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Udaipur- It's Holika Dahan and Chhoti Holi! (23 March)

OH&S in full swing.....NOT

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Udaipur is known as the Venice of India. It sits beside a large lake, called Lake Pichola. In the centre is the Lake Palace, now a 5 star hotel.

We walk the narrow streets, again mesmerised by the local crafts, little stores and friendly people. We make our way to the Palace, and walk through as they are preparing for a big celebration tonight ( the night before Holi is also a huge night of celebrations). They call today Chhoti Holi, and Holika Dahan is the lighting of the bonfires signifying the destruction of evil.

We take a boat to Jag Mandir, or Lake Garden Palace, built on an island. Well to be honest, this place IS the island! It is stunning, with amazingly manicured gardens and gorgeous views of the city of Udaipur. Now, previously we have discussed toilets at length. I went to the toilet here, and behold......the most gleaming bathroom I've ever seen, complete with a man, to tend to you, ok so I came out of the private cubicle to him turning on the tap for me, pushing the hand wash for me, and handing me a towel. Wow! Best 10 rupees I've ever spent! Word spread quickly, and even those of us that didn't feel the need, went to the toilet anyway!

We shop, wander the streets and buy our coloured flour! We are thrilled to find tonic water for sale from a street vendor, and three of us buy 6 cans each to finish our 3 litres of gin.

We rest in the afternoon, some swimming, some sleeping to be ready to head out to the square Jagdish Mandir ( or more particularly a junction of 4 alleyways) for tonight's celebration.

We arrive around 7. On the way we see straw trees built at intervals along the alleyways. Some are laced with firecrackers, like Tom thumbs, and have decorative borders painted around the bottom in chalk. People are starting to come out to ready themselves!

At the square, there is a DJ, local dancer and mimer ( female) and various other performances. It is an electric atmosphere and we are definitely feeling the excitement build. They ask for tourists to go up on stage to dance, so it seemed fitting that we volunteered Jo, the other Jo, who is a dance teacher extraordinaire! We laughed and she loved it! People are letting of crackers of coloured paper all over the place, boys jostle for a better viewing position to see the female dancer ( maybe she's a sensation here!) but everyone is friendly and before long, there seems to be a group of boys ( probably early 20s) who have become our protectors. They hold guard around us to ensure we don't get jostled. On this trip, many, many people have asked us to pose for pictures with them. They have photos on their cameras and phones of total strangers, as do we!!

The straw tree here is the biggest we've seen. I soon notice that it is red. Not straw coloured. I then look closer to realise that the whole tree is totally covered in packs of Tom Thumb crackers. Woah! When this beauty is lit, it is going to be crazy!

The dancing continues until around 10pm when men with sticks start telling is to move back from the fire tree. Well, we didn't understand a word, but everyone starts moving back, so we assume positions. Anna and I are backed up against a wall, Lorraine and Jan have headed to the safety of a hotel doorway, up some steps, the other three girls have been bearded a little to our left. The crowd starts going crazy, men are yelling for us to stay back, we have some Indian boys ( our protectors) squashed with us, we hear an almighty racket and see a huge smoke bomb making its way up one of the alleys, it was only then that I noticed a huge ring around the fire tree, of Tom thumbs. Holy shit, they're a trail up to the tree, but first it will come up the alleyway, around the tree, directly in front of us, until the climax of the tree actually igniting, and again setting of a whole 7 metre high giant firecracker! The sound was very, very loud, the crowd excited, we were jammed tight. As the fireball approaches, we duck, guarding our faces with our hands, unsure who is covering who, or how much of our bodies are exposed to the immediate area beside the crackers. I'm squashed into Anna, willing the wall to move back a couple of metres, then it starts. The shells of the crackers are hitting me everywhere, I hold my hand to protect the side of my fave. It is so loud, I recall yelling a certain four letter word very loudly, over and over. It is so loud that no one hears, least of all me. I'm being pounded by the shells, hitting me everywhere from my leg to my head. We huddle ever so close, no one caring how squashed we are, but it soon becomes hard to breathe as the smoke is horrendous. The squashiness reduces, and we see the fireball has passed us and it now heading for the tree. Whoosh! Up it goes, banging and cracking as loud as can be. The crowd cheers, screams, dances, shouts. They start chanting ( holy eve) over and over
We are screaming, smiling, laughing and telling each other how fakin scary, amazing and intense that experience just was. We retreat to the hotel steps, our prearranged meeting point, we head inside, we desperately need water to drink, we all talk at once, stories of our experience, the pain and ecstasy, the exhilaration, of being afraid but joyous at the same time. We laugh about the TOTAL lack of safet awareness, how low the powerlines are, how dangerous the whole thing is. But would we relive it is a heartbeat? You bet! We are so full of adrenalin that our stories continue, talking at warp speed, air dropping photos and videos to each other over dinner on the rooftop restaurant.

It was the most intense, insane experience this far. And we LOVED it!

We start walking back to our hotel, and notice the power is out. Hmmmmmm, not surprising at all! We soon notice a gold coloured dog, looking slightly like a dingo following me. He follows us all the way to the hotel, even when other dogs near us, he chases them away. We leave him at our gate and head inside to rest.

Posted by Jochester71 01:38 Archived in India

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