Why do we fly kites in Uttarayan


Impressions from the kite festival in Ahmedabad / India, January 12 ... 14, 2004

On November 8th the first invitation came by email: Kite Festival in Ahmedabad / India. Unusually early by Indian standards. Kite Festival should (as always) be around January 14th. Details (as always) no further known. In the next few weeks there was a lively, if not very productive, email traffic between Ahmedabad and Germany. Pretty much every hang-glider in God's beautiful world had received and answered the mail and was now waiting more or less relaxed to see what happened. My attempt to organize a group of 5 people from Germany unfortunately ended in the Indian void. In between it turned out that besides myself Bernard Dingwerth had received a specific commitment. We then tried to organize our preparations together and fly together.

My passport, which disappeared without a trace for about 3 weeks at the Indian consulate in Frankfurt, is only mentioned in passing. Shortly before departure there was some excitement in the kite scene. Firmly promised invitations were probably revoked by the organization a few days before the travel date. Panic, but our tickets were still OK. ‚No problem’.

The tickets should be deposited at the counter in Frankfurt. It wasn't until we sat on the plane on January 9th that I believed it after 8 weeks back and forth. The plane (as always) totally overbooked. We are therefore allowed to fly business class. Very pleasant.. ,No problem’. We don't know how things will continue in Mumbai anyway, it will work out.

In Mumbai we are expected by an employee of the Ministry of Tourism of Gujarat (Indian state). The onward flight to Ahmedabad is in a few hours early in the morning. In the meantime, numerous international kite travelers also arrive. It will be fun. And you need a lot of (gallows) humor in India. Flight to Ahmedabad with Jet Air. Surprise. Nice, modern planes. ,No problem'

Ahmedabad hasn't changed much in the 4 years since I was last here. The hotel is OK. And already now, 4 days before the actual Dragon Holiday Makar Sankranti will be everywhere Patangs flown. Now there are also the first details about the planned program. On the 12th there is the big international kite festival in the police stadium, on the 13th there is a highly official 'economic development event' with Prime Minister etc. on the university grounds and on the 14th Patang-Flying on the roofs in the old town. That means that we only need our 40 kg kites for one day. ‚No problem'

In the evening the room telephone suddenly rings. 'Hello Jürgen, we are here too'. That Michael Wengemayr and Engelbert Simon are also coming, had at least not got around in Germany. The 'Indian' organization already has its surprises in store.

On the 10th and 11th, the now more than 60 international hang-gliders will be driven by 3'er buses to some interesting destinations in the surrounding area. Lots of photo opportunities, very interesting. Construction technology seems to have been further developed a few hundred years ago than it is today. The buses and drivers (as well as almost the entire organization) are, by the way, the same as they were 4 and 10 years ago. ‚No problem', you just can't have back problems on the bus.

On the afternoon of the 11th, we went to the police stadium to set up the kites for the next day. Every country has its own little booth, which is decorated with the dragons. Almost half of the stadium has a stage and seating. There is no wind in sight.

The big day is here. Getting to the station pretty early. There is no shortage of spectators. Countless buses bring school classes (all in beautiful school uniforms). Then the official opening program. Various speeches (Chief Minister Gujarat and 3 other important gentlemen), several folklore performances and singing performances let the morning pass quickly. Around 12:30 we can then fly our kites. At least in theory. The wind isn't even enough for the local patangs. And running doesn't work either. Far too many people on the pitch. Everyone wants to pull on the leash. Just don't stay in one place for too long. After a short time you are surrounded by people and have to sign countless autographs. On hats, paper, cardboard, arms etc ... whatever is there. Unfortunately, my Genki doesn't survive such a moment. Almost bent in a circle by the pushing people, the bars give way with an ugly noise. ‚No problem'. We still have dragons ...

Since the audience liked it so much, it was decided to go back to the stadium for the next morning. Without long official speeches etc. Again a lot of interested spectators. Just (as always) no wind. ‚No problem', The morning goes by with autographs, answering questions, taking photos with everyone, etc.

