Kila Raipur: Of Bullock-Cart Races, Village Games and Punjab Da Flavour

Guest post & photos by Divya Rai, and additional text & photos by Ramit Mitra, founder, DelhiByFoot and organising leader of the two day trip. Additional pictures with respective credits wherever applicable is given.

Divya is a totally footloose and fancy-free soul, who is training to become a photographer. When she is not being trigger-happy, she writes at A Borrowed Backpack. Divya’s backpack is perpetually overflowing with stories from wherever and whenever she has travelled and hopes her journeys never end!

Kila Raipur Sports Fest

[Author’s Note: This post talks about Kila Raipur Sports Festival, an event that involves quite a few sports where animals are the participants. It is likely to hurt the sensibilities of animal-lovers, which is understandable. But in the same breath, I would like to tell you dear reader, that raising a hue and cry on this post will not help any horse or bullock in Ludhiana. The event draws its influences from rural India and is merely a reflection of how the rural-life in India survives and thrives. Unfortunately, when they started the event in 1933, they simply forgot to ask for our (yours and mine) permission. Let us just deal with it now, eh? ]

Kila Raipur Village Olympics is a sporting event worth visiting, just for the sake of the announcer’s non-stop commentary itself! Sample this:
a) “Tussi side ho jao, baaelaan vich brake-aan nhi hondi”  [Translation: Please clear the field. Bullocks do not come with brakes]
Right after this announcement, one bloke ambles into the track-area and manages to get run-over by a speeding horse, thereby getting seriously injured in the process!

b) “Aiy prize-distribution, Shri Harinder Grewal (IAS), Shri Raminder Singh (PCS), Shri Jagjit Singh (Canada), blah blah blah…” [Names are fictional]. [Translation: This prize distribution will be done by Shri Harinder Grewal (Indian Administrative Service), Shri Raminder Singh (Provincial Civil Services), Shri Jagjit Singh (Canada)].

No. Please don’t ask me when and how did Kanedda’ (To the uninitiated it is Canada as pronounced in Punjab!) become a designation with the Indian government. Canada and dollar-dreams are deeply embedded in the DNA of almost the entire of Punjab. Period.

Kila Raipur Sports Festival
Our driver, who hailed from a village next to Kila Raipur sported a ring with a dollar coin on his index finger!

Gradually, I have come to believe that maybe ‘Kanedda’ is the real capital of Punjab. It is just that it happens to lie outside the geographical realms of India!

About Kila Raipur Sports Festival (KRSF)
Before going for the event, every time I mentioned it to my friends that I wished to attend the Village Olympics in Punjab, I was invariably asked: “Ohh! So there is a sports festival just for ‘gulli-danda’?” [Come to think of the irony, that there is simply no ‘gulli-danda‘ at this event!]

KRSF has been on my travel-radar for quite a while now, but I have always been slightly hesitant in taking up this trip. As a girl I think, I was a little apprehensive that it would be rowdy. But it is not. It is boisterous, an adjective which is inherently ‘Punjab’. More than the destination, it is the journey that matters (at least, to a traveller), and I, purely by luck, bumped into DelhiByFoot and teamed up with them for the journey. I don’t think I have thanked Ajit, my friend, enough for putting me in touch with this awesome bunch of people!

Kila ‘Rapper’, as the locals refer to it, has been celebrating the spirit of rural sports for last 81 years. Grewals, the jat-community of Punjab, that finds its origin in and around the area called Kila Raipur, were the initiators of the event way back in 1933. The body that co-ordinates and manages the event, called Grewal Sporting Association, is extremely proud of its rural heritage.

The venue is a sports stadium in the ‘pind’ (village) of Kila Raipur, with both the ends seamlessly merging into vastness of fields that has wheat and mustard crops sown in. This bit is on purpose, as the various races that have animals as participants, need more area to stop the follow-through of the run. The animals run at great speeds and run much past the finish line, into the fields before finally coming to a halt.

Kila Raipur Sports Festival 2The event, due to its rustic nature, is a crowd-puller for two distinct kinds of people. One – the locals, for whom it is an annual event of great significance. It borders sacrosanctity for the participants and this can be sensed from the way they bend down, touch the ground and then their forehead to pay respect to the ‘start-line’ before the commencement of any race. The other chunk comprises curious artists from various mediums – photographers, videographers, documentary film-makers and bloggers. Kila Raipur Sports Festival encompasses the disparate crowd with surprising ease and effortlessness.

