About Sherry Ott

Sherry Ott

Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of http://www.briefcasetobackpack.com, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice. She posts over on https://plus.google.com/103115118174711820529/posts as well.

Additionally, she runs an around the world travel blog writing about her travel and expat adventures at http://www.ottsworld.com.com.

Latest Posts by Sherry Ott

Traveling 2,000 Miles Across India in a Rickshaw

April 22, 2014 by  


I’m traveling 2,000 miles through India by motorized rickshaw, raising $15,000 for charity. Early on in this 2,000 mile Rickshaw Run, we accomplished what we set out to do for the day — travel 380 km today starting at 5:20 AM, starting with loading up the rickshaws before the sun was up.

We have discovered that driving early in the morning is by far the best time to be on the road. After around 8 AM, the chaos ensues.

roti for breakfast on the rickshaw run

This gas station treated us to chai served in pretty teacups!

chai tea on the side of the road during the rickshaw run in India

It wasn’t very exciting driving – and we took fewer breaks. Making it into the town of Srikakulam and promptly pulling into a Rickshaw service and dealership to give the 3 rickshaws some TLC – oil change, air filter, and other minor fixes needed.

Thanks to our increasing lack of sleep we have learned how to nap in the back seat (something I thought would be impossible). It’s cramped, SO loud, and smells like petrol, but when you are really tired you will sleep anywhere – including the 2 very budget hotels we stayed in the past 2 nights.

The constant engine noise is getting to me – both from our own rickshaw and also from the tons of traffic around us. I think I’ll be happy when we get off the highway again and things are a bit slower paced – but until then we are making good time – finally. And we even get a number of people who think we are a real rickshaw and try to flag us down to get a ride!

ferry ride on the rickshaw run

Put the rickshaws on a ferry today for a 30 minute ride. Did a great morning drive through little villages and wetlands. We lost sometimebutitwas worth Otto get of that mind numbing highways for a bit!

luxury on the richshaw run

A little luxury at our halfway point in the Rickshaw Run - most nights we are in bug ridden dive rooms so this is a pretty nice change of pace. Plus it was out first glimpse of the Bay of Bengal!

nice hotel stay on the rickshaw run

Oh the hotels just keep getting nicer and nicer. Our bathroom tonight.

rickshaw repairs

It was not a stellar day for the Rickshaw. We were doing great after our service stop yesterday and then at 11am it all fell apart. We think one of the screw was tightened too tight and after the bad bass this morning it showered the piece of aluminum that apparently holds on stuff important to the fuel line – we lost power and proceeded to spend the next 3 hrs trying to get it fixed. We decided to call it a day all feeling defeated and checked ourselves into a luxury resort on the beach.

The next day was a roller coaster day. We crossed over into the state of Orissa today – a state where there are many charity: water projects completed. We aren’t sure yet if we’ll have time to stop and see any of them or not.

We had big plans for our progress today after our service the night before. However after about 160 km our rickshaw decided to poop out thanks to a broken part which meant a screwed up throttle.

What probably should have been a quick fix turned into a very long fix and a complete change of plans on our part. After being stuck in mechanical repair hell for 3 hours (missing any lunch), and taking a nap on the concrete while the hordes of mechanic want-to-be young boys tried to fix our rickshaw sort of successfully, we decided to simply call ‘uncle’ and check ourselves into a seaside resort.

We still have some rickshaw issues and tuning to do – hopefully Pete get those sorted out pretty quickly tomorrow so we can get on the road. I’m also on day 7 of a headache which is driving me batty…I mean really batty. I still wonder if we will make it by the 19th, but there’s really no way to tell.

After a week we’ve all become quite accustomed to sitting somewhere and having a crowd of people surround you to stare at you. I’m so fascinated with the concept of personal space and privacy here in India. At one extreme, people take their morning constitution right on the shoulder of the highway just watching the traffic go by. However it also takes the form of people simply staring at you. Or surrounding you just to look at you and your rickshaw. And everyone wants to shake your hand.

