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Festivals, Dancing on Floats & Temples

Bhuj, Gujurat, India – Up the next morning, when Nikki returned to our room to deliver the following news. Today was Shiva’s Birthday and all the locals would be drinking bhang lassis. We got up and left our hotel at 10:30 a.m. not really knowing what to expect on India’s national bhang lassi day. We exited our hotel, which sits on a quite side street adjacent to the main drag and walked down the street already crowded with the people.

The procession honoring Shiva happened to be passing at the exact moment we hit the street. There were camels and oxen pulling carts and floats with the life banned on one and the man pretending to be Shiva on the other. There were crowds of people dancing in the street between the carts and each person held a set of sticks they would bang together while they were dancing. Yet at third cart had a man with an orange turban standing on it and holding a mic, dancing and singing in time with the band. As his cart passed, he spotted the three lone white faces in the mist of the sea of brown, me, Rich, and Nikki. Somehow, we ended up being the only white people at this festival.

Once again, the second the man with the mic spotted us, he pointed at us to bring us to the attention of the people dancing in the street. They started yelling at us, inviting us to dance in the street with them. The man with the orange turban then pointed at Rich and gestured for him to get up on to the cart with him. The crowd helped move Rich away as Nikki and I duct into an alcove to see what was going to happen. They put Rich up there and thrust the mic into his hand telling him to sing. He was trying to hand the mic back to the orange turbaned man telling him he wasn’t going to sing. Nikki and I started following Rich’s cart down the street when they decided that I needed to be up on the cart with Rich. They had me get on the cart and handed me two sets of sticks for us to bang together as we danced atop this cart above the crowd.

I looked back and could see Nikki perched in a doorway laughing at the two of us. After a while, we climbed down off the cart but I guess holding asset of banging sticks does not exempt you from joining in the celebration. They made us dance down the street with them banging away. I was moved in front of the cart and put in one of rows of people dancing. The object was to dance down the street banging your sticks together twice, then stopping and banging the stick of the person in the row opposite. I danced down the street until I noticed the procession turning with another alley just going straight. We danced along and as the procession turned, we continued straight on dancing our way down the quite alley, effectively removing ourselves from the festivities. Rich had lost his banging stick sometime earlier, but I was still holding mine as we made our way through the narrow streets away from the procession. Some Indian boys were running down the street towards the festival and stopped me jabbering away in Gujarati pointing at the sticks and then to the procession. I said, “You want the sticks, here you are”, handing them over, the boy running off banging the sticks together.

We went to a restaurant and sat there having breakfast reflecting on our festival experience. Yes, it was that overwhelming feeling of fame again and as it takes a lot out of you, all of us decided a nice scotch would go down well, as Nikki put it. We took refuge in an chai house just stunned from our experience. After breakfast, we walked through a section of the city we had not seen yet. When we came across the Swami Viarayan Temple, hard to miss, as it is easily the most colorfully painted building I had seen in Bhuj, let alone all of India. The building was painted white but all the windows, doors, and facets all over the structure were painted with the most brilliant colors I had ever seen. The building was so pleasing to the eyes with using colors that I think even Disney could not come up with. The entire structure was covered in color, so we had to stop and take tons of photographs of everything.

After sitting and staring at the building for a while, we made our way back to the festival area to look for some more things to buy when I spotted a stall run by those men who make knives. I walked over there and spotted two swords with a matching sheath glittering in the sun just screaming to be purchased. Of all the things I had seen so far, these items were the first ones that I decided I really could not live without plus there is this feeling of power you get when you pull a sword out of a sheath. I did not know what I was going to do with them at home. They are hanging them from the wall but I needed them.

I had originally spotted them the night before, so I had come prepared with the lot of cash, ready to haggle away. I asked how much the set was but being that the craftsmen did not speak any English, one of the local military men came over and acted as my translator. Their opening price was 700 for the set, and after much discussion, the price was reduced to 600, final offer and not negotiable. Okay 600, 250 for each sword and 100 for the shield. I consented and walked away armed and ready to impale any uppity rickshaw drivers with my new purchase.

It was getting really hot and most shops were closed in honor of Shiva’s birthday, so we retired to our room for a quick nap. We got up later and headed over to the festival grounds that evening for we had heard there was to be some dancing that evening. There was a crowd already forming, so we took a seat on the ground and watched. The program was to be bands and dancing from the state of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. It was great entertainment and we knew it was real Indian culture not just put on for tours because we were three of about five sahibs in the entire crowd, everyone else was native and enjoying it just as much as we were. The best dancing was from Uttar Pradesh. The costumes and masks were so ornate and very well made and with their dancing entourage of 25, they acted out a story about the hunting and caging of a lion. The imagery was stupendous. The way the men surrounded the lion, symbolizing bars and things like that. After the dancing, Nikki and I got sufficiently lost again in the dark streets of Bhuj while returning to our hotel.

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