there were men walking bare-chested in all colors and shades. And as we turned on the lane leading to main square, suddenly everything changed.
AND It’s time for … the Pushkar Holi
The place was oozing of energy, music and color. As we reached closer to the main square, all that was visible was a sea of men dancing non-stop to the beats of trance music as if they were possessed. We were in two minds whether to cross through this madness but once you come so far, you definitely give it a shot. I must say, it was a pleasant surprise as the people gave way and didn’t misbehave. In fact, they didn’t even put color on being told no. We meandered through the crowd and reached the café without much harassment.
Three Cheers to Pushkar Police
It’s commendable how the Pushkar Police and Event volunteers managed the event and made women feel safe despite huge crowd. But despite this, I would still suggest go in big groups and women to avoid going alone. We were a mixed group but when locals saw single women, especially foreigners, they thought they had a right to smear color on their faces. The only solace was that they didn’t go beyond that. At one point we felt safer than our male friends, because within no time their shirts were torn and flying around and we immediately understood the reason behind so many bare-chested men of different shapes, sizes and paunches. On the lighter note, such an event is no fun unless you are in a group… how much can you dance alone, who will you put color on and share the whole experience with. The more, the merrier!
We literally had to make our way through people and more people to reach at the top floor to the Energy café. The place was full of people, music and food… freshly baked pita bread and hummus looked amazing. We made a mental note of lunch menu only to later realise, pita bread and hummus was over way before Lunch time. It would stay as a mental note for next trip.
But before that… we wanted to have Pushkar’s famous Power Lassi, i.e. bhaang lassi, to enjoy the trance Holi to its fullest. But it was banned till Holi celebrations last. No Sweat, we decided to still make best of the festival. We went down and found a spot where it was safe for women to dance. The color and shirts were flying all around. It was an experience of a lifetime. The music and ambience were electrifying and charged us more than bhaang ever could, because we were in full senses till the end of the celebrations… hahahahha!
The only part of the event, which was distasteful was politicizing the festival of Holi. That should and could have been definitely avoided.
Non-stop musical festival of 24-hours comes to an end
Soon after that, the event came to a close. By 1 pm, they start winding up and within an hour the place looks deserted… a lane that has been buzzing with people, music and color was suddenly unrecognisable.
The only people still working are people running food joints… they get down to cleaning up the place and prepare it for evening. After all, people will still come back for dinner.
As the celebrations got over, we also went back to our hotel to clean up and rest for a while. As we reached hotel and ordered food, we decided to wash hands and face to consume least amount of color. And that’s when something totally unexpected happened. As I washed my face with water and the cool breeze hit me, my head started spinning as if I was intoxicated. It wasn’t only me, three of us felt the same way. We just sat down, ate some food and waited for the spinning to stop. Though I had heard of intoxicated colors but experienced it for the first time. Whoa… what an experience!
Well, despite all the fun, a few friends were still feeling cheated as experiencing the Bhaang effect was high up on their list but it had turned out to be a bummer. And after our torchbearer’s explanation of how to deal with Bhaang… it was an experience worth having. He had warned us of the stages of slowing down and vision getting smaller and smaller till one feels in trance. He had explained it in reference of a window and how it slowly closes. Nothing had happened till now.
Pushkar Food Walk
So we set out in the evening again for Pushkar Food walk, hoping to find Bhaang Lassi or popularly known as power lassi too, and were successful. For me, food is always a priority and love the Pushkar food because it’s all vegetarian and I can eat it without worrying too much about what to order. Along with lassi, we had parantha from Lalaji, falafel from Lovely, and rabdi-malpua at Lakshmi. Unfortunately, we couldn’t have the mars bar Nutella Pancake because the hotel staff had locked the cabinet and forgotten where were the keys.
After the marvellous Pushkar Holi celebrations, food walk, power lassi, walking and sitting along Pushkar Sarovar, some people still felt the trip wasn’t complete. After all, power lassi hadn’t shown its effect yet. So they decided to have more.
After all this, we decide to come back to our hotel and just sit in the lawns and enjoy the evening. Oh and that’s when it struck some people… some one felt windows starting to close, another one could feel pages turning in head and so on. And slowly, one by one, we reached a stage of trance… sitting in solitude in our own worlds, listening to music and just happy.
And the best comment of the trip came the next day, when one friend announced that he truly understood the correlation between being high and trance music. He could understand each and every beat of music the day before.
And with that we bid adieu to Pushkar and the famous Kapda-Faad Pushkar Holi with a promise to be back for more fun and more memories of the event that goes beyond boundaries and smears everyone in singular color of love, harmony, equality and co-existence.
On that note… don’t forget to mention your favourite Holi Memories in comment section.