This last week I think I’ve done more handshaking than a politician running for office. Toll booth attendants come running out of their booths just to wave at us as we pass by in the free lane. I’ve never been to a country where we are so much of a spectacle. Incredible India.

storm clouds on the Rickshaw run

Had to drive through our first big storm tonight at sunset. Got pitch dark, windy, rain, thunder and lightening strikes. We went slow and came out the other side rather wet and cold.

A young girl dressed in white on the ferry.

young Indian girl dressed in white on the rickshaw run

After about a week, I learned how to drive through a herd of cows today. I also learned that cows don’t really care about horns. We took some small back roads today that put us back into the India I love – little villages and towns.

These were dotted along marshland, which meant the views were fabulous. At the end of the road we waited for a ferry and resumed back roads on the other side. Since that took a major amount of time, then we pointed towards the highway again to make up time.

After we made our last stop for gas and agreed upon a final destination – the storm settled in above us. Not just a storm – but a monsoon! Charlie drove and I tried to keep the stuff in the back dry, not blow away, and get photos and video of the ridiculous lightening and clouds hovering above us.

I never thought I would be cold in India – especially after dealing with the sweltering heat every afternoon, however with the rainstorm came a drop in temperature to downright chilly. There was no way to stay dry in the rickshaw – but luckily we don’t melt.

cows surround the richshaws in India

Cows surround our rickshaws.


The Art of Making Poi in Kauai

April 21, 2014 by  


taro field hawaii

“I’ve been coming to poi day since 2001, “ his eyes crinkled in a smile as he fiddled with his fishing net, “I like to come meet people and talk story.” Charlie said.


‘Uncle’ Charlie was one of many old timers I met who showed up every Thursday to make poi as part of a tight knit ohana (family in Hawaiian) at Waipa ahupua‘a.  However the 84 year old seemed much more interested in showing off his fishing net skills rather than making poi, but his son was working hard at ensuring the poi was processed and more than doing the work of two people.

Charlie’s son wasn’t alone, I looked around and saw a mix of Hawaiian old timers, young men, middle age women, and a smattering of twenty-something students. The crowd of poi makers were made up of local people from Kauai and a few mainland part time residents.

And then there was me, a visiting tourist looking for unique experiences in Hawaii; I definitely found it.

fishing net

‘Uncle’ Charlie demonstrating how he makes fishing net after the poi work is done.

What is Poi?

Poi is a Hawaiian dish made from the fermented root of the taro plant, which has been baked and pounded to a paste. It sort of looks like a purple, sticky taffy – but it tastes more like a bland paste. Fresh poi is slightly sweet and edible all by itself. Each day thereafter the poi loses sweetness and turns slightly sour, due to a natural fermentation. According to the old timers I spoke to, the more it sits and sours, the better it is. Hawaiians often eat it with meats and fish.

This is a unique food to Hawaii only – you won’t find it anywhere else. However, the average age of taro farmer is 60, the farming of taro is literally dying off and it’s not showing signs of expanding.

Waipa Foundation

The goal of Waipa Foundation is cultural preservation. It’s been around since 1982 and has a nonprofit status. It exists to sustain cultural food and farming heritage in the area. Specifically this centers around taro and the ahupua`a (native Hawaiian land divisions) as an example of healthy interdependent relationships between people and earth’s natural resources. Poi making is just one of their programs.

The Foundation works with local taro farmers who produce the purple root plant, and purchase it from them at competitive rates. They then turn around and make poi thanks to the help of volunteers every Thursday and then distribute it out across the island to locals at cost; keeping the poi heritage alive. The foundation also participates actively in the local farmer’s markets and they hold school programs and various lectures for the community.

Waipa is able to put forth these efforts because it’s funded by the King Kamehameha Foundation (similar to another Hawaii farm I recently wrote about on Oahu )

Waipa farm

Waipa farm where we made the poi

The Poi Day Process

Every Wednesday the big taro roots are cooked in huge metal barrels by a wood fire to soften them with steam. Then on poi day (Thursday), the soft taro roots are brought out in large big bins of water for peeling. When you arrive they give you a butter knife and a seat around a big barrel of water soaked taro along with other volunteers. It’s messy and sort of gross and slimy, but rather simple work.

