From Discourse 19
A young boy from Jaipur flies on the soccer field.
In the Hindu epic “The Ramayana,” King Ram was banished for 14 years from his kingdom. My exile from the world of kites, and more specifically kite festivals, was a little shorter.
From 1987 to 2003 we enjoyed doing the Desert Kite Festival every year, barring one. From the palace of the Maharaja of Jodhpur, to the exquisite Taj Mahal, to the riotous frenzy of Makar Sankranti in Jaipur – we did it all year after year and we had a blast. The last Festival we did was in Goa in December 2004. But then we ran out of steam to chase sponsors and the Festival was becalmed.
But suddenly, in November 2014, the wind changed. I got a call from an old friend who I hadn’t heard from in over ten years. We met up and chatted for a long time, catching up on what each of us had been up to and then he sprung this surprise: he was back at his old company who had sponsored the last Desert Kite Festival way back in 2003, and they wanted me to organize one again. “Sure,” I said. “That would be great. Let’s shoot for early March.” But no, they wanted the Festival to be held to coincide with Makar Sankranti – less than two months away!
My first response was “No way!” Of course I desperately wanted to do the Festival, but there was no time. With the Christmas and New Year holidays, I’d have barely six weeks to put together an international festival, and this was a busy time at work. October to March is the peak incoming tourist season and I had a fair
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A headline for the 2015 Desert Kite Festival in the local newspaper of Jaipur, India.
Drachen board member Jose Sainz, on left, and a family friend of the late Indian kite master Babu Khan stand with a display of Khan’s great kite works at the flying field.
The city buzzes on a visit to Kite Street of Jaipur, India.
LEFT: An ink rendering by the talented art director of Team Mangalore, a group that makes kites which depict the folklore and culture of India. RIGHT: Dinesh Holla, Team Mangalore’s art director with one of his kite creations.
LEFT: Rooftop flying in Jaipur, India with Michael Goddard, on left, and tour director Ajay Prakash. RIGHT: Kite flying under the Jaipur sky.
number of tours on hand. I couldn’t see how I could pull myself out of the office to go fly kites.
Well, to cut a long story short, he persisted, and I succumbed. Then the action started – emails, phone calls, Skype calls across the world to see who among my old kite friends could come at short notice. Raymond de Graaf from Holland I knew was coming. He makes the pilgrimage to India every January. The next to confirm were Frank Coenraets and his lovely wife Ka from Belgium. I also knew I could always count on support from the Drachen Foundation. So we were on!
A frenzied six weeks later we had 18 international fliers and 14 fliers from across India who all landed into Jodhpur on January 10th at the lovely Bal Samand Palace. Some old friends, some new faces, people I’d been chatting with over the last few weeks and could now put faces to the names – it looked like a great group. And the best thing was that everybody got there. Well, everyone barring young Tristan Underwood from Canada who was crossing the ocean for the first time and who was having the adventure of his life getting to India. But that’s another story!
Gracious as ever, Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur was there to inaugurate the festival on January 11th and we flew (or tried to!) on the lawns of the Gateway by Taj Hotel through the day. But it was the night flying which was most magical. We finally had decent wind and the kites looked beautiful as they flew in and out of the spotlights turned up into the sky while folk musicians and dancers entertained the people on the ground. John Barresi and Brett Michael put on a display of synchronized Rev flying onstage which enthralled the crowd who’d never seen anything like it before.
The next morning we left on the coach for
the drive to Jaipur where we were to fly on the 13th. The lovely guys of Team Mangalore kept coming up with snacks for everyone! We went to visit Kite Street in the evening and you could feel the buzz building up in the city.
This was the first time that I was doing a Festival in Jaipur without the late Babu Khan. I miss him. But his son Raees was there with a display of Babu’s kites and that brought back a lot of memories. Flying at the Chitrakoot Stadium was fine. Though the winds were very light in the morning, we did a few mass ascensions of deltas, and John, Brett, and young Tristan (who’d finally managed to join us in Jaipur) showed off their quad-line skills. In the afternoon, we headed out to a big terrace in the heart of the old city to experience the kite madness of Makar Sankranti. There were fighter kites and manjha [glass powder paste applied to the kite line] for everyone and it was delightful mayhem!
Jose Sainz had been practicing his fighter kite technique in the morning. He looked quite the pro! But the killer was Maksum from Indonesia – he can be a formidable opponent in the sky. Even John and Brett caught the fighter kite mania and proudly displayed their battle wounds, the manjha cuts on their fingers. Young Tristan, of course, was vibing with the young ladies at another terrace and was quite ready to take off like Superman at their invitation to visit. But we’d lost him too many times on this trip and Rashmi, my wife, was having none of it. She grabbed his hand told him he was going nowhere!
At sunset, the sky was still full of kites. It’s a gorgeous sight. If you’ve never seen a sky full of kites as far as the eye can see, you’re missing something special. So I hope we can do the Festival again and we hope we shall see you then. ◆