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Holi in India – A Guide for Female Travellers [Updated 2024]

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Indian wonam in a purple shawl throwing colourful powder into the air in front of a crowd or people at Holi in India

Known as the festival of colours, Holi in India is a spectacular occasion and should be on every traveller’s wish list. But, it’s not without difficulties, especially for female travellers.

After my visit l a few years ago in Rishikesh, I decided to put together a guide with some of the tips and tricks I picked up – from locals, fellow travellers, and from my own experiences.

This is my guide to Holi in India for female travellers. I hope you find it helpful! Feel free to leave a comment at the end if you have any questions, comments, or tips of your own! Enjoy…

When is Holi in India 2024?

In 2024, Holi will take place on 25th March, with the Holika Dahan festival on the night before, 24th March. This is one of the best world festivals of the year, so if you’re in India at the right time, don’t miss it!

Why is Holi Celebrated in India?

Holi isn’t just a big water fight with coloured powders! Take the time to understand the true meaning of Holi, and be a participant instead of a spectator.

The night before the colour play is Holika Dahan, the more spiritual side of Holi, where a bonfire is burnt to symbolise the triumph of good over evil. This all comes from the legend of Holika and Prahlad.

Close up of a log bonfire burning at night at Holika Dahan in Rishikesh
Bonfire for Holika Dahan

This colour play the next day comes from another legend about the blue-skinned god Krishna and his love for fair-skinned Radha. Krishna despaired that his blue skin would stop Radha loving him, so his mother told him to colour her face using jets of water. He did, making them equals, and the pair became a couple.

Read more: Find out all about Holi here and in my post about the festival in Rishikesh

Where to Go for Holi in India

If you want the Holi experience you’ve seen in the photographs then you need to choose where you go carefully. It’s not the same all across India.

Some places have huge celebrations, while in other towns it’s a small event that’s all over by midday, and others don’t celebrate at all. These are a few of the best places to see Holi in India…

Holi in Delhi

From what I hear from other travellers, Delhi has a jubilant celebration, but you might need to head to a specific event to get the biggest and brightest experience. Some people I spoke to said that most of the events were just organised for tourists, though, so there’s a chance this won’t feel like the most “authentic” experience. 

RELATED POST: Top Things to do in Delhi

Holi in Rishikesh

This is where I was last year, and it’s considered to be one of the best places to celebrate Holi in India. A holy city, Rishikesh has a huge celebration with a welcoming and fun atmosphere.

It’s also quite a small city – so the colour play and water fight take over almost the whole place! Read more about my experience here.

Aerial shot looking down at an indian man covered in paint standing in a courtyard where the concrete floor is splattered with different coloured paint.

Holi in Varanasi

The spiritual capital of India, Varanasi is another great place to have a more “authentic” and more spiritual Holi experience. But that’s not to say there won’t be plenty of fun, too.

Holi in Mumbai

My friend Tay has celebrated Holi in Mumbai and says it’s crazy, with celebrations all over the city. “The streets were full of people, mainly in the morning – men selling coloured paint powder from stalls and people dressed up in zombie outfits and riding past on bikes and throwing powder at each other.”

Holi Safety Tips for Solo Female Travellers in India

Close up of a woman's face, she has white skin and short brown hair and is smiling at the camera, and her face and hair are covered with different coloured paint. Girl's Guide to Holi

Unfortunately, being a girl in India (especially a foreign girl) can lead to quite a bit of unwanted attention.

During Holi, when the streets are crowded and everyone is fired up, there are sadly a few men who use this opportunity to attempt sexual harassment. For the most part, this is pretty mild, but it can put a downer on an otherwise fun day.

People from smaller villages and rural areas often come to the larger cities for Holi, and some of them have never seen a foreign woman before. Unfortunately, some Indian men have the wrong idea about Western girls and will go for a boob grab, bum pinch, or even a kiss if they see a chance.

It’s annoying, but I think it stems more from a lack of education rather than a place of aggression. Be firm and forceful with your rejection and move away as quickly as possible. It’s best to avoid too much confrontation. Be careful, stay in populated areas, and only go to places where you can see local women celebrating too.

