Ahmedabad 2006

I was very lucky to be invited to the Ahmedabad International Kite festival as part of the UK team in January. I was on tenterhooks before the festival as my airline ticket only arrived two days before travelling. In the event the journey went without a hitch, and having met up with Karl Longbottom, Bob Cruickshank and Dazzz at Heathrow, we arrived the next day at Ahmedabad. We were met by Mangel who looked after us for the whole trip. He was a lovely man and the organisation of our visit was really excellent. At the press call the day before the festival I met up with Chandrakant Desai. He is the brother of my local newsagent Roy Desai and he lives in Ahmedabad for four months of the year. He was really helpful in answering all my questions about India and during five days we became good friends. Cippy as he is known ended up as an honorary member of the UK team. He has lived in London for forty years so his translation skills were invaluable.
                                                         The UK team and friends

The festival was on the 12th January and we arrived full of anticipation for the event. We were issued with our official uniform…..nylon anoraks with the logo of the festival on them. So, we set of for the opening ceremony in the 35 degree heat, I managed to wear my anorak for an hour before it got too much. The opening was fantastic as we just mingled with amazing dancers and musicians. Some of the musicians had the most amazing instruments and costumes. There was a marching band playing the bagpipes complete with tartan outfits. After this Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi made a speech. The people I met seem to really love him as he has done a lot to improve the prosperity of Gujarat. I met him twice and both times people were crowding round to touch him, more like a religious leader than a politician.
                                               Entertainers at the Opening Ceremony            

The wind was very light during the festival but I managed to fly a pair of Silver Angels for a few hours. Karl was flying his new bird and very few other kites were flying. The biggest hit with the crowd was Eduardo and Barbara from Italy running with a large Bol (spinning windsock). At tea time a little truck came trundling along the line of national tents dispensing chai and biscuits, a very charming touch.

                                  Silver Angels

                                             One of the many photos in the Times of India

The real attraction of visiting Ahmedabad was to be there on the 14th January. On this day every year most of the population fly kites. A good deal of the flying is done from the flat roofs of houses all over the city. Families go on to the roof with kites, food and music and have a day long party. We were invited to fly kites with a family in the city and arrived in the morning when the flying and fighting was well under way. Indian kites are steerable on a single string and this combined with glass covered line or manga makes fighting fast and furious. The idea is to steer your kite and line under your opponent’s line and then a quick pull will cut their line. With kites being flown from all directions there is quite a lot of luck involved. It was a bit like conkers and the good flyers would probably cut ten kites before being cut themselves. With each house having its own music on a ghetto blaster and everyone eating really sweet food the atmosphere is pretty high. When kites are cut they drift away and the children below catch them and so have free kites to fly. At the end of the day as we were bussed home we could see hundreds of kites flying from the shanty town by the river. With a population of 4 million I am sure there must have been over a million kites flying on that day in Ahmedabad. The day after the trees are full of cut kites making it look as though they have blossomed over night. It was an unforgettable day.
                                            kites in the trees and flying from the roof tops

My trip to Gujarat was an amazing experience. The memory that stays with is the way in which the Hindu people live. I am a bit of an insomniac and I wandered out of our hotel at 4am one morning and went and sat on the corner of the road with men who make and sell chai day and night. We drank chai and tried to communicate with signs and so on. They loved seeing their pictures on my digital camera. Men stopped to buy cigarettes or to pray at the shrine on the corner. The news papers were delivered and I could show them the pictures of the kite festival. I felt completely safe, I had my camera and money in my pocket but no one tried to steal from me. In fact they gave me some nuts and sweets to try. I saw the people in the shanty feeding the monkeys in the trees when they had hardly enough food for themselves. This respect for life and a seeming lack of envy really impressed me.

Below is my Kite shrine after India.