Issue 59: Uttarayan Festival

PREFACE: even this chronicle is trying to be a specific one focused on a kite festival, it is impossible for me to abstract away my relate from all the beauty of India and the feelings that touched me deeply with its people, history, monuments, temples, religions, culture and power I could know in this trip. From now on I do love India.

For me India was always an intriguing country, with something very special that I felt because I am a fan of the Beatle George Harrison, who started in 1967 his knowledge about India, its culture, music and specially its religions. I was 11 years old when I heard his song “Within you without you” and its amazing Indian musical instruments in it.

This story began on December, 2006 when I tried to get this Festival but in its January, 2007 edition. It could not be possible because I had some time problems in my job.

But on last December, 2007, I got my visa to India and I could manage all subjects with my job and with the organizer, nicely represented by mail by Mr. Pavitran Vittal, so I was in condition to travel to India. I could not believe it: I should visit and know India!

I had not too much time for preparations: only four days since my confirmation. I took some cloths, kites and lines, passport with visa and lots of nerves.

This International Kite Festival organized by the Guyarat State is being held since 1992; this year it reunited 67 international kite flyers from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Nigeria, Netherlands, South Africa, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and UK. Also, the organizer brought 70 kite flyers from different states of India.

Tuesday, January 8th

I took the airplane at 3:30 PM. It was a direct flight to Milano, Italy; duration: 13 hours.

Wednesday, January 9th

I arrived to Milano at 7:25 AM, waited and took at 10:30 the plane to Mumbay, India; duration: 9 hours. I arrived 11:10 PM. I got my luggage and I found that my PVC tube container for my kites was broken but fortunately my kites were good. I met Mr. Pancholi from the organization and some other kite flyers. We went in a mini bus to the domestic airport of Mumbai and wait that night there to take our plane to Ahmedabad next day.

Thursday, January 10th

We took our flight at 9:45 and we arrived to Ahmedabad at 10:50.

We got our hotel, Inder Residency, made our check in, keep our luggage in our rooms and at 3 PM I could get a late lunch in the hotel restaurant with Maarten van Hienen and his wife, from Holland. I took a siesta and we had dinner early. I can not remember where it was, maybe at the hotel. I was so tired.

Friday, January 11th

Early in the morning and after a traditional local breakfast (too  much chilly for my taste) we had a tour guided by Mr. Sam, an extraordinary man.

The places were:

Gandhi Ashram: where he lived with his family between 1918 to 1930; these were the residential quarters where he started the Indian independent, based on Satyagraha, a philosophy that is largely concerned with truth and ‘resistance to evil through active, non-violent resistance’. It was also from this place, on March 12, 1930, that Gandhi launched the famous Dandi march from the Ashram, in protest of the British Salt Law. When he left Ashram, Gandhi vowed that he would not return to this place until India won independence. Although this was won on August 15, 1947 when India was declared a free nation, Gandhi was assassinated in January 30, 1948, and never returned to this actual peaceful place.

23º03’36”N, 72º34’51”E

Adalaj Step-Well: this is a five-storied step-well located in the village of Adalaj, 18 km away from Ahmedabad; it was built in 1499. This unique water work is an excellent blend of Hindu and Islamic styles. This intricately carved monument is made in sandstone.

23º10′ 1″N, 72º34’49″E

Hatheesing Jain Temple: this temple was built by Seth Hatheesing, a rich Jain merchant,  in 1850. It is built of pure white marble and profusely decorated with rich carvings, dedicated to Dharamnath, the 15th Jina apostle. Unfortunately, we could not take pictures inside.

23º 2’27’N, 72º35’23″E

That night we took a special dinner at Hotel Siddhartha Palace, where all Indian states kite flyers were lodged. We also applied to the kite competition for the next day.

Saturday, January 12th

Early in the morning, after breakfast, we took our kites and we went to the J. D. Nagarwala Police Stadium in the north of the city.

23º03’23″N, 72º35’11″E

That day and for the first time in the Gujarat Kite Festival, a kite competition was held.

