Brian and I just got back from Uttarayan, Ahmedabad’s annual kite festival, and it was well worth the 30 hour round trip train ride. During this three day event, the sky fills with thousands of fluttering tissue paper kites, which the entire city of Ahmedabad ascends to their rooftops to fly. Children and adults alike swoop their colorful kites back and forth, attempting to cut the glass-encrusted kite strings of battle opponents, who stand on neighboring rooftops. When a kite flier is vanquished and his kite circles lazily to the ground, the victor shouts “CUT!” and noisy jubilant celebration breaks out on the rooftop.
Brian and I were fortunate enough to spend the festival with a wonderful family, who we met completely by chance and in a manner that would never happen in the U.S. As we walked around the Jami Masjid (mosque) in the Old City, a man noticed us carrying kites we had just bought and asked “Do you like flying kites?” We said “sure!”, and our new friend styled himself as our tour guide and led us around the Old City. To our enjoyment and slight embarrassment, he entered every haveli home that seemed open and asked whether we could peek inside. Luckily, we walked past a beautiful heritage haveli just as a young man named Nandish was walking through the front door. He invited us to come inside.
Nandish took us up three flights of stairs and a ladder, which led onto the house’s corrugated tin roof. We emerged into white sunlight, filled with kites, shouts, and laughter. From outside on the ground, we never would have realized what fun was going on above our heads and in the city’s sky.
Nandish introduced us to his father Aashish, his cousin Revant, his aunt Vaibhavi, and his uncle Akshay. They welcomed us into their homes with such warmth that we immediately felt like family. Akshay and Aashish patiently taught Brian and me to launch kites in the air (unsuccessfully…it’s much harder than you would expect!) while Revant and Nandish demonstrated, and Vaibhavi looked on.
We watched kites fly all day and into the night, when fireworks replaced the kites and illuminated lanterns set aloft. The family invited us back the next day for more kite flying and a delicious Gujarati thali lunch. When we finally had to leave to catch our train, we said goodbye and were sent on our way with souvenir kites, jalebis to eat on the train, and promises to see one another again.
We are continually amazed by the warmth and kindness of everyone we meet, particularly in Ahmedabad. Meeting Akshay, Aashish, Vaibhavi, Nandish, and Revant was the highlight of our trip, and they allowed us to experience the kite festival as locals do…as part of a family, laughing on the rooftops.