Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan, the kite flying festival in India

An event is best experienced at the heart of all the action. A perfect example of this was Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan – the kite flying festival we attended in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. While the evening was spent in the old lanes of Ahmedabad flying kites with the entire city, the morning was for the International Kite Festival under the bright blue skies at the banks of the river Sabarmati, admiring kites in all shapes and sizes soaring up in the sky. It was an experience we will cherish forever.

People gathered on terraces or rooftops of their houses everyone flying kites and the sky covered with tiny colourful dots of kites for the festival of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan in the old Khadia area of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India.

Innovative kite in the shape of a Rubik's cube rises up at the International Kite Festival 2019, Ahmedabad, India

The entire city – with friends, families and relatives – was gathered on rooftops. Everyone was engaged in a kite flying frenzy.

It was exciting being in midst of all these festivities, seeing the kites soar, blanketing the crisp winter sky in colourful specs.

The significance of Makar Sankranti (Uttarayan)

Unlike other Hindu festivals which follow the lunar motion, Makar Sankranti follows the movement of the sun. It marks the beginning of the sun’s transition into the zodiac of Capricorn (Makar=Capricorn, Sankranti= transition). This makes it the only festival to fall on a fixed date every year – January 14th.

It is a festive day all over India. Each region celebrates its own local form of this festival. In the western parts of India, it is called the “Makar Sankranti”.

This is the day winter officially ends and spring begins – a transition symbolic of discarding the previous season’s bad and the beginning of a fresh new season.

Things to do in Ahmedabad

Uttarayan is synonymous with kite flying.

Colourful kites in pink, yellow, orange, green, blue, white colours in the night market or Indian bazaar for the festival of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan in the old area Khadia of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India.

For days preceding the festival of Makar Sankranti (Uttarayan), the markets are filled with colourful kites. They are all waiting to be bought by the heaps.

 

Young boy carrying heaps of kites over his head for selling for the festival of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan in the old area Khadia of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India

The night before the main Makar Sankranti (Uttarayan) day, markets are choc-a-bloc with people. They are all selecting their stash for kite flying the next day.

Mobile kite vendors like this boy have to carry the kites on their heads, for the fear of them being trampled otherwise. There isn’t any other safe way to roam around with them.

Colourful shiny toys like hats, whistles in the night market or Indian bazaar for the festival of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan in the old area Khadia of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India

makar_sankranti_kite_festival

Colourful toys give company to the kites for the festival of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan in Gujarat, India

All sorts of colourful shiny toys act as accompaniments to the kites! The atmosphere is not short of a carnival. Festivities are in the air!

Of course, the Bollywood stars are ubiquitous! People will literally take them soaring to the skies!

Colourful kites with photos of Bollywood actors in the night market or Indian bazaar for the festival of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan in the old area Khadia of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India.

And yes, any festival is all about love! We all need big love!

Colourful big shiny golden kite with the word love in the night market or Indian bazaar for the festival of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan in the old area Khadia of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India

The kite flying is by no means a friendly pass time that people indulge in for Makar Sankranti (Uttarayan). Some closely fought contests take place mid-air. Save your kite and bring the other person’s down is the name of the game.

Which is why kites have to be bought in large numbers.

Boy carries his set of kites and big kites for the festival of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan in the old area Khadia of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India

Making of the manjha

Manjha is the thread tied to the kites. It is made by specific communities. Each colour stands for a specific community. It is not just a regular thread. Manjha is coated with powdered glass, making it extremely sharp.

Spindles making manjha - the thread used to fly the kites line the streets of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India on the occasion of the festival of Makar Sankranti.

Kite fliers are aware of this. The expert ones always take proper precautions. Their fingers are heavily bandaged before the start of kite flying.

Food – important to any Indian festival.

In Gujarat, a special winter vegetable called undhiyo is the speciality of the day. It’s a preparation of several beans, roots and other local seasonal vegetables.

Then there are the twisted and crooked orange spirals called jalebee. Their explosive sweetness is a perfect accompaniment to the rustic goodness of the undhiyo.

Jalebee being prepared at the oldest jalebee shop in Ahmedabad on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, the kite flying festival.

We had the privilege of visiting a hundred-year-old jalebee joint. Even at the rush hour, they let us peek into their kitchens and click a few photos.

The smooth flowing batter is first fried in the shape of these spirals. The fiery golden discs are then instantly dunked in sugar syrup. The result is melt-in-your-mouth sweet heaven.

Jalebees are not for the mild-hearted, mind you! They are desserts meant for the hardcore sugar lover!

Mornings are for the International Kite Festival

While the Makar Sankranti celebrations take place in the evening, mornings are the perfect time to attend the International Kite Festival on the banks of the river Sabarmati. After a hearty breakfast, head straight to the festival grounds.

