(Kites) Flying High in Gujarat

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.

Rooftop parties

Children with kites, festival ready

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.

Our Ahmedabad (heritage) home...the exact moment we were invited in!

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.

Kite flyin' in my party glasses

Vaibhavi and Bri cutting kites

Nandish and Revant showing us how it's done

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.

"Magic moments" -- Akshay

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.

P.S. Here is Aashish’s Facebook album of the festivities.

4 thoughts on “(Kites) Flying High in Gujarat

  1. Come again both in “Utarayan – 2013″ Then you became a expert in kit flying.
    wish you all success.
    - Ashish Mehta
    - Nandish Mehta

  2. Ohhhh!! I love it…what fun!! It looks like something from a storybook. The entire experience seems completely magical and Im so jealous because I love kite flying and I never knew that there were festivals any place that did this. Soo cool. Remind me when you guys get home to tell you about how my sister Liz and I used to spend 4th of July with some friends and how we would go drunk kite flying and the goal was to “not cross the streams” with our other friends. Lol It was a total blast!!

  3. I’ve been enjoying reading your fascinating blog, Devin, when I get the chance. I’m wondering whether you’ve shared with anyone at Fulbright. I’m sure they like to see what grantees are up to.

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