The best time to visit Ahmedabad (anywhere in Gujarat, actually) is during Uttarayan or Makara Sankranti, in my humble opinion. That is when the citizens go all out to enjoy themselves, when the kite mania is on, when you get to see the city in a whole new avatar. This is apart from the Navratri season, when the city is decked up at its glorious best, of course.
Gujarat and kites are inseparable. Yes, you can see kites being flown in a few other parts of India as well, but nowhere is it as frantic and frenzied and grand and alluring as it is during Uttarayan in Gujarat. When I used to live in Ahmedabad, about 9 years ago, the entire city would come to a standstill the two days of the festival – on Uttarayan, January 14, and Vasi Uttarayan, January 15. On these two days, every single Gujarati family would practically live on their terrace, eating tal-gol ni chikki (sesame brittle made with jaggery), undhiyu and jalebi and a whole lot of other delicacies, blasting loud music, flying kites, competing with the other kites that threatened to cut theirs off. Now, the kite-flying fervour is, more or less, contained to the Old City, the ancient pols of Ahmedabad, where people gather with their extended families to enjoy the festival big-time.
Makara Sankranti is when the sun begins its transit into the zodiac of Capricorn (‘Makara‘ refers to Capricorn, in Gujarati), commonly on January 14 every year. This day signifies the end of winter and the beginning of summer, hopes for a plentiful harvest and good times. While South India celebrates this harvest festival as Pongal, by making overflowing pans of sweet and savoury pongal, Gujarat celebrates by flying kites, on a BIG scale.
Come January, and little make-shift stalls start appearing all over the city, some selling a variety of kites, threads, finger caps, sunglasses and many other small and big things that make up the entire experience of flying kites. Some of these stalls offer ready-to-buy thread on firkis for flying kites, many boasting of the best-quality one from Surat.
At some stalls, you can spot craftsmen busy at work on spools, getting thread ready for the big day, lacing it with glass to make them stronger, dyeing it pink or yellow or blue or a myriad of other colours.
Some of these stalls sell chikki, undhiyu, jalebi and fafda, those quintessential snacks that are a pre-requisite for a Gujarati’s celebration of Uttarayan.
The last couple of days before Uttarayan, there is much hustle and bustle on the streets. These make-shift stalls (specially those in the old part of the city) burst to the seams with people choosing the kites they want to fly, the right sort of thread, the other accompaniments they would need, lanterns that would go up in the sky at night, snacks to nibble on as the family flew kites, and so on.
On the days of Uttarayan and Vasi Uttarayan, shouts of ‘Kaipo chhe!’ ring out from terraces as families indulge in warfare in the skies – kite-flying competitions which sometimes go on for hours on end. Latest Bollywood songs and remixes add to the feeling of josh on the terraces. This, for sure, is something you must experience at least once in your lifetime.
The sad part about Uttarayan is the huge number of humans, animals and birds who die on the streets, their bodies cut deep and ugly by stray pieces of sharp thread. Pick up a newspaper in Gujarat just after Uttarayan, and the kite-thread death statistics are as astonishing as the stories are gory. As a preventive measure, it is best not to walk or ride around the streets in open vehicles just before and during Uttarayan.
On our recent visit to Ahmedabad, just before Uttarayan, I noticed a new wire contraption affixed to several two-wheelers in the city. I hear this is an innovation born out of necessity, a device that shields the faces and necks of two-wheeler riders from any bits of thread that might cut their bodies, as they drive. This is something very new, something I saw for the first time this year, being sold on the streets and used by quite a large number of two-wheeler riders. It is quite effective in preventing accidents too, I hear.
Watching hundreds of colourful kites flitting in the sky on the days of Uttarayan and Vasi Uttarayan is a sight in itself. Even more breath-taking, though, is the sight of the sky at night on these two days – when it is lit by hundreds of tukkals, paper lanterns with candles in them. The latter is a scene straight out of a fairytale, surely.
The kite fervour in Gujarat is something that you must absolutely experience. My heart is full of memories of beautiful Uttarayan days gone by, and I hope you build some of your own too. Ahmedabad – well connected by train and air from different parts of India – is a great place to do just that!
I hope you have been reading and enjoying my other posts about Ahmedabad. If not, please do! 🙂
- Ahmedabad, after ages
- Glimpses from the International Kite Festival 2018, Ahmedabad
- Ponk bhel| Hurda bhel| Tender jowar (sorghum) bhel
- Khichdi, Etc., Ahmedabad: Serving khichdi varieties from around the globe
- Ponk vada| Hurda vada| Tender jowar (sorghum) fritters