We were just getting used to whizzing through the red lights and to the oncoming trucks bearing down on us when we ground to a halt.
Our driver had missed his chance in the game of motorised 'Russian Roulette' that is driving in Delhi.
A flash of colour caught my eye as were over taken on the inside by a couple on a scooter. The bright blue and gold sari of the girl who rode side saddle on the pillion fluttered in the slipstream and she clung on tight to the driver, resting her head on his back.
For a moment I noticed the long lashes of her closed eyes and the look of bliss on her face, then they weaved in and out of the traffic and were gone.
They like us were on their way to the Mela. Close by the Great Fort of Tughlabad,
which was built in 1321 to guard against Mogul invasion, we pulled off the main road and overtook a truck garlanded in golden tinsel and garnished with tassels. We had left the boundaries of Delhi to follow the winding country road to the Craft Mela at Suajkund.
There’s a Mela held there every year during the first two weeks in February.
The event is spread over some twenty-three acres of undulating ground and at it you find crafts on sale
from all over India. It’s very popular with the locals and you get the chance to mingle and chat with them.
As we entered through the Welcome Gate of Punjab (there’s a different one built each year,
according to which is the Theme State) we were over taken by a marching band.
To be accurate they didn’t so much 'march' as jump and skip.
My camera started to click and as I moved into the colourful Mela .Entertainers mixed with the
crowd, a man on stilts strode by while a fellow lying on the ground covered with a large
black sheet began to levitate about four feet into the air.
Was it magic or did I hear compressed air?
Close by the centre show ring a band of drums and trumpets played as girls in black saris
danced and the sun glinted on the gold that adorned their faces.
There were some three hundred crafts persons and performers from all over the country
and with the prices being reasonable it seemed a good place to buy the presents to take home.
There was a bewildering choice, we were surrounded by bedcovers, paintings, tie & dye silks, shoes,
and glittering brass items.
As you ponder over purchases you suddenly realise how relaxing it is to
be able to shop without out pressure or hassle and in that respect it could well be one of the most
successful days of your holiday in India.
In the end I settled for a pair of slippers with toes that curled up
at the point, they looked like the kind of things that you’d wear to fly a magic carpet,
unfortunately there was no room in my baggage for the carpet.
The display ground was divided by a small meandering stream and across it, beyond a a stand
full of colourful brollies I watched as police woman showed her colleague the intricate markings
on her newly decorated hand, it seemed a touch more exotic than face painting for the kids.
If you are coming to India it’s certainly worth finding out about events like this and fitting
them into your itinerary. Should you, for instance, be planning to visit Agra to see the Taj Mahal it’s worth knowing that there is a procession and a festival of music and folk-dance held during the last two weeks in February.
It’s called the Taj Mahostav and it’s held at Shilpgram near the Taj Mahal Eastern Gate.
Another vivid event is the Great Elephant March in Kerala in the South West coast of India. It’s held in mid January and for four days a magnificent array of bejewelled tuskers are the centre of attention.
The elephants are decked with vibrantly coloured umbrellas and the event opens with their ceremonial feeding, meanwhile the ‘Melam’ (Kerala orchestra) plays chanters, drums, and great round hooped brass instruments.
During the time it takes for the animals to get from Tricher to Trivandrum near Kovalam, visitors can
try elephant rides, take guided tours, have a sunset cruise on Cochin backwaters, watch snakeboat races
and see dance shows. The event ends with a seaside barbecue and fireworks.
If you want to get a taste of Indian rural life without ever leaving Delhi The Crafts Museum in the Aditi Pavilion at
the Pragati Maiden Exhibition Grounds contains crafts in textiles in wood, ceramics and metal and there are usually
craftsmen resident from different parts of the country admission is free.
It was just one of the places that we learned about through our knowledgeable driver.
At one point on the way back from the Mela we stopped at the village of Kirki and followed him through a
narrow lane, negotiating a couple of water buffalo on the way to be confronted with an enormous empty mosque.
The impressive building was deserted apart from three men who played cards in the shadow of it’s entrance.
Inside it was cool amid the pillars and climbing the steps up on to the roof we looked out in the bright sun
to a grandstand view of village life.
Girl at The Red Fort
We were using one of the cars that you can hire complete with driver from the India Tourist Commission. It seemed a pretty good deal and certainly there was no way I would have driven myself in that traffic. We were lucky in that our driver turned out to be very chatty and told us that his other illustrious passengers had included Mrs Thatcher but then he had been in command of a Mercedes Benz
He also took us to the Red Fort which dates from the peak of Mogul power back in 1638 and the days when the Emperor used to ride out on elephant back to the streets of old Delhi. Today the traffic roars past under along the road that skirts the hundred foot high red walls.
It made quite an impression on me, though not I suspect, quite such a big a one as on the lads who, cycling by, vainly preened, smiled into the camera and shot off the road into the ditch.
Report by Allan Rogers
For a list of festivals see www.festivalsofindia.in
I flew with Air India from London Heathrow. Do research before you go, there are some good guide books,
I particularly recommend ‘The Lonely Planet’s India’.
Leaflets: Government of India Tourist Office,
London 020 7437 3677
Reputable operators organizing escorted tours will usually arrange good hotels, if traveling independently check up on facilities and locally,
use guides booked through the Government of India Tourist offices.
Carry a lot of small change.
Overtaking, Indian style, head to head,
a great cure for constipation!