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The London Mela started back in 2003 backed by Ealing Council with strong support by the Mayor of London. In its first year it attracted over 50,000 people with numbers rising by 10s of 1000s in the years following. In 2010 over 90,000 people attended so having been reminded about the Mela taking place on Sunday 4th September 2011; I made plans to go with my husband and meet up with a few friends there during the day. Friends who had been before had advised that it was a really fun day out with fun fair rides, live music, lots of food and drinks stalls and various other entertainment. So we felt it was time we went along and experienced it all for ourselves. The Mela is predominantly hosted by Asian businesses and mostly visited by Asians with Indian music and dance featuring quite heavily in several of the arenas whether it be modern or classical.
OK, SO WHAT IS A MELA?
Mela is actually a Sanskrit word which means “to gather” or “to meet”. The terminology is mainly used in India for large gatherings of people to witness all sorts of musical entertainment with lots of other stuff thrown in to amuse and entertain people of all ages. The word “mela” can be also used to describe a fun fair.
HOW WAS IT?
On the day of the London Mela we woke to a very sunny day. I was quite relieved as we’d been looking forward to the mela for some time and it had been quite rainy in the weeks preceding. Unfortunately by the time we were ready to leave at around 1pm there was heavy rain. We ended up arriving around 4pm knowing it was starting at around 1pm and would be going on until 8.30pm so we knew we’d have a good few hours left of the day to hopefully enjoy what was on offer.
On the day of the Mela there are extra buses put on from Ealing Broadway Station to easily get you to Gunnersbury Park. We’re lucky in that the E3 bus route goes from fairly near where we live in Ealing and goes straight past the park and it took us just 15 minutes once we’d boarded the bus. There seemed to be lots of buses – normally you see the E3 bus every 15-20 minutes; on this day they seemed to be arriving every 2 or 3 minutes. I was a bit worried at one stage as a large bunch of loud teenagers got on the bus a couple of stops after us and several of them just strolled past the driver without showing their Oyster Cards so the driver refused to move until the whole group got off the bus. I hoped this wasn’t a sign of the sort of behaviour to expect at the Mela all day.
Thankfully once we walked in through the main entrance to Gunnersbury Park we saw groups of people of all different ages heading towards the Mela. There was no entrance charge which was a relief (we’d been to a
Pictures of London Mela, London
The main arena from a distance
Nepalese Mela the previous weekend and had had to pay £3 for parking and £3 each for entrance). You would not have known from the 1000s of people we saw as we casually walked into the main part of the Mela that it had been raining not long ago.
There were 8 or 9 different “zones” appealing to different age groups including areas aimed at children, BBC Radio Asia, O2, fun fair, etc.
When we first walked in we saw a stage where the audience consisted of males in their late teens – the music was hip hop which didn’t really interest us – we hung around for a few minutes to see if the next song would be of the same genre which it was so we moved on. There seemed to be a lot of Asian males in their mid to late teens and there was a large police presence but apart from one incident when we saw a couple of police officers searching a young lad we didn’t see anything else that would cause concern. Everyone really seemed to be there to have a good time with friends and family.
The main music stage had a signboard telling you who was playing and at what time. We had arranged to meet some friends at the Mela and one had advised that Jay Sean would be performing. I had heard of this R&B singer who was raised in Hounslow, just 5 miles from where I live and knew he was pretty famous but had never seen him before, i.e. if he had sat next to me on the bus I wouldn’t have known who he was. We watched an artist called Hunterz perform some Bhangra songs which was fairly entertaining with his backing dancers and thought we’d hang around to see this famous Jay Sean.
A couple of the people in our group felt a bit peckish so we wandered over to one of the busier food stalls (busy means better food when you go to these sort of places in my book)! For £5 you could get a fairly large meal with a selection of different dishes – the staff manning the stalls were quite happy to mix and match the meals so people could get a variety of tastes. My friends weren’t overly impressed with their meal, I tried a bit and wasn’t too impressed either. My husband decided to wait till a bit later and try a different stall as we were keen to watch Jay Sean.
As we wandered back to the main music stand we noted that there were more than double the number of people from where we were there just minutes ago. Jay Sean was definitely a big crowd puller. Just after 5.15pm Jay Sean appeared on stage and what a hullabaloo! A talented artist he may be but we found it rather amusing at just how much he appeared to be in love with himself. As I said to my pals “You can take the boy out of Hounslow but not the Hounslow out of the boy!” We watched his performance in awe, he really was very good and another Bhangra singer Juggy D joined him for a bit as well as Rishi Rich, who is fairly well known as a British Indian music producer (and who also launched both Jay Sean and Juggy D).
