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Happy, Happy Holi in Nepal

Originating from the Indian subcontinent and celebrating the arrival of spring, Holi is known as the Festival of Colour, Festival of Spring or the Festival of Love. And it really is all three of those things. Like many festivals across the world its date is based on a lunar calendar and it falls on the last full moon of winter. It is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains and has become an increasingly popular event all over the world. In the countries that celebrate, Holi is a national holiday when everyone comes together to celebrate spring and love. We were lucky to spend Holi in Nepal a few years ago.

Holi in Nepal

There are a number of rituals associated with the festival and these can vary between different regions. The celebrations start in the evening before Holi with a Holika Dahan where communities gather and light a fire, burning a symbolic effigy of a demoness who attempted to kill her nephew, Prahlad, a worshipper of the God Vishnu. This represents the triumph of good over evil. Traditionally participants contribute wood for the fire and dance and sing together. It’s important to remember that Holi is also about love and repairing broken relationships.

The following morning is Rangwali Holi (Dhuleti), the festival of colour. And it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, you are welcome to join in the fun. Everyone takes part and those serious about ‘Playing Holi’ will be armed with all sorts of devices to make the day as colourful as possible – there will be powdered paints, water pistols containing ordinary or coloured water, water balloons (you have to watch out for those as they can be quite a surprise). People often wear white clothes in order to show off all the colours. You can buy paint powder from street vendors everywhere.

Holi Paint

Holi In Nepal

In Nepal Holi celebrations begin eight days before the full moon, starting off with the raising of a chir – a long bamboo pole embellished with brightly coloured strips of cloth in three circular layers. This chir will be burned on the night before the full moon, again symbolising the burning of Holika and the victory of good over evil.

We were in Nepal during Holi a few years ago and it was one of the most fun days we have ever had when travelling. After a fantastic journey travelling through Bhutan and Southern Nepal, including a stay at the Neydo monastery and a couple of days in the Chitwan National Park where we undertook a walking safari and learned to cook with the local Tharu people. We had travelled back to Kathmandu to explore the capital as well as nearby Bhaktapur and Patan, all cities with an incredibly rich cultural heritage. (We will post about these in detail another time.)

Bhaktapur, also known as Khwopa, is a UNESCO world heritage site, a city located some 13km from Kathmandu. It has some of the most remarkable architecture, with squares that contain beautiful temples and statues.

Bhaktapur Palace of 55 Windows
Bhaktapur peacock window
Bhaktapur Nyatapola temple
Bhaktapur Bhairavnath temple

Patan is another UNESCO site. Around 5km from Kathmandu, it is so close to the capital that even though it is Nepal’s third largest city, it almost feels like a suburb of Kathmandu these days. Along with the capital and Bhaktapur it is one of Nepal’s three royal cities. It is also known as Lalitpur – City of Beauty – a title that is hugely apt.

Patan Nepal
Patan Nepal
Durbar Square Patan Nepal

Sadly, both cities and their remarkable historic buildings were badly damaged during an earthquake in 2015 and repairs have been ongoing for some years.

Happy, Happy Holi

Holi began tentatively for us. We were doing a walking tour in the early morning in Bhaktapur when a smiling young man approached us as we were strolling down a side street, smeared a little red powder paint on our cheeks, and declared “Happy Holi!”. We wished him the same.

As soon as we had paint on our faces we quickly discovered that we were fair game. People would come up to us and anoint us with paint powder. Children bearing water pistols would quietly approach us then squirt us before running away, shouting joyously as we gave chase, their families looking on smiling and laughing. And we loved every moment.

Moving on to Patan, by mid-afternoon the town squares were filled with crowds as music played loudly and colours filled the air.

Even one of the local dogs took part.

Walking through the town people were singing and dancing in the streets, “Happy, Happy, Holi!”

It was lovely looking out at the celebrations over Durbar Square.

Holi in Nepal

Holi In Nepal – Celebratory Food

Of course we wanted to try some of the local food. At a tiny restaurant off one of the side-streets near Durbar Square in Patan, we joined local people sitting on benches in front of low tables, and discovered chatamari. We sat down on a bench and watched the cook expertly make this lovely dish. It’s a celebratory food and it seemed entirely appropriate for the day.

chatamari Nepal

Chatamari is a specialty of the Newar community of the Kathmandu valley. It is like a pancake with toppings. The batter is made from rice flour, spices and eggs. It is then fried on top of a circular flat grill and various toppings are added as it cooks – ours comprised minced meat, onions and a fried egg – but fully veggie options are available.

chatamari Nepal

These were the star dish but were accompanied with some roasted lamb, a potato curry and bhuteko bhatmas, soybeans roasted in Nepali spices, which were spicy, crunchy and absolutely delicious. (And perfectly complemented a nice, cool beer.)

