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).