Categories were as follow (kites should not be borrowed or purchased):

1. Foreign type painted kites (Open to all kite flyers)

2. Foreign type collage work kites (Cutting and stitching)   (Open to all kite flyers)

3. Miniature kites (Open to all kite flyers)

4. Indian fighter kites (Open to all kite flyers)

5. Flying foreign painted /collage kites (Open only for Indian kite flyer)

I was in trouble because my kites were: my beloved full white Hargrave box kite; a two color High Aspect Delta kite, and finally, the three two lines sport kites I flew with El Fabuloso Team in the 2006 World Sport Kite Championship (France) made by my team ex-sponsor.

So I applied my Hargrave to the painted kites (it must be supposed that it was painted with invisible paint) and the two colors High Aspect Delta kite was into the collage work kites category. Obviously I did not expect a podium. Next year we will see. 😉

We had lunch in the flying field, we showed the kites to judges and the organizer decided to move to Hotel Siddhartha Palace in order Judges could continue evaluation and take pictures of the kites to make quiet decision of which of the kites are best.

After that we went to our hotel, leave our kites and we went to the Police Stadium because a night music show was held. We stayed there almost an hour and we went for dinner in a typical Gujarat food restaurant. This was very good.

Sunday, January 13th

We woke up early, took breakfast and we went to the Police Stadium again.

We had a private section with individual boxes where we could assemble the kites and leave them with full security. Only kite flyers with Festival’s ID and policemen could enter this zone, a very good idea. I really felt very safe for my things.

We leave our things in the boxes and we went to the field to wait seated very comfortable the arrival of the state and city authorities. After a demonstration of hundreds of children and some authorities’ speeches, all countries delegations marched with their nation flags in front of the authorities. Because we were ordered alphabetically, Argentina was leading this march. Imagine my emotions and nerves. WOW! My legs shook.

After that we flew our kites on the field which was divided into two halves by a rope fence, one half to the kite flyers and the other half for public.

It was difficult for me to fly my Hargrave kite because the wind was a little low and gusty. I was flying later the High Aspect Delta and my ultra light two lines sport kite called ALMA. I enjoyed very much the flying.

I was also talking a lot with the public. They were very kind and warm, they always wanted to know which country I came from and to my answer of “Argentina” I must ad the name of “Maradona” (the famous Argentinean soccer player) and then they understood which my country was.

It was a very nice evening. There were lots of people and I was very comfortable to share the place with them.

After that we returned to our hotel to get a shower and we went to dinner at an amazing place called Narayani Farms & Resorts. It was under the sky, we seated at some round tables; traditional self service food with a big variety of exquisite plates to enjoy.

After dinner while we come back to the hotel our bus took the road in front of the kite market. Blocks and blocks of stores offering millions of kites of all colors combination and manja rolls (manja is the glass coated line special for kite fighting). The people at the market saw us at the windows of the bus and we were continuously acclaimed. Wow! What a special feeling.

Monday, January 14th (Festival of Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti)

This day is a special one because the sun enters the Tropic of Cancer. Today the change in the direction of winds on Makar Sankranti is marked by thousands of kites flying and friendly fighting in a clear blue sky. On this day young boys and girls and even old people, are on their house tops flying kites. We were invited to fly with them.

The organizer had notified us the day before that for today we must have ready our luggage to check out and leave the hotel very early in the morning, so we put all our things in a little bus and we travel in another two buses to the old city side of Ahmedabad and made a walking with a specialized tour guide.

We went to the Swaminarayan Temple, Kalpur, that is historically the most important and religiously the most prominent temple of its kind because of the main deity, Shree Nar Narayan Dev, the first and foremost in the world, was ceremoniously installed by Shree Sahajanand Swami Himself.

After that we enter Jama Masjid that is one of the biggest and oldest mosque for Friday Prayers. Built by Sultan Ahmed Shah in 1423, the mosque is located in the centre of the old city. It is one of the finest mosques in India with 260 pillars supporting 15 domes at different elevations.

23º 1’48″N, 72º35’29.6″E,_Ahmedabad

And then, the long waited moment arrived: kite fighting from the terraces and rooftops of the city. The group was divided into little groups to get the different terraces that Ahmedabad’s citizens had offered in order we, the international kite flyers, could fly as we are local people.

