Four days in the shimmering heat of the Thar desert, and we’ve returned with a storyload of adventures. Discovering new music, camping under the stars, riding on camelback and hazarding dangerous loos, Ragasthan is as much a journey of music and travel as it is of self-discovery.
Back in organized office spaces now, we miss the smell of hot ginger tea and the soft sand in our shoes. Here’s a list of what we loved best about Ragasthan – and why you shouldn’t miss the next edition.
1. Camping in the great outdoors. We were allotted rustic one-man tents as protection from the chafing desert air. Mowna, my fellow traveller, and I actually squeezed into a single tent, burrowing deep into sleeping bags, five layers of clothing and several blankets to keep us warm. Thin bedding offers respite from the frozen desert floor, but nothing prevents your toes from going numb. Nonetheless, camping in the desert cold, with the sound of music echoing through the night is an adventure not to be missed.
2. Every form of transport available at the festival. If you need to get around, and you aren’t brave enough to face the dunes on foot, your options are a bone-jangling ride in an open jeep, piling into tractor-trailers, or a camel-ride through the magnificent dunes of Khuri.
3. Thank goodness for friends staying in posh Swiss tents. The communal toilets near the rustic tents were nothing short of a nightmare. Filthy, clogged and without drainage, the poop just piled up on the ground below, and by day 2, you couldn't approach a one-kilometre radius of the loos without the stench overpowering your senses.
Swiss tents on the other hand, come with attached baths (and of course, are priced differentially). If you had friends staying in one of these luxury tents, that’s where you went to pee. However, there seemed to be plumbing issues here too; we noticed extensive digging behind some of the Swiss tents, to release the clogged drains. Clean and functional toilet facilities would make the ladies much happier next time around.
4. Stumbling across magical art installations. On long walks through the sandy dunes between each musical arena were engaging installations that had been erected by artists the week prior to the festival. A giant dragonfly with startling pink wings that flapped in the wind. A towering peacock made entirely of tiny blue lights. Bizarre Alice-in-Wonderland scenes emerged like a mirage in the haze; a life-size game of snakes and ladders with players hopping between numbers, tossing a ridiculously large red dice between them; larger-than-life see-saw carrying three people at either end and a dune peppered with firki-like craft, the nazar battu of the desert.
5. Bonfires and hammocks that we huddled around, to keep the biting cold at bay. Inevitably, someone would pull out a pair of colourful pois and swing with hypnotic skill, while someone else on a guitar would break into song.
6. Open-air film screenings that channeled the vintage charm of movies from the sixties. Bedding and cushions were provided for; all you had to do was carry a blanket and cuddle under, as old black & whites lit up the flickering screen.
7. Food stalls that served it up hot and spicy. Anda burji, masala dosa, fried rice and butter naan with kebabs. The thick, sweet ginger tea that was freely available throughout the festival was a definite plus and won the organizers plenty of love.
8. Discovering some exciting new music. Sitting under the scant shade of a tree, the gentle breeze a balm to the heat, a cold bottle of beer and some fantastic new artists to serenade you as the sun goes down. Some artists we will definitely be watching out for are Narada - Deepmantra, Skydrops ft. Medha Sahi, Run Pussy Run, the Kabir Cafe and Run! It's the Kid. We only wish the organizers had thought of providing more sturdy shelter from the sun. With no real protection, the audience was left to slowly roast in heat.
9. That the festival was entirely plastic-free. The organizers gave everyone a flask as they entered, to be refilled with water or tea (freely available) or alcohol, should you choose to find warmth at a bar. We loved that they refused to offer paper or plastic cups, and insisted you carry the flask with you everywhere.
10. The festival maps and currency notes, which truly completed that feeling of living an alternate reality. The currency notes were valued at Reth – meaning a grain of sand. The maps directed you to the stages playing your choice of music, or the array of other activities you could choose to try. We only wish the events had stuck to schedule. The six to seven hour delays meant that some acts had to be cut short or rescheduled.
11. How chilled out the organizers were! Despite the overwhelming logistics of organizing an event of this scale, they were warm, chatty, helpful and full of stories. Big shout-out to them for turning a passion project into reality and doing it so hands-on; running on adrenaline, enthusiasm and next to no sleep. Keith Menon, Supriya Sobti, we’re talking about you!
12. The bunch of badass bikers who rode down to Khuri on their Harleys. We slipped by the Harley Village accommodation to check out those wicked machines as they gleamed in the sun.
13. The extensive range of activities besides music. We caught up with festival organizer Keith Menon, who explained that they never saw Ragasthan as only about the music. Instead, they envisioned a festival that was a celebration of things that were much bigger: an experience that weaves the beauty of the desert together with the soul-altering experience of travel, united by great music. Which is why you could sail through the skies in a hot air balloon or go para-motoring through the clouds, roll in a zorb, or ride an ATV over the dunes. Khagol Mandal, an organization of astronomers from Mumbai, were invited to conducted sky-gazing workshops. They brought along telescopes and guided us through viewings of Saturn, Jupiter and the magnificent desert moon, and even taught us to read the constellations.
14. The incredible lighting. Lights on the path from the camping areas to the musical arenas, beautiful lanterns that were strung up on trees, the backdrops for each stage – the lighting everywhere was truly a work of art.
15. Sunrise in the dunes. While the sunsets were spectacular, it was the quiet sunrise that took our breath away. Silent and gentle, the painted orange sun rose in a pink-tinted sky till it transformed into a fierce golden ball that we could no longer look at.
For all these, and a hundred other reasons, a desert music festival should definitely make your bucket list.