What to say about our experience of Holi in Jodhpur? It’s hard to explain it, other than it was like nothing I have ever experienced before, and that Holi is the best festival I have ever been to.
I feel so much gratitude that we were able to experience this before the shit really hit the fan with COVID, and that we experienced it in the Blue City of Jodhpur, because the narrow roads of the old city were the perfect setting for it.
I simply couldn’t imagine experiencing it anywhere else.
I know that this coming Holi won’t be the same – hell, it probably won’t even happen at all, but one day it will be back and better than ever. So I write this post for then.
This was our Jodhpur Holi experience, and it was wonderful.
Jodhpur Holi: Everything You Need to Know
History of the Holi Festival
Holi is a joyous Hindu festival that has been celebrated in India for centuries, celebrated in March to correspond with the Hindu calendar month of Phalguna. It marks the end of winter and welcomes the beginning of spring, and it also symbolizes the triumph of good over evil.
The birthplace of Holi is Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, Lord Krishna’s birthplace, and although there are Holi celebrations held all over the country, the biggest and most traditional celebrations are held in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan – the desert state that Jodhpur is located in.
I decided against traveling to Mathura or the neighboring town of Vrindavan, where the biggest Holi celebrations in the country are, because I had read that it can get really crazy there, and there have been a number of reports of men hassling and assaulting women.
I wanted a slightly more chilled and safer experience so that is why we chose Jodhpur, but Jaisalmer, Udaipur, and Pushkar are meant to also be fantastic places to celebrate Holi.
Holi is celebrated on the last full moon day of the Hindu lunisolar calendar month of Phalguna, so falls over different days each year. In 2020 it was the 9th and 10th March, and in 2021 it will be the 28th and 29th March.
For more around the culture and tradition of Holi, this post is a great introduction.
Day One of Holi in Jodhpur: Holika Dahan
Holi is essentially a two-day festival – the evening before and the day of. With different celebrations for each day.
On the evening of the 9th March, we headed out just before sunset to celebrate the first day of Holi.
The first day of Holi is celebrated as Holika Dahan, and there were numerous bonfires lit in the narrow streets in the old city of Jodhpur.
The bonfires were decorated with patterns surrounding them, using the colored powder that would play a huge part in the second day of festivities.
We saw people putting these colorful bonfire piles together throughout the day, and in Jodhpur they were mostly made of dried cow dung cakes.
As it got later, the bonfires were lit and the festivities began.
Burning these bonfires signifies the burning of evil spirits, and people often throw wood and leaves into the fires, and we saw people throwing handfuls of colored powder in there too.
People chanted, and danced around the fires, spreading the colored powder sporadically. The experience was electric, and some people seemed almost if they were in a trance as they chanted and danced.
We got swept up in the frenetic dancing, pulled in to join the throngs of people encircling the fire again and again. The energy was like nothing I have experienced before.
Moving from one bonfire to another, through the twisting alleyways of the Blue City, we were largely welcomed with big smiles and enthusiasm.
Even away from the numerous bonfires, there were large gatherings of people, dancing with boom boxes, yelling, and swaying. It was very boisterous but it never felt like it got too out of control – although we were back in our guesthouse by 9.30pm.
What a start to Holi!
Day Two of Jodhpur Holi: The Festival of Color
The main event was the next morning: The Festival of Color!
We started in our guesthouse where, with our hosts, their young son, and some other guests, we had a lot of fun with throwing colors and smearing them on each other. We were also treated to a dance performance by the youngest member of our posse.
After our small private Holi, we walked all over town, greeting everyone we met and having color spread onto our faces by locals everywhere we went, while we did the same in return.
Thanks to events like the color run, I had always thought that you threw colored powder at each other, but the proper way to do it for Holi is to go up to someone, say “Happy Holi!”, and smear some color on each of their cheeks and their foreheads.
Hardly anyone throws color, although we saw it a bit on the first evening (and Toby and I threw it at each other just to experience it.)
There were other foreigners around, but it was mostly locals and everyone was so happy and excited. So many locals were so overcome with joy that they came right up to us and hugged us, and we even saw a number of people literally crying in joy – something you don’t see every day in large numbers, but I wish it was.
This festival really bought out the best in people and made you feel what it is like to be a kid again.
While my white tunic started out looking quite colorful and beautiful, the more color that is spread on you, and the more times you are wet with water guns and buckets of water (yep, that’s a thing here) – then the more my white tunic turned to an ugly brown.
The thing I love about this festival is that it is free, and all around you – you literally just wander aimlessly to experience Holi. There are organized Holi events you can go to in different cities, but I loved this organic and local experience.
We saw a parade of people singing and dancing their way through town, we were given drinks, sweets, and samosas by a local hotel who was just handing them out to everyone, we saw multiple bands playing on the street, and hundreds and hundreds of people covered in all the colors of the rainbow, with big smiles plastered to their faces.
