At the start of every new year, the Jaipur Literature Festival holds a mega five-day cultural event in the city for which it has been named. The rest of the year, the festival takes its literary line-ups to other cities around the world, giving them the opportunity to taste a fusion of local and Indian literature, arts and culture.

In the United States, JLF has travelled to New York City, Houston, and Colorado; in the UK, to London; in Canada, to Toronto; in Australia, to Adelaide; in the Maldives, to Soneva Fushi; in Northern Ireland, to Belfast; in Qatar, to Doha. This year, for the first time, it went to Madrid and Valladolid in Spain.

Attending JLF Spain was more than listening in on literary talks and panel discussions. The 56th Valladolid Book Fair – of which JLF Spain was a part – was underway, and visits to historic sites in and around the city were woven into the experience. The first edition of JLF Spain also coincided with the 20th anniversary of Casa de la India in Valladolid – a foundation that aims to bridge gaps between Spain and India through cultural, social and educational ties.

Words are bridges

June 1, 7 pm

At the inauguration of JLF Spain in Madrid, the Kutle Khan Project brought Rajasthan to the Spanish capital with its folk music. After the performance, Sanjoy Roy, the producer of the Jaipur Literature Festival, in his address to the audience, reminded us of the human ties that bind us all and how literature and language help in forging relationships that have been strained under the weight of wars and selfish nationalistic motives. Dinesh K Patnaik, India’s ambassador to Spain said that Spain and India are natural partners – both countries spoke multiple languages, their cuisines changed every hundred kilometres, and the people of both countries were deeply rooted in tradition and took pride in their heritage.

The first session of JLF Spain featured Indian MP Shashi Tharoor who was joined by World Bank Vice President Ana Palacio and Portuguese politician Bruno Maçaes in a discussion about geopolitics. Tharoor touched upon India’s unwillingness to embroil itself in the Ukraine-Russia war and how it influences India’s position in global politics. The first night gave attendees the opportunity to travel from local to global.

June 2, 11 am

The next morning, the small group of participants travelled to Valladolid where the main festival was scheduled to take place. Located about 200 km from Madrid, Valladolid is hailed as the cultural capital of Spain. The 50-minute train ride from Madrid took us through the beautiful vistas of the countryside. The sun was bright, the sky clear, and we were excited to see what the city had in store for us.


Valladolid, in northwest Spain, is a small city with a population of about 300,000 people. Our hosts told us that it was impossible to lose your way in the city – everything was within 2 km of each other and you can practically see the entire city on foot. What a pleasant break from the teeming, unwalkable cities of India.

It didn’t take us long to come across the landmark that has made Valladolid a pilgrimage site for literature lovers – the house of Miguel de Cervantes, in which he wrote a part of Don Quixote, the first modern novel of Western literature.

Casa de Cervantes, Miguel de Cervantes' home in Valladolid. | Image Credits: Lourdes Cardenal/CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons

1 pm

The first session of JLF Spain in Valladolid was scheduled for 1 pm at the University of Valladolid. The auditorium was located in an imposing building of the university that had been around since the 13th century. Architects Anupama Kundoo and Félix Solaguren-Beascoa spoke to professor and architect Julio Grijalba about sustainable architecture in the 21st century.

Was it possible for cities to be equally sustainable in every part of the world, were First World countries only now adopting sustainable methods that are already in place in Third World countries, and can our cities be remodelled to be more sustainable and equal for each resident? These were some of the questions that the panel tackled.

Since the session was bilingual – in Spanish and English – the audience was provided with audio kits that translated the session in real-time. This was a first for JLF. It made the sessions truly inclusive and showed how human and technological interventions can turn barriers into bridges.

Lunch was spread out on the front garden of the hostels of the University of Valladolid. With a splendid spread of meat, seafood, cheese and wine, it was evidence that Spanish cuisine is more than just paella.

The Spanish, just like Indians, love their siestas. But as tourists, we had no time to waste. We set off on a tour of the city.

Lunch at the University of Valladolid.

3 pm

The destinations for the day were the National Sculpture Museum, the Cathedral of Valladolid, Parroquia Santa María de la Antigua, Iglesia Conventual de San Pablo, and of course, Plaza Mayor de Valladolid where the Book Fair was underway.

It took us merely two hours on foot to see these these superb examples of Gothic architecture and the astonishing display of sculptures, paintings, furniture and relics.

Santa María La Antigua. | Image credits: Sayari Debnath

6 pm

In the evening sessions, Shashi Tharoor spoke with journalist Pallavi Aiyar about the colonial project and its aftermath, while the Casa de la India hosted a presentation on the Spanish edition of the Bhagavad Gītā with Óscar Pujol and Agustín Pániker.

This was followed by a performance of music, dance, and poetry by Vidya Shah, Germán Díaz and Mónica de la Fuente.

A bust of Rabindranath Tagore at Casa de la India. | Image credits: Sayari Debnath

Earlier in the day, at the Plaza Mayor, singer Usha Uthup was in conversation with Sanjoy Roy and at the Círculo de Recreo, writer and director of the festival Namita Gokhale, poet Ranjit Hoskote, translator Óscar Pujol, and philologist Guillermo Rodríguez discussed “The Sacred Mountains: Searching Himalayan Masters”.

