Hey kid, go fly a kite!
At times, while we’re walking around Indian cities, we’re struck by the sheer number of kites that are abandoned in trees, stuck to telephone wires, ceded to rooftops. The carnage is everywhere.
Kite flying is an important sport here. Most Indian cities have kite festivals. In Jaipur it takes place the day before school starts (14 January). In Ahmedabad, the site of one of the greatest kite festivals in India, it falls on the day when winter begins to turn into summer (also 14 January). They say that, on the day of the festival, it’s impossible to see the sky for all the kites.
From our quick market research we learned that kite prices start at Rps 4 (about CAD 0.08) for the most basic model. They’re made from lightweight paper and bamboo spars.
Kite running (fighting) is done in many countries but is usually associated with Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Fighter kites typically are small kites controlled with a single abrasive string called manja. Manja is string that is gummed and coated with powdered glass. Two fighters, their kites entangled in the sky, try to cut the string of each others’ kite by pulling their own manja. The winner’s kite keeps flying while the loser’s kite, string cut, will drift away in the wind. Children run after cut kites and try to capture them when they fall to the ground.
Rajasthan, literally “King’s Land”, is located in Western India and comprises most of the Thar desert. The state contains most of what was Rajputana, which consisted of the 20 or so princely states that rose to prominence in the 6th century. Much later, the Mughals controlled Rajputana when they had a firm grip on Northern India. Eventually the Marathas took control of the area and ruled it for most of the 18th century until they were replaced by the British in 1818.
After independence in 1947, it took several years for many of the desert kingdoms to join the Indian state. From a security point of view, it was vital to the new Indian Union to ensure that the kingdoms were integrated into the new nation. To sweeten the deal, the princes were granted handsome remuneration in the form of privy purses and privileges. Today, while many of the former princes are still called Maharaja, the title has little power other than status symbol. Many of the Maharajas retain their palaces and have converted them into profitable hotels. Others have found their (profitable) place in politics. The mother of the current Maharaja of Jaipur is a member of parliament, for example.
We visited Amber (pronounced with a silent b) Palace and Jaigarh Fort on Sunday. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, much of the Palace’s current structure was built in the late 16th century. Jaigarh Fort was the main defensive structure and the Fort and Palace are interconnected by a series of encompassing fortifications.
Amber Palace is massive and rises out of the desert.
There is a beautiful garden in a lake in front of the Palace.
Hallways and stairwells and rooftop terraces and passageways abound. The girls led us through them for a long, long time and happily, we got completely lost.
We were looking for an over-the-top royal experience and so we had lunch at the restaurant 1135 AD. We asked to see the crystal room, where VIPs are invited to dine. Bill Clinton visited last year. Prince Charles has been photographed here, alongside the massive silver hooka.
The girls seemed at home in such lavish surroundings.
Jaigarh Fort is home to the world’s largest cannon on wheels. It fires 50kg cannon balls and must be turned using a team of two elephants. It has only been fired once, as a test.
Up at these dizzying heights, this family of monkeys on the wall with birds in the backdrop reminded us of the kites flown down in the city.