From Mandu we continued to Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh and one of India’s more pleasant large cities. It was now the eve of Holi, the famous Indian festival where people spend their time throwing paint of all colors on each other. Holi also has a reputation for unruliness and drunkeness, and so we intended spending the festival relaxing in our luxury hotel. We weren’t there for long before we had received an invitation to celebrate Holi with the Rai family, a local family well known in the tourism industry (and with whom I was doing some business). They invited us to their house to celebrate in the safety of their own front yard.
I usually dress up for any kind of religious celebration, and so we changed into clean clothes before setting off for the Rai’s.
When we arrived, we were welcomed with open arms by the whole family and their friends. It was simply the most amazing hospitality that we could imagine. Not only had they prepared an elaborate feast in our honor, but they had also prepared buckets of purple paint! Hardly any time had passed before the kids were purple from head to toe, and I was splashed all over as well! We soon learned that it would be impossible to wash the paint out of our clothes.
Being invited to a local household is always very special. It gives you more insight into local cutlure than any tour ever could, and it is usually totally unplanned and spontaneous, and almost always unforgettable. The kind of experience that no amount of money can hope to buy. After a few very festive hours, we said goodbye as we continued with a planned trip to the Bhimbetka rock shelters, a UNESCO World Heritage site just outside the city that is famous for its prehistoric rock art. Rock art is one of my passions and the site was excellent.
That evening, we met up with the Rai’s again. Despite much scrubbing, we were still purple from head to toe! The Rais took us to Bhopal’s latest pride and joy – the DB City Mall. With a movie multiplex, McDonalds, pizza joints and various international brand name stores, it is the sign that the modern Western world has arrived in Bhopal. Some of our new friends wanted to eat at a pizza place while others wanted to eat typical traditional food. The modern Western world is banging hard on the door of India, but it’s not clear whether everyone wants that door to be open!
Our time in Bhopal had ended up being totally diferent from what we had planned. And we loved it! Truly a highlight of our trip!