What an experience it was. I could not believe it. The local people once more were wonderful. They offered us their kites to fight and I did it and I got a cut in my little left finger while I was fighting: a real fight debut for me. Obviously I was cut easily and I lost my kite.

After that, we had our lunch in a restaurant in the terraces of a big mall and then we started our trip to the second kite festival city. Half of the international kite flyers went to Surat City (4 hours trip from Ahmedabad) and the other half went to Rajkot City (3 hours trip from Ahmedabad). I was in this last group to Rajkot City.

It was an interesting trip because it was the first time we were really outside of the city of Ahmedabad and I could see large factories and lots of electricity towers distributing power everywhere. I also could see large plantations of vegetables of all kind on an endless flat surface that made me remember my country, Argentina. Here I could confirm where the power of India besides its people is.

Central Electricity Authority – India:

The night came down while we were traveling. We arrived to Rajkot at 7 PM and got the Hotel Kavery, a very good one. We made check-in and we were distributed in our rooms and then we had a good dinner in the hotel.

Tuesday, January 15th

As always, we started the day early in the morning, now with a guided mini tour in the city of Rajkot.

The Rajkumar College, one of the oldest educational institutions in India was founded in 1868 and opened in 1870. It has a 26 acres (105,000 m²) campus located in the heart of the city. It was founded for the education of the Princely order by the Princes and Chiefs of Kathiawad for the education of their sons and relations. In 1938, on the initiative of its founding members, the College became a Public School (private school in Western terms), the first such college to do so. The College opened its portals to girls in 2001, in what has been a boys’ bastion for over a century. Now the school has more than 80 girls.

22º17’36″N, 70º47’51″E

After that we went to the place where the kite festival would take place, the Race Course Ground.

22º18’13″N, 70º47’20″E

We left our kites in the respective country boxes the organizer had prepared for us and we were invited to seat and wait the arrival of the authorities. We were gifted with flowers and honored with turbans that were tied over our heads.

The Mayor of Rajkot City, Mr. Dhansukhbhai Bhanderi, received us and the Gujarat Finance Minister, Mr. Vajubhai Valawith talked to the public and celebrated that Gujarat Kite Festival was held in Rajkot City too.

After that, we flew our kites in a clear and warm day with low wind. I started flying the ALMA, my ultra light two lines sport kite, playing with the public all around, making the kite stalls near over their heads. I enjoyed it. Later I was talking with them; they are wonderful people.

We had lunch at 2 PM and after that I could fly my High Aspect Delta. There was not enough wind for my Hargrave in Rajkot.

I also was teaching a local young kite flyer, Akshit Badiani, to fly a little indoor two lines sport kite I carried with, called Bruma (fog), and I gifted him so he could continue learning to fly this kind of kites. I put my “kite bet” on this 11 years old boy because he loves kites and he has his father’s constant support. Kites are very important for this family.

There was a final ceremony and we received the Kite Festival Certificate.

At 5 PM we left Rajkot City and we arrived to Ahmedabad at night, we made check-in and we has dinner at our hotel, Inder Residency.

Wednesday, January 16th

Very early in the morning, at 4 AM, many of the kite fliers left the hotel going to the airport. I waked up to say goodbye and came back to sleep.

The rest of the kite flyers left the hotel at 9 AM. I stayed at the hotel until noon when the Indian kite flyer and friend of mine Asghar Belim came to pick me up and we went to his hotel where I left my luggage. We had lunch with Asghar’s nephews at this hotel.

Then we went to the center of the city to get our bus tickets to Jodhpur, the city where Asghar lives, so we could travel during the night. Jodhpur is 388 miles (625 km) away Ahmedabad.

We visited one of the most important kite stores in Ahmedabad because Asghar needed to talk with the owner then came back to the hotel, finish our luggage, have a quick dinner and we went to the bus terminal to take the bus.

We could not get bed places in the bus, only normal seats. It was a very long and hard trip because of the surface of the road.