It felt unreal to haggle with an auto-rickshaw-guy at 530 in the morning, for a ride to the venue for the dawn music concert. I am normally used to being chauffeured in a car. This was my first girls’ trip to Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival). Sans family, I was revelling in the freedom of being unplanned, living in a guest house in the walled city, eating spicy food in local joints at a random schedule and attending the festival till late night.
Today was the last day of the festival and I was keen to experience the dawn concert. One of my friends was still in bed, another had left for Delhi having prior commitments and I was waiting for the fourth-in-the-party to join me. Short on time, I agreed to whatever price that was quoted for the rickshaw ride and we reached Jaswant Thada – mausoleum for Marwar royals and one of the venues – just as dawn was breaking out. We found our way in the dim light to the raised platform where artists were tuning their instruments and settled down for the feast to unravel before us. And what a feast it turned out to be! After 3 days of listening to international artists from diverse countries and local Rajasthani artists, I didn’t think there was much that could top those experiences. But if you are a morning person like me, this enchanting performance, with sunrise unfolding, a slight nip in the air and silence across the blue city, will take your breath away! I had heard the Grammy-winning flautist Wouter Kellerman the night before, yet his dawn performance with Carnatic vocalist Mahesh Vinayakram sounded different and magical.
For Travel Tips on Jodhpur, do read – All is not blue in the city of Jodhpur, Rajasthan
Blend of international and local artists
When I had seen the full program of Jodhpur RIFF 2015 before booking my flight tickets, I hadn’t heard of any of the international artists. The line-up boasted of accomplished musicians from different parts of the world; including 2 Grammy-winning instrumentalists – flautist and composer Wouter Kellerman and bassist Yossi Fine. In an attempt to recognise and celebrate local talent, there were performances by Indian vocalists Bhanwari Devi, the Manganiyar troupe, thumri singer Suchismita Das, maand singer Parveen Sabrina Khan and more. My lack of artists’ knowledge did not matter eventually.
I vividly remember the evening performance by Celtic fusion band Shooglenifty, with moonlight bathing the zenana courtyard of the majestic Mehrangarh Fort. When Gaelic singer Kaela Rowan – part of the band – came on stage and sang in her hauntingly lyrical voice, I got goosebumps. And in the end, as the Rajasthani dhol players joined the Celtic band on stage, it was fusion at its liveliest and had the audience rocking on their feet. The zenana courtyard was large enough to hold the gathering of about 5000 people and then some.
Festival venues in and around the city
The festival has shows not just at the Mehrangarh Fort and Jaswant Thada, but also at other venues in the city. The midnight performance – Desert Lounge hosted at Rao Jodha Park is popular and so is the opening ceremony performed at the Clock Tower.
I had attended the opening ceremony – a folk dance and music show performed by local artists with the Jodhpur royal family in attendance. The market area around the Clock Tower had been swept clean, a makeshift stage was built and a few chairs were put in front of the stage. My friend and I had climbed the rooftop of a corner juice shop to enjoy this show, which I thought gave better views than sitting on the ground floor.
Unparalleled setting at the Mehrangarh Fort
The exotic setting of Mehrangarh Fort is a big part of the attraction of this festival. This was my first visit to this awe-inspiring fort, and I appreciated not just its beauty but also how well-preserved it is.
Mehrangarh Fort was built around 1460 by Rao Jodha, the founder of Jodhpur city. The massive structure stands about 410 feet above the city and is enclosed by imposing thick walls. Built of red sandstone, with several palaces and massive courtyards within its boundaries, it is acknowledged as one of the best preserved fort in India. The museum in the Mehrangarh fort is well-stocked.
We purchased our tickets for the concerts directly at the Fort. The food and drinks arrangements were excellent. Where else will you get hot bajra and jowar chapatis at midnight, made on request by local ladies urging you to put some ghee on the chapati? Neither the food, barbecued kebabs and curries nor the drink selection were your average festival fare. There was no mad rush or jostling around that one finds at festivals to take a coupon or get a drink.
This is an annual festival to promote traditional folk music and arts held at Jodhpur. It is timed to coincide with ‘Sharad Poornima’ and features both international and local artists at concerts in and around the Mehrangarh Fort. It enjoys the patronage of royalty, Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Marwar-Jodhpur, and the rock legend, Sir Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones. While music is the key focus, there are tours of the Mehrangarh Fort Museum, film screenings, workshops exploring the history and culture of instruments as well.
For more information on the festival, dates and bookings, visit Jodhpur RIFF.
Rajasthan has a large number of festivals celebrating its art and music, but I am glad I experienced this intimate and authentic one.
Photo courtesy: All concert photos have been taken by Karishma Upadhyay
Is there any festival in India or abroad that you have been to and highly recommend?
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