When we couldn’t take any more excitement and needed a break, we headed to the rooftop oasis that is Bluebird Rooftop Restaurant, where the owner welcomed us with big hugs. There were a few other tourists up there, and we joined them for a drink after we had eaten.
From the rooftop, we could watch the celebrations continuing below us, and after a couple of hours chilling on the rooftop, we headed back to our guesthouse for a quiet evening.
I had heard stories about how some men get carried away with bhang (marijuana) lassis and excitement and grope women as the day wears on, so we decided to start early and finish early.
I had my butt grabbed a couple of times but luckily that was the worst of it. I also had a few cheeky teenagers shove colored powder in my ears and up my nose, but that’s teenagers for you.
Overall we LOVED our Jodhpur Holi experience, and it was an absolute highlight of our time traveling through Northern India.
Safety Tips for Jodhpur Holi
From my experience, there are a few things you can do – especially if you are female – to make the experience fun AND safe.
- Dress modestly – make sure you have loose-fitting pants or a dress that covers your knees, and a top that covers your chest and shoulders.
- Stay in the old city and in places where there are lots of other people around – we only really had trouble once we left the walled city and were around the Clock tower area (that’s where the crazy, butt-grabbing teens were)
- Go out early on the main day of celebrations, and finish early. It’s best to be back in your guesthouse or hotel by the time it gets dark.
- Go with a group if you can – we went with another couple from our guesthouse and it was fun with the four of us. I hate to say it, but if you are female, it is best to have a male in your group to avoid unwanted attention.
General Tips for Jodhpur Holi
- Buy a few bags of colored powder in the days leading up to the celebration from the various street vendors, so you are prepared on the day. Different colors have different meanings, but I’m not sure what they are. I pretty much just got a bag of each color.
- Get some snacks for the evening and day celebrations as not all shops will be open and it is best to be prepared. We did find that most restaurants were open though.
- If you are planning on taking your camera or phone with you to document Jodhpur Holi celebrations, make sure that they have been properly sealed and waterproofed because the colored powder could cause damage to them, and some locals like pouring buckets of water on foreigners – as we found out.
- Watch the rooftops for people carrying buckets of water – there will be people who will try to throw them on you and our friend was absolutely drenched by one. A lot of people also have water guns and water balloons filled with colored water.
- Wear something that you don’t mind getting permanently stained because it is really hard to get the color out (although not impossible). I bought a cheap long-sleeve, white tunic that I wore over black leggings with rubber flip flops. I got rid of the tunic after Holi and the color came out of my black leggings when I washed them.
- Coat your face, arms, hair, and neck with coconut oil before venturing out – it will help get the color off at the end of the day (although I had some faint color stains on my face for a couple of days even when using oil!)
- Take off any jewelry and only take the cash that you need out with you – just in case of any crimes of opportunity.
- Even though the colors aren’t traditionally used on the first evening of Holi, I still highly recommend you wear your Holi clothes and coat yourself in coconut oil, because we did have color thrown on us and smeared on our faces that evening too – just not as much.
Other Things to do in Jodhpur
Jodhpur is a very worthwhile destination whether you are traveling there for Holi or not. Here are a few things you shouldn’t miss in Jodhpur.
Visit the Toorji Ka Jhalra Baoli (Stepwell)
Probably the most impressive stepwell I saw during my travels through Northern India, the Toorji Ka Jhalra Baoli is a fantastic spot for people-watching, photography, or just relaxing on the steps below the rim.
Unlike a lot of other stepwells in Rajasthan, you are allowed to walk down into this one, and I enjoyed taking photos of it from different angles. It was built in the 1740s and was submerged for over a century before it was recently drained and restored.
This rose-red Jodhpur sandstone stepwell with intricate carvings has to be seen to be believed.
Grab lunch or a drink at the classy Stepwell Cafe that sits over three levels right above the stepwell.
Hours: 24 hours
Tour Mehrangarh Fort
Mehrangarh Fort is one of the most impressive of the forts in Rajasthan as well as one of the best-preserved, and it is an absolute must-see in Jodhpur whether you are into history or not.
This red sandstone fort was built in the 15th-Century and was home to the senior branch of the Rajput clan known as the Rathores for five centuries.
The reputably cursed fort sits on a rocky ridge, towering over the blue city of Jodhpur below. It is a stunning sight, especially at night when viewing it from a rooftop restaurant in the city below.
The best way to reach Mehrangarh Fort is to walk up there from the old city, enjoying the views of the fort and over the city as you get closer. If you aren’t able to walk up there, you can take a taxi up as there is a road that leads to the entrance.