Bhuteko Bhatmas roasted soybeans

After lunch it was time to head back into the happy mayhem and explore further. The local children were particularly interested in playing Holi with us. Just as we were about to leave Patan we asked a passer-by to take a photo of colourful us – by the time he had figured out the camera setting… PHOTOBOMB! The kids were very happy to show us their pre-prepared waterbombs.

Arriving back at our (relatively posh) hotel in Kathmandu, absolutely covered in paint, we were a little unsure about how we would be received. Nobody minded, they knew it was Holi, and the local people were delighted that we had taken part and we were greeted with smiles. We showered very carefully, doing our utmost not to get paint on the hotel’s towels. We were largely successful.
Holi in Nepal was one of the most colourful, delightful and – above all else – happy festivals we have ever attended. It was truly a day of joy.

Chitwan National Park Tharu Village cooking pot
Wildlife safari and cooking with the Tharu in Chitwan,Nepal
Neydo Monastery Nepal
Visiting the Neydo Monastery in Nepal
Punakha Dzong
Visit Bhutan’s Punakha Dzong
Golden Temple Amritsar
The Golden Temple, Amritsar, India
Jadoo-Kings of Curry
Jadoo Kings of Curry Film Review
Bhutan chilli drying
Eating chilli cheese in Bhutan
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  1. Looks like lots of fun. I have a few friends who have participated in Holi and have said it’s an experience that can’t be missed.

    • Thank you. We had always wanted to experience Holi and our trip was (accidentally) timed beautifully. It was SO much fun!

  2. I looked like you had an absolutely amazing time, such fun and joy. To be able to join in a festival like this is something I love doing. You get to see how locals enjoy life and play out a festival. I’ve heard of this festival but never seen or been involved in it and its something I would relish.
    Yet again you have been to somewhere that is high on my list to go see – Nepal – am so jealous! I’ll be reading any other posts on Nepal you have, to get prepared for the visit.

    • Fun and joy really sums up the day. It was so inclusive and everyone was so happy. We’d be very happy to answer any questions you have about Nepal – we absolutely loved it there.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. Yes, it was such a fab experience and so inclusive. The food was terrific, we really loved Nepalese cuisine

  3. This looks like it would be so much fun! Were you planning on participating before that kid came up and painted your faces or did he kind of force your hand? Either way, looks like you had a blast. I always wonder, do the colors come out of your clothes easily?

    • It was amazing! We were rather hoping we would be able to participate but not knowing the conventions didn’t want to be pushy. Having the guy greet us was the perfect way to take part. And you’re absolutely right, we had a blast! We did notice that everyone was observant as to whether other people wanted to join in – we didn’t see anyone taking part who wasn’t thoroughly enjoying themselves. And it was so lovely that total strangers came up to us to wish us happy Holi and to add to our colour! The paint came out of the clothes with no trouble at all – we gave the t-shirts a quick rinse before we left for home, then bunged them in the washing machine when we got back.

    • It was absolutely wonderful and something we had wanted to participate in for many years. We do hope you get to see Holi one day – it is so much fun!

  4. This is definitely on our list of must-have experiences. And I (Stephen) love how you share the meaning behind all of the rituals and activities of the holiday. That’s important. The food also looks amazing, and we’re always thrilled to see some dogs in the mix!

    • Thank you! It was a really fantastic experience and we were so happy that we could take part. Yes, even the dog was having fun!

  5. Looks like soo much fun and can’t wait to experience it ourselves. I love a ritual like this where a whole nation gets together. These such things need to be kept going forever.

    Would love to try the Chatamari these regional dishes make a trip so unique

    • It was great being able to join in the fun and become part of such a happy day. The chatamari were really delicious!

  6. Holi is one of the best holidays around, by the look of it. When it comes to burning murderous demonesses I’m fully bought in.

    You’ve got to give it to South Asians: those good folk know how to party. EIGHT days…

    I just put Patan on our list for our upcoming trip, don’t think I had heard of it before.

    By the way, it’s nice seeing pictures of you two. I don’t think I had seen any pictures before, or maybe I don’t pay enough attention.

    • Thank you Stefan! It really was a splendid party day. Hope you get to see Patan, it is well worth a visit. Thank you for your comment about the photos – you have been paying attention – we’re just a little camera-shy!

  7. I love Holi and have actually experienced it on a small scale as I used to live in a town with a large Indian community in England and they would celebrate it every year and the whole town would join them! Your experience in Patan sounds wonderful and full of joy and I found it funny when you went back to the hotel fully covered in paint and unsure about how you’d be received 🙂 I would love to have the same experience one day.

    • How lovely that Holi was celebrated in England as well! We’ve heard of this but never managed to join in in England. It was wonderful tp be part of Holi in Nepal – everyone was so friendly and welcoming and it was so much fun! Yes, we were a bit worried that we’d get paint everywhere but the hotel were totally fine and the paint does wash out really easily.

