Romancing the Kites
The International Kite Festival in Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Festivals are a part of the Indian calendar and perhaps it would be apt to state that there is not a single day when in some part of the Indian subcontinent a festival or a fair is not celebrated. One of India’s most spectacular festival is the annual International Kite Festival held in the captivating city of Ahmedabad. The Kite Festival coincides with the Makar Sankranti in the month of January and the whole of Gujarat is all decked up with people wearing new clothes, houses wear a fresh coat of paint and there is plenty of feasting. The atmosphere is surcharged with a carnival spirit. The International Kite Festival has been launched by the Tourism Corporation Gujarat as a unique tourism product in its bid to attract the discerning international travelers to the western most state of India – Gujarat.
Ahmedabad being the host city is beautifully attired with multihued theme pavilions, which dots the serene Sabarmati Riverside and extends all the way to the Sardar Bridge. The participants, many of whom come from far away countries like USA, UK, Australia, Germany and France begin to land in Ahmedabad well ahead of the Kite Festival. The Tourism Corporation of Gujarat offers all the logistical support to the international participants and makes them familiar with the city’s landscape. Since this one-of-its-kind festival is held in the month of January, there is the cool winter breeze that greatly aids in kite flying. Hundreds of makeshift “Patang Bazaars” or exclusive Kite shops are set up all over the city of Ahmedabad and there is brisk buying and selling.
As the D-day dawns and the festival is ceremoniously launched, the battle lines are drawn and there is cut throat competition for supremacy in the skies. Local kite flyers jostle with their international counterparts in a show of bravado and should a local kite flyer win the battle of wits in the sky, the surge of excitement reaches a crescendo with hundreds of people from the crowd taking the winner in a celebratory procession, thereby heralding the arrival of a hero. Gujaratis are a religious lot and the Kite Festival is yet another opportunity to throng to the temples and offer their prayers to the gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. If local Gujarati folklore is anything to go by, it is believed that the gods go into hibernation mode for six months and are awakened by the sun’s entry into the northern hemisphere at the time of Makar Sankranti.
Since music and dance are an integral part of Indian festivals, the highly rhythmic Garba dance is enacted by the locals who are dressed in all their finery. In terms of gastronomic delights, the very best of Gujarati cuisine is on offer at the festival venue. Some of the most preferred Gujarati delicacies like the Udhiyu, the Surati Yamun, the mouthwatering Kathiyawadi Banu and a whole lot more are on offer during the festival. Like other Indian festivals, the kite festival too has its share of rituals. The participants can be seen assembling glue and perfectly grinded glasses, which are applied on the “Firkees” and left to dry in the open sun. Once the mixture is fully dried, they can be lethal in terms of cutting and out manuvering other kites. The spirit of festivity is not just confined to daytime and the sheer enthusiasm of the kite flyers ensures that there is enough glitter in the Ahmedabad night sky as well by way of illumined box shaped kites.
Kite Flying in India has a long and cherished history. Apart from traditional paper kites, the festival offers a fascinating insight into the most modern versions like the motorized as well as the fiberglass kites that are on show at the International Kite Festival. Kites are known to have existed for over 3000 years and China is believed to be the place of origin of kites from where it spread to other countries of Asia like India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia etc…There is mention of kites in one of India’s best known literary classics – the “Madhumati” where the word “patang” has been used. Historians are unanimous in their opinion that the Chinese by dint of their expertise in silk weaving, their mastery in paper based crafts and widespread use of bamboo for making handicraft items were to a large extent responsible for the evolution of kites. There is one school of thought who have opined that in the ancient times the Chinese used kites to warn enemies, send indications of danger and sometimes even helped in finding rival military camps.
The colonial rulers like the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British who ruled much of Asia and Africa introduced kite flying in mainland Europe where today, kite flying has become high tech and one of the most entertaining soft sport. The Makar Sankranti week during which the International Kite Festival is held at Ahmedabad is not just confined to one city. In fact, kites of all shapes and sizes are flown in other principal cities of Gujarat like Rajkot, Baroda and Surat where there is tremendous zest and excitement for kite flying. It is just that Ahmedabad being the capital of Gujarat, the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat has thought it prudent to launch this colorful festival from this city, keeping in mind the convenience of the discerning international visitors for whom the city of Ahmedabad serves as the perfect base from which to launch their kite flying endeavor.
