The first kite I spied on my trip to Ahmedabad last January was a simple paper diamond valiantly bobbing above the Sabarmati River. Pale under the rosy sun, it was nowhere as elaborate as the artistic kites at the International Kite Festival (IKF), but it was my first glimpse of a city where kite-flying means serious business.
Come Uttarayan, which marks the northward ascent of the sun, cities and villages across Gujarat celebrate by soaring kites on Makar Sankranti on January 14. There are kite wars between kids and adults on rooftops, kite businesses go into overdrive to meet the demand, and in Ahmedabad, kite makers from around the world congregate at the International Kite Festival for a friendly show of their art.
The IKF returns to the Sabarmati riverfront this year from Sun January 8-Wed January 14 (Entry is free and open to all.) Expect a rainbow of fancy kites—some with playful and innovative design, others with social messages—flown by artists from India and around the world. Last year, I saw traditional musical kites from Cambodia flown for thanksgiving at harvest time, and learned that the kite-making tradition had restarted only a few decades ago, after the fall of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. I saw kites in a mesmerising array of geometric shapes—cool inflatable kites from Belgium, traditional fighter kites from Malaysia, a South Korean kite emblazoned with Psy doing “Gangnam Style”. At one corner, Germany’s Axel Kostros displayed a vividly pink panty-shaped kite. At another, Gopal Patel from Ahmedabad had a train of lotus kites in the exact number of seats won by the BJP in the general elections. It felt like walking around a giant adult playground.
Switch between scanning the skies for kites and browsing the stalls selling handicrafts, knick-knacks, clothes, spices, snacks—you name it. For a glimpse of kite culture around the world, make a pit stop at the tiny Patang Museum (patang is the Hindi word for kite) at Sanskar Kendra. The building itself is worth a look; it’s one of Ahmedabad’s notable structures, built by Modern architecture pioneer Le Corbusier.
Ahmedabad’s kite culture is of course, best observed on the streets. Look for people painting and winding long lines of kite string on the footpaths, and drop by the higgledy-piggledy kite specialty market at Jamalpur Darwaja. The market is a picture of serious business, teeming with shops that source kite materials from as far as Kolkata and as near as Baroda, street carts with flashy China-made designs, and homes that double up as kite-printing presses. Of course, when in Ahmedabad, don’t pass up any chance to eat—begin with our thali guide to the city.
Where: Sabarmati Riverfront, Ahmedabad
When: Sun January 8-Wed January 14
Getting There: Ahmedabad has its own airport and railway station, which is connected to most major railway stations in the country. Autos are a handy way to get around the city, and run by a fixed meter.
Details: Check http://ikf.gujarattourism.com/ for details on timings, events, and updates. Or call the Gujarat Tourism board at 079-23977200.