  8. I’ve heard a lot about this festival and have often thought to make sure I’m not there when it happens. I’m not sure how I’d feel about being covered in the coloured powders as it’s never happened to me before. I guess I should just get there and join to see if I enjoy it.
    I’d make sure I had done my sightseeing beforehand though!
    I would have the same reaction in that I would fear getting paint on the hotel towels. Glad the posh hotel people thought nothing of you coming back covered in paint.
    Love the wonderful architecture in your photos.

    • One thing we did notice about the day was that if people didn’t want to take part, they didn’t have to. People were definitely looking out to check that we were happy to take part. Just a shake of the head would ensure that you wouldn’t get covered in powder or squirted with water and no one would take offence. We really, really loved joining in – it was such an inclusive festival and so very happy. As for the architecture, we are sure you would absolutely love Patan and Bhaktapur, they are both sites with a fantastic history and the buildings are astonishing in their design.

  9. You had an incredible adventure attending Holi in Nepal. I was in this country a long time ago, in 2008, and I still dream about returning because it is delightful with its culture, tradition, nature, and people. I would love to take a street photo during this colorful holiday. It’s great to see the most significant monuments, such as Patan or Bhaktapur, during the Holi. I would also like to try Holi food.

    • Thank you so much. Really hope you get to return to Nepal. You’re so right – it really is a delightful country. Holi was just magical, it was such a lovely festival and we had so much fun!

  10. Wow this post is full of colour and fun! From the food to the Holi India I need to visit. In fact I may visit Delhi in the coming months. Your post has inspired me to make the decision even more so. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Thank you. Holi’s description as the festival of colour couldn’t be more apt! We joined in with Holi celebrations in Nepal but it is also celebrated widely in India. Hope you get to make that trip!

  11. This is the 1st time hearing of Holi. It sounds like a blast and I would have been right in their with the children. I could feel the love of the people of Nepal through your post. All cultures should adopt this festival. We need more love, fun, and laughter in the world.

    • Thank you so much! Holi was one of the most fun days we have ever had on our travels. We were totally up for joining in and everyone welcomed us! It’s a particularly great festival for children – it’s called ‘playing Holi’. We would LOVE it if the world adopted this festival – it was so joyful!

  12. I’ve only done a Holi festival in New York City, which only inspired me to experience it abroad. I’m a very silly and extroverted person so spreading color and joy is right up my alley! It just seems like such a fun event, and your post shows that joy! I would also love to try Chatamari!

    • Oh, you would LOVE Holi! It was so happy and joyful. It was one of the best days we’ve ever had on our travels. The chatamari was really delicious – definitely recommended.

  13. I spent Holi in India in the middle of the pandemic in early 2020. I had the opportunity to experience the event without tourists, that is, in a genuine way.
    As you might expect, because of the common history of the two countries, there are many similarities in the celebrations.
    It is a fantastic time, full of color and joy, worth experiencing once in a lifetime!

    • You’re so right about experiencing Holi (at least) once in a lifetime. We had long wanted to see it first hand – and join in! – so were really happy that the timing of our visit coincided with the festival.

  14. Nice to see the Holi tradition takes over other countries and reaches beyond India. I approve! Apologies if I didn’t get this correctly but Holi is then celebrated every month? I love the casualty of it and how it involves everyone, locals, tourists, pets, kids it must have been an incredible bonding experience. When I saw the chatamari I instantly thought “pancakes” (I love them!) and reading on I did not get disappointed. They do them more savoury tho and I have a sweet tooth….pancakes are pancakes after all so yeah I would love to try them.

    Carolin | Solo Travel Story

    • Thank you. Yes, Holi is celebrated across much of the Indian subcontinent, so we were delighted that our trip to Nepal coincided with the festival. It’s such a lovely festival and so inclusive. I think you would love the chatamari – they are basically savoury pancakes. I wonder if they do a sweet version? I will have to investigate.

  15. Holi festival looks like a lot of fun but I’m not sure I could handle the clean-up haha! I love that your hotel was chill with it and that you so kindly tried your best to keep the mess to a minimum; I bet the hotel really appreciated that. Chatamari looks like a delicious dish and that is something I would like to try for sure.

  16. What a fabulous festival, bursting with colour, including the food! That potato curry looks delicious. Light but full flavour?

    Love that you’re mingling with the friendly locals and all wanting to be in the photos. There’s not only repairing relationships here but creating relationships and friendships. Great memories to cherish.

    Fantastic post.

    • Thank you! It was such a fun festival and so lovely that the locals welcomed us so warmly – and colourfully! The potato curry was really nice – we very much enjoyed all the food in Nepal. It was beautifully spiced.

  17. This is so fun. Looks like a great time. I really enjoyed learning a bit more about the festival and the history too as I’ll be honest I didn’t really know much about Holi other than it’s always very colorful. It’s funny how one person making you with paint makes you fair game to everyone doing the same. But who wouldn’t want to take part!

    • Holi was such fun – it was such a special day. To be fair, if we hadn’t wanted to join in, everyone would absolutely have respected that. But who wouldn’t want to join in the fun? We had a blast! Thanks so much for your comment.

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