I undertook a long and arduous journey to reach Udaipur in time for Independence Day celebrations on 15th August. I'd probably left it a bit late to reach there in time, giving myself just 12 days to cover 380km, but with some long days, I thought I could make it, just. The reason for wanting to be in Udaipur is that they were to be the main celebrations in the state of Rajasthan, something I imagined would be worth seeing, particularly given it marked 70 years of Independence. I had to undertake a final 47km push in a single day to reach my hotel in Udaipur at 11.30pm the night before the big celebrations (more on that another time). I was shattered, but I didn't want my tiredness to prevent me from enjoying the festivities. So at 6 am I was up and ready to go. A group of other travellers and I headed to Gandhi Ground only to find that the 7 am time we'd been given was in fact incorrect. No one could honestly say what time they would begin but 9 am had been rumoured. Roundabouts had been patriotically decorated and people in uniforms began to gather so we hung around waiting.
With a semi-packed ground festivities did begin at 9 am on the dot with the marching band leading the proceedings as the saffron, white and India green tricolour flag was hoisted. This happened so quickly that I actually missed it! This was followed with a procession from various school, scouts, military and police groups who marched around the ground a few times accompanied by the marching band. Speeches from various dignitaries were given once the procession was over, and by all accounts was in a local dialect as the Delhiites I sat next to had no idea what was being said either. The event culminated with a few traditional dance performances from various groups of varying sizes.
So, what did I feel? A little underwhelmed to be honest. I'm pleased I did reach Udaipur in time, however, I can't help but think a ceremony in a village would have had more patriotic fanfare about it. There was very little 'celebration' going on in Gandhi Ground as I'd anticipated, and the only person I spotted waving a handheld flag was a two year old. People talked throughout the ceremony and many left before or during the speeches. It just didn't feel like a celebration to me at all. I asked a young guy at the end if that's what it is always like. "Yes. It has lost its meaning a little as we have so many festivals that we celebrate, so it's just another national holiday for us" he confirmed. It seems that people enjoy the formal celebrations and then head home to spend time with their families. "As a younger person, Independence Day also means less to us than previous generations" he added.
Throughout the day I hunted for other signs of Independence celebrations, spotting a few colourful shop displays, but other than that, people were busy preparing for Janmashtami, the Lord Krishna birthday celebrations that happened to be taking place later that evening. And my gosh, did they celebrate that hard. A stage was set up in the middle of the street outside the Jagdish Temple, saffron, white and green balloons hung down from the surrounding buildings, women lined the steps of the temple and live singing and dancing performances went on until 11 pm. I was so tired by now that I had to head to bed but I was feeling happy that I'd experienced some kind of proper celebration after all, even if it wasn't for Independence.
By all accounts, Indian Independence Day celebrations were a bigger deal in the UK (and Pakistan) with more media coverage and programming around the big 70 than throughout India. I'd love to hear what you thought of the coverage wherever you were.