The Worst of The Holi Festival in India

Male tourist celebrating Holi in India
Wild! Taken at Bankebihari Colony during Holi in Vrindavan

Rabid gangs of wannabe hooligans roaming the streets, my eyes stinging in pain from up-close attacks and… multiple acts of shameless sexual misconduct on a deeply religious day in the birth town of Hindu deity Lord Krishna.

Was I unlucky enough to be experiencing the worst Holi ever or was it just a depressing case of “same shit, different year?”

Sadly, after talking to locals, reading up and receiving a lot of emails since talking about this topic on my social platforms; it seems it was the latter.

Many parts of celebrating the Holi Festival in Vrindavan and Mathura were enjoyable, but it ended up being an overall negative experience and it sure as hell was a nightmare for quite a lot of women who attended the festival in Vrindavan.

In this article, I’ll strip away all of the Instagram-filtered bollocks and talk about the negative aspects of The Holi Festival, with the main focus being on the realities for women attending the festival.

I’ll finish off with first-hand, honest advice on how to stay safe and enjoy this festival if you are planning to go and celebrate Holi, AKA The Festival of Colours in India so that you have the best chance of experiencing the better parts of this carnival.

Is Holi in Vrindavan Safe For Women?

Crowds dancing in the streets celebrating The Holi Festival in Vrindavan and Mathura

I really hate to write this. It’s certainly unfair, but I’d much rather be the big bad wolf to many if it keeps the few who listen safer. I care much more about impact over identity and it’s not the first time I’ve written something like this.

Holi in Vrindavan is a relatively unsafe place for women, at least for women on their own. 

Sexual harassment of women at this festival (not just Holi in Vrindavan, but all over India) is prevalent and if I had a rupee for every time I saw a distressed woman, due to some scumbag copping a feel during the melee I’d… probably start a pervert vigilante group to wipe those dickheads out.

It seems rather fitting seeing as this day is supposed to be celebrating a triumph of good over evil.

With the smokescreen of the colours, crowds, noise and intoxicated sad excuses of men; opportunistic gropers feel like it’s open season on both local and foreign women’s bodies.  

If I was a woman I would probably go with another man or a large group including a man (who you know well). That’s your call, the Holi creeps back down pretty easily when challenged by another man. 

I’m no giant myself, but they backed off previously assaulted women when the women were with me.

Worst Holi Ever? My Frustrations During Holi in India

Men walking during the worst Holi ever

Holi in Vrindavan went from a calm, excitable affair to a rousing, fascinating, smack on the senses (with doses of unfortunate anger) within a Holi heartbeat.

I was in the thick of the action, right in the Holi heart of Vrindavan on the point of sunrise around 6 am. As the city was just waking up, I could hear a variety of chants echoing from around the city.

It was incredibly calming and lovely to witness. “Bit of a tame affair,” I thought to myself, concluding that the madness I’d seen ensuing online with the gigantic spraying of colours was happening elsewhere in India and that maybe I’d gotten it wrong by choosing to celebrate Holi in Vrindavan. 

Oh, how wrong I was.

I bought a couple of powders from a lady on the street, fully armed with my peace bombs should the chaos decide to rear its head. 

I sipped on my lassi and watched the city warm up…WALLOP.

A water bomb smacked off my face, before I had the chance to wipe my eyes I felt a thud hit me in the eyes and it was the powder. I wiped my eyes again and had two more hits on my face within that time.

It was a group of teenage boys giggling as they sprinted away.

That was a wake-up call. I thought going for the face with that force was a little overkill, but I quickly remembered I was a young man once and sometimes you can simply misdirect your hyperactive energy.

I made sure I kept my sunglasses on for the rest of the day and my wits about me. 

A man throws powder during Holi in the street during the day

The energy from the processions and the spiritual buildings was intoxicating as the mystical chants echoed around the place, sticking in my mind for the rest of the week.

However, one thing that caught my eye on the way out of one temple was nothing short of evil. 

A young woman, around 18 years old with her head in her lap was having some sort of panic attack. There were a group of five men around her in their early 20s. At first, I thought they were helping her out, but to my absolute astonishment – they were taking turns feeling her up.

I became apoplectic, grabbing the guy who was taking his turn by his throat and squeezing it hard. God knows what I said to him, I must have looked like something out of The Exorcist. His oh-so-brave gang members ran away and left him there. 

I let go of him go and off he ran.

I stayed with her until she got her breath back and a group of other women, non-Indian and Indian came over to comfort the poor girl.

One of the women from Australia, who I’d met a few days before told me that she’d been on the receiving ends of a couple of gropes and she’d been smacking the perpetrators over the head. Some of the group members had similar stories and there were a couple of other instances where women were in distress because of these opportunistic touches.