It has been developed as a museum, and an excellent audio guide takes you through the fort and museum, showcasing life in the fort, Rajasthan culture, and traditional arts and crafts of Rajasthan.
A lot of the rooms of the palace are remarkably well preserved and beautifully decorated, and we really enjoyed exploring them.
Cost: 600 rupees/approx $8
Hours: 9am – 5pm, 7 days a week
Eat Out at Local Restaurants
There are a few restaurants that we enjoyed eating at during our time in Jodhpur.
My favorite place to eat and hang out in Jodhpur is definitely the Blue Bird Rooftop Restaurant. We had a couple of meals here and loved the food, the drinks, and the spectacular views over the fort – especially at night when it was lit up.
We made friends with the owner and felt incredibly welcome here – we even spent the afternoon of Holi here, making new friends and enjoying a couple of drinks. It was a great escape when the chaos of Holi got a bit much.
The Stepwell Cafe is another must for their location, with views over the impressive Toorji Ka Jhalra stepwell and up to the fort from the rooftop. The menu has lots of delicious options, and you can also get good quality coffees, shakes, and even alcoholic beverages.
Another great restaurant that we enjoyed was Sam’s Art Cafe, just down the road from the stepwell. This eclectic art cafe serves fantastic coffee, as well as having a lot of delicious vegan options on the menu.
Wander the Laneways of the Blue City
Jodhpur is known as the Blue City as there are a large number of buildings that have been painted blue, which is quite a striking sight.
Within the walls of the old city, there is a maze of narrow alleyways, and the best way to experience them is to just wander aimlessly.
Make sure you mark your accommodation on Google Maps before you set off so you can find your way back!
How to Plan Your Jodhpur Holi Trip
Getting To and From Jodhpur
If you are traveling around Rajasthan, then it is common to travel to Jodhpur from Udaipur before heading on to Jaisalmer – this is what we did.
I highly, highly recommend hiring a car and driver to take you from Udaipur to Jodhpur, stopping at Kumbhalgarh Fort and the famous Ranakpur Jain Temple on the way. These are both incredible sites and so worth visiting!
We booked our car and driver from a travel agent in Udaipur, but you could also ask at your accommodations.
Alternatively, you can catch either a bus or train from Udaipur to Jodhpur, this would take between 4.5 – 6 hours.
To get from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer, your best option is to take a bus. It was cheap and comfortable, and around a 5-hour journey. There are also trains but they were at very inconvenient times when I checked, and more expensive than the bus.
Book online if you want to travel by train with 12go – this was a lifesaver and made things so much easier during our India travels – or if you want to catch a bus, you can book directly at the bus station online with Red Bus.
Where to Stay in Jodhpur
The haveli (a traditional Indian mansion) we stayed in during our time in Jodhpur is no longer open unfortunately, but I loved staying in a haveli with a local family, and I think that experiencing a haveli stay is a must.
For a haveli experience, stay at either the Jodhpur Heritage Haveli Guest House which reviews say has a friendly and helpful owner, a rooftop restaurant, and a great location in the old city. Or at Krishna Prakash Heritage Haveli Hotel, which has a pool and a rooftop restaurant, and is also located in the old city.
There are also a few great hostels in Jodhpur, and they are a solid option if you are traveling alone or if you just want to meet fellow travelers. Some of them may even have organized events for Holi for guests.
Moustache Hostel is a great hostel choice – we stayed at the Moustache in Udaipur and loved this trendy, boutique hostel chain. Moustache Jodhpur has terraces, social areas, an in-house theater, and restaurant.
Another boutique hostel chain that has a hostel in Jodhpur is HosteLaVie, and this is the highest-rated hostel in Jodhpur. HosteLaVie has a rooftop restaurant with fort views, and reputably the best coffee in town.
If you really want to treat yourself in Jodhpur, stay at luxurious Ratan Vilas. This red sandstone mansion is the home of a Maharaj, and every room is beautifully decorated with antiques. Enjoy the relaxing pool, and eat by candlelight in the restaurant courtyard.
What to Pack for Jodhpur Holi
For Jodhpur Holi, make sure you pack modest clothes you don’t mind getting wrecked (you can buy affordable clothes all over India at local markets), coconut oil, rubber flip flops, and a waterproof case or cover for your phone.
Also, don’t forget to pack this awesome water bottle with a heavy-duty filter – it’ll allow you to drink from the tap during your time in India, saving money as well as being more environmentally-friendly.
The Best Travel Insurance for Your India Trip
Make sure you get travel and health insurance before your India trip – this is very important! Safety Wing is my go-to and they are cheap and easy to claim with. They even have COVID coverage.
Safety Wing also allows you to sign up when you are already traveling, unlike a lot of other travel insurance providers.
So have I convinced you to experience Holi in Jodhpur?
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