What do you do when you are in a sleepy town called Ambala Cantt on the day of Dusshera?
Well, how about seeking the Dusshera melas or the fairs for that’s where one usually finds the effigies of Ravana, the king of Lanka, Meghanad, his son and Kumbhakarna, Ravana’s brother, all decked to be set aflame, later on in the evening. Please note that fair has been mentioned in plural and it is only fair for me to share that one tiny city can host multiple melas (we are after all a country of a billion people and all of us on the road and enclosed in one paltry ground is not a good news for any organiser or traffic police).
So thanks to huge signboards and posters that helpfully point where the preparations are underway for Grand Dusshera fairs, I indulge in Ravana gazing or Ravana hopping to be more precise.
The Ravana hopping has been inspired by Bengal’s pandal hopping exercise where a crowd moves from one pandal to the next, comparing the creativity put in its decorations (generally Goddess Durga in her fearsome avatar vanquishing the demon Mahishasura). They are legendary!
Unfortunately Ambala Cantt had just one that I was aware of so I focused on the Ravanas instead. The family had no choice but to accompany and experience the Dusshera awe for themselves.
So off we toddled to seek our first one in the blazing afternoon (the family refused to compromise on timing …traffic menace, the dust, the crowd, blah blah).
Anyway, it was destination Topkhana Bazaar, the helpful posters definitely promised a grand spectacle. Actually the family was sceptical for the bazaar was set in a tiny circle and nowhere could we see any towering effigies (the effigies are really tall or at least the ones that hold promises of grand spectacles ). Finally we followed the trail of colourful shamyanas or tents . A wedding and a puja feast later, we reached a reasonably large ground where our lonely Ravana stood but nonetheless very impressive. The photo certainly captures his magnificence well.
From there it was to Gandhi Maidaan, a humongous ground and befitting its status, yes, our Ravana stood tall with his brethren; we puny humans running around trying to frame the family photo perfectly.
Outside the ground, the roads had begun lining with stalls, the vendors laying out their wares. Like magpies, we were drawn to the shiny stuff .
Ok ! Not just the shiny but the colourful ones too .
It didn’t matter that the dust swirled around us, the crowd steadily building, but at that moment everything had a fairy tale quality. Hey, even the cheap plastic toys looked tempting and the plaited baskets were an absolute must haves.
Indian pop up stalls at their finest .
Feeling suitably awed and satisfied with our attempts to make this festival memorable, it was time for us to hop back home. No! We didn’t stick around for the fireworks which would have been quite thrilling but next year for sure. The sleepy town of Ambala was waking up.