ItŐs now the time of year when roadside stalls throughout northern India bear tables covered with bags of colorful powder, called gulal -- greens and blues, yellows, reds and purples -- rows and rows of bags.

Open air piles of powder are carved by the breeze as they tempt the wind.

These are the days leading up to Holi, the exuberant festival of color.  Holi falls on the full moon of the month of Phalguna.  The Hindu calendar uses lunar months, and Phalguna typically runs from the latter half of February through the first half of March.  The crops have been harvested, so farmers have more free time and some money to celebrate the end of winter.  With Holi, this celebration is an ecstatic burst of color. In the past, the color came from flowers that blossom only during the festival.  Now, however, the powder is often created artificially.

On the eve of Holi, bonfires burn at many street corners.

According to one popular legend, the bonfires recall the story of Holika, the sister of the demon king Hiranyakashipu.  Hiranyakashipu failed to make his son Prahlad renounce his devotion to Lord Narayana, an incarnation of Vishnu, so he asked Holika to carry Prahlad into a blazing fire with her.  Holika had a boon to remain unscathed by fire, so she followed her brother's wishes.

However, with this sinful act against Lord Narayana's devotee, Holika's boon ended and she was burnt to ashes, while Prahlad came out unharmed.

On Holi, the mood is festive, with a nervous edge that accompanies impending chaos.  People roam the streets with bags of colorful powder and spray pistols containing colored water.  When they meet, a colorful cloud of activity ensues.  All emerge a rainbow of color.

I've met up with Alyse, a friend from New York, here in Jaipur.  Alyse is brimming over with excitement about life, and India has no shortage of situations and settings to get excited about.

We've been staying at an idyllic hotel, a paradise with a garden where peacocks alight from the trees to drink at a small pond.  Ginny, the British woman from the camel safari, is also staying here.  Two Indians who've befriended us in Jaipur have offered us a tour of the festival and Jaipur on the backs of their scooters.  We leave our sanctuary to brave the festival-filled streets.

When you walk the streets on Holi, you're fair game to be smothered in color.  People of all ages approach you with bags of powder at every turn.  A friendly red smear across the cheeks and forehead is answered with yellow and blue down the arms and legs, a ritual in which willing participants delight in taking part.  Children with squirt guns aim to turn the powder into a more permanent stain.  Unfortunately, more than once the game begins to spiral out of control, as a group of men try to smear GinnyŐs and Alyse's chests with color, are met with a hard shove and a firm warning, and invariably claim innocent intentions.

Smothered in color, choked in its elegance, we whiz through the streets of Jaipur on scooters to more far-flung neighborhoods that don't see too many outsiders

Alyse and I smothered in color.

We make it to the house of a new Indian friend, where we find a cup of chai, a rooftop view, a welcoming family, and when night finally falls, dinner.


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