Desert Kite Festival Concludes at Jodhpur

Click for larger ImageMakar Sankranti is one of the very few Indian festivals that has a solar association and, therefore, follows the Gregorian calendar. It is a day when kites are flown in many parts of India and on the 14th of January this year, the spectacular Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, the last regal palace to be built in India, was the scene of the culmination of the 2nd International Desert Kite Festival.

75 fliers from 7 countries, including India, participated in this colourful spectacle organised by Ajay Prakash of Nomad Travels, Mumbai.

The Festival stared on 12 January on the huge Polo Ground and was inaugurated by Mah. Gaj Singh of Jodhpur who is also Chairman of Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation. The Chief Guest, General P.S. Joshi (G.O.C in C Jodhpur) unfurled the Festival flag, the Mehrangarh band struck up a lively tune, an Air Force helicopter dropped kites from the sky, schoolchildren released hundreds of coloured balloons which met the kites on their way down - and the Festival was on !

Watched by many excited children, George Peters and Melanie Walker from USA started to set up their "wind garden," a veritable riot of colour and striking shapes.

The Belgian team of Frank Coenraets, Guy Van Acker and Andries Van Looken who travel the word over and participate in many kite festivals as the "Desert Kite Team," - a name they have adopted since their participation in the 1st Desert kite Festival at Jodhpur in January 97 - sent their colourful patchwork kites aloft in the gentle wind, Paul Thody from England threw off his shirt and shoes and got his parafoil and mountain board streaming across the Polo Ground - hotly pursued by excited children unmindful of the dusty wake Paul left behind.

In another part of the huge field the Fighter Kite competition got underway. Apart from 7 teams from Jodhpur, teams from Delhi, Pune and Jaipur, the surprise to the Fighter Kite Competition were 5 fliers from the Hong Kong Kite Fighting Club. The Hong Kong Fliers are fierce fighters when it come to kites and their innovative technique soon saw them mercilessly chopping down opposing kites out out of the sky.

Tal Streeter "the wise man of kites", a much travelled kite designer, scupltor and writer who has written a fascinating book called "A Kite Journey through India" wandered around the field, chatting with people, taking notes and pictures for his article to be published in Drachen Magazin of Germany. Jean-Philippe Bequet, Editor of Kite Passion of France, voted the "Best Kite Magazine in the World" at the Kite Trade Association meet in San Diego earlier this month was also there to do a report on the Festival.

Click for larger ImageTwo full days of flying at the Polo Ground provided very interesting sidelights - the Rajmata of Jodhpur talking to little children, George Peters’ spectacular kites being flown by schoolgirls, Paul Thody giving rides on his kite powered mountain board (like a skateboard with large pneumatic tyres) to urchins in torn shirts, the kite fliers playing a friendly Cycle Polo match with the Maharaja’s team in which both the Maharaja and his son participated - and kites, kites, kites ! Kites that looked like wasps, and sounded like one too (!), kites that looked like exquisite stained glass windows, kites that looked like graceful mythical birds soaring in the sky - the sky was full of magic and everybody was walking around with their heads turned skywards !

On Makar Sankranti, 14 January, the Festival shifted to the Palace lawns. The great serrated dome rising into the blue, the marble Baradari gleaming like a jewel amid the electric green of the lawn, and the kite fliers came with their riot of colour. Suddenly the Palace acquired another identity - light, airy, graceful splashes in its immense solidity.

The finals of the Fighter Kite Competition turned out to be a tense affair - the Hong Kong Kite Fighting Club finally wresting the Championship from a local Jodhpur team, the Fateh Sagar Kite Club, with a score of 4-2.

The Most Creative Kite Designer prize went to George Peters of the USA and to Asghar Hussain Baylim of Jodhpur. Paul Thody of England was adjudged The Best Display Flier and the Desert Kite Team from Belgium the Best Team.

Click for larger ImageAt the Prize giving ceremony, presided over by Mah. Gaj Singh and the Chief of the Air Force in Jodhpur, Air Marshal Krishnaswamy, Mr. Ajay Prakash - Chief Executive of Nomad Travels and the organiser of the Festival spoke of his dreams for the Festival - an annual splash of colour, listed by the Department of Tourism, Govt. of India in its Festival Calendar circulated worldwide, drawing increasing numbers of fliers and tourists to participate in this joyous event. The theme of the Festival, " One Sky - One World " and its relevence today in an age of confrontation; only the sky is without borders and kite flying a sport without boundaries.

Click for larger ImageScott Skinner, the President of the Drachen foundation in Seattle, a non-profit organization devoted to the spread of kites and kite information throughout the world, spoke of the importance of integrating the fighter kite tradition and manjha with the display and static kites favoured by most Westerners. Scott and Ali Fujino, the Administrator of the Foundation and an ex staffer of the Smithsonian Institution have carried back a wealth of Indian kites, Charkhis, Manjha and kite making tools to include in their permanent display at the Foundation. Scott’s closing speech was a paen to the universal appeal of kites and the welcome addition of India to the global kite flying community.

The next Desert Kite Festival - from 12 to 14 January 99 envisages the World Cup of Fighter Kites with fliers from Japan, Korea, Indonesia, France, Belgium, Singapore, Hong Kong, Nepal, Pakistan and India. Of course the big kites and buggies will be there, too.