Here are a few more tips for solo female travellers heading to Holi…

1. Go with a group

Find a group to hang out with, preferably one with a few boys in it. I was staying at Bunk Stay Hostel in Rishikesh, and most of us went out into the streets together. Try not to get separated and don’t go off on your own.

Normally, I hate giving the advice “stick with boys” to a solo female traveller as I think we should feel empowered to be independent. But this is a bit of an extreme case, and it is definitely easier if you’re part of a mixed group.

2. Expect lots of hugs (but take care)

There’s a lot of hugging during Holi. Mostly, it’s a sign of welcoming and togetherness. But some guys get a little too enthusiastic. My advice is to avoid hugging men, and push them away if you don’t feel comfortable.

3. Dress appropriately

There’ll be more on this in a second, but the best way to avoid being groped is to dress well. Cover up as much as possible and avoid clingy or revealing clothes. And remember that white clothing will likely go see-through once it’s wet, so layer up!

Please note that I’m NOT suggesting that what a girl wears can lead to sexual harassment. But India is a fairly reserved country and Holi is a religious festival, so it’s important to be respectful. And it’s a good idea to avoid attracting any more attention than you already will.

4. Try padding!

By coincidence, I happened to be wearing a very padded sports bra because it was the only bra I didn’t mind getting dirty.

As it happened, this was so thickly padded and rigidly supportive that anyone who was groping me didn’t really get to feel anything! If you don’t want to have your boobs squeezed, strap them away behind a thick sports bra (I was wearing the Panache Wired Sports Bra) and you’ll have an extra layer of protection!

5. Steer clear of bhang

If you haven’t tried it before, I’d advise you to steer clear of bhang on Holi. Bhang is an edible form of Cannabis and is popularly served in the form of Bhang Lassi or as snacks like bhang pakoras.

It can have mixed results and affects some people quite strongly – or it could just make you fall asleep, causing you to miss the fun of the day. If you’re not sure – steer clear. And if you do take bhang, remember it can be pretty slow to take effect, so wait a while before deciding you need another lassi!

(Thanks to Desi Traveler for this tip.)

6. Get Involved!

Please don’t take the above warnings too extremely – the few gropes I experienced were not enough to ruin my day or make me think that solo female travellers should avoid Holi.

It’s not dangerous, but there are dangers out there – so you need to be aware and take precautions. Definitely go to Holi if you get the chance, throw yourself into the celebration, meet locals, and have fun. It’s an incredible occasion and one that should not be missed.

Group of men and women standing close together and throwing different coloured powders into the air at Holi.
It’s a great idea to experience Holi as part of a group.

What to Wear for Holi in India

As mentioned above, it’s important to dress appropriately for Holi. Not just to avoid attracting unwanted attention, but also to avoid having your clothes ruined or feeling uncomfortable. These are a few of my tips on what to wear for Holi…

Wear white. On Holi, it’s traditional to wear white, mostly because this way the colours will show up best. Many shops will sell white clothes in the run-up to Holi, including cheap second-hand stuff so you don’t mind it being destroyed.

For a traditional look, purchase a white shalwar kameez; a long tunic style shirt with baggy pyjama-like trousers. Or team a long, embroidered white kurta (a tunic-style dress) with leggings.

Group of men and women huddled together on a roof terrace for a photo, there is a view of a tree covered hill behing, and everyone is wearing white. Holi India survival tips

Your clothes will probably be destroyed! So don’t wear anything, even underwear, that you particularly care about.

Cover up. Be respectful of local culture by keeping your shoulders and legs covered.

Cotton is the best choice of material since it’s breathable and lightweight.

Avoid clingy or transparent clothes. And remember that white has a tendency to go see-through when wet, so pop a vest top underneath.

The Best Clothes for Holi

Close up of a white woman's face covered in different coloured paint, she is wearing a hewadscarf and kaftan that have been stained pink and orange by the dye.
A headscarf and an embroidered kameez makes the perfect Holi outfit
  1. Kameez or kurta in white cotton. Loose-fitting and preferably with long sleeves. The more skin you cover, the less chance of staining!
  2. Long shalwar trousers or white leggings.
  3. Vest top.
  4. Rubber flip-flops (the cheap bathroom kind) are the best footwear for Holi. Avoid leather, which stains easily. Check out a few of my comfy flip flop recommendations for some ideas.
  5. Sports bra (as mentioned in the section above).
  6. Sunglasses or swimming goggles to protect your eyes.
  7. Headscarf.