The first glimpse of the kites at the International Kite Festival is an arresting and slightly unbelievable sight. Horses and tigers are vying for air space with aliens, pirates and the Smurfs!

Galloping horse at the International Kite Festival 2019, Ahmedabad, India

A kiteist poses with some awesome kites flying up at the International Kite Festival 2019, Ahmedabad, India

Some awesome kites flying up at the International Kite Festival 2019, Ahmedabad, India

Kite makers take pride in their creation and are happy to let you take a picture. They’ll even let you try your hand at flying some of their creations.

Colourful innovative kites at the International Kite Festival 2019, Ahmedabad, India

Colourful innovative kites at the International Kite Festival 2019, Ahmedabad, India

Visitors at the International Kite Festival 2019 trying their hand at some cool kites in Ahmedabad, India

You realise kite flying is no child’s play when you see the strength exerted by these kite fliers to keep their kites afloat. The longest kite we saw was the one from Turkey. It took the effort of several people and many attempts to finally get it to fly.

After a lot of effort, kite fliers from Turkey manage to get this huge, heavy kite up in the air at the International Kite Festival 2019, Ahmedabad, India

The award for the most innovative kite though would go to this Rubik’s cube. How does one think of making a kite like this?

Innovative kite in the shape of a Rubik's cube rises up at the International Kite Festival 2019, Ahmedabad, India

Imagine the genius creativity it takes to think up of something like this, and then execute it flawlessly. How many failed attempts this kite maker would’ve endured, before seeing the fruits of his/her labour high up in the sky?

Colourful kites in all shapes and sizes fill the air at the International Kite Festival 2019, Ahmedabad, India

Since 1989, Gujarat Tourism has been organising the International Kite Festival. What started as a 5-day festival by the banks of the river Sabarmati in Ahmedabad has now become a statewide event. The 2019 edition of the International Kite Festival has been the biggest one so far drawing over 150 participants from 45 countries (all 6 inhabited continents!) along with over a hundred other kite fliers from India.

Two thousand students of the Municipal school in Ahmedabad perform Suryanamaskar, salutation to the Sun at the International Kite Festival 2019, Ahmedabad, India
Two thousand school children perform the Surya Namaskar or Sun salutations at the opening ceremony of the International Kite Festival 2019

While the festival will be on for all 9 days at Ahmedabad (from 6-14 January), some kite fliers will travel to the major tourist attractions in Gujarat like the Rann of Kutch and the Statue of Unity.

Kites flying high at the International Kite festival 2019 as the Statue of Unity looms large in the background at Kevadia, Gujarat, India
Kites flying high at the International Kite festival 2019 as the Statue of Unity looms large in the background

The big picture of the International Kite Festival is definitely the sparking of imagination. Gujarat has long had a much-cherished kite flying tradition and seeing kites like these is a perfect motivation to the young minds here.

The beauty of these kites soaring up lies in their story of perseverance, passion and creation and we are so grateful to all the kite makers for telling us so many stories up in the sky!

It was awesome being on the International Kite Festival ground in the presence of such awesome creators!

Kite flying, a team sport!

Kite flying is a family event. Entire families gather together on the terraces, roofs or any other part of their house exposed to the sky.

Those not busy flying are busy preparing the kites. Getting the tension on its skeleton right is the key to the strength of the kite. The positioning of the holes to insert the manjha will decide the flight angle and its trajectory.

All of these technicalities, make kite flying a team event.

Families busy in kite preparation on the terrace of their houses for the festival of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan in the old area Khadia of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India

An expert prepares the kites. Another one rolls out the manjha for the flier. The coordination between the flier and the one rolling out the manjha is also very important.

Rolling-out and pulling-in of the manjha have to go in sync with the kind of contest your kite has got into, in the skies.

The contests among the kites

The contests are very intensely fought. It requires a lot of concentration to not lose sight of your kite. Controlling the flight and motion of the kite so high up is no easy task.

The kite that flies the tallest is the star of the day!

People gathered on terraces or rooftops of their houses everyone flying kites and the sky covered with tiny colourful dots of kites for the festival of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan in the old Khadia area of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India

Late in the evening, as the sun sets, the night festivities begin. People release paper lamps from their terraces. The sky is now filled with floating lights. Our necks ached as we tried to take in the spectacle around. It was a surreal moment.

 

People gathered on terraces or rooftops of their houses everyone releases paper lanterns after sunset and the sky covered with tiny colourful floating lights for the festival of Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan in the old Khadia area of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India

The Khadia area in old Ahmedabad can easily be labelled the capital of Makar Sankranti kite flying. It was from the tallest terrace in this Khadia area that we saw the entire city engaged in the same sport, the sky covered in tiny colourful specs of kites.

