Sunset over the old city during Kite Festival.
As I've previously mentioned, last weekend was the Kite Festival, which is probably at least the fifth big festival we've had in Gujarat since I've been here. Gujaratis seem to celebrate every festival that all of India celebrates, plus they add two or three days to the end of them, and then they also celebrate random "Gujarat only" festivals, like this one. While I think it's wonderful they are so fun-loving, I would like these festivals a lot more if they didn't keep interfering with the project! That said, this festival was by far my favorite (so far... if we're here for Holi in March, all bets are off. I've got BIG plans for Holi).
Anyway, like the good little kid I am, I tagged along with anyone who would have me to go see what I could see last weekend. Thursday night Matt and I braved the "cold" (around 55 degrees F) night air and took a walk behind the hotel to see the kites for sale. It was crazy. The streets were jam-packed with people selling kites, string, hats, noisemakers, and all number of other fairly ridiculous wares. I was told that in the ritzy part of the city (where we stay), you could get about 20 kites for $2, but if you went to the old city you could buy them wholesale, and they'd only be 75 cents for 20! We didn't buy any anyway, but man, if I'm ever in the mood for kite-buying, I know where to go.
Kites and string for sale in the ritzy area.
One of the fairly controversial things they do here is dip the string into a glue/glass mixture so that you can cut down other kites more easily. You can spot the string with glass in it by its vibrant pink color. This is really common, but every year lots of birds and people are injured or even die from the string. (This year there were nine deaths across Gujarat, but most of them were from falling off the rooftops. It's a fairly dangerous holiday. That's probably why it's so fun.) I also did not partake in this particular "string of death", but I did enjoy watching people make it.
This guy dips the string into his magenta glass paint, and then spins it up on that wheel, thereby creating "string of death." Now you know.
Friday Matt had to work (even though everyone else in Gujarat seemed to have the day off), so I waited around until he got home, and then Shriram took us to the Old City for some authentic kite flying!
Kite flying on the rooftops. Everyone who is anyone goes to a terrace or rooftop during Kite Festival to fly. They set up loudspeakers blaring Bollywood music, and have huge dance parties along with the kite flying. It's pretty much the best party ever.
These apartment buildings are pretty standard for the Old City. The newer ones near our hotel are very different.
Try as we might, the Westerners just couldn't seem to get a handle on the kite flying. To our credit, there didn't seem to be much wind, but that didn't really stop anyone else from flying. We're just bad at it.
Matt was pretty frustrated the entire night. Apparently he's used to doing things well the first time off. I don't have this problem, so it didn't bother me that I was so horrid.
Like I said, everybody gets on the roof.
Later in the evening people start lighting big lanterns and letting them float off into the sky. Shriram had been talking about these lanterns for weeks. This was his big moment!
Shriram with the lantern. He's so happy!
Of course it wouldn't be much of a party without fireworks, and if there's one thing Gujaratis know, it's how to party (well, how to party without alcohol)!
Saturday, Shriram and his wife, Pooja, took Matt and me to Pooja's uncle's house in a different part of the city. The uncle had an obligatory terrace, and that's where all the magic happened. I made history by flying my first kite (Indian or otherwise) ever! Much to Matt's chagrin, I got it wayyyyy up in the sky, farther than anyone else (or at least anyone who was Western, associated with UOP, and under the age of 28)! Boom!
Me making it rain with the kite. I must have been attracting too much attention flying so high and so far, because shortly after this picture, my kite got cut. Jealousy is a stinky cologne, Indians. Remember that.
I guess it's worth noting that on Sunday, Andrew, Matt and I snuck up on the terrace of the hotel, found a kite that had been cut, and flew the crap out of it. Well, Andrew flew it, and Matt helped. My job was running across the rooftops finding abandoned bits of string to tie to the end of the kite so it could go higher. Among my precious finds were a piece of blue string with what appeared to be a charred bird's leg still attached, and a piece of black string wrapped around the dead body of a rat. Probably I contracted the plague from that one. Apparently Kite Festival is not a good weekend for animals.
And thus ends my tale of Kite Festival 2011. There will never be another one quite like it (unless I'm here next year, in which case, Kite Festival 2012 will probably be very similar).
While other, cooler people were out flying kites, all the europeans at the hotel were laying by the pool. This is only a fraction of them; there were so many I couldn't get them all in one shot.