Standing face to face with a smiling Maasai women wearing colourful beads coiled around her neck is not a sight you might expect to see in Delhi. Nor the cross-legged snake charmers seated on the dusty ground and wearing saffron and crimson turbans. As the lilting blend of music rises in the air and the pounding of dancing feet echo through the earth, you could be anywhere the world.
For two weeks each February, the otherwise sleepy village of Surajkund in Faridabad on Delhi’s outskirts, is transformed into a soulful melting pot with people gathering from all over the globe showcasing their cultures. India knows how to do Festivals and the Surajkund Mela* is the largest international fete of its kind complete with all the colour and celebration visitors to India have come to expect.
The Mela is a celebration of Indian folk traditions and the cultural inheritance of an international community. Crowds meander through the vibrant stalls displaying the arts, crafts and cultural celebration of over 20 countries including Turkey, Egypt, New Zealand and the less accessible belt of Northern Asia such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The patchwork of woven shapes and bold colours, azure, crimson and papaya gold, tell tales of faraway villages and foreign hills. Closer to home, the diverse states of India parade their products: ceramics, handlooms, lanterns, carpets and fabrics loaded with handmade goodness.
For three decades this cultural festival has spread not only to international travellers but to curious locals fascinated by the depth and breadth of their own cultural heritage. The village of Surajkund is home to the archaeological ruins of the amphitheatre sun pool, dating back to the 10th century where the King was said to be an ardent worshipper of the sun. In the late ‘80s the International Craft Fair was started to promote Indian artisans and today the famous community now enchants visitors with tribal dances, a sample of world art and popular fusion street eats. The local chaatwalla* splashes dollops of sweetened yoghurt and tamarind sauce onto spicy chips. People are lining up for the hot cardamom chai frothing in a lopsided pot and there’s even a stream of people gathering at the pizza stall. With an abundance of flavours, crafts and smiles from all corners of the globe, the mood is festive.
Each day the traditional drumbeats sound out their desert homes; the swirling dervishes transcend the crowds and the rhythmic tribal dance steps enthral with their timeless movements. Traditional produce from pottery to pashmina’s, tapestries to trinkets are on hand. It’s an uplifting acquaintance with the far-reaching cultures of the world and a taste of the diversity that sits at Delhi’s back door.
*Mela: Festival in Hindi
*Chaatwalla: someone who makes the traditional Indian dish called chaat