Sundeep Bhutoria

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Holi draws foreign tourists to Jaipur

India is truly incredible when it comes to festivals. Every state and region has its own cachet. This year I had plans to visit Vrindavan during Holi but found myself in the pink city of Jaipur.
Rajasthan is one such state in India where the festivals are a part and parcel of people's lives. Many foreigners mark out the festival dates of India and then plan their visit around it. Holi is one big draw.
In order to attract tourists, the state Tourism Board has also started many festival fairs like Teej Festival, Gangur Festival, Mahaveerji Festival and so on. However, without doubt, the most popular festival among foreign tourists is the Elephant Festival.
The name of the festival suggests it has something to do with the elephants. True, but there's more to it. The festival is organised by the Rajasthan Tourism Board and is held on the day of Holi. To be more specific, on the eve of Dhulandi festival (the day when we play with colours). Traditionally, this used to be held at the Chogan Stadium but since last year or two it has shifted to the Rajasthan Polo Grounds.
In the bygone eras, royal processions featured the Maharaja sitting on gold or silver howda placed on the back of an elephant. Groomed to perfection and decked up in jewellery and colours, the elephants moved gracefully in a procession from early evening till dusk. That spirit continues.
On the Holi day, by the time I reached the Elephant Festival and took my seat on the first floor, the ground was full to its capacity with a sea of foreign tourists (picture). 
Strangely, I did not see many Indian tourists nor local residents of Jaipur on the ground except for the Tourism Department officials, national media persons, the tourism minister, Beena Kak, Jaipur Divisonal Commisioner, Madhukar Gupta and his wife Kiran Soni Gupta. I also spotted Satyajeet, the General Manager of Hotel Taj Rambag, with two or three other Indians. It was quite surprising that such a gala event had only a handful of Indians.
It is actually not possible for any tourist to visit all the parts of a state, but the panoramic Elephant Festival is such that if someone is there for three hours, he or she would get to see a kaleidoscope of famous dances and performances from different regions of Rajasthan – the gair dance, tribal dance of Dungarpoor Banswara area, mayur dance and brij Holi from Bharatpur, chap and dhapfrom the Shekhawati area, the chakri dance from the Bara region, langas from Jodhpur, tare tali dance of Pali zone, bhapang vadan of Alwar and others.
These performers perform in a procession that follows an elephant. If you want to see live the whole folk dance of Rajasthan in three hours – it is the best time and place to be there at the Elephant Festival. One of the most interesting part of the fest is when the elephants play Holi after the matka race. There are also numerous other interesting events. The Festival ends with mashals on elephants and gulal fire works.
One other thing I noticed was that for the thousands of tourists and so many elephants and performing artists, there were provision for a 40 to max 50 policemen. There were no security checks no metal detectors, no chaos. I think this freedom from security plays an important role in the minds of the tourists. I did have some anxious moments when I saw tourists jump inside the ground with cameras flashing. Many of them stood in groups in front of the elephants to capture a piece of Rajasthan to take back home.
For those who want to extend their Holy week festivities, there is the Phagotsav at the famous Govind Dev Ji Temple. Every day during the Holi week there are performers who play Holi with flowers. In the temple, artistes dance to the Holi songs dressed up as Radhas and Krishnas and gopis.
ess bee

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