It’s so simple that it allows and encourages you to get to know the people you are sitting around. Not only is Waipa preserving poi making, but they are also preserving the art of visiting. I met Uncle Charlie who makes fishnets by hand, as well as a number of other old guys who had been coming to poi day for 2 months and some for 12 years. The volunteers were retired teachers, Vietnam vets, research students, housewives, and generally came from all walks of life. We all bonded over peeling taro and water-soaked, wrinkled fingers. There were no smartphones or distractions – just hard labor and people to ‘talk story’ with.

taro peeling

Peeling taro and talking story.


The finished product – a buck of peeled taro ready for pressing

As we peeled the taro, other volunteers took it and started processing it into poi via a grinder. It was put through the grinder multiple times and water added for it to get to the desired sticky smooth consistency. Another group of women started bagging the gooey poi into small bags to be distributed around the island. It was a well organized manufacturing line that produces 1000 pounds of poi every Thursday. It is then distributed by volunteers around the island and sold for $3 a pound (half the going price) and sell to seniors for $1/pound.

poi making hawaii

Making taro into poi requires water, patience, and a big press.

poi kauai

Volunteers then bag up the sticky poi paste and it gets distributed

Taking Care of the Ohana

After all of the manual work, it’s time to celebrate. Plan to stay for lunch as it’s was my favorite part of the whole experience! The volunteers are fed a lunch feast every Thursday for helping, and it’s not a skimpy! We had stew, salad, rolls, rice, fruit, brownies, and of course poi for lunch.

But first, all of the volunteers gathered around in a circle and introduced each other and told everyone where they were from, an elder said grace, and we all reveled in our poi production. As I stood in the circle listening to people introduce themselves, I felt so lucky to really become a part of Kauai and not simply look from a tourist distance. Being there with people doing something worthwhile and learning about the island and a culinary specialty was better than any tour I ever could have taken.

Clearly the future for poi is looking bright at Waipa, and in addition to rolling up your sleeves and getting involved with poi day, there are many more tourism activities coming in the future so stay tuned.

I walked away from my experience at poi day having made some new local friends, a better understanding of the farming practices on the island, a totally unique travel experience to share, a full stomach, wrinkled water-logged fingers, and a big bag of freshly made poi. I had so much fun that I honestly was a bit leery of even sharing this Kauai find in fear of it becoming overrun. But Stacy Sproat-Beck, the executive director of the foundation, assured me they can always use the extra hands at Poi Day!

poi making hawaii

A group of tourists/kids are in awe of how poi is made. And they even loved the taste too!


Taking in the Magic of Kauai by Helicopter

April 17, 2014 by  


Helicopter Kauai 7

A thick forest of trees below.

Being on the ground hiking and beach-combing in Kauai is great – but nothing beats taking to the air to see this lush island in it’s entirety.  Based on the number of helicopters I saw taking off and landing (a steady stream on a nice day), seeing the Garden Isle by air is the most popular activity in Kauai.

Kauai helicopter trees

There are parts of the island you can only see by helicopter, and if you are a waterfall lover, then you won’t be disappointed.  Kauai is one of the wettest spots on earth, with an annual average rainfall of 460 inches.  The frequent rains are what make this island spectacular and lush.  The rainfall has eroded deep valleys in the central mountains, carving out canyons with many, many waterfalls. At approximately $250, it is also one of the more expensive things you can do on the island.  However as someone who loves photography and getting new perspectives, I felt like it was worth it for me to get the shots I wanted.

Helicopter Photography Tips

Kauai helicopter photography can be tricky, but I do have a few recommendations based on my experience.  The doors off experience was great for photography eliminating any glare that you normally get shooting out of windows – choose this option if you can.  If you are using a DSLR – know that you can only choose one lens/body to take along as they don’t allow you do have anything that is not strapped to you in some way and changing lenses during the doors off experience is not an option.