How to Protect Your Hair at Holi

The powders and dyes thrown around during Holi can stain, big time, especially if you have lighter or blonde hair. Mine was very light bleached blonde when I attended Holi in Rishikesh and I was really scared of staining – but I managed to come away unscathed thanks to three layers of protection. Here’s how I did it:

Layer One: Oil

Yes, it’s gross, and yes, you’ll probably look like you’ve wandered off the set of an am-dram Greece production, but I promise it’s worth it. Slick your hair back with a nice, thick layer of oil and the dye just won’t stick to it.

I used coconut oil and it worked like a charm, so that’s what I’d recommend. But you could also use hair serum, leave-in conditioner, olive oil, Vaseline, or basically anything else that you have to hand! It’s also worth coating your hairline with a line of Vaseline to add an extra layer of protection here, in case the next two layers slip out of place slightly.

Emily standing next to a man on a roof terrace with a wooded hillside behind, both are wearing loose long sleeved tops stained purple and red by paint and both have multicoloured paint all over their faces. Emily is also wearing a headscarf stained in many different colours.
Not my best look ever, but at least my hair survived!

Layer Two: Shower Cap

Not winning any fashion awards at Holi, was I? Next on my head was a cheap shower cap which I picked up from a nearby pharmacy. Not particularly attractive, but it did the job!

Layer Three: Headscarf

Last but not least, I hid it all with a nice, white headscarf. You can tie it in different ways to make the look a little more stylish, and opt for one with a pattern or a bit of colour if you prefer.

But I recommend you completely cover your hair with it. Tie it well, because mine came undone throughout the day and wound up looking like the mess you see in the above picture!

Crowd of men and woman throwing bright yellow and turquoise paint into the air at Holi in India

All this might sound a little overcautious, but I know people who still had pink bits in their hair several weeks – even months – after Holi. If you have blonde hair it’s especially important to cover it up, unless you don’t mind waiting for a multicoloured mess to grow out!

Holi Skin Care Tips

Unfortunately, a lot of the colours thrown at Holi are cheap, chemical-filled dyes that can be pretty bad for your skin. So it’s worth taking a few steps to protect yourself…

Buy organic colours. Not everyone will, but at least you can.

Don’t wear makeup. Especially because you’re about to get soaked and have it all washed off anyway.

Moisturise. Most local ladies use a light layer of oil to moisturise their skin before Holi, as this stops a lot of the colour from sticking.

Wear suncream. On top of the moisturiser or oil, apply waterproof suncream all over.

Wash off the colours immediately after Holi to reduce contact time. Try to avoid soap and instead use a gentle cleanser, in case there is any reaction with the chemicals.

Close up of an Indian woman's hands palms-up covered in red, green, yellow and blue powder

How to Protect your Lips

Your lips can get stained more easily, so use a good moisturiser or some Vaseline to keep them protected. Top it up throughout the day.

Protect your Nails

Again, nails tend to stain more easily. My fingernails were still multi-coloured weeks later. Paint your finger and toenails a dark colour to keep them protected, and remove it after Holi for clean, untarnished nails.

Protect your Eyes from Holi Colours

Wear sunglasses to keep your eyes protected from the dyes which will be flying everywhere. If you wear contact lenses, note that these are semi-permeable so they won’t protect your eyes. A pair of sunglasses will do the trick, but they’re not perfect. Buy cheap ones you don’t mind ruining – mine are still stained!

If you really want to avoid getting nasty chemicals in your eyes, you could wear swimming goggles. It might feel pretty dorky – but I promise you won’t be the only one!

How to Protect Your Stuff During Holi

Honestly, the best way to protect your stuff during Holi is to leave all of it behind. Unfortunately, crowded events like Holi can attract pickpockets and thieves, so there’s a chance you could lose your valuables – especially if you’re drinking or taking bhang with the locals.

