Nope, we're not drunk.
It's the annual Jaipur Elephant Festival, put on by the Rajasthan Tourism Department the day before Holi, the spring Hindu festival of colors.
Elephant owners day-glo paint up their pachyderms, varnish their huge toenails, give them crowns of beaten silver, anklets, velvet blankets and drape them with garlands of flowers (edible jewelry!). Then, they parade through the Chaugan Stadium for an elephantine beauty contest, a quick game of Jumbo football and a heck of a lot of photo-taking.
We got to the stadium, which the Jaipur Maharajahs use to play polo, three hours before the festival starting time because we'd heard that getting a spot in the shade was tough. What an understatement.
There were only five or six people there when we arrived, but by an hour to show time all the seats were taken and people meandered around optimistically, searching for a magically vacant chair. Before the rush though, we got out to the elephant beauty parlor being conducted in the alleys around the stadium entrance.
Teams of men coaxed, pushed and prodded their huge pets into standing still while they carefully outlined drawings on their rough, grey skin. Flowers were popular motifs, though some drew stars, flags and lions too.
Back at the stadium a group of women in sparkly saris tossed rose petals on the foreigners arriving (strangely, Indians were seated in a different section) and daubed paint on their foreheads. The MC arrived and started playing loud Holi-themed music. There seem only to be four songs about Holi in the Indian repertoire, and we heard them each about 600 times. Finally got that bad Kesha song out of our heads, though.
The crowd was fairly quiescent during the start of the festival, but since there weren't enough chairs, it was a natural progression from wandering around to find a place to sit to wandering out onto the festival ground to get a better look at the gorgeous elephants and the twirling dancers that accompanied them. The police working the festival, though they'd been rigorous about chasing stray dogs, beggars and kids off of the stadium ground and away from the foreign guests (which included diplomats from Malawi, Botswana and the "Republic of Dominican"), seemed reluctant to tell tourists to get back to the designated seating area.
Despite the MC's increasingly hysterical pleas and admonitions to "please sit down", the arena slowly filled up with people wanting to get up close to the elephants. Soon the seats we'd so jealously guarded for hours now were redundant and we took off for the field as well.
There was a small scare when the elephants playing football started to charge toward the milling crowd, but no one was trampled. It got chaotic, but it was fun.
Next year, the tourism department would do well to make an additional standing or floor-sitting area for tourists, and to wrap up the official part of the festival early so people can go do what they obviously really want to do--go get their portrait taken with an elephant.
**Click here to see our photos of the Elephant Festival!**