Kila Raipur Sports Festival 2014
It was refreshing to see a sporting-event which, the likes of Coca-Cola and Pepsi are yet to corrupt. My heart did a little jig out of pure happiness! Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against these companies (except the health factor, maybe). It is just that most of the FMCG sponsors make EVERY event look like a clone of the other, thereby stripping the event of any individuality that it may have once had.
At KRSF, most of the sponsors were Indian companies. A few were, predictably, the ones that manufacture agriculture-related machinery and fertilizer companies. The food-stalls at the venue were totally ‘desi’ fare. Sugar-cane juices, fruit-salads, pocket-kulcha, Kinoo Fruit-juice, chaat, chai and samosas were being sold at the stalls and hand-carts that could be spotted right outside the venue.

Even though these items were being prepared fresh, the hygiene level is slightly ‘iffy’ because of all the dust in the area. I can digest just about anything, so I enjoyed everything. But I suggest, please go ahead with the food-items only if your system is not too sensitive. Or else, peanuts aren’t that bad an alternative!

Some spicy Pocket-Kulcha getting ready for us
Some spicy Pocket-Kulcha getting ready for us
Kila Raipur Sports Festival 3
Fresh sugarcane juice….
Kila Raipur Sports Festival 4
…..’Kinoo’ juice to keep you refreshed!
Kila Raipur Sports Festival 5
…fruit chaat of Papaya, Apples, Grapes…liberally sprinkled with Red Chilli powder and Chaat Masala!

The Event
Every time I tried to gather any information about KRSF, all I could lay my hands on were the images from event. It was not very helpful in communicating about how to go about it- the stay, commute, food etc. Thanks to DelhiByFoot and subsequently my own research I am now in a position to put together some information which will hopefully help people in the future.

KRSF celebrates the regular as well as not-so-regular sports categories with great enthusiasm. The one with the regular races like- 400m race, 200m race, shot-put throw etc for various categories and the others like grey-hound race, bullock-cart race, mule-race and tractor race. The latter is something that draws influence from the rural-lifestyle.

What garners the maximum accolades is the category with individual stunt-like feats of strength by the villagers, for example – lifting a plough with the teeth, a tractor rolling over a man lying on the ground, pulling a car with one’s teeth,  lifting a 100kg sack with one’s mouth, motorcycle stunts etc.

Kila Raipur Sports Fest
Gurmeet Singh Ji has been lifting Ploughs, Cycles and Ladders in his mouth for the last 29 yrs at the KRSF. The weight of the plough is almost 85Kgs as he claimed!
Kila Raipur Sports Fest 2014
A tractor rolls over Balbir Mirza of Hoshiarpur who lies on the ground!
Kila Raipur Sports Fest
Using his tuft of hair, Jagtar Singh pulls along a Maruti Alto Car for at least 2 mtrs. Phew!

KRSF  acknowledges and honors the handicapped people with great pride and successfully communicates that a human being can achieve so much if they choose to look beyond their imperfections. Here is an image from one such event.

Kila Raipur Sports Festival 7
This person could walk only with the help of crutches, because his right leg was affected with polio. But he could pull the Alto car with his teeth!

For me, the most interesting ones were the team-events like : Loading and off-loading of tractor-trolley with gunny-bags full of grains and Kabaddi.

Kila Raipur
2 teams compete against each other to load up or unload a truck of gunny bags in a ‘x’ duration of time

Here is a list of events at KRSF. My highlights of the crowd-pulling events are below.

Bullock Cart Race
The traditional bullock carts are replaced by a smaller and lighter cart attachment called ‘thokar’to reduce serious injuries to both man and animal due to accidents/collisions of speeding carts.

Kila Raipur Sports Fest 2014
In hot pursuit of the leader of the pack!!
The scent of victory!
IMG_9029 (2)
Crossing the finish line, the winner takes it all !

Tractor Race
In a Punjab village how can tractors not be racing each other?! The ultimate salute to male machismo!

