Holi just went by, the Indian festival which is a riot of colours and water. Not many festivals around the world come close to the madness of this pan-Indian celebration of colours. But some of you may know that in a few weeks, it will be time for another Asian festival that competes with the mucho fun that is Holi.
Yes, some of you guessed it right. I am talking about Thailand’s new year festival, Songkran. It falls on 13th April and there are extended holidays on 14th and 15th as well. This festival has become famous with travellers for the water-fights on Bangkok’s Khao San street and elsewhere in this extremely tourist-friendly country.
Water water everywhere not a drop to drink! Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Only an ignorant backpacker like me could have been in Thailand during Songkran and not know about it. But I am known for not planning, and that is what makes my travels fun half of the time. I had spent a couple of days in Bangkok, living in a squat-like but charming hostel called ‘The Overstay’. It was then that I realised that the water-fighting festival was round the corner.
Tickets to anywhere else in Thailand were either not available or were expensive, partly because most Thais were going back home to the countryside to be with their families. I somehow managed to get a ticket on a bus to Krabi from where I was supposed to go to Tonsai to learn rock climbing.
But before starting the challenge of learning rock climbing I would have to make my way through mad crowds and water cannons to get to the bus station in Bangkok. As luck would have it, I was taking the bus on Songkran day!
Since I was going to get wet anyway, I thought I’d rather enjoy it. I packed my electronics and other valuables in the most water-proof way possible. Then I layered my backpack with two sheets of plastic. It’s amazing how much fun you can have if you prepare yourself for it. So without a worry, I woke up on Songkran morning full of zest. The hostel floor was a mini swimming pool by then and all my fellow squatters were on their way to Khao San road, because that is where most of the action was.
What crazy fun!! Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
It seemed everyone in Bangkok that day had visited the swimming pool, only that they hadn’t. From the streets to the buses every person we crossed was wet to the bone. And laughter seemed like the only currency everyone was dealing in that morning. Soon after, we were at Khao San Road which was filled with music, foam and even bigger water guns. Locals and travellers were poking friendly fun at one another, and it was all bliss.
But, for anyone with cultural curiosity, Songkran offers a lot more than water-fights. And maybe a long term trip to Thailand where you have the time to build connections and learn more about the country will show you the many different facets of Songkran. The reason why most Thais go back home is to pay respect to their elders which is one of the most important rituals of this festival. This ritual involves sprinkling water on the hands of elders as a mark of respect. It seems this ritual made way for the water fights which is so popular today with the youth.
Thai youngsters in a mad water fight! Photo Courtesy: Financial Times
Different regions of the country celebrate in different ways, but sharing, respecting and bonding with family is something that is synonymous with Songkran all over Thailand.
What most Indians don’t know is that Songkran is also a significant cultural link between India and Thailand. Songkran, as Wikipedia states, comes from the Sanskrit word Sankrant which means transformation. Not just that, many Indian festivals fall around the same time as Songkran. From Baisakhi in Punjab to Bihu in the North-East and also Okhali in parts of Karnataka share their dates with this Thai festival.
A glimpse into the super- colourful Bihu festival in India. Photo Courtesy: NELive
As I successfully dodged water cannons(no, I failed) and made way to the bus station, I realised I was lucky to have been to Thailand during this auspicious time. Not many festivals invite travellers into its celebrations like this Thai one does. And to top it all, it highlights the shared cultural heritage of two great eastern cultures, Thai and Indian.
So? Booking your flight to be in time for Songkran?