Amongst the other events going on was also a tribute to Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore for his 150th birth anniversary, something Indians are proud of as he was the first non-European to ever win the prize as well as being the first ever Indian to win the Nobel laureate.
We wandered around the fun fair area although choosing not to go on any ourselves, they were priced at around £3 a ride – not being a regular visitor to fun fairs, I don’t know if that’s a reasonable price in this day and age or not. The rides seemed busy and everyone seemed to be coming off them with smiles on their faces although some of the scarier rides had people coming off looking like they were going to bring up their lunch! Lovely!
Asli Atta had a stand where people of all ages could join in a Bollywood dance session (with choreography help from trained Bollywood dancers from a local dance school) and 3 members of the audience could pick winners. We enjoyed watching the end of this competition and were delighted to see a young girl of about 3 winning the comp. Asli Atta were asking people to fill in forms with their contact details on and as a thank you there were giving out 1kg bags of Asli Atta (chapatti flour). I filled in a form and got my 1kg bag, hubby was asked to fill out another one but we didn’t want to walk around with 2kg of flour so left it at that!
A company called Twiss Drinks had a stand giving away cans of soft drinks and there were promotions people from the company dotted around the Mela giving away free cans too. There were three flavours and we tried all of them out and even took 2 or 3 home with us (although we weren’t as desperate as some people who seemed to have collected half a dozen or more cans each and could barely carry them)!
O2 was one of the main sponsors of the Mela and they were on site handing out free £1 international calling cards. I was handed 2 of these as I walked past as was my husband which was handy as he will actually get some use out of them.
BBC Asian Network Radio had a stand and they were “kindly” giving away free whistles – I say “kindly” as the parents of kids who had to listen to their kids whistling away all evening with their new toys probably didn’t think too kindly of the radio station! My big kid of a husband was irritating me within minutes of being handed his free whistle!
Most of the food stalls were Indian food but we spotted Nepali, Chinese and Thai food stalls as well. There were ice cream vans dotted around the place as well as your regular fun fair stands selling hot dogs, burgers, pop corn, toffee apples, candy floss, etc.
We noted there were dozens of portable toilets handily placed and surprisingly when we went to use these we found there was no queue. They were all well equipped with toilet roll and anti bacterial hand wash which was good considering we used these at around 7pm. We were also impressed by the sheer volume of dustbins we saw around the park all day, considering we had been to another Mela the previous weekend which only had a fraction of the number of bins we saw at London Mela and people had just dumped their used plates and empty cans on the ground.
As we were leaving at around 7.30pm we saw many people walking out with several carrier bags laden with freebies they had managed to gather during the day. As the day draws to a close the promotions staff try harder to give away the stock with free food and drinks being very common items being given away. I understand from friends who have been in previous years that you can get a whole meal for £1 or even free from various food stalls later in the day as the food has been made and unless it's sold or given away it would go to waste! Very handy for those who've been wandering around all day and are feeling peckish just before leaving.
WOULD I GO AGAIN?
I most certainly would visit the Mela again; I only wish I had visited in previous years – it was a fun day out and lovely to see that it was not limited to just Indian youngsters visiting and enjoying but people from all races and age groups having a thoroughly fun day out.
We found it to be a very enjoyable cultural experience with music and dance ranging from classical to modern, Bollywood to bhangra and young to elderly people having a really fun day out. They were even considerate enough to have disabled podiums by the main music stage with a wheelchair ramp and we saw quite a few wheelchair users around all day.
The Mela is held at Gunnersbury Park in Popes Lane, Acton, London W3 8LQ.
Tube: Acton Town Station is a 5 minute walk away with Gunnersbury or South Ealing Stations being a 10 minute walk.
Mainline: Ealing Broadway is the nearest train station and shuttle buses are laid on from here to get you to the Mela running every 10 minutes or so all day.
Bus: There are numerous bus routes running close by some run right past the Park (E3) and some are 5-10 minutes walking distance (64, H91).
Driving: it is not recommended that you drive to the Mela as there is very limited parking available at a cost of £10 per car. The surrounding area turns into a tow away zone for cars which is strictly enforced on the day so as not to cause disruption to people who live nearby. There is free parking available on site for Blue Badge holders.
For more detailed info about the Mela visit: http://www.londonmela.org/