Kila Raipur Sports Festival 3
In a billowing cloud of smoke and dust the tractors roared to life!
Kila Raipur Sports Festival
That tractors can run so fast, we had never imagined in our wildest dreams…for their weight, remarkable F1 style speeds!
Kila Raipur Sports Festival
And the local lad from the village of Kila Raipur wins the Tractor race in a flurry of thundering cacaphony…

Horse Racing

Kila Raipur Sports Festival
Eeeyaaah! Horse and Man fly in unison!

Traditional Races and Sports too!

Kila Raipur Sports Festival
Reaching for the skies!
Off the starting block!
Zor se khincho doston…Tug-of-war in progress!
Cyclists whizz past us…

Our stay:
Ludhiana is the city closest to KRSF venue. DelhiByFoot made arrangements for our stay in a hotel called Mahal, on Ferozpur Road. A decent place with delightfully clean washrooms. For me, a clean washroom is more important than the room itself. The other alternative would be a home-stay close to the venue. No options that we came to know of though! It will not only cut down the hassles of commuting, but would also give you a sneak-peek into the rural-life.
The best bet? Pack a tent and pitch it close to the venue. Close by, there is the main village called Kila Raipur. Befriend a local guy for your basic needs. Have fun! (Not recommended for female solo-travellers though!)

KRSF ‘s venue is at a distance of approximately 18 kilometers from Ludhiana. You can, from the main bus-station, take a local bus to Dhellon, which is at a distance of 3 kilometers from the venue. From Dhellon, you can take a shared autorickshaw (or book one for yourself entirely) to Kila Raipur Sports Festival. This drill is effortless while going to the venue, but God save you if you more than two travellers (AND have women in the group),  trying to get back to Ludhiana after the day KRSF is over!
The road outside the venue is nothing too amazing to get stranded at. Especially after it is dark. It goes dead, with almost no public transport. Not a soul to spot, for long duration of time. Your best bet would be to book a cab/taxi from Ludhiana for the day. This way, no matter how late you get, you’ll not have to worry about ‘how to-s’ of getting back to the town. DelhiByFoot did the next best thing, they booked autorickshaw for us the whole of 2 days!

Punjab Da Flavour

Bhangra te music…


….te Punjab ke Sarson de Khet….
And we also get our own cart ride!!!

To Dos for a first-timer to KRSF:
1) While it is important that you click pictures to be uploaded on social media, it is also important that you observe the event with your naked eyes. And soul.  ‘Observe’ and not ‘watch’. Yes.
Because ‘the want’ to click the perfect picture takes a toll on the way you experience the event. You miss a lot of action. Fixing the ISO, the shutter-speed, the mode and the aperture takes your attention away from the pre-race apprehensions of the participants, the anticipation of winning, the jubilant celebrations once a favorite participant wins, the commentary and much more.

2) Talk to the locals They have so much to tell! Notice how emotions run high (in a positive way) for this event. Also, listen to the murmurs as the participants touch the finish line. It tells so much about how the event is H-U-G-E, for the local people.

3) Sample the local fare Punjab is much more than Butter Chicken or Chicken Tandoori! As I have mentioned above, keep your gastronomic explorations within the tolerance capacity you have built up in your travels. It is no fun lying in the hotel room with an upset tummy, especially if you have travelled especially for an event like KRSF.

Please Do Not However:
1) Depend on the venue or its location for food or bottled water. It has, practically nothing to eat if you are even slightly discerning. Carry your own food and water if you plan to be there at the venue for the whole day. DelhiByFoot by virtue of being registered as ‘Photography & Media Partners’ with the KRSF, had access to clean drinking water and a midday snack of ‘Paneer Rolls’ (Imagine eating vegetarian in Punjab!)

2) Think that every day will have the same events. Not even one day is worth missing. Period.

3) Crazily risk your life to get a few good pictures. Photographers, I know, would disagree. But an animal is an animal; and for events like these, often high on drugs! It makes sense to watch out and be careful!

4) Expect this to be a swanky and slickly organised ‘Urban Mela’ event! It is as rustic as it can get.

Lastly, my suggestion to KRSF; how about addinggulli-danda’  as one of the sports, to this event?!!

Hope you as much fun going through this blog post as we had at KRSF and in putting together this photo-story for you!

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