Lunch is in a nice garden restaurant. A dancing Santa Claus and other 'traditional' characters add to the entertainment. You could even ride an elephant if you had the time. ‚No problem'    

Then to the highly official part of January 13th. An economic development show with a congress etc. is in progress on the university campus. The kite festival is financed from this not inconsiderable budget. We're just a negligible part of it all. With us hang gliders, more than 12,000 invited guests sit in front of the big stage for over 4 hours. The main speaker at the event, honoring some of those who have contributed to Gujarat's economy, will be Prime Minister of India Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee. As if Gerhard Schröder spoke for over an hour on the occasion of a kite festival. However, we did not understand a word. He didn't speak english. ‚No problem' , there are now some secret photos of hang-gliders sleeping in their seats ...

In the evening Bernhard and I take a Tuc-Tuc to go to the dragon market. There are two in Ahmedabad. The first is a relatively narrow street that is completely filled with people pushing themselves. The piles of the purchased dragons are elegantly held overhead. They would not survive walking through the crowds in front of their bodies. That after dragons (Patang), Linen (Manja) and coils (Firki) The best-selling products are 'fog horns' made from a cardboard cone and a balloon. The noise in the street is quite big. After crossing the street, we spontaneously drive on to the second Drachenmarkt, which is located on a wider street. Numerous mania makers can also be seen at work there. This year the color purple / pink is the fashion color for linen. Average price seems to be around 40 rupees (54 rupees = 1 euro) for 5 kites. Linen are more expensive. A spool of 2,000 meters of reasonably good, sharp lines costs around 240 rupees. Berhard can no longer resist his urge to buy and we drive back to the hotel with a whole pile of kites well after midnight.

January 14th is the main holiday of the traditional festival (Makar Sankranti or. Uttarayan) in Ahmedabad (and all of Gujarat). The entire population celebrates the change from winter to summer with good food, loud music and flying kites. They are everywhere. The roofs of the houses, free spaces, but also less suitable locations such as balconies on the 5th floor of a 10-story house, crossroads, next to the airport, under high-voltage lines etc. are eagerly used, the little kites on the longest possible leash (at least 100 ... 200m) and cut off the opponent by skillful maneuvering and quick pulling on your own line. A successful 'cut' is announced to the whole neighborhood by loud shouts of joy or said 'foghorns'. Towards evening small fireworks with plenty of 'firecrackers' are set off everywhere.

The number of kites produced only in Ahmedabad in one year is estimated at 10 million. A branch of the economy that should not be underestimated, which is mainly characterized by small family businesses.

The 'flip side of the coin' are not just a few injuries to humans and animals. Remnants of linen hanging right across the street lead to ugly cuts in scooters and cyclists, and every year numerous people fall from the roof due to carelessness or the dilapidation of the roof. There are separate commercials on television for safe handling of the kites. Even so, there are also some deaths each year. Animal rights activists even offer emergency numbers for an ambulance service to care for injured animals during the festive season.

The next morning the event dissolves. About 20 people fly back to Mumbai. Several inquiries from the organizer confirm that we will be picked up and that hotels have been booked. It turns out differently. After waiting 2 hours in front of Mumbai's national airport, the local manager appears and explains completely unmoved that nothing has been prepared and that he cannot do anything for us. No problem'. (1)

Now the group broke up further. We (2 Germans, 3 Americans, 3 Australians) accepted the dubious offer of 'nice hotel advertisers'. For the equivalent of 60 euros per room we received 3 clean (surprise) rooms in a medium-sized hotel about 10 minutes from the airport. Environment takes getting used to, but it will be enough for 2 nights. ‚No problem'. The next day, Berhard and I charter a rental car with a driver and drive all day across Mumbai. The city is huge. Nobody knows exactly how many residents now live there in houses, in corrugated iron huts or simply on the sidewalk and at the roadside. It should be around 18 million people right now.

On the 17th at 4:00 am to the airport. The Air India Jumbo coming from the south is defective. There's a new one, uh, another. ‚No problem'. And several hours of delay. The seats will be redistributed. When you can hear 'Free Seating' through the loudspeaker in the waiting room, there is chaos. The flight then went without any problems. Only my train in Frankfurt was of course gone. ‚No problem'.       

Why I (t) make the trip at all: Just for January 14th (and the evening before) on the roofs of the old town of Ahmedabad, the trip is worth it. And so the problems were pushed aside again every 5 years.

Jürgen Ebbinghaus

1) Note the larger gap between the two words J.