It’s a shame that this happened as Holi in Vrindavan (and I suspect everywhere else in India) is a fantastic affair, but this common theme of a well-organised minority misbehaving certainly tainted the festival somewhat.

Then there were the times when people would throw powder and water bombs aggressively in the faces of people from close range. And I’m not a buzzkill. I’m no stranger to danger and I have been to some pretty wild festivals, but this was no Songkran where there is a high enough level of common decency to mitigate any bad actions.

Some people really seemed hellbent on ruining the Holi Festival in Vrindavan for the decent folk. 

It’s not my intention to completely rule out the whole Holi experience. These stories are not what Holi is really about and I had some beautiful moments there where locals were dancing, chanting, welcoming and having a good time, the majority of locals are against what I have written about above.

I also saw local men and women of all ages, chasing after anyone who was up to no good, trying to keep to the true spirit of Holi (the victory of good over evil). It really can be an unforgettable festival for the right reasons, but sadly the reality is for some it has the potential to be remembered for the wrong reasons.

14 Holi Festival Survival Tips (Safety For Men & Women)

Crowds walk in the street during Holi

The Holi Festival is one of those places that has become a little too exotified by Instagram culture. Is it loud, beautiful and colourful with an array of senses attacking you from every corner?

Hell yes!

That’s all true and I can’t hammer home enough how true that is. However, as the theme of a non-filtered opinion safety warning, there are other things to be aware of

If you want to get the best out of Holi in India, then you have to manage your expectations and come prepared for the big day.

Here is a cheat sheet to do that:

  1. Wear goggles as opposed to sunglasses. I fu***d up so you don’t have to. Get prescription goggles if you need them and also those that offer sun protection too. God bless the laser eye surgery that I had a year before this event! I would have been a mess as all I took was Ray-Bans sunglasses.
  2. Sunscreen. It gets incredibly hot during Holi in Vrindavan. Lash it on beforehand, waterproof cream is better. Consider a hat too, or BUFF headwear if you’re a fellow baldie and need that extra protection on your blessed chrome dome.
  3. Put Vaseline on your lips. It creates a barrier to the colour and also stops your lips from drying in the baking heat.
  4. Wear clothes you don’t care about. No-brainer. Your clothes get ruined, bring those worn-out T-shirts etc.
  5. Go easy on the Bhang & Booze. Bhang, the drink on display during Holi can cause euphoria and ease pain, it can also make an individual feel anxious and bring on psychoactive effects. This could explain a lot of the deranged behaviour during Holi in Vrindavan. Go easy on the booze too as you will need all your senses and also stay hydrated.
  6. Don’t wear expensive adornments. Leave the sexy watch or your Mam’s necklace at home.
  7. Cover your neck. I learned the hard way on cold mountains that our necks are vulnerable and often forgotten about. Protect it. An old scarf or the aforementioned BUFF will do.
  8. If possible, stay with a trusted crowd. Already beaten that dead horse.
  9. Don’t feel the need to see every cool “must-see” place. It’s exhausting and will take away the mental energy needed for the festival. Choose a few as a priority and enjoy yourself. 
  10. It’s noisy as hell. For those who are sensitive to noise. Some opt for cotton buds in the ears, I understand why but I think it’s a bad idea (unless you have a medical condition) as it’s better to be as vigilant as possible to your surroundings.
  11. Drink lots of water. It is in abundance thanks to the local vendors. Drink up and hydrate and also you will need it to wash the dye out of your eyes if you get an unfortunate face-bombing. I travelled with a GRAYL Geopress Water Purifier.
  12. Be mindful of your power. Don’t be one of those who smash people in the face from up close. You could injure their eyes. Control yourself.
  13. Have travel insurance. You never need it…until you need it. I use SafetyWing Nomad Insurance.
  14. How do I clean the powder off? Last, but not least! Rinse your face and hair with cold water (hot makes the colour sink in more). Rub your skin with antiseptic lotion and continue to use cold water. Coconut oil also helps to remove the colour. Luckily there is also a myriad of old wives’ tale remedies such as fruits, flowers and oils in India to help you get most of this off. 

I hope I managed to answer all of the questions surrounding this event and that anyone visiting takes on board these tips. It’s often said that India is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of country. Well, I love the place and can’t wait to go back, but I have to be honest about what I saw during the ceremony.

I’m more than likely done for The Festival of Colours though. Much like the Hindu Thaipusam Festival, I only need to experience that level of intensity once and I truly hope that you also don’t find yourself asking whether or not this is the worst Holi ever during the festival.

Anthony Middleton

A former loser who took a risk. I now live in Chiang Mai, Thailand after visiting over 100 countries. Stay tuned for the next challenge against that clock!
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Hi, I'm Anthony!

In November of 2010, I took on a mammoth challenge against the clock in a quest to upgrade my miserable life. I went out of my comfort zone and turned it all around. Ten years later, I’m completely location independent…

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