I used my 17-55mm, shot in RAW format and simply cropped in when I needed to in post processing.  One other thing to consider is to shoot in shutter priority around 1/500th.  Any slower than that you you are bound to get shake from the vibration and movement of the helicopter – especially with the added effect of the doors off.

Overall the experience was louder, colder, and windier than normal so be prepared.  However I was able to get a variety of photos that I was happy with showcasing the diversity of the island – from it’s rugged coast to the farmlands, canyons, and craters.

Helicopter Kauai 15

Helicopter Kauai 6

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helicopter 2

helicopter 1

Helicopter Kauai 1

Helicopter Kauai 20

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Helicopter Kauai 3

Helicopter Kauai 2


The post Kauai From Above appeared first on Ottsworld Unique Travel Experiences.

Behind the Camera at Holi, India’s Colorful Spring Hindu Festival

April 16, 2014 by  


Camera  protection Holi

Holi is the colorful spring Hindu festival which is a photographers dream and nightmare at the same time. Colored powder and water are thrown and painted on people which is beautiful to photograph, but also concerning from a gear standpoint.

Aas much fun as it is to participate, I was there to take pictures too. Here are a few tips if you are attending Holi to take pictures with a DSLR.

Cover Your Camera

I used a LensCoat Raincoat to protect my Canon 60D. I secured it with duct tape so that I could zoom in and out easily. The only issue is that it’s not see-through material – so I had to shoot blindly for part of the time. You can also use a clear plastic bag and wraps which solves the issue of being able to see, however it is a less easy to zoom depending on the size of your lens and potentially not as durable as the Raincoat. Some didn’t use anything and just planned on doing a thorough cleaning afterwards such as an air gun/compressor.  This strategy can work as long as you can avoid the colored water.

Don’t Open/Change Anything!

Pick one lens and don’t change it out. Same goes for batteries and SD card. Do not open that camera body at all! Some photographers solved the lens problem by simply bringing two cameras. Something I don’t have the luxury of doing. I shot with my 17 to 55mm in a RAW format and knew that I would just plan on cropping in on the shots in order to get closer, zoomed in images.

Shoot in a Mode You are Comfortable With

Don’t plan on fiddling around with manual settings unless you are a pro at it. Do test shots first and ensure you have your ISO, aperture, metering, focal point set as much as you can for each Holi situation you walk into before you walk into it. Then just keep those settings and fire rapidly. I set mine on Aperture Priority and shot away not worrying about the shutter speed since I was mainly shooting in outdoor lighting conditions that weren’t changing.

Get Up High

Images showing the powder and playing from above are always great. I saw many people standing on chairs and shooting from balconies whenever possible.

Don’t Forget the Details

Get some detailed shots too of the makings of Holi, not just the people but the materials.

Ask to Take People’s Picture

This is not a holiday to be shy. It’s so easy to ask people to take their Holi photo – they love showing off their colors! Ensure you get those great close up portraits. And return the favor and agree to be in other people’s photographs!

Go Out For a Ride

Hire a rickshaw or car to drive you around – it’s a great way to see capture all of the action on the streets. You can cover a lot more ground than walking and keep valuables protected if you want to walk around an area for a bit.

Are you a photographer who has been to Holi? Do you have any tips to add?

Here were some of my results from Holi 2014 Jaipur

Kids Holi

Kids play Holi

holi 2014

A very pink thumbs up!

Holi with Locals

Celebrating with locals

holi powder

Remember the details!

playing holi

Playing Holi


Driving around the streets to capture Holi revelers in motion

holi powder

Bags of powder – colorful details!

playing holi

Playing Holi

holi powder

Reloading powder supplies!  Change perspectives to mix up your shots.

colored hair holi

Colorful hair and new perspectives

Capture the action!

Capture the action!

Holi photo post 12

Shades of Purple – ask people to take their photo

Holi photo post 6

Locals crowd into a small bus to keep on partying




Adventure Travel & Night Photography Tips

April 14, 2014 by  


night photography kauai

When I came across the Kauai Adventure Photography Workshops after doing a random search for photography workshops on Kauai I was immediately hooked. The premise of the workshops was to take people out to lesser seen and photographed areas of Kauai and work on specific photography skills such as night photography, landscapes, working with waves, long exposure waterfalls, and they even covered post processing.

