Today, AlaskanKangaroo's Beth blogs over on Novel Adventurers (http://noveladventurers.blogspot.com/) about a festival that we came across by accident when traveling through the minority villages of southern Guizhou Province, back in 2009. 

If you've got time, take a look both at Beth's post, and also at the other posts written by the site's bloggers. They're all novelists who love travel--and, of course, adventure--and they tell great stories there every weekday.

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Scaring away spirits with firecrackers.
 
Just when the West thinks it's all over for the holidays until next year (with the exception of a card for Valentine's Day or a good Halloween party), Asia is gearing up for Lunar New Year. Called by various names like Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, this holiday signals renewal, rebirth and another chance at a lucky year. This Monday will begin the Year of the Dragon, and, as usual, decorators nation-wide (well, probably continent-wide) are going nuts for Dragons. 

I've found the debate in the China Daily newspaper over whether Chinese dragons should be fierce or cute to be very interesting. Here's some more links if you'd like to check them out.http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2012-01/18/content_14465416.htm, and  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-16422945

Also, near our apartment, the city has set up its yearly Flower Street, where entrepreneurs and school groups man booths to sell flowers and trinkets to people before the New Year. Prices were high when we checked out the street on Thursday.  If there are any left, we may go back when the street is winding up on Monday and buy some jonquils and chyrsanthemums for half price.

Happy Chinese New Year! 新年快乐!


 
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A Purple Guerrilla
Pink.

It doesn't look good on me, but it sure looks nice on Jaipur.

We've entered Rajasthan, the Indian state known for having cities referred to by their color. There's Jaipur, the Pink City. Udaipur, the White City. Jodhpur, the Blue City.

 Jaipur's not Barbie pink, not bubble gum either. This venerable old city's walls are painted a dusky rose, a dusty warm color striking against the blue, cloudless Indian sky. Pink is the color of hospitality, and the paint evidently works as a good-luck charm for the tourism industry, turning it into one of the top destinations in India.

And, just when we thought India couldn't get any more vibrant, we ended up here during the most colorful time of year--for Holi, the Festival of Color.

Meant to welcome spring, Holi occurs on the full moon of the third Hindu month, March 1st this year. As the name suggests, it's celebrated with color.

 Literally, color. Dye. Paint. Colored water.

Children (and young men, it turns out) take colored powders, mix them with a little water and smear them all over each other. Bags of dusty paint are upended over people's heads, super-soaker water guns double as high-powered paint cannons, and just a plain old bucket of water turns into a blue bath for your favorite neighbor.

Turning friends, family (and tourists) into human Easter eggs is a tradition started before the common era. In the Hindu epic the Mahabharata Krishna  tosses some dye on his lover Radha. Hilarity has ensued to the present day. We saw ancient paintings in the National Museum showing maharajahs and their courtiers dumping paint on each other. What a fun idea for a holiday!

The reality is a little more intimidating. The party kicked off at sunset last night, when bonfires were lit on the streets celebrating a legendary hero's walk through fire. It's a family holiday, but watching people maneuver ladles full of coals through crowds and boys take burning sticks and zoom off on motorbikes, sparks trailing behind them, makes me a little fire-shy.

This morning, the primary school kids we saw from our hotel's rooftop were having a blast soaking each other in paint and screaming and running. It was like a big paintball game without any teams.

But later, the young men walking by with two-pound bags of powder were looking for mischief, and we've stayed near the hotel today.

Nevertheless, leaving for the restaurant next door we didn't run fast enough and got sprayed with, what else? Pink paint in the Pink City.

**Click here to see our photos from Holi!**

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Soaked!
 
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Pink dancing elephants?

Nope, we're not drunk.

It's the annual Jaipur Elephant Festival, put on by the Rajasthan Tourism Department the day before Holi, the spring Hindu festival of colors.

Elephant owners day-glo paint up their pachyderms, varnish their huge toenails, give them crowns of beaten silver, anklets, velvet blankets and drape them with garlands of flowers (edible jewelry!). Then, they parade through the Chaugan Stadium for an elephantine beauty contest, a quick game of Jumbo football and a heck of a lot of photo-taking.

We got to the stadium, which the Jaipur Maharajahs use to play polo, three hours before the festival starting time because we'd heard that getting a spot in the shade was tough. What an understatement.

There were only five or six people there when we arrived, but by an hour to show time all the seats were taken and people meandered around optimistically, searching for a magically vacant chair. Before the rush though, we got out to the elephant beauty parlor being conducted in the alleys around the stadium entrance.

Teams of men coaxed, pushed and prodded their huge pets into standing still while they carefully outlined drawings on their rough, grey skin. Flowers were popular motifs, though some drew stars, flags and lions too.

Back at the stadium a group of women in sparkly saris tossed rose petals on the foreigners arriving (strangely, Indians were seated in a different section) and daubed paint on their foreheads. The MC arrived and started playing loud Holi-themed music. There seem only to be four songs about Holi in the Indian repertoire, and we heard them each about 600 times. Finally got that bad Kesha song out of our heads, though.

The crowd was fairly quiescent during the start of the festival, but since there weren't enough chairs, it was a natural progression from wandering around to find a place to sit to wandering out onto the festival ground to get a better look at the gorgeous elephants and the twirling dancers that accompanied them. The police working the festival, though they'd been rigorous about chasing stray dogs, beggars and kids off of the stadium ground and away from the foreign guests (which included diplomats from Malawi, Botswana and the "Republic of Dominican"), seemed reluctant to tell tourists to get back to the designated seating area.

Despite the MC's increasingly hysterical pleas and admonitions to "please sit down", the arena slowly filled up with people wanting to get up close to the elephants. Soon the seats we'd so jealously guarded for hours now were redundant and we took off for the field as well.

There was a small scare when the elephants playing football started to charge toward the milling crowd, but no one was trampled. It got chaotic, but it was fun.

Next year, the tourism department would do well to make an additional standing or floor-sitting area for tourists, and to wrap up the official part of the festival early so people can go do what they obviously really want to do--go get their portrait taken with an elephant.


**Click here to see our photos of the Elephant Festival!**