I have made a conscious effort to bypass the hotels of Delhi and Mumbai, of which there are many, and seemingly increase daily. Rather than report back to our valued traveller information on plasma TV screens and a fast internet connection, I am filled with a warm glow to confirm that the “real“ India is alive and kicking outside of these busy metropolises.
The people are incredibly hospitable and welcoming, age-old customs and lifestyles are still firmly in place, and traditional festivals are celebrated by entire communities with much gusto.
I am still washing away the striking colour of pink from my arms and hands, two days on from Holi. The celebrations that I took part in were set in the most stunning location of Maheswar, sat aside the Narmada River in Madhya Pradesh. I was staying as a guest of HH Prince Richard Holkar, within his royal residence at Ahilya Fort. The fort dominates the town and is an integral part of the community still today. The sunrise over the holy Narmada, the ancient temples casting shadows at noon and the sound of song and laughter of women and children at work, drift upon the wind from the ghats – this place whispers tales of the past from every crevice and corner.
Holi is usually celebrated in March, and the entire country shuts down for at least one day. The significance is to mark the end of winter. In rural areas, such as Maheswar, the festivities can last up to four days. The Holkar family ensured all their guests were completely immersed into family celebrations at this time.
An atmospheric bonfire lit, a priest blessing guests and family alike, wishes and prayers made as we cast flowers into the fire. I anticipated this evening to be the beginning of the most memorable few days.
The next morning, wearing old white cloth, tentatively and expectantly stepping into the streets of Maheswar the party atmosphere can be felt in the air. Live wired children, head to toe in striking pink and green colour. Cheeky boys hiding in the shadows, armed with water pistols, beaming smiles, showing purple teeth. Elders, women, cows, goats and even dogs the colour of the rainbow!
After the colour, a swim from the Ghats is the done thing. The Narmada River is a holy river. On this day it is not only washing your sins away but also the paint. As the day passes, the watery Ghats turn from blue to pink. From sunrise to sunset this day felt like a party of a loved one, which indeed it was…my beloved India. Thank you again for showing me your true colours!