Two photographers, Patrick and Matt, who live on the island, run the workshops. They know exactly where to go to get great shots that aren’t your run-of-the-mill Kauai photography. Many of their workshops included some pretty adventurous hiking, which was just what I was looking for – especially to do it with photography in mind and being guided by a local. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect opportunity for me.

I am no professional photographer, but I am a serious photo enthusiast who does travel photography. Even though I’m shooting regularly (which is the best practice you can get), I seldom revisit the techniques in photography. It had been 6 years since I had taken a photo class of any type, so I was thrilled to do a few workshops with Patrick and Matt.

I met with Patrick and we discussed what I wanted to focus on. I had lots of goals; I wanted to try my hand at night photography, improve my landscape techniques, I wanted to learn how to love shooting waterfalls (something I normally detest), and I wanted to improve my food photography. And finally if we had time I really wanted to go over my post processing.

First Patrick took me out to the end of the road at the Kalalau Trail head and beaches and we focused on shooting waves coming in along the Napali Coast. It didn’t take long for Patrick to get me out of my shooting rut and get me using new settings on my camera that I had neglected. I also received tips on how to choose the right aperture for the lens I was using as well as changing the way that I look at focal points. Some of this stuff was mind blowing to me – mainly because when you shoot for a long time without refreshing your technical skills – they really do suffer. I had made assumptions that were incorrect but had been operating that way for years so they were pretty deeply rooted. Things he changed in how I would have gone about getting this wave photo:

• Used a larger aperture than I normally would have approached the shot
• Moved with the wave like panning
• Shoot a single focus point
• Move off of auto white balance and shoot for the shade while outdoors primarily
• Use a telephoto lens to just focus on the wave instead of the whole landscape view
Many of these lessons were then used in all of my future shooting with Patrick over the next few days.


This is how I approached my first wave shot – before I had put any of the advice Patrick gave me to use:

Napali Coast waves



photographing waves

Aperture: f8 Shutter: 1/2000 ISO: 100 Focal Length: 300mm

photographing waves kauai

Aperture: f8 Shutter: 1/2000 ISO: 100 Focal Length: 300mm

photographing waves kauai

Aperture: f8 Shutter: 1/2000 ISO: 100 Focal Length: 300mm

We next hiked down into a little known cave in the area. This is not a cave tourists would normally find on their own, but I was happy to follow Patrick and his friend and model, Morgan, down into the dark cave with our headlamps on. He had brought a tripod for me and this was my first step in learning more about long exposure photography. We set up deep in the corner of the cave and we took a number of test shots to figure out the correct settings. I honestly would have been lost doing this on my own. Even though I understand aperture and shutter, long exposure was a whole new world to me.


Cave photography kauai

Aperture: f5.6 Shutter: 20s ISO: 100 Focal Length: 10mm Tripod

The next day after a heavy morning rain we decided to hike to Ho’opi’i falls. Patrick warned me it would be muddy, but worth it since the water would be flowing heavily over the falls. This was another chance to work on long exposure – there were 2 waterfalls we were going to hike to before nightfall. I normally hate shooting waterfalls, I think they are boring and can never really get the effect I want since I don’t have a tripod with me normally.

The hike through the dense forest was really fun and Patrick got me closer to the waterfalls than I ever would have ventured myself. He knew all of the ways down and around that made for great shots. I actually took a before shot of one of the waterfalls to simply capture how I would normally photograph a waterfall before Patrick taught me anything. Then I let him work his magic and we worked with a long exposure again to get the right effect. Morgan again was our model who was fabulous at sitting in cold water and holding a pose for a 30 second exposure! Having Morgan in the shot really added a great perspective overall to the shots.


