… in which every rule gets broken, most things are white and salty, many trilobites fly, a few guys have a fight, and one well gets … well, desecrated.
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 sixth instalment in the series, and if you’d like to know what had happened before, check out Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and Chapter 5.
“Guys, we better hurry …”
“Maybe – maybe! – I have … desecrated … a village well. H-hypothetically.”
“Oh come on, everyone is so cool here, they wouldn’t get mad over a – “
“Here they come! Get on the bus!! Manoj, step on it!!!”
Zaher and Gregor, during our most efficient bus boarding ever, in Bhirandiyara.
The coldest night gave way to a very cold morning; after a shaky breakfast (I’ve managed to find a chilli that was not hot … in India) we said goodbye to our tents, climbed into the crazy red bus – and drove to a place that is really indescribable. I mean, look at this:
A vast expanse of white under the indigo sky … and we were to fly kites here?
But, as usual, first there were speeches (sigh!), and a performance of dancing masters of Dhordo (cool!), and a roll call of every kite team, and a present for each of us (wow!) …
… but all this took a back seat to the spectacle all around us.
This is Rann of Kutch, one of the largest salt deserts in the world. An immense expanse of, well, salt: a thin crust of salt covering wet clay. A temptation to break even the last rule of healthy travel.
We all know the rules: don’t drink water except from sealed bottles, don’t eat fruit that can’t be peeled, don’t eat from the floor …
(Earlier, on the bus: “Hey guys, want some grapes?” “Sure, Juan, thanks!”)
And so we were standing in the middle of the salt desert when Ivor got sceptical.
“You sure it is salt?”
“Our salt? I mean, table salt, edible salt, the one we put in food?”
Still, it was more of a salt hypothesis to him, so an experiment was needed to turn it into a salt theory.
“No, it’s good – it really is salt!”
The Don’t Eat From the Floor rule was broken. We all tasted the salt of Rann. We survived.
There were more rules we’ve broken on our trip – like Don’t Go Into a Dark Basement With Strangers, or Don’t Break Into Other Peoples Houses – but that’s for the next chapter …
Usually in a desert the temperature differences and pressure gradients conspire to drive sustained and kite-friendly winds. Usually. Not in Rann of Kutch, not when we were there. So apart from those annoying kite trains pretty much the only things that could fly were – trilobites!
The kite field the organisers had so meticulously prepared, was nice and cute and small – so we immediately declared the whole of Rann to be a kite flying ground. The camels were amused by kiters struggling to pull their masterpieces into the desert air …
It was hard to fly kites, and not only because of the uncooperative wind. Our eyes couldn’t stay off the endless, empty, surreal, salty Rann …
The most reliable method of getting anything to fly was take a trilobite for a walk – pull them up and walk against the wind into the white salt …
Or even better – get someone to walk it for you!
And then we had lunch … Lunch on a kite field is usually a pre-packed meal, usually from the hotel we had spent the previous night. But the good people of Dhordo were having none of this. As we arrived at the luxurious catering tent, a bunch of beautiful ladies were waiting for us, each with a big bowl of something exceptional, mouth-watering, fantastic. It was the best kite ground lunch ever, and by a hefty margin. We’ve even invaded the backroom (where grannies were preparing all the delicious food) and almost caused another tea incident …
“Got some tea?””
“Eeee … hm, well – yes, we have tea, just wait!”
They gave us their own tea (sorry, grannies of Dhordo, for our obtuseness and lack of manners!), and they laughed, and we heaped praise on them, and they laughed some more, and we had a feeling they actually liked that we liked the tea and everything else so much (we did!).
Then we flew … err, walked, some more …
We impressed the media, of course …
And we even tried to have a kite aerial photography session … bloody optimists …
It was time to go back … all the way back to Ahmedabad. 400 km … Eight hours? Ten?
We crawled exhausted to our beautiful crazy red bus, and straight into an argument. The thing was that an unplanned visit of a Bollywood star disrupted all the plans, as the star wanted to see the kites flying – and nobody denies a wish to a Bollywood star. So the organisers split our group into the lucky cool guys (who got to go back to Ahmedabad) and the unlucky bastards (who needed to stay at Dhordo for another day and fly kites for the star).
But who should stay and who should go?
Well, the organisers “volunteered” (or, to be precise, press-ganged) the unlucky ones (hi Marcin! Hi Barbara! Julia! Jacek!) that were neither us nor our bus buddies, so we breathed a sigh of relief. But there was another problem: one bus had to stay behind, and they wanted it to be our little crazy red bus with Manoj the Snake Plissken!
“No way! Talk to our lawyer!”
They did. And under Gregor’s whirlwind assault of logic and arguments they relented. And Manoj cheerfully stepped on it for one last time, guiding our crazy red bus insanely and safely all the way to Ahmedabad.
The drive was uneventful until tea time. The village of Bhirandiyara is usually calm, pleasant, hospitable – and in it one can find one of the most exquisite teas in the whole of Gujarat, made by some of the most cool guys in the whole of India.
Most cool that is, until someone (we are looking at you, Zaher!) makes a terrible mistake.
Tea is always served in small paper cups. As it is very hot, too hot for our delicate fingers, it is advisable to use two cups – one for holding the tea, the other for insulation. It is also advisable to dispose of empty cups carefully; especially at night, especially in a village that is proud of its tradition.
“Whoa!” exclaimed Gregor.
“I’ve almost thrown a cup into a village well …”
Every well in India is protected by a god, or more than one of them; in this parts of Gujarat especially, as water is scarce, drinking water even more so, and clean drinking water is an absolute rarity. Therefore the good people of Bhirandiyara – and the gods – are fiercely protective about their sacred village well.
“What the hell did you think?”
“I thought it was a trash can!”
“A trash can???”
“I know! I’m sorry!”
Gregor (and all of us with him) had escaped the wrath of gods by a last-minute bolt of sanity. However …
“Guys, we better hurry …,” said Zaher softly.
“I might’ve … desecrated … a village well … by throwing some tea cups in it …”
Oh, for gods‘ sake …
“Here they come! Get on the bus!! Manoj, step on it!!!”
There is not much more to tell; we rolled, we almost – almost! – collided with 45 tons of onions that are notoriously hard to see when loaded on an unlit truck, we sang and slept and smoked bidis, and in the wee hours of the penultimate day in India we’ve landed in Ahmedabad at last.
The next day was 76 hours long, and it deserves another chapter!
In the next episode: the most incredible sight in the world, a visit to the ashram, a math exercise, a breaking and entering, an underground hospital, a chicken tikka from heaven, and a most expensive beer ever. Till then!