Plus, there’s a lot of water and paint being thrown around – even journalists carrying expensive cameras weren’t safe. So, leave anything you don’t need at home and avoid wearing jewellery.

I took a small tote bag (one I didn’t mind throwing away) with a small amount of cash and a bottle of water. If you have a GoPro or waterproof phone case you can take that, but keep it attached by a wrist or neck strap and be very careful of it.

Some people wrapped their DSLR’s up in plastic bags, but personally, I don’t think it’s worth it. There’s always someone who won’t hesitate to empty a bucket of water on you, camera or no camera.

If you want to be extra careful of your valuables, you could use an anti-theft bag with slash-proof straps and a lockable zip.

READ MORE: 7 tips to avoid being robbed while travelling

Taking Photos at Holi

If you really want to take some photos without destroying your camera, do it from somewhere high. Lean out your hotel window, or better still, from a roof terrace, to get some street shots. Avoid taking your camera down to street level unless you have some very good protective gear.

Have you been to Holi in India? Scroll down to share your tips in the comments and help your fellow travellers out. 

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Close up of a woman's face, she has white skin and short brown hair and is smiling at the camera, and her face and hair are covered with different coloured paint. The text over the image reads: Girl's Guide to Holi in India

10 thoughts on “Holi in India – A Guide for Female Travellers [Updated 2024]”

  1. This is by far the best article about Holi in India, all the points you mention are true and if followed will lead to a great Holi experience. I would normally advise to stay away from Bhang on holi as you never know how it will impact you ( i have never tried it but have seen folks acting strange after consuming even one glass )

  2. NIce article about Holi in India . One tip that I would provide is to stay away from public Holi celebrations if you are a traveler of a foreigner. Celebrate holi only with people known to you

    1. Thanks for commenting Iris, but I have to say I disagree. I was a foreigner (white British, blonde, and female) travelling in Rishikesh with my (white Australian) friend and we had no problems. I would perhaps say to avoid the main celebrations if you’re alone, especially if you’re alone, but if you have a friend or two with you it is fine and a good way to explore local culture.

  3. Why not just ditch the armored bra and go for outright armour (just like a medieval knight)? That way the pervy indian who grabbed you wouldn’t get to add you the tally of boobs he’s grabbed lol

    1. Well that would serve any perverts right – but I’d rather not let a really tiny minority of idiots ruin my day, or control what I feel like I should wear. I stood up to a few of the guys that tried it (any time I was able to, really) – maybe next time they’ll think twice before doing it again!

  4. Thanks for the detailed guide, even to the extent of recommending bra purchases LOL).

    We’re in Sri Lanka at the moment and are planning to go to India in a week. Having read many reports of groping, sexual assaults and robberies, we’re hesitant to go but are determined to experience the local indian culture to fullest. Whats the best public place in india to go where we could avoid the really bad stuff and be in company of fellow westerners?

    Also, is there a particular brand/type of dyes to buy in order to avoid toxic chemicals?

    1. Hi Gabbby! Thanks for reading – I hope it helped a bit!

      I think there are several brands that sell chemical-free holi dyes, Satavic is one that comes up top on Google. But the problem is that everyone in the crowd is throwing dyes and powders so you can’t really avoid the chemical ones getting on you. I really recommend just slathering vaseline on your uncovered skin and hoping most of it washes out!

      My only experience is in Rishikesh – but I really recommend it as a place for Holi as it’s such an amazing event. I had no problems there other than a couple of guys being a little bit too handsy, as mentioned in the post. I left ALL my valuables locked up at the hostel to avoid robberies. It’s a super busy event and I think that any place where the celebrations are good, the crowds will also be very thick. There were lots of other tourists there and we met a big group at our hostel, so we had lots of company, but also went out and got into the thick of it with the locals! I don’t know what you mean by avoiding the “really bad stuff” – I think any event anywhere in the world that is very busy and crowded will attract things like pickpockets. But there were police around at the Rishikesh celebrations, and like 99.9999999% of all the locals there were just lovely, friendly, welcoming people. Just take precautions and go in with an open mind, and enjoy it :)

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