In its complex maze of tiny lanes was where we experienced the magic!

Top tips for experiencing the festival of Makar Sankranti (Uttarayan):

    • Get to Gujarat – that’s the key. Even though the festival is celebrated in most parts of India, it’s magnitude in Gujarat is like no other place.
    • Ahmedabad is the city we would recommend you head into. It is well connected by trains, buses and flights with other parts of India. Getting into Ahmedabad and around is easy.
    • Book a place for yourself in advance, in the old parts of Ahmedabad (east of the Sabarmati river), preferably the area called Khadia. This is where the rest of the city gathers to fly their kites. French Haveli is a lovely boutique hotel in the heart of the old city, as is Jai Radhe, a no-frills but perfectly located hotel.
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    • Khadia and surroundings are full of tiny lanes called pols which house many heritage bungalows. The people will be eager to show off their heritage. Experience this old world charm and soak in their hospitality along with celebrating Makar Sankranti (Uttarayan). The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation also offers heritage walks in the pols of Ahmedabad. Highly recommended.
    • We suggest you travel to Ahmedabad for a 3-4 days holiday when you are there to celebrate Makar Sankranti. The International Kite Flying event coincides with Makar Sankranti (Uttarayan). Take time to visit this on the banks of Sabarmati, to see the huge kites the kite fliers from all across the globe bring along.
    • Ahmedabad is a city that offers something to the visitor of every kind. Food, street shopping, culture, architecture – it has it all.

 

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Like this story? Have any questions about the kite festival in India? Let us know in the Comments section below.

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37 thoughts on “Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan, the kite flying festival in India”

  1. If you are planning to visit Gujarat either choose January(for Makar Sankranti) or October (for Navaratri). Gujarat is famous for these two festivals.

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  4. Hi Chetan really nice article.me being stayed in Ahmedabad for 6 years can easily relate to your experience.. Request you to cover Makar Sakranti of Jaipur too as that is one of it’s experience. Even season wise it is one of the best season to visit.? Even Jaipur literature festival starts around same time of the year.

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  6. Hey,
    The information is really excellent Can you please share the location where people can share terrace at rent?
    This wil great help to me.

    Thanks,
    Shishir

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  8. Makar Sankranti is a very colourful festival.Even I like flying kites in the sky. And Gujrat is famous for this festival.I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog.It reminded me beautiful memories of the festival.

    1. Can be almost certain that your friend would be a foodie and an expert at kite flying 🙂 Also, a perfect reason to plan a trip to Ahmedabad around Makar Sankarnati time!

    1. Unlike Gujarat, we haven’t seen a community scale celebration of Makar Sankranti in Mumbai. We would suggest any open (safe) terrace with a few friends, kites, manja and snacks would be a perfect location 🙂

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  10. Hello, Sandeepa and Chetan: This looks spectacular! My life keeps me very far from India, but I have made up my mind to make the journey one day. When I do I will make straight for Gujarat, that’s a promise!

    1. Wonderful. You can spend a month in Gujarat catching up with many festivals around Uttarayan. There are lot many things you will like about India. Have a look at photo section of our blog to discover more. Thanks for visiting. And best wishes for India travel. 🙂

    1. Hey Johana, Makar Sankranti is an amazing experience. Not just the kites, the lights and the food, but the whole friendly competitions and the entire neighbourhood celebrating together!

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  12. I want to show you the Shakrain – The Kite Festival of Bangladesh that held yesterday. This was truly great. A day when old town shows up how much gorgeous it could be. Playing with kites, lighting, fire works, crackers, music, dance, delicious foods, day long photo shoot with crazy expression, shouting using microphone etc took the festival to never forgettable memories level. Ok lets check the Shakrain Festival – Dhaka – 2016 : https://youtu.be/HSNRMABeHEQ

  13. Hey Sandeepa & Chetan,
    Amazing travel images and storytelling! I’m so excited to visit Gujarat because of you both!
    I’ll be flying to India, Mumbai for the first time next week and plan to take a short flight to Ahmedabad. But other than knowing the kite festival happens on the 14th January and wanting to maybe get there a day or two earlier I don’t know much else…
    I’m trying to find an Airbnb in a good location, preferably in a less commercial more residential place, where I can see people on rooftops and a more local perspective than a tourist one. I would be so unbelievably grateful for any advice/recommendations you could give me.

    Many thanks!

    1. Hi HMC
      We are happy to know that you are already making a plan. We highly recommend to stay in the old Ahmedabad. Khadia is the hub where all the kite flying happens whole day. You can also attend International kite festival between 7th to15th Jan’16. You may also visit kite markets in the night just two days before the festival day. Do tell us your experience after your visit. Happy New Year in advance.

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