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In February 2004 we took our three children out of school for two months and traveled in India, Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong & Tokyo. 38 days, 37 hours on a plane, 23 hours in an airport, 20 time zones, 35 hours of driving, 10 hours of animal riding (specifically camels and elephants), 190 malaria pills (38 each), 360 antibacterial Handi-wipes (15 boxes), 2 bottles of Purell, and 5 cuisines later, we flew to Hawaii for a “vacation”. This post is part of a series on that trip.

When my husband and I were in Jaipur, India with our three kids, we went to an Elephant Festival, which is held annually to celebrate the Hindu holiday of Holi.  The religious significance of Holi completely eluded us as it seemed to consist mainly of young men squirting water on each other, followed by handfuls of brightly colored powered paint; or–to be more expedient–pre-mixed water and colored paint. The paint stains do not come off your skin for up to two weeks, and do not come off your clothes ever.  The frequency with which people (do not) bathe or change their clothes became immediately apparent as we saw paint-splotched skin and clothing for days afterwards. 

The Elephant Festival, contrary to our expectation that it was a quaint local tradition, turned out to be mainly for tourists. No matter–in the spirit of Holi, the elephants were all brightly decorated with colored chalk, and had races and played elephant polo. The latter was not too successful; the poor elephants could not see the ball which was the size of one of their big toes. They resembled a bunch of kindergarteners in their first soccer game, all competing with their teammates to be the first one to get to the ball.  The first two balls got stepped on (with very satisfying pops), then, mercifully, someone scored a goal with the third ball to loud cheers.

These elephants looked cool both coming AND going

The rousing polo match was followed by an invitation for 20 tourists to play tug of war with an elephant. The first 19 tourists were all American and British and French 20-somethings covered in Holi paint, a fair number with rasta hair, and the 20th tourist was my 9-year-old son, Peter.  He was a little short but threw all of his 50 lbs into it. Needless to say, the tourists lost.