Writer Deepti Kapoor and Carmen Escobedo spoke about Kapoor’s recent novel, The Age of Vice – which has also been translated into Spanish along with 14 other languages. Writers Vikram Chandra and Susana Torres tried to understand the Indian mafia through Chandra’s explosive work Sacred Games, which was also adapted into a series by Netflix.

Historians Brian A Catlos, José Miguel Puerta, and Tharik Hussain addressed Spain’s Muslim past and how it shaped the nation’s historical and cultural identity.

The sessions went beyond literature – speakers from India, Spain, and other countries gathered not just to talk about books but common humanitarian similarities shared by everyone in the audience.

The Spanish translation of Deepti Kapoor 'The Age of Vice' at the Valladolid Book Fair.

Sights around Valladolid

June 3, 9 am

Day 3 was off to a busy start. The Junta de Castile ye León had organised a trip to Peñafiel Castle (located about 60 km from the city of Valladolid), a winery and vineyard, and Castilla Termal (a luxury hotel located inside a 12th-century monastery, Monasterio de Valbuena). The Peñafiel Castle was built in 1013 but what we saw were the remnants of important construction interventions made in the 14th and 15th centuries. The three-storey high fortress, once a fundamental defence point against invaders, was now best known for its wine museum.

Peñafiel Castle. | Image credits: Wikimedia Commons.

The region of Valladolid produces five denominations of wine – Rueda, Duero, Cigalies, Toro, and Tierra de León. Next, we headed to Vizar Bodega which has been making Duero wines since 2007. Along with a tour of the winery, we attended a wine tasting and the long, intricate process of how wines are made was explained to us. Though almost half of their wines are exported, Spanish wines are yet to find a wide market in India.

After one more serving of wine, we set off for Monasterio de Valbuena, a 12th-century Catholic monastery.

The vineyards of Vizar Bodega.

The monastery was renovated into a luxury hotel in 2015. The hotel has been careful to preserve the original structure of the monastery. The 79 rooms with all modern facilities exist side-by-side with a chapel, cathedral, winery and artworks that are nearly 900 years old.

Lunch at the hostel restaurant, which uses vegetables, herbs, and fruits grown in the kitchen garden, gave me my first taste of cordero lechal or roasted milk-fed lamb. It was succulent and delicious. I understood why our host said it was the most beloved recipe of Spain’s Castile y León region.

In the meantime, in another part of town, the “Poetry Hour” brought together translator and poet Raquel Lanseros and poet Ranjit Hoskote in conversation, while “Fiction and the Spaces in Between” featured Vikram Chandra and Peruvian author Santiago Roncagliolo. A discussion focused on travel writing featured journalists Tharik Hussain and Pallavi Aiyar and Spanish writer Javier Moro.

With this, it was time to wrap up Day 3.

Bollywood beats in Valladolid

June 4, 10 am

Day 4, the final day of JLF Spain, was marked by a guided visit to Segovia. Located 120 km from Valladolid, the city was declared a World Heritage City by UNESCO in 1985. Segovia was the ruling seat of the Romans, Arabs, and later, the Trastámara dynasty.

With a population of about 60,000, the tiny city’s main source is tourism. And there are endless things to see: the Alcázar de Segovia, Catedral de Segovia, Iglesia de San Martín, Casa De Los Picos and the first-century Roman engineering wonder, Aqueduct of Segovia.

Lunch was at Mesón De Cándido, which is run by the fourth generation of the Cándido family. The restaurant was started in 1905 inside an inn dating back to 1786. Mesón De Cándido is not just one of the oldest restaurants in Segovia, but all of Spain. We savoured Cándido style Segovia suckling pig, which was presented and cut with great ceremony by the 90-year-old owner of the restaurant, A Candido.

At the Mesón De Cándido as the fourth-generation owner performs the ceremonial carving of the Cándido Style Segovia Suckling Pig. |Image credits: Sayari Debnath

5 pm

With a full heart (and stomach), I headed back to Valladolid. In the final session of JLF Spain, actor Kabir Bedi spoke about his candid and moving memoir, Stories I Must Tell: The Emotional Life of an Actor. He recalled the roaring success in Italy and later in Spain of Sandokan, the 1976 television series in which he starred. It was a full house, meaning that the actor was still a hit among the Spanish and they remembered his iconic role.

He recalled being chased by fans through the streets of Italy and being the first Indian actor to be a part of a James Bond movie, Octopussy.

9 pm

The final performance of JLF Spain was by musician Usha Uthup who sang in Hindi, English, Malayalam, and Spanish. The city of Valladolid has a considerable Indian-Malayali population, many of whom showed up for the show at the Plaza de Portugalete square.

The Spanish crowd had not expected to see a woman clad in a sari with a bindi on her forehead and a gajra in her hair, but she swayed them nonetheless. Uthup’s multilingual performance was the fitting finale of JLF Spain – proving that “words are bridges”, if only we have a keen ear and an open eye.

Editor’s note: The writer was invited by Teamwork Arts (the organising body of JLF) and the Junta de Castile ye León to attend the inaugural JLF Spain in Madrid and Valladolid from June 1 to June 4.