Although a simple sport by itself, kite flying is enmeshed in numerous procedures. According to Rajubhai Patel – a petite 65 year old resident of the walled city of Ahmedabad who has been fortunate to observe the fun and festivities surrounding the International Kite Flying Festival right from its inaugural 1989 edition to the present-day one – “The business of Kite Flying involves as many as 26 elaborate processes and each kite does a round of 8 destinations to finally become worthy of flying. The entire process of manufacturing a kite takes almost a year and involves approximately one lakh craftsmen”. On further insistence, Mr. Patel revealed that kite flying is a flourishing small-scale cottage industry in Gujarat and is mostly home based where men, women and children take equal part in the actual manufacturing of the kites. According to a renowned industry watchdog, the kite manufacturing industry is valued at Rs.150 crores with the potential to reach a whooping Rs.500 million in the next couple of years.
Since I landed in the host city Ahmedabad, two full days ahead of the Kite Festival, I along with a group of journalists from the Travel media were taken to the outskirts of the city where we were introduced to the sight of rural householders actively participating in the process of manufacturing of the kites. A group of kite flyers from Japan too had purposefully come to the village to buy the best kites and were seen frantically searching for that perfect kite by which to launch their aerial attack on the D-Day of the festival. Given the hype surrounding this one-of-its-kind festival, corporate India has been quick at realizing the lucrative prospect of this festival and accordingly they have made some smart moves in promoting a few of their trusted brands without having to dig too deep into their kitty. And rightfully at the helm are the mobile phone operators, the cash rich tobacco companies and a few manufacturing companies that have made their presence felt at the festival premises.
As far as the mandarins of Gujarat’s tourism industry are concerned, the festival couldn’t have been better timed, what with the Christmas holiday rush of Gujratis from abroad coinciding with the International Kite Festival. Since the festival takes place at a time when it is holiday time in almost all the affluent countries in Europe and North America, the government of Gujarat has decided to go that extra mile to send invitations to the millions of Gujarati diaspora spread overseas to take part in the Uttarayan festivities as well as the Kite Festival.
Traveler’s Fact File
The city of Ahmedabad is well connected by air, rail and road network with the rest of India. Domestic flights are operated by all the leading airlines like Indian Airlines, Jet Airways and others. By rail, Ahmedabad is well with other important cities of India like Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and Chennai. The road network in the state of Gujarat is among the most extensive and best in India. The city of Ahmedabad is well connected by National Highways and State Highways to the rest of India.
Ahmedabad has a wide variety of hotels to suit every budget. Among the luxury hotel properties are The Taj Residency, Ummed Airport Circle, Le Meridien, Fortune Hotel Lanconnected dmark, Cama Park Plaza to name just a few. Most of them are centrally located and offer all the modern amenities that are expected of a star category hotel. From 24-hour room service, high speed Internet connectivity, same day laundry, mini bar, attached marbled bathroom, multi channel TV that beams BBC, CNN, National Geographic etc., … telephones, individual climate control (in some cases) are offered to the discerning guests.
However, if one is looking for government run accommodation, the Toran Gandhi Ashram Hotel just opposite to the Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram is a very good option. There is a sense of history about this neighborhood due to the hotel’s close proximity to the Gandhi Ashram. There are many tourists, who in spite of knowing that there are numerous star category hotels in Ahmedabad, still choose to stay at the Gandhi Ashram Hotel run by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat. There is no dearth of budget category hotels in the city and some of the popular hotels for backpackers are Hotel Siddhartha Palace, Hotel Prithvi, Hotel Bombay, Hotel Moscow, Silver Oak Club & Resort, Hotel Riverfront etc., ...
For any further information and reservations, please feel free to contact:
Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd.
Block number 16, 4th floor, Udyog Bhavan, Gandhinagar, Gujarat
Tel: (+91-79) 23222523, 23222645
Fax: (+91-79) 23238908
Toll Free Number : 1800 233 7951