… in which we fight Batmans, break the Guinness World Record, eat the best food ever, stage a mutiny on the bus – and run in front of the wild fauna of India.
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 second instalment in the series – and if you haven’t yet read the first one, click here.
“My friends! In this world some people are rich and others are poor. I met rich people and I thought – I am poor, and they are rich. But now I look at you, all my friends I’m hosting here this evening, and I know: I am a rich man. Tonight I am the richest man in the world.”
Jamshed Babalu, January 8 2023, Ahmedabad
Have one eye on the sky. Always. On the roof of this Ahmedabad hotel vigilance is a must – for a huge madhūka tree, the holy tree of Vyasa’s Puranas, grows right next to it, its canopy towering over the terrace. The sweet sap of madhūka attracts lovers, sweetmakers, the constipated (madhūka sap releases, say the masters of Ayurveda) – and Batmans.
Batmans can be a pain in the ass, you know … You go up on the terrace with a glass of thums up, to enjoy the warm Ahmedabad night and get a few moments of peace (the incessant noise of the traffic can be blocked out after a while) after a hard day of kite flying, the last thing you need and expect is that ominous swish from the sky. You turn your head towards the source of the dark noise – and you see the monster coming at you. Batman.
“Hey, what are you doing on the floor?”
“Ssshhhh … get down, don’t look at them, and come here slowly …”
“What? Are you craz- OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL IS THAT IT’S COMING AT US RUN RUN RUN!!!!!”
A meter and a half of wingspan, a kilo and a half of pure menace. You are but an echo for it, an unwanted and unneeded competitor for the sweet madhūka sap. When a cauldron – what an appropriate term! – a cauldron of them descends upon you, you simply don’t stand a chance: it’s Pteropus giganteus, the greater Indian fruit bat. A vector for many things, friendship and peaceful coexistence not among them.
Only when the Polish kite team joined us on the terrace a fragile peace broke out: we stood clear of the madhūka, and they ceased to try to get entangled in our hair – and yank our heads off.
And this wasn’t our only encounter with the fierce Gujarati fauna that neverending day …
Mr. Alok Kumar Pandey is the managing director of the Tourist Corporation of Gujarat, the organizers of the great International kite festival IKF Gujarat. Mr. Pavankumar Solanki is the founder and president of the Genius – World Records India Foundation. One day these two distinguished gentlemen put their heads together and brainstormed about Guinness World records – could one be broken at the IKF Gujarat 2023?
Something to do with kites, perhaps?
Well, a lot of kiters from a lot of countries of the world came to Gujarat for the kite festival. What if we gather them right after the opening ceremony and make them all fly kites at the same time – at least one from each country – and we’ll make the world record: the most countries flying kites simultaneously!
They put us in a long line across the kite flying ground in Ahmedabad, gave the signal – “Now! Go go go go!” – and almost a hundred kites promptly flew into the Ahmedabad sky. Kiters from Argentina, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Lebanon, Mauritius, N, Oman, Poland, Republic of India, Slovenia, Tunisia, Vietnam, United Kingdom, Zimbabwe and all the rest broke the Guinness World Record with ease (and with countries to spare). Thus we are forever in the Great Book: most nationalities flying kites simultaneously!
And Slovenia was something else yet again: flying our kite during this successful record breaking attempt was Her Excellency the Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia in India, Madam Mateja Vodeb Ghosh. Ha!
And this wasn’t the only record we broke that neverending day …
Mr. Jamshed Babalu is a legendary kite flyer, an icon of Amdavadi and Gujarati and international kite community, and the president of the JEEM kite club. He and his family live in the Muslim quarter of the old Ahmedabad and every year they prepare a feast for kiters of the IKF Gujarat.
The word “feast” doesn’t really describe the event … it’s a huge dinner party, a veritable symposion in the very heart of the UNESCO World Heritage city. The Babalu family go and cordon off a nice little square in the quarter (right under the approach path of the Ahmedabad airport; the contrast between the delicate ancient architecture and a landing Airbus with its engines screaming and lights glaring and flaps and spoilers and landing gear is incredible). They prepare the tables, light the lights, and get some 40 kiters from all over the world to sit and talk and eat and have the greatest time ever.
And the food at the Babalu Symposion is simply the best – not just in Ahmedabad, and not just in India …
“I’d go and have a second serving, but …” says Prisha to me.
“… but you don’t want to stand out and be the first, right?”
Prisha is the daughter of Soummya and Uttej Rao, two great friends from Ahmedabad – spending time with the Raos, cracking jokes and debating everything from the impact of satyagrahas on the Imperial economy to latest fashion trends, is a highlight of every IKF Gujarat for us!
“Let’s go together, then.”
We stand up and all the eyes are upon us. “Where are you going?”
“Prisha wants some more, and I’m here just for emotional support!”
