Jaipur's fabulous Gangaur festival...camels, dancers and painted elephants
JAIPUR, INDIA – Sometimes you get lucky on the road. And then there’s times you see something really cool just by coincidence.
Such was the case this week when I checked into the Samode Haveli hotel here in town (thumbs up for one of my favourite hotels of all time) and then found out that my second night was going to be the Gangaur festival, which celebrates the union of the god Shiva with his wife, Pavarti.
It’s a time when women give blessings for their husbands and when those seeking a husband pray for good luck in the quest. More important for tourists, this early April event also means a ton of colour at the annual parade.
We gathered near the City Palace around 6 p.m. and found some massive elephants painted with lively, flowery patterns of pink, yellow and bright green; common for festivals in India from what I can tell. They were seemingly mugging for the cameras, raising a foot in the air every so often as if taking a bow as they waited for the action.
A brass band was playing tunes that sounded like John Phillips Sousa mixed with Ravi Shankar, which is probably a terrible example but the best way I can think of at the moment to say it sounded both western and eastern. Either way, it was pretty cool.
We began to see that the parade was going in another direction, so we walked a few feet further down to a courtyard area. I found a place to stand in the shade and with a good view.
I could see a group of about eight young Indian men gathered in the street, and they were staring up at me. I admit I started to get a little uneasy, but then I saw them look over at what I later found to be a British family. They walked up past me to the family and started asking to take pictures of their infant, who was resting in a Snugli on the father’s chest (and boy that had to have been hot). It was quite cute, and I immediately, of course, felt awful about thinking they might be up to no good.
Within seconds there were a dozen cellphones out, snapping pictures of the family’s children – a boy of maybe 10 and a girl a few years younger. The boy seemed a bit wary but the girl kept turning to her mother and grinning a grin that said, “Can you BELIEVE this?”
The youths kept crowding around having photos taken, time after time, in different positions. Finally, as they started to leave, the mother who had been mugging for the Indian youths turned to one of them and held out her hand as if demanding payment. The kid didn’t get the joke at first, then howled and dashed away with his buddies.
The parade got underway shortly thereafter and we had to find a place to watch as we’d accidentally chosen a poor spot. We nestled in among a crowd on one of the main bazaar streets, which have old-time colonnades made of pink-coloured stone – painted that way in 1876 to welcome the King of England, I believe.
The elephants came first, followed by bands, gaily-decorated camels and horses, beautiful dancing girls, some water buffalo and, finally, Shiva, carried on the shoulders of parade workers/volunteers.
It lasted maybe a half hour but it was outstanding entertainment, and definitely something I’d recommend to anyone planning a future visit.
More to come later on Jaipur and India in general in the pages of Toronto Star Travel.