International Mango Festival Photo Essay | New Delhi, India

"Mango, the King of Fruits is here," announced the India Times at the start of the season in May. Our beloved durian might be the King of Fruits in the rest of Southeast Asia, but in India the mango reigns supreme, stealing the hearts of poets and bewitching kings and commoners alike for thousands of years. Since we were only a hop and a skip away in Sri Lanka, we decided to taste for ourselves just how kingly the Indian mango is at the 25th International Mango Festival in New Delhi.

There are more than 1,200 varieties of mangoes in the world, all of them native to India or Pakistan (I'm talking about mangifera indica, to be specific). Every gleaming Tommy Atkins, creamy Ataulfo, or juice-dribbling Kent was transplanted to the Americas from somewhere on the Indian subcontinent and bred by poets, nobles, and holy men.  In India, the mango is synonymous with love, pleasure, and above all, desire.

I have desired Indian mangoes since I first heard about them on NPR as a teenager.  But until last week, eating Indian mangoes in India was still just an item on the list of Things to To Before I Die. Well, I'm one item closer to dying in peace. For the next two weeks we're veering away from durian to dive into another country's "King of Fruits." It'll be an exploration of India through the lens of fruit-fixation, YotD style. Bear with us and don't worry - my heart will always belongs to durian.

We arrived in New Delhi just in time to catch the last day of the International Mango Festival, which has been celebrated since 1988. It's a three day event organized in conjunction by the tourism and agriculture departments  to celebrate India's national fruit and remind people about their horticultural heritage.

The festival attracted 50,000 mango munchers over the weekend who showed up to revel over the hundreds of varieties on display, participate in mango eating competitions, and buy mangoes by the box. Or stacks of boxes.

Other would-be mango revelers be warned: there is more than one mango festival happening in a Dilli Haat in New Delhi. We had an adventure just getting to the mango festival. Exhausted from our cheap flight to Delhi, which left us stranded outside the Chennai airport for 12 hours, we allowed our hotel in New Delhi to arrange a tuk-tuk ride to the "The Mango Festival in Dilli Haat."

Things went wacky immediately. First, the hotel had apparently not communicated very well with the tuk-tuk driver, because he had no idea what mango festival we were talking about. Finally, he got directions from some other drivers.  At that point we'd been driven all over the city, past the Gate to India and the Modern Art Museum, when all we wanted was to sink our teeth into some seriously juicy mangoes.

We were thrilled beyond reason when we were dropped off in front of this giant mango sign. We'd made it!  We bought our entry ticket and power walked past trinkets and clothes and old men droning flatly on an instrument made of two sticks. Where were the mangoes?

I was starting to wonder if this mango festival was going to be as disappointing as some of the durian festivals we'd visited, when a man pointed us inside to a long table littered with a few dozen green mangoes. My heart wrenched. We'd missed the mango festival. They were gone. The hungry Indian hordes we always hear about on the news had eaten them all.

I sadly fingered one of the mangoes as Rob got the details in broken English that this was not the Mango Festival, but another random festival that springs up in conjunction with the real deal. The real Mango Festival was in Pitampura, a very long way away. The good news was that we could take the Metro.

Visors are awesome

Delhi has a very functional and very crowded underground subway that is surprisingly easy to navigate. At first, it was fine, if a bit squishy. I imagined it was like the New York subway if nobody wore deodorant and 95% of the population was male.  But people kept getting in, and no one was getting out. We jammed tighter and tighter together, and then at one stop everyone got out at once. Rob and I had to fight to avoid being swept off the train in a sudden sea of people. It was like being pummeled in a human ocean, and even the noise was an aquatic roar.

Breathless but untrampled we arrived at Pitampura, which is not actually the right stop for the mango festival, either. The stop you want, if you ever go,  is Nataji Subhas Place on the Red Line. The real deal, hundreds-of-mouthwatering-mangoes Mango festival is just 100 meters from the station. You're welcome.

We paid the measly 20 rupees entry fee while staring at children and families riding bored-looking camels in sequined head-dresses. There were a lot of people milling around. A lot. 

First, we fought our way into three large rooms displaying mango varieties. No samples were available, but I enjoyed seeing the range of size and colors that mangoes encompass. There were mangoes the size of muscadine grapes and mangoes as big as papayas. Not the little Hawaiian papayas, but big ones. There were red ones, green ones, yellow ones, and even mottled ones bearing cool sounding names like "Om" and "Raja."

Bored men kept watch over the precious mango varieties, making sure people like me didn't steal any to taste for ourselves. One man told me there were over 100 varieties in that room alone. They even had the familiar if much criticized Tommy Atkins, the variety most commonly found for sale in the USA.

When we'd looked long enough to get really good and hungry, we headed to the area where mangoes were being sold. I've never seen so many mangoes in one place in my life, or such a frenzy of excitement over a fruit. Vendors hollered the names over and over while men hustling boxes in and out tried not to trip over children and women who had stopped to munch a mango or two. Or three. 

Rob and I put out our elbows and moved in to get our share.

We bought four types of mangoes are first time around and retreated from the crowds to devour them all. Which we did easily. I was astonished at just how different each mango tasted. One was as smooth as butter, another exploded with juice. One tasted like the best apple cider, another like Tang, and yet another had a savoury, salty undertone that really surprised me. They were all wonderful, and we stocked up on six varieties before entering the flow of people bearing mangoes away.

The Mango Festival is held every year during the first weekend of July in Dilli Haat, Pitampura, West Delhi.

What do you think? Do mangoes deserve the title "King of Fruit"? 
Please comment below!