The streets were deserted, the shops closed. A lone pedestrian hurried down the street, anxiously glancing upwards as if looking for some unknown threat. Street corners were crowded with heavily armed riot police in lightning blue urban camouflage. The police eyeballed all who approached the large collection of small stalls which had been set up in and around the alleys crisscrossing Thamel, the beating heart of Kathmandu's backpacker scene. Unable to stand the tension any longer I gathered together a small group of foreigners from my guesthouse and ventured out towards the stalls. Hundreds of packets of dry paint in various shades and sizes lay scattered across the tables and it didn't take us long to buy a dozen packets between us. A Nepalese journalist was instantly upon us and, with a camera shoved in our general direction, we were encouraged to begin.
I was the first to crack. Ripping open a packet of blood red paint, I grabbed a handful of the powder and smashed it down onto my friends head. Within seconds paints of all colors were being thrown around our small group. Hordes of excited Nepalese materialized out of nowhere and pelted us with neon yellows, pinks and greens. Water pistols were drawn from undercoats and instantly we were soaked; the paint running down our faces and into our clothes. Upon a wave of color we marched into town, our group becoming larger every minute.
Hundreds of people were in the open now, shouting, laughing and soaking each other. Water bombs and buckets full of water rained down from the taller buildings as the police tried desperately to stop the Nepalese specifically singling out foreigners for the most extreme soakings. Shouts of "Happy Holi" echoed around the vibrant, prayer flag covered streets as crowds from differing directions met with a clash of color and smeared fresh paint on faces, clothes and hair. Without warning someone grabbed me from behind and I whirled around expecting a curious local. Instead I found a friend I had last seen in India! Grinning broadly with multicolored streaks covering his beard and hair he grabbed me in a bear hug as we followed the jubilant crowds of Nepalese towards the city center.
The sounds of music brought us into the main square. A DJ covered in metallic silver and glittering gold paint had drawn a crowd of hundreds. Within minutes this had swollen to thousands. With 'Rage against the Machine' firing up the crowd, a huge mosh pit emerged as people shoved and pushed good-naturedly and threw huge handfuls of paint into the air. The whole of Kathmandu had gone crazy. Suddenly the crowd was moving backwards, straining to get away from something. A fire engine burst through our midst as people scrambled desperately to get out of the way. Somehow no one was hurt. Instantly the party resumed as two heavily muscled firemen mounted the top of the engine and alternated between trying to fend off furious barrages of water balloons and attempting to unravel a hose.