The first set of falls were about a 20 minute hike in.  there are a few vantage points and they require you to scramble a bit to get there.  The water was flowing furiously!

photographing waterfalls kauai

Aperture: f5.6 Shutter: 3.2 s ISO: 100 Focal Length: 18mm

For the second waterfall we had to hike further in and down a pretty muddy bank hanging on to tree roots – but definitely worth it once you got to the bottom!

Before Shot...

Before Shot…


photographing waterfalls kauai

Aperture: f8 Shutter: 25 s ISO: 200 Focal Length: 10mm

photographing Hoopii falls

Aperture: f8 Shutter: 25 s ISO: 200 Focal Length: 10mm

That night we also focused on food photography. He once again helped me with white balance, composition, and how to use a white napkin as a reflector to bring in more light in dimly lit restaurants. I loved it when he told me to think of the food on the plate as a landscape when it came to composition. He explained the mashed potatoes were a mountain and the green beans a waterfall flowing down the mountain.





Food photography tips

Aperture: f3.5 Shutter: 1/25 s ISO: 1600 Focal Length: 24mm

We kept an eye on the weather got lucky with clear skies one of my last nights I was there. Matt and Patrick took me out to a lighthouse by the airport so we could do some long exposure night photography and light painting. With headlamps and flashlights, we hiked out onto the rocks as the waves crashed and we quick looked up the direction of the tide. We set up our 3 cameras on tripods and waited.

We were waiting for the planes to land to get a long exposure light trail over the top of the lighthouse. This was a simple waiting game that we had to test out a few before we were able to get the exposure and timing right. During the long exposure Matt would ‘paint’ the rocks with a flashlight providing more light on the rocks bringing out the details. It was like being blind and shooting. I never really knew what I was going to get until the 30 seconds were up, but with Matt and Patrick’s help I got the hang of shooting in the dark. Patrick also found a dirty little mud puddle that served as a great water reflection for the lighthouse (the lead photo on this post) – something I never would have thought of in the dark.


long exposure photography kauai

Aperture: f4 Shutter: 30 s ISO: 2000 Focal Length: 16mm

kauai night photography

Aperture: f4 Shutter: 30 s ISO: 2000 Focal Length: 16mm

Kauai night photography

Aperture: f4 Shutter: 30 s ISO: 3200 Focal Length: 10mm

Finally I met with Patrick to put the finishing touches on the process – post processing. We sat in the Starbucks for a couple of hours and he was able to open up a whole new world for me when it came to using my post processing tools. I have been using Aperture for years now and it’s all been self taught which means I’m in ruts in post processing too. Even though Patrick wasn’t familiar with Aperture it didn’t take him long to play around and understand it.

He used it for 10 minutes and could get more out of it than I could get out of it for 4 years! Dodging and burning brushes, tips on how to deal with white balance and the colors, how to lift adjustments made for one image and apply them to many others in one click – all of these things were new to me. I normally used a macro editor called, Topaz, which Patrick explained to me changes my RAW file into a tiff to edit – so I already lose the details of the RAW by doing that. He taught me how I can better edit the RAW file directly in Aperture just as quickly.


A Visual Meander In & Around Fort Kochi in Kerala India

April 9, 2014 by  


In early April, I was in Fort Kochi India in the state of Kerala, the southern tip of India, and man, is it HOT here.  Below are some random shots of Fort Kochi!

Santa Cruz Basilica Fort Kochin

The Santa Cruz Basilica is one of many Christian churches in the Fort Kochi area in India . It looked as if the heavens were about to open up above it and provide us some.much needed relief from the heat.

Fort Kochi India

Street art in the little town of Fort Kochi. Even the Indian graffiti is colorful.

power lines India Instagram

This may explain my internet problems in India

Ice cream instagram

Cardamom & cinnamon ice cream w a watermelon ball & mint sprig. It deserves a spotlight!

Fort Kochi Instagram

A bright morning in Fort Kochi.

Water India

No plastic bottles at Kashi Art Cafe. All clean filtered water without waste.

Rickshaw Run Kochi

Look what we found this morning – OUR Rickshaw!

