Call of the desert: Why all roads lead to Jaipur
From design and arts celebrations to the newly-opened Sculpture Park, here’s why the Pink City will be buzzing in the next few months
There’s heritage, romance and beauty around every corner of this dusty yet vibrant city. But the last decade has seen Jaipur flourish as a centre for culture. With the Jaipur Literature Festival as one of its marquee events, many others have sprung up — like the popular kite festival and Jaipur Photo, the annual open-air travel photography festival. “There’s a lot happening, from festivals to food experiences, like the one with French chef Alain Passard a few weeks ago, which is a result of the government, the private sector and cultural organisations working together,” explains V Sunil, creative director of the Make in India initiative, and one of the names behind the JDH Urban Regeneration Project in Jodhpur, which will bring together heritage, shopping, culture, food and more. “While the proximity to Delhi is one of reasons, I believe it is the enterprising spirit that is helping Jaipur and cities like Jodhpur and Udaipur grow organically to become a platform for culture, craft and creativity.” Here are five reasons why heading to Rajasthan in the next three months is a good idea.
Jaipur Literature Festival | Diggi Palace Hotel
Numbers say a lot, and at the Jaipur Literature Festival, they speak volumes. Try 3.5 lakh footfalls in the last edition, more than 250 speakers representing 15 Indian and over 20 international languages in 2018, and three international outposts — in Boulder, New York and London — for size. But what gives JLF its iconic status is not just its staggering size, but also its depth, feels co-curator Namita Gokhale. “When we do the programming, we put an enormous amount of work into the research and background. In my mind, JLF has become a place where India hears itself think and listens to itself argue,” she says.
While the recently-released short list of 60 speakers doesn’t reveal much, it does present some pleasant surprises. “We have three big writers who are returning — British playwright Tom Stoppard, Canadian poet and novelist Michael Ondaatje, and Pico Iyer, who brings an oasis of quiet and sanity wherever he goes,” says Gokhale. She is also looking forward to the sessions by Helen Fielding and Amy Tan. “This is Fielding’s first time in India, and she will be one of the stars. Her Bridget Jones series have become a mirror of how women perceive themselves in their self anxiety, and we are all very excited,” she adds.
Feminine voices are being highlighted in the 11th edition, with an important session around Angela Saini’s new book, Inferior. “She is somebody I am looking forward to. Her book is about how women scientists have been ignored or marginalised,” she says. The poetry element has also built up hugely, and Gokhale promises some excellent sessions for young readers, along with literature from India’s northeast. “I have edited a new book, The Himalayan Arc - East of South East, which will be released during JLF. It is about the area from Nepal to Myanmar and the cultural continuities there.” While the music and art experiences are being kept under wraps, she asks us to prepare for a rousing show. After all, Zakhir Hussain will be present, and going by the last edition — which had the Shillong Chamber Choir, classical musicians like Padmini Rao and Devashish Dey, and bands like Bombay Bassment, Kabir Café and Raghu Dixit performing — we can’t expect anything but.
From January 25-29. Details: jaipurliteraturefestival.org
Kites Festival | Jal Mahal
As the waters of the Jal Mahal on Amer Road glint in the late winter sun, hundreds of kites will take to the air. Held each year on January 14, the Kite Festival is a visual spectacle, and tourists can stop to try their hand at flying one of the complimentary kites available at the venue. “We wanted it to be a convenient location, as people can visit on their way to the other places of interest,” says Upendra Singh Shekhawat, assistant director, Tourism Department of Jaipur. “There will be 10 professional kite flyers competing with each other. One of the highlights will be a man who will fly 100 kites on one string, along with five to 10 cultural performances,” he adds. This will include Kachhi Gori and Kalbelia dancers, Langa singers and the ubiquitous puppet shows. There will also be an exhibition featuring various kite designs and styles. “We have two referees who will decide the winners,” concludes Shekhawat.
On January 14
JaipurPhoto | Multiple venues
The third edition of the international open-air travel photography festival kicks off in February, and in 2018 it takes its theme from the Simon & Garfunkel song, ‘Homeward Bound’. Curated by artist-writer Aaron Schuman — and spread across multiple venues, from Hawa Mahal to Jantar Mantar — contemporary photographers will explore, express and engage with the notions of ‘home’, of one’s own family and community. “While we are yet to confirm a few more speakers and photographers, you can expect names like Terje Abusdal, Arko Datto, Salvatore Vitale, Asmita Parelkar, Sebastian Bruno, John MacLean and Soham Gupta,” says Lola Mac Dougall, Artistic Director, adding, “A photo essay by Regine Petersen will be showcased at the Jantar Mantar (we are displaying there for the first time) and it will be one of the highlights.”
February 23-25. Details: jaipurphoto.in
Udaipur World Music Festival | Multiple venues
Putting Udaipur on the country’s music map is the annual Udaipur World Music Festival. According to festival director Sanjeev Bhargava, it was conceived to fill a vacuum in India’s music scene. “There is a dearth of focussed and thematic festivals as they exist in the West — especially in the realm of world music, which globally seems to be the most popular genre currently,” he says.
In 2018, in its third edition, he promises an eclectic line-up of artists from countries like France, Spain, Switzerland, Brazil and India. Visitors can expect six venues, music according to the moods of the day, and the romance to justify the picturesque Lake City. While the list of next year’s performers is not out yet, Bhargava says that Catalan band Txarango will be one of the highlights, with their reggae-Latin-dubstep fusion style.
In February (dates to be announced). Details: udaipurworldmusicfestival.com
The World Sufi Spirit Festival | Ahhichatragarh and Mehrangarh Forts
Discover the rich heritage of Sufism at The World Sufi Spirit Festival. A tribute to the nomadic tribes from the Thar to the Sahara, the 11th edition of the annual festival in Jodhpur will include artistes from Algeria, Morocco, Ethiopia, Iran, France, Armenia and Lithuania, among others.
Alain Weber, Artistic Director, says instead of focusing on the religious aspect, they emphasise on the more universal notion of the ‘sacred’. “Every year, we attempt to discover new artistic expressions linked to specific cultural backgrounds from one country or ethnic group. We try to introduce two kinds of shows: one, comprising artistic expressions by traditional musicians, and the second, with more contemporary approaches,” he says. The 2017 edition close to 5,000 people, and he hopes the upcoming festival will garner a 10-15% increase in footfalls.
Featuring Tuareg music and wind instruments like the Mediterranean launeddas and the double flute satara from Rajasthan, the line-up of Indian artistes includes Hariprasad Chaurasia, Madan Gopal Singh, Arshad Ali Khan, Gazi Khan Manganiyar and more. One of the highlights will be Neighbours of Manghanyar Minstrels, formed by Ethiopian artiste Azmari, which will be performing in India for the first time. You can also look forward to Sufi walks, dance performances, conferences, movie screenings, an aesthetic documentary about Sufi rituals from Ajmer, and live Qawwali music.
At Ahhichatragarh Fort, from February 12-14 and Mehrangarh Fort, from February 15-17. Details: worldsacredspiritfestival.org