… in which we celebrate a birthday, shock the good people of Somnath, help an industry to flourish, encounter another wild boar, and dance under an incredible purple sky.
KAP Jasa – kite team Slovenia was invited to the great International Kite Festival Gujarat 2023. From January 6 to January 16 we rode planes, buses, cars, rickshaws, and camels from Slovenia to Ahmedabad and all over the amazing Gujarat state of India. We found old, and made new, friends; experienced beautiful, crazy, and astonishing things; and flew kites in incredible places. Enjoy the fourth instalment in the series! Oh, and if you haven’t read the previous chapters yet – Chapter 1 is here, Chapter 2 here, and Chapter 3 here.
“You better look at this, sir.”
“What is it?”
“I don’t know. But it looks like a giant …”
Johnson … and his commanding officer; Somnath, Gujarat; high noon of January 10, 2023
After we had left the scene of the bovine accident and the crazy red bus continued its crazy ride to Somnath, our next kite flying destination, we discovered that one can do pretty much anything to another person – if one claims it’s tradition. Namely, Juan had (unwisely) confided to us that it was his birthday that day.
Gregor: “How old are you?”
Juan: “Thirty nine!”
Gregor (shocked): “And you still fly kites??? That’s for children!”
James had a different approach …
“So, you have birthday today?”
“Yes,” said Juan smiling – and got promptly soaked as James emptied a bottle of water all over the birthday boy.
Juan stood up, with ‘WTF!?’ dripping from his eyes and water dripping from everywhere else.
“It’s tradition! Tradition!” claimed James, “In the Philippines we always wet the person who has birthday!…”
Well, it turned out that in Lithuania the “tradition” is to smear chocolate all over the celebrant’s face. In Bali they kick one’s ass repeatedly – for good luck, of course. In Mexico one gets his shoes hidden, in India they cover the happy one in paint … In Slovenia – well, Gregor attempted a celebratory smack in the face (“It’s called a birthday klofuta in Sovenia, and is known as a lucky šamar in the Balkans,” he tried to explain), but Juan had enough of all these “traditions”.
“I don’t like tradition. What about just a nice cake and a toast to me?”
The crazy red bus finally landed in front of a really nice hotel in Somnath, and our first order of business was to have dinner, followed by a nice cake and a toast to young Juan – Juan Kristoforus Oematan Meko of Yogyakarta – who confirmed his yet another successful completion of an orbit around the sun by blowing the candles out. Tradition!
We ran out of our comforting Thums Up for the customary glass before bed, so we had to get a bottle or two – and yet again we ran into the Indian city wildlife … Ivor had just been taking photos of us roaming the streets, and he inadvertently caught the whole sequence of meeting a wild boar:
The next morning the tradition of the kite festival opening ceremony was strong: endless speeches, a nice cultural programme (no, really – the yogis were amazing, and the girls danced as if possessed!), lighting of the sacred fire while chanting sacred mantras …
The wind was promising and the forecast was even better, and we sensed this was the day to finally roll out our biggest kite, the pride of KAP Jasa kite club, the flying symbol of Slovenia, of its pristine nature and its quirky, endemic fauna. But first, some classics!
The wind was picking up, so we did the last test before we’d take out the giant. We have a long – a very long – snake that needs similar wind conditions to our signature kite: smooth and pretty strong, but within the limits. The snake is unstable, very delicate for its size, and hard to control – one strange gust and all 50 meters of it start to gyrate wildly and sweep the kite field clean.
The snake test went … good enough, the decision was made: break out the giant!
And so we did … and the good people of Somnath were left speechless …
It rose magnificently, slowly and steadily into the Somnath sky – or at least it would if it were bridled correctly. The thing is that such a large ‘laundry’ kite (that needs a pilot kite to take it up into the wind as it can’t fly on its own) needs to be attached to the pilot kite line very carefully, otherwise the wind can’t fill it up, all the lift is lost and it just hangs there like some old giant’s underwear.
Luckily, the good people of Somnath saw how we fought with the kite, and offered their advice and their help. A kite in the air is better than pride unscathed, so we gladly let them do all the work! One young Somnath man really distinguished himself, bridled the kite, controlled the line expertly, steadying our pretty stretched nerves …
And then the giant kite really rose magnificently into the Somnath sky.
