|Celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor, Keith Vaz MP and Bhai Jagtap with the elephants unveiled at the mango fesitval, in Cossington Street recreation ground|
Hundreds of people attend Leicester's first mango festival
by David Owen
An Indian summer arrived early in Leicester today as the hottest day of the year so far coincided with the city’s first ever mango festival.
With temperatures reaching 22C (72F), hundreds of people visited Belgrave’s Cossington Park to enjoy the unique event.
Celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor, host of the hit Indian Masterchef TV show, was star attraction at the festival.
Greeted on stage to cheers and applause from the crowds, he said: “It’s a beautiful day to join you all here in Leicester. The reason we are here is because of the city’s hospitality – and the great taste of mangos!
“It’s an honour and a privilege to be here with you.”
Today's event recreated the world-famous International Mango Festival, which is held in Delhi every June.
Sanjeev treated festival goers to a cooking master class focusing on dishes using mangos. He was joined on stage by Bollywood choreographer Shiamak Davar and Bollywood movie art director and set designer Nitin Desai.
Other attractions included live music, dancing and children’s competitions.
Belgrave resident Avtar Kaur, 45, said: “In India the mango is king – it’s the national fruit and the most tasty.
“It’s such a lovely day and beautiful weather for everyone to get together in the park.
“I’m really enjoying myself with my friends and the weather couldn’t be more ideal.”
Vij Joraniya, 20, also of Belgrave, said: “I’m here to see Sanjeev. He’s the most famous chef in the whole of India and it’s so great to see him here in Leicester.”
Lavtar Singh Ruprah, 47, of Wigston, was enjoying a family day out with wife Reema and the couple’s two boys, Dhilan, two, and Harmeet, one.
“It’s a nice day out for the family and it’s nice to see people from all different communities in Leicester enjoying the sunshine and mangos,” he said. “You couldn’t have picked a better day for it, could you.”
The festival’s centrepiece was four ornately carved and decorated life-size wooden elephants – symbols of luck and prosperity in the subcontinent.
Thousands of delicious Alphonso mangos from the Kokan region of Maharashtra state were supplied courtesy of Indian producers who organised a similar festival in London on Sunday.
The decision to bring the festival here was made just 10 days ago after organisers approached Leicester East MP Keith Vaz.
He said: “It has taken a lot of hard work and organisation to put this festival together, but we did it in just 10 days.
“I’d like to thank the City Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, the city council, members of the Belgrave Traders Association and everyone else for making this happen.”
The festival only went ahead after an appeal in the Mercury saw the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir temple, in Gipsy Lane, the Shreeji Dham Haveli temple, in Melton Road, and Leicester City Football Club agree to look after the elephants, which will be on show with two even bigger ones in the next few months.
Mr Vaz told the crowd: “These elephants will bring a great deal of luck to the city and in particular Leicester City FC, who play a very important match on Thursday.”
Speaking about today's sunny weather, Mercury weatherman Dave Mutton said: “It's more like India than Leicester. Ideal weather for our first mango festival.”
Organisers, however, have come in for some criticism after the supply of mangos ran out just 45 minutes into the festival.
“It was too short notice and not enough was done to tell local people what was going on,” said Gunvant Patel, 72, of Belgrave.
“About 500 people turned up at the park at 4.30pm only to be told it was all over. They went home feeling pretty disappointed.”
He added: “They called it a mango festival but it was more like a mango promotion, and in any case there were no mangos left by 3.45pm. Many people feel a bit short changed by the whole thing.”