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A friend of mine recently spent a couple months working in India and I’ve asked her to share one of the highlights from her time there. Meet Jenny:
Last year, I moved from Vancouver to live in India for 6 months. While I was there, I was lucky to get the chance to experience Uttarayan, also called the Kite Festival as Gujarat. Every January 14 and 15, Gujaratis celebrate the end of winter by flying kites by day and releasing lanterns by night. I had the opportunity to see it in Ahmedabad, and it was one of the most magical experiences I had while in India.
To get a taste of the excitement, we headed off to one of the kite markets the night before. Because there was so much traffic, we got off the rickshaw several streets away. It was a good thing because there were so many people that every moving thing slowed down to a crawl.
We could feel the buzz in the air and the anticipation. Hundreds of little stalls were selling thousands of kites. When I got a look at the kites, I was surprised. They were not selling fancy kites in fantastic shapes. Instead, they were disposable, made from paper with bamboo forming the skeleton. People were buying 20-50 kites from one vendor, and then another 20-50 from another, and so on. Everyone prepared fully for this festival.
The next morning, we headed out to a local friend’s terrace. Apparently, he had already been flying kites for several hours. Many people start at sunrise to maximize their kite flying time. During Uttarayan, that’s where you can find most people – on a terrace somewhere.
It soon became clear why people were buying kites in bulk. Everyone is trying to cut everyone else’s kites, just like in the Kite Runner (my only source of knowledge on kite flying). The difference was that as soon as one kite was cut, you rejoined right away with a new one. As the hours progressed, more and more kites dotted the sky.
The air was quite still. Even for experienced kite fliers, it was sometimes a struggle to get a kite up. So I contented myself with observing.
In the afternoon, we left our friend’s terrace to go to another terrace in the old city. The second terrace was on top of an abandoned building in a warren of narrow streets in the old city. The buildings stood several stories tall and close together, so there were even more kites in the sky.
And then, as the sun was setting, we transition from flying kites to releasing lanterns.
Basically, it’s a paper balloon, filled with hot air from the flame below. When the fuel runs out, the lantern drifts back to earth.
Slowly, the revelers grew tired of flying kites. More and more people switched to lighting lanterns. Some hardcore kite flyers still flew kites, and you can see the interesting mix of lanterns and kites in the sky.
Finally, it grew too dark to fly kites, and millions of people lit up their own lanterns to light up the night sky.
Thousands of lights float across the darkness, like little aliens or mystical life forms migrating en masse towards a new home.
Living in North America, it’s hard to imagine the feeling of millions of people gathering to celebrate the same thing. On that day, everyone in Gujarat is connected by Uttarayan, the love of kite flying, and the beauty of lanterns floating on their own journey.
If you are in Ahmedabad for Uttarayan (lucky you!), check out Allfesto for local cultural activities and terraces for rent.
Have you been to Uttarayan? Tell me about it!
Jenny is a podcast addict living in Vancouver BC. She grew up in Hong Kong and lived abroad in India. Her life ambition is to be financial and location independent. You can connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.