When traveling, I usually avoid festivals the way one might avoid a crazy ex-girlfriend – they can be expensive, annoying and wild.
Accommodation prices can triple (if you can find a room), crowds are everywhere, transportation is booked solid and sometimes you end up riding on a bus full of goats which is not a pleasant experience.
But after seeing some of the festivals of Navratri in Udaipur and Bundi the last few days, and knowing that there are far better places to see it in India, I am rethinking this festival avoidance mindset I’ve had.
The last few days in Udaipur we watched the festival on the street below the fairytale City Palace. The celebration starts out each evening with prayer and then there is dancing and processions. The dancing is done with two bamboo sticks as dancers clap to the beat and whack sticks with other dancers. In Udaipur there were two concentric circles with the girls on the inside moving clockwise and the boys on the outside moving anti-clockwise. Each person would dance 6 beats with their partner and then move to the left. You could stay in one spot and see all the dancers as they filed past.
Before the dancing there were processions of the young children who were all dressed in costume.
Below are photos of the procession by the children, not so different from a Christmas or Easter parade in the states. I am really not sure why one kid was an alien.
After the children came the dancing. There were a few dancers who could really move and almost all of the girls wore bright saris, although the men wore nice western clothing. It was an amazing spectacle of color.
Navratri is a 9-day festival, with the 10th day being Dusshera where we are supposed to see some major processions and a big party. I am impressed with the stamina of any culture who can party for 10 days, especially since there is no alcohol involved.
On the first day of the festival we were in Bundi and Kristi said, “I am too tired to go to a festival tonight. I would only go if it happens right outside our guesthouse.” Sure enough, there was a small gathering of neighborhood women right outside our place.
The small Bundi party consisted of all women and children and after watching for awhile, a couple of girls came over, grabbed me by the wrist and tried to drag me out to participate.
I am the world’s worst dancer. As much as I enjoy watching a street festival in a colorful country like India or seeing a celebration of dancing in a tiny African village, I am equally miserable when I have to join in and participate. I perpetuate the stereotypical image of the white man who can’t dance. I have no concept of rhythm, no ability to move my hips or shoulders. I am just one stiff, awkward, helpless mess on the dance floor.
But I couldn’t say no to the girls. My wife quickly grabbed the camera and basically held the button down documenting the travesty of my dancing. If there were any young girls in the crowd dreaming of marrying an American man someday, I am pretty sure that fantasy was crushed when they saw how bad I moved.