The giant … Proteus anguinus, Olm – or human fish as we call it in Slovene – was finally in the air! This 25 m long kite is a rather realistic depiction of one of the most enigmatic animals, the largest exclusively cave-dwelling vertebrate in the world. It has no eyes and no skin pigment (that’s why its colour is so like the colour of the human skin), and it never leaves the larval stage, keeping colourful external gills for all its life.
It’s the pride of Slovenia, the symbol of our pristine and unique Nature, the true ruler of Karst. And it’s cool to see it fly, this aquatic cave animal!
See the Proteus wiggle!
This celestial show attracted the media – and we got our 15 minutes of fame!
And then we needed some rest in the shade of this dreadful kite-eating tree …
Manoj stepped on it and we left the good people of Somnath in a cloud of dust behind our crazy red bus. On to our next kite show, on to Rajkot! Luckily, this was the shortest leg of our journey (six hours? seven?), and we had plenty of time to stop along the road to admire nature – and art.
The colours, the tastes, the aromas, and the feels of Gujarat are rich, incredible, amazing, and unique. So smoking imported tobacco just doesn’t fit in … especially as India is offering some very special homemade cigarettes – mini cigars, actually – called beedies (or bidis).
Indian tobacco cultivation started in the 17th century, and soon the workers invented something to smoke themselves: they wrapped some leftover tobacco flakes into a tree leaf, and puffed contentedly. The leaf is as important as tobacco; it is harvested from a two different tree species, either a Tandu (Diospyros melanoxylon, East India ebony), or the Sonpatta tree (Bauhinia racemosa), a sacred plant of which almost every part is used in Ayurvedic medicine. Both are known as bidi leaf trees. The mini cigar is fastened with a short thread of cotton.
So in order to experience the true taste of India, we had to get and smoke some bidis! The kiosk at the rest stop seemed to have them in stock.
“હું આપની શું મદદ કરી શકું”
“I’d like to have some bidis …”
“હા, અલબત્ત, મિસ્ટર. કઈ બ્રાન્ડ?”
The kiosk owner was a bit perplexed … Five bidis? Five … I mean, should I open a pack and … how much do I charge for that? Bloody tourists …, when a helpful passer-by noticed the frowned face, stopped and offered help.
“Everything okay? Can I help you?”
“Well hello! I don’t know, I’d just like five bidis …”
“Eh? Five bidis …?”
“Yes, five packs of …”
“Ah! Five packs of bidis! Sure!
He turned to the kiosk boss: “તેને બીડીના પાંચ પેક જોઈએ છે!”
“આહ – પાંચ પેક! હાહાહાહા!”
We got our packs, joined our party sipping tea, and lit up – to great amusement of our Indian friends and even greater curiosity of the crazy kite flyers. While the Indians were almost rolling on the floor laughing (in India only rural folk, peasants and poor wretched souls smoke bidis), the kiters were more like:
“Can I have one?”
“Me too, please!”
“Spare one for me!”
Soon everyone was puffing – and a line formed at the kiosk that made the owner (and the whole bidi industry of India) happy:
“Can I have five packs of bidis?”
“અલબત્ત! અહીં તમે જાઓ, સાહેબ!”
We got to Rajkot – you guessed it – in the middle of the night. After a short dispute at the reception desk we took our glasses, a bottle of Thums Up and a bottle of [redacted], and went to the top terrace of the hotel. And as we climbed up the stairs, the music was getting louder and louder.
“Is there a party on the roof?”
We opened the door of the terrace, and boy … it wasn’t a party – it was a rave!
Under the incredibly purple sky of Rajkot people were dancing. In the dim light of a bottle of water put over the phone flashlight we saw – they were all from our crazy bus convoy!
“Now you choose the music,” said Marcin.
And Ivor did.
In the next chapter: a camera flies above Rajkot, a couple of kites get really entangled, we find a party toilet, an endless drive brings us to a very cold place, and the tents in which we are to sleep look very suspicious. Soon!