Depending on who you talk to, Holi is either a spectacular celebration of subcontinental heritage or a day to get baked out of your head and grope any woman that comes within reach. It’s actually both.

HOLI, THE FESTIVAL of colors, is celebrated at the end of winter throughout India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Though the most well-known festivities are held by Hindus, Holi is sometimes observed in Sikh and Buddhist communities as well. Holi is generally celebrated on the full moon of the twelfth lunar month, but it lasts up to two weeks in some areas of India (such as Bihar).

The night before Holi (Holika Dahan), giant bonfires are lit to commemorate Prahlada and symbolize the letting go of last year’s troubles. The next day people roam the streets dumping colored powder and water on each other, often chugging diluted vodka from water bottles and eating balls of hash.

Women generally stay far away from the colorful packs of disinhibited, sexually repressed young men, except in Barsana where tradition dictates that they beat them with sticks.

Darjeeling isn’t a popular destination for Holi, but it happens here just the same. Colored water is frowned upon because of the late-winter Himalayan chill, but enormous amounts of powder make up for it. (Just don’t eat it – the red stuff probably has mercury in it).


1. Men prepare the Holika bonfire with scrap wood, straw and offerings.



The fire. Photo by Ross Tabak.


3.A branch is stuck in the top of the pile before being lit. When the fire catches, young men scale the flaming mound, yank the branch out and run around shaking each other off it it. The last one holding on will be married this year.


4. A young man takes a video of the fire.


5. A man jumps off the bonfire while others throw on more fuel.


6. A trash fire burns the night before Holi.


7. Kids are usually the most enthusiastic about getting colored.


8. A man sells boxes of colored powder in Darjeeling's Chowk Bazar.


9. Pink is the cheapest and sticks the best, but the variety of colors available isn't lacking.


10. One of Darjeeling's depressed ponies sees a rare moment of joy.


11. No one is safe.


12.A man and his crew.



"clown massacre."

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