If you want to experience one of Nepal’s most lively and colorful festivals you can think of planning your trek to Everest Base Camp at the same time as the spring festival of Holi. One of the most important festivals celebrated during the year by Hindus in both Nepal and India. The festival marks the start of spring and the triumph of good will. Nepal is dominantly a Hindu country so this is one of the most important festivals of the year as well as an official holiday.
The night before Holi starts with bonfires which are lit right on the city streets. If you are in Nepal you won’t see this so much but if you happen to be in Mumbai or some cities in India these are quite common and quite impressive and some estimates that over 30,000 fires burn across India lighting up the night sky in anticipation of this event. I remember one time taking off on an airplane from Mumbai and seeing the impressive site of all the fires in the streets below and smoke rising from the city. The fire is lit to celebrate the death of Holika a demoness who is said to have been killed by being thrown in a bonfire.
The main event is the next day when people who “play” Holi pain each other’s faces and bodies with colored powder or throw colored water at each other from buckets and water balloons. Its all in good fun and almost everyone finds themselves participating one way or the other.
Unlike many of the Hindu holidays there is no religious requirements or prayers and it’s a day set aside purely for fun. If you want to participate make sure to buy some of the dried color powders or you can arm yourself a water spray gun called a pichkaris. Adults typically don a white kurta and carry some of the dried powder called gulal to smear on others faces. Foreigners as well as locals both enjoy the activity as all the cultures come together to celebrate.
The traditional consumption of bhang (marijuana) is generally accepted and typically mixed with a lassai which consists of a green paste derived from the plant mixed with milk and ghee along with the addition of spices. In northern India this can actually be found in special shops that are supervised by the government. Another Holi favorite is Gujhiya a sweet made of dried milk powder and crushed nuts.
If you want to enjoy Holi its best to get out and see the activities between 10am and 3pm in the afternoon. As you walk the narrow streets of Kathmandu make sure to look out above you for the dropping of water balloons and buckets of cold colored water coming down. Pretty much anyone outside on Holi is considered as playing so make sure you wear some clothes you wont mind if they get dirty. Also if you are carrying a camera it’s advisable to keep it in a waterproof bag.
Traditional natural dyes were used such as turmeric and sandlewood paste mixed with extracts of Neem, Haldi and Bilva to give the pasts color. The modern age has seen the introduction of dyes and synthetic chemicals which are more easily mass produced and significantly cheaper.
Holi ends in the late afternoon and everyone goes home to wash up and change clothes. The day is usually ended by visiting friends and relatives and exchanging sweets.
What are the best places to experience Holi in Nepal?
If you are in Kathmandu the streets of Thamel and Durbar Square are the best places. Durbar square can be absolutely packed with people whereas the small streets of Thamel are filled with kids looking to sneak up with water-guns and balloons. If you are in Pokhara just walk along the main Lakeside Road. Even if you are trekking in some of the less populated regions you will still find kids playing Holi, but its not quite the same experience as being in Kathmandu.
When is Holi in Nepal?
The actual data of the festival varies from year-to-year and is determined by the approach of the full moon before the spring equinox. Holi occurs a day earlier in Nepal then in India and if you are looking at most websites you will see the Indian dates. Here are the dates for Nepal;
Holi 2016 : Wednesday, March 22
Holi 2017 : Monday, March 12
Holi 2018 : Friday, March 1
Holi 2019 : Thursday, March 20