It’s huge. It’s been going for ages and it’s held near one of the main tourist centres in Bali. Yet, hardly any tourists get to witness this amazingly colourful spectacle.
14.07.2014 - 30.07.2014 34 °C
I timed my last visit to Bali specifically for this event. But, just like kites and wind, everything is unpredictable in this island paradise.
My research showed the Kite Festival is held every July in a sprawling Padang Galak field at the very top end of Sanur Beach. On arrival at my hotel I sort conformation of the dates as they seemed somewhat flexible. What I got was a lot of heads turning to each other, friendly arguments in Balinese, and finally, unconvincing and confusing answers, such as: “It was last month”…“Next month”…“Not sure, I’ll ask someone else”. Adding to the confusion, there are two kite festivals…the Bali and the Sanur Kite Festivals and whatever information I could uncover was shrouded in a haze of duplication. It will always span a Friday to Sunday, but kites need wind and this tends to blow any set date out of the water. July is generally considered the best month because the winds blow fairly reliably from east to west. But flexibility is the Balinese way of life, so, my suggestion is to set aside at least three weeks and you may be lucky.
I kept seeing kites in the air and my excitement rose. But these kites were small and the general run-of-the-mill-everyday-kites that every boy and man pass their spare time flying at any time of the year. Then, as luck would have it, I spied a large kite hanging from the wall of the Warung Coconut Tree Restaurant. I asked those inside if it was part of the festival and finally got the answer I was after. “This coming weekend up the beach.” This happened to be July 18-20, 2014, but remember…the winds of change!
I set off on foot on the Sunday, the final day of the festival and soon found out how long Sanur beach is. I’d walked the beach often but this ended up to be a trek. Padang Galak is at the very northern end of Sanur beach and far from the nearest tourist resort or hotel. As the many bars, beach restaurants, deck chairs and massage tables petered out, I feared I’d been given another wrong date. But in the sparsity of tourist free reaches, scooters and motorbikes started to crowd the foreshore. Balinese began to form crowds heading in one direction…ahead. Lifting my eyes, I saw dots in the distant sky and fluttering flags lining the coast that curved to the right. This had to be it!
The closer I got the more intense the festival atmosphere. Every spare space was a jam-packed two-wheeler parking lot and I soon became sucked into the funnel of merging crowd along the only path between water on one side and a sprawling field on the other. Music and loudspeaker announcements invaded the air as much as the growing number of flags…and there, swooping gracefully above…the kites.
A huge red fish with gaping mouth was a fitting introduction to the spectacle of the Bali Kite Festival. Looking like a sea monster that had jumped the path from the sea and found itself beached on the grassy plain and tethered by ropes against the onshore wind. Other more traditional kites began to crowd the field. Their handlers, or crew, fussing over them while in the background, rice is being back-breakingly plucked from the watery paddy.
Tightly surrounded by Balinese of all ages, I soon become aware I’d not seen another westerner. Mis-information or unawareness of this event will be their loss. On many occasions, I’ve found myself in this situation…a lone westerner merging with and in the flow of locals. I forever find it enlightening, friendly and colourful. My presence is welcome and children show their fascination with broad smiles.
Then the whole spectacle opened up before me. A vast village of kites sitting on stilts acting as shade with its crew either making repairs or resting beneath. Food is being prepared to the sound of their own gamelan band. Over the three days of the festival, this temporary city has evolved over acres and acres.
Meandering the paths of this kited city was an experience of sigh, sound and smiles all around as I recorded the crews activities. Then I reached the edge of the ‘playing field’. This is where the kites are launched and hopefully land. Another lesson is quickly learnt. When a kite is being grounded, it’s a frantic rush by the crew to run the rope attached to their kite rather than reel it in. If you happen to be in the way you are trampled. The kite landing takes precedence for a bad landing will not only lose the team points, but badly damage the kite that has taken months to build.
Okay, let’s try and describe how this event works.
The kites fall into four categories, three based on traditional kite styles and predominantly coloured black, red, white and gold. The most popular, the Bebean kite is in the shape of a fish. The Pecukan is more an oval or leaf shape and the hardest to launch, let alone fly.
(Top) Bebean kite. (Above) Pecukan kite.
The Jaggan is the mother of all kites with a tail that can measure up to 200 metres and possibly the largest kite in the world. Then the final category is what one can call an ‘open’ category. The kites are called layangan kris with the only design restriction being it must have some cultural meaning. Some have been political and controversial.
(Top) The mother of all kites, Jaggan and (above) the ever broadcasting judges box.
This is a competition between Balinese communities and therefore the teams are judged. The broadcast banter from the raised judges box is constant and loud putting any football broadcast to shame. Each category has different judging criterion. For example, the Bebean is rated on how graceful is the movement in the sky. The Jaggan is judged on its grooved tail length and how it flows like water in the breeze. The Pecukan, I can only assume, is judged if it at all gets off the ground. Not all is about grace and movement though. The sound each kite makes in the wind can be varied and haunting. Finally, how each community team is presented – their dress, their musical talents, and of course, teamwork and how well they pilot their kites.
With flags almost dominating the sky, the kites on high, the whistle in the wind, the almost rodeo-like broadcast, the mix of gamelan music and the ever-present Balinese broad smile, this is a most amazing cultural and colourful experience that should not be missed.