Jaipur’s Vibrant Annual Holi Festival

April 5, 2014 by  



“Happy Holi!” the young girl said as we walked by her in the streets of Jaipur. Her colorful scarf trailed behind her as she walked by and smiled. I’m not sure why I was surprised at this greeting, the Hindu festival of Holi was the main reason that I came to India early. Besides the pictures I had seen of people covered in colorful powder I actually knew very little about the festival. But I was about to get a very quick education.

We went to Jaipur because we had heard Holi was also accompanied by an colorful elephant festival and thought we could do both. However, due to issues around the treatment of the elephants, the government cancelled the elephant festival at the last moment which left us to go visit the elephants instead.

Preparing for Holi

Holi Festival Jaipur india

Holi vendor measures out colorful powder

Holi bonfires

Selling trees for Holika bonfires

The day before Holi we went into the old city of Jaipur to look around. The streets were filled with vendors selling bright colored powder, balloons, and paper horns. There were also corners filled with tree limbs and bundles of dried grass with men bustling about picking up everything they needed for their community’s Holika bonfire that evening. The general feeling on the streets were jovial as everyone greeted us and people bustled around getting their last minutes items they needed for the holiday. We were focused on getting our Holi clothes (aka cheap clothes that we’d wear once and throw away), baby wipes for trying to clean up gear and ourselves, and some additional duct tape for our cameras.

I couldn’t help but compare it to my own culture and our Christmas holiday. “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holi” had the same feeling to me in a way. The trees on display in Old Town were being bought up voraciously for the Holika bonfires – similar to our Christmas trees. I often like to compare a new cultural activity to something I know so that I can better understand what it may be like.

However the real story behind Holi goes like this,

“The word “Holi” originates from “Holika”, the evil sister of demon king Hiranyakashipu. King Hiranyakashipu had earned a boon that made him virtually indestructible. The special powers blinded him, he grew arrogant, felt he was God, and demanded that everyone worship only him.
Hiranyakashipu’s own son, Prahlada, however, disagreed. He was and remained devoted to Vishnu.This infuriated Hiranyakashipu. He subjected Prahlada to cruel punishments, none of which affected the boy or his resolve to do what he thought was right. Finally, Holika – Prahlada’s evil aunt – tricked him into sitting on a pyre with her. Holika was wearing a cloak that made her immune to injury from fire, while Prahlada was not. As the fire roared, the cloak flew from Holika and encased Prahlada. Holika burned, Prahlada survived. Vishnu appeared and killed Hiranyakashipu. The bonfire is a reminder of the symbolic victory of good over evil, of Prahlada over Hiranyakashipu, of fire that burned Holika. The day after Holika bonfire is celebrated as Holi.” Via Wikipedia


holi bonfire

Holika bonfire

At sunset on the eve of Holi bonfires were lit in neighborhoods around the city signifying a symbolic victory of good over evil, Prahlada over Hiranyakashipu. We watched the locals carefully construct the fire and then light it as everyone let out a joyous yell watching the flames. Much like how the Olympic flame travels – so does the Holika flame from neighborhood to neighborhood. Men lit a smaller branch on fire and then walked it to the next fire to start. The bonfire is accompanied by singing and dancing and merriment. However in the neighborhood we were in, they celebrated with a rousing game of cricket late into the night.

cricket india

A late night cricket game

The next morning you get up early and the colors come out. People celebrate with their family members first. They spread color on people’s faces and body, which often ends up morphing into chasing each other, laughter and rowdiness. Then people tend to take to the streets drinking, singing, dancing and dousing people with color as they go by. No one is safe, it doesn’t matter if you are friend or stranger, what age or nationality you are – you are a target of color.

Playing Holi

One of my favorite things about Holi is the terminology that is used. The act of putting color on others is called “playing Holi” – of course this brings up visions of childhood and fun. I think it actually encapsulates the experience well.

We went to an event put on in the morning by the tourism department. It was a mixture of tourists of all ages and some local Indians associated with the tourism department and guides and their families. They supplied powder and various bands and traditional entertainment. I was a skeptical about the manufactured tourist Holi – but it had been put in place due to all of the safety concerns for tourists – specifically female tourists on the streets during Holi.

