Thar desert festival at Mala Ki Dhani

In the Autumn of 2016 in the middle of a desert, some men decided to have a music festival, in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. I was half excited and half skeptical. Unfortunately, these madmen were friends of mine so not going wasn’t an option.

I had to go and find out. I missed my train in the evening which was from Gurgoan station. A station that I have never been to before. The traffic and the narrow streets of the old town of Gurgaon are enough to give you vertigo. I was about 7 mins from the station when my friend’s Abhinav and Suchitra who were already on the train told me the train has left the station. Damn. that was close. Either I go back home or I find another way to get there. This thing with me is that once my mind is made up about something, it’s very difficult and heart wrenching for me to go back. This was about 7pm in the evening and I called my friend Kavita to find me another train. Finding trains on the Indian Rail govt website is a task. there are some trains that are not listed there but are there on the IRCTC website. While there are some additional trains that are listed no IRCTC but not on Indian Rail. Its a bit tricky and if you’re on your mobile with the great Indian 3G-4G connectivity, chances of finding the right train is bleak. In times like these, it’s like everything starts to work against you. The mobile internet, the railway website, the IRCTC passwords and their tight useless security that demands the users to log in every few minutes, the captchas they all play such big hurdles in times of despair. I find having a laptop with a good old broadband connection and a notepad far more efficient than fiddling on the mobile phone. Or simply by calling my super-railway-agent. This guy has a success rate of 99% and has booked me a seat in trains from every corner of India at the very last moments when I have lost all hope. Times that I have missed my train and I have called him from the platform crying and whining and he would magically find me another train. I don’t know why I’m publicising him here where my intent is to tell you guys about the music festival. Anyway, my friend found me a seat in a first class train to Jodhpur and at that moment it felt like I deserved a first class seat. Only thing was that the train was from another part of Delhi – Delhi Cantt ( another station that I’ve never been to before) I asked the driver if we can make it there in time and he assured that we would. So here I go driving in the opposite direction to catch another train to go to a festival I am so skeptical about. Don’t ask me why.


I reached Jaisalmer after a long, hot, dusty, cramped and ugly bus ride from Jodhpur only to see the arid site of the festival and how I wished if there were a pool in which I can just jump and remove of the sand from my hair and nose. Instead, I found the open air bathroom that these guys have made. It was covered from three sides and the one side just looks over the vast desert. Wow! It was liberating taking a shower in the open over looking at the dunes as you drench yourself with cold water in the dry desert heat. Most of the people were already off to a close by the lake while the rest of us, just waited there for them to come back. There were small huts for shared spaces, nice clean bathrooms, and loads of khaats for us to sleep under the starry night. It was exceptionally cold in the night. One has to keep a blanket under and a blanket over yourself. But the view was no less than miraculous. A billion stars with no moon, only the silhouettes we visible and the fading music that artists were playing in the background. The first session began at midnight under the stars. There was a session of Rajasthani folk music with the local musicians up at a nearby fort a night before. And for the night, we had Abhinav Deodhar, (the most amazing Hang Pan players I’ve come across) and Ofer Zvi (Didgeridoo) of Onogana, Soumya (amazing Sarod player from Hyderabad), Rahul Singh (Percussionist) and many others. It was magical drifting to sleep listening to these masters creating an alternative, fusion music. After a while, it was difficult to differentiate between dream state and conscious state of mind, the line was a blur.

 The next day, we loaded on to a troller and visited a nearby school to play music and dance with the kids. The families from that village invited us for lunch and it was an amazing experience meeting them. Their simple lives and big hearts accommodated all of us and left us with full stomachs.

The same evening, we went to a fort which was a bit far and through deserted, remote desert with no roads. Our bones were cracking by the time we reached there. It was a small abandoned fort with a nice rooftop which had an elevated platform for performance and a master seat where the king must’ve been sitting. It was seriously windy there. The show began with each musician getting their personal time to perform while sitting on the king’s seat. We realized that the high walls surrounding the roof were creating kind of an acoustic effect and cutting the wind. Shortly after the sun died into the desert, with nightfall, the fort was again lit by the same billion stars. It was the most magical moment of the entire festival. The sound was great and with the right amount of echo because of the stone walls, you could feel the soft vibrations of the sound being produced. Lying down, Suchi and I were staring into the sky, spotting constellations and gazing at the milky way while Abhinav played the hang, we heard a distant tune of Soumya’s sarod from the back of the rooftop and we were astonished by the combination of the two (Sarod and Handpan). We notified Abhinav about the pleasantness of this combination and we planned to jam together in the morning. It was divine. Personally, I don’t find many instruments that go well with Hang Pan. It’s an instrument so much of personality that for me, combining it with any other instrument ruins it. But Sarod was magical. Maybe it was the stars or it was Soumya’s skills I don’t know, but it was pure magic.

We did a lot of jam sessions with various musicians the entire next day and this was the result of it.

Limor from Rashi Kalra on Vimeo.

Some of the music was damaged because of the fierce wind that would deny us of any good sound recordings. But we recreated the same music later in Delhi.

Give it a hear. Thanks for reading. Any future information that you would like to know about the festival, please follow this page.

To know more about the festival, visit their page https://www.facebook.com/malakidhani/



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