BY Lisa Lindblad
February 24, 2015
I have just returned from a two week trip to India and Bhutan, a trip that had as its focus the state of Madhya Pradesh, located in the center of the country and known for wonderful cultural sites, pretty countryside, a rich rural life, and tigers. I was there to find tigers and to visit some of the safari camps, most notably those of &Beyond, the preeminent company in India that has wide ranging interests but is specialized in wildlife, conservation and film making.
Because we were moving quite quickly, I travelled, as always, with a carry-on bag and thus had to make a decision: do I pack binoculars or camera? I chose the former so the photos I ended up with are mediocre and blurry. Nevertheless, they give a sense of what we saw.
From February 1-15 each year, the Surajkund Mela, a splashy, rich cultural fair, celebrates the extraordinarily diverse craft traditions of the Indian subcontinent. With artisans coming from all regions of the country, the fair ground - supposedly just a half hour from New Delhi - also offers music and dance performances as well as regional foods. And in 2015, 20 countries from Europe and Africa will join in, making the Mela a truly international event.
In Delhi, you have to think long and hard about if you truly want to go somewhere, so horrific is the traffic. But the mela was a real draw for me, and so I headed out from the hotel at 11 on a drive to the other side of town that ended up taking 1.5 hours. And what a drive it always is in India! "Driving is a sport here!" I said to Balbir Singh who nimbly squeezed to the left, slid to the right and, like an expert skier, slalomed his way through tuks tuks, motorbikes, lorries, cows and more white cars. "Yes," he laughed, "It's like playing a zig zag computer game!"
We arrived at the huge fair ground where a ferris wheel was spinning above a surging crowd of school kids, young, reed thin teenage girls all decked out in saris and kurta pyjamas, jewelry, and full on makeup, bands of young guys enjoying the dances and music and probably the clutches of young ladies, and elderly friends out for a bargain. Each morning the vendors from all over the country set up anew, draping their wares, piling the folded rugs, displaying, copper and ceramic and terracotta crockery. Each stand has a sign indicating its state and city and mentioning any awards won. The wares were variable - some kitschy like the heavily lacquered upholstered furniture - but there were some interesting crafts - decorative iron work reminiscent of pieces I have seen from Haiti, copper vessels that had a lovely feel to them, hand made paper backed with strips of sari, wonderful textiles of all kinds and finely embroidered cloth from Bangalore. But as variable as the wares was the crowd and, taken together, the outing was well worth the slog to get there.
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