The tourism sponsored party was not my favorite but it really did give you an idea of what it was like as families and friends played Holi. Colors and powder flew everywhere as strangers became your friends and companions. After getting covered for a few hours, we left and went out to driving around the streets to see a more local look at Holi. Groups of friends convened on corners and often times in front of bars (which seemed to be the only thing open that day) to play. We hung our the car window and took pictures mainly but it was a good way to see it all in action at a safe distance form the drunken men.

playing Holi

Playing Holi

Jaipur Holi

Rowdy streets of Jaipur

Rickshaw Holi

Rickshaw Holi

Our Jaipur guide Janu then took a bunch of us out to a local home to play which was my highlight. The colors seemed to get more vibrant as we went out of the city center. When we showed up at the home we were all greeted with powder rubbed on our face and then the playing began. It was sort of like a waterfight or food fight for young adults. (I’m not really sure where I fit into that age group…but regardless I had a blast!). They mixed the bright colors with water which seemed to make them more permanent (thank good ness for the baby wipes!).

They brought out soda and some snacks when we were exhausted in the hot sun and we all had a chance to see our palette of colors we created on each other.


Playing Holi with the locals – and a little bit of water!

Protecting Gear

All I can say is plastic bags are your friends. If you must take stuff with you – put it in plastic bags if you want to protect it.

I saw all levels of protection when it came to cameras during Holi. I was most surprised when I saw people with DSLR’s with absolutely nothing at all to protect them. Granted the camera bodies are supposed to be sealed and no one was changing out lenses, but it would have taken a pretty thorough and time consuming detailing job to get it clean again. One man I talked to said he went to a gas station and simply used an air gun.

camera protection holi

Protecting your camera….or not.

Playing holi

I decided to use my LensCoat Raincoat to try to protect my camera which worked really well and was easy to wash out afterwards. However I took the extra precaution of securing the Raincoat to the lens hood with duct tape which allowed me to zoom the lens a bit easier without worry. Charlie simply used a plastic bag with duct tape so she could see her controls – but found it frustrating for zooming in and out and gave up on it after a while. She spent a lot more time cleaning her gear up than I did in the end.

Protecting Yourself

One of my most frustrating things about Holi was the constant warnings about attending. I know they are meant as helpful, but there are only so many times you can hear about the horrors of Holi.

I was warned over and over again to be careful, and don’t go out and participate – so much so that I was getting frustrated about the whole experience. The warnings came from Facebook friends, India specialists, Indians, Jaipur shop keepers, and even the tourism department. I had read about the rowdiness and drinking that goes on at Holi with some of the men and boys who took liberties to grope western women during Holi.


The Re-Adjustment You Make When Landing in India

April 2, 2014 by  



Amber fort Jaipur

Charlie and I arrived in India to a bit of culture shock, but pretty quickly got into the swing of things in this colorful, assault-to-the-senses country.  We arrived early to get settled into India a bit before starting the Rickshaw Run on April 3rd.

In true polar opposite India form we experienced wealth and poverty all in the same week as we stayed at some lovely 5 star hotels as well as simple budget accommodations.  Each has it’s advantages.  The budget gets me much closer to the culture, but the luxury certainly provided a soft landing and a way to get through jet lag in style.

Thanks to our guide Janu, an old friend of Charlie’s in Jaipur, we were taken care of incredibly well.  We went to textile manufacturers, temples, forts, elephant farms, and had amazing food.  In addition Janu was our key to experiencing the colorful Hindu festival of Holi in Jaipur.

This week was full of adjustments.  My body adjusted to the time change, heat, and bacteria and my mind had to adjust to driving rules (or lack thereof), the availability of clean water, food spiciness, and the role of women.  It’s just another thing to love about travel – testing out your flexibility and ability to adjust to any situation.  I had my share of it this last week and a half in India!

Fishermen loading net near the Amber Fort in Jaipur

Scared of Heights

Material stamping India

Glass walls


Holi powder for sale

Holi India

Hammock sunrise kerala


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