Everyone laughed, but as we returned they were getting up, going to the servers, filling their plates with incredible goodies again and again and again …
“I never thought you’d eat all that,” said Madam Soummya to Gregor.
“Neither … have …I,” replied Gregor with his mouth full of fantastic (and terribly spicy) dakor na gota.
Jamshid Babalu! If you read this, please accept our gratitude for all you and your family have done. We were honoured by your invitation and your hospitality. And if we don’t meet before (say at the International kite festival Slovenia), we shall shake your hand again at the next IKF Gujarat!
“Manoj, we really need to stop.”
“હું હજી રોકી શકતો નથી. બોસે કહ્યું આપણે આગળ વધવું જોઈએ.”
“Manoj, it’s urgent. Emergency.”
Manoj braked sharply, the back of the bus sliding off the highway into the gravel, coming to a stop in a cloud of dust, barely missing the shack that featured a shop and a tea parlour. It was somewhere on the road from Rajkot to Dwarka, in the middle of the deep Gujarati night (“Leopards!” whispered Ivor) – the mutiny on the Red Bus was over, the rebels won.
It was five in the evening when our group of kiters finally squeezed onto buses to start our kite Tour de Gujarat. We kinda expected a long and troubled travel – but not so long, and definitely not so troubled.
Our little red bus was choke-full of beautiful, crazy people. The Indonesians from Yogya and from Bali, the Filipinos, the Lebanese, the Mexicans, the Indians, a Lithuanian, and ourselves, immediately commandeered the sombre atmosphere and turned the red mode of transport into a party bus. We did a cuckoo and left some of our luggage on another bus so we had more room. We instigated Manoj the driver to repeatedly sound the multi toned and incredibly loud horn (“Ice cream, ice cream!” we screamed while passers-by dove to the ground every time Manoj’s horn thundered). We built a girl-cave in the back for Saulė who doesn’t enjoy long rides. We sang and cracked jokes and shared food and drinks and beedies – a veritable gang of crazies ready to take on Gujarat. The Boss settled into the front seat and counted the miles and hours to Dwarka, our first stop.
We praised the traffic of India before, exhorting its efficiency and simple rules – the bigger you are, the more right of way you have; tolerate and be tolerated; don’t stop for nothing – yet it’s exactly these rules that make simple intercity travel on “highways” a terrifying rollercoaster of death. Manoj, our intrepid driver, got his well deserved nickname the moment we rolled on the highway: cutting off two trucks, one without any lights, while missing a rickshaw driving on the wrong side by millimeters (“Oh come on, millimeters … we had plenty of room, at least two centimeters if not three! Stop panicking …”): Snake Plissken. And then it went from bad to worse.
“I need to pee!”
“I need a smoke!”
“I need to stretch my legs!”
“I need to eat!
“Is it an emergency?”
“YES”, in unison.
“We will stop soon … just a couple of miles more!” the Boss tried to soothe us.
Twenty, fifty, a hundred miles – half an hour, an hour, two hours – the bus was cruising on the highway, Manoj staring at the traffic in his total Snake Plissken mode, evading everything possible and impossible, never touching the brakes. The Boss in the front was silent, while a mutiny was brewing behind him.
“Stop it. Now.”
Aji, a long-haired Indonesian kiter (he looks like a true revolutionary, with a red beret and army jacket and all, a true veteran of Javanese uprising against the dreaded Dutch Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie) had enough – and told that to the Boss in no uncertain terms.
“Just a couple of miles …”
Aji was not alone – we started to get up and stand up, first confronting the Boss and then ignoring him: Manoj, our road master, our tamer of the Red Bus, our Snake Plissken – stop, in the name of everything sacred, we can’t take it no more, stop.
“Manoj, emergency. Stop.”
When the dust settled a bunch of cows stared rather confusingly into a group of kiters running to the toilet, lighting smokes, munching on masala-flavoured snacks from the shack. The Boss got us all a cup of supreme Indian sweet and milky tea, and the bad mood was totally forgotten. Now onwards, Snake – let’s roll!
It was three o’clock when we came to Dwarka. Eleven hours, 440 kilometers.
A customary soothing glass of Thums Up before sleep turned out all but soothing … Ivor had noticed some camels down the road and wanted us to see them – and as we left the hotel parking lot and stepped on the road, something grunted at us. Something rather large. In the thick Indian night.
A wild boar it was. We froze and then moved inch by inch backward – maybe the beast didn’t see us … maybe we are not interesting … or threatening … or tasty …
“RUN GUYS RUN IT’S COMING AT US!”
How the encounter with the wild boar ended, why did we fly kites from the roof of the fire engine, how did the camel riding went for Ivor, where did an impromptu corrida happen – all this and more awaits you in the third chapter of our kite adventures!