LAHORE: Chilly winter evenings, food and music are without a doubt a winning combination and the Coca – Cola Food and Music Festival, better known as the Coke Fest, is perhaps the perfect encapsulation of this. The third edition of the country’s biggest food festival and music festival took place in Lahore the past weekend at the picturesque Lake City, some 40 kilometres from central Lahore.
According to a press release, the three-day festival hosted almost 100,000 visitors who came for a day out with their friends and family. There were plenty of reasons to attend the event. For starters, the festival was all about food. And given the food-loving nation that we are, we really don’t need a reason to enjoy and celebrate our food. The event had hundreds of stalls serving a variety of foods and cuisines, each presented with their own unique flavour.
Moreso, as one of the hashtags of the event, #EatToTheBeat, suggested the event featured scintillating performances by some of the country’s top musicians and artists. While, the first day saw Abrarul Haq, Waqar Ehsin and Rizwan Butt mesmerize the audiences with their quintessential Punjabi beats, the third featured a rocking and energetic concert by Sahara UK, who had the audiences tapping their feet in no time and scores of people across the venue danced along to the music. The overall atmosphere at the event was electric and energetic and radiated positivity.
The venue of the event was also spectacular. It was spread over a large area with the lake in the centre, stalls on all sides and a stage for the concert right next to the lake. Seating arrangements were also made overlooking the lake while the stalls were adorned with fairy lights. However, unfortunately, as perfect as the setting sounds, it failed to maintain its glory given the number of people who turned up on the second and third day of the event. Those, who like me, made it to the first day of the event, Friday, enjoyed the setting and ambience of the event the most.
Considering, the event was a long distance from the city and the entry ticket was priced at Rs 450, it was overwhelming to see people turn up for the event in large numbers. As a result, the area which was supposed to be adequate turned out to insufficient. While Friday was relatively peaceful, Sunday was nothing less than a fish market. Roads within Lake City, leading to the event were choked and attendees had to park their cars a short distance from the venue and walk the rest of the way.
Moreso, given the rush, it was impossible to control the large crowd which attempted to enter the event from all directions. There were no organised queues which meant there was a lot of jostling and people stepping on your feet. However, the crowd at the gate was nothing compared to the crowd that met us as we crossed the multiple security checkpoints in place and entered. The place was buzzing with people and there was literally no place to walk. The Kashmir Banaspati Food Street, in particular, was clogged.
Sharing his thoughts on the response the festival received, Asad Shaiykh of Foodies R Us, who was one of the organising members of the event, said they were overwhelmed by the reception.
“We were overwhelmed by the response,” Shaiykh said, while talking to Pakistan Today. “The second and third day had more than 30,000 people in attendance, which is phenomenal.”
He expressed gratitude at the fact that the event concluded safely and there were no untoward incidents at the event.
Though, it sounds flawed, it is suggested to the organisers to put an upper limit on the number of people who can attend the event to ensure quality is maintained. Tickets should be sold beforehand and only those who have purchased it should be allowed to attend.
However, when presented this suggestion to Shaiykh, he responded that such a rule would not be feasible.
“We cannot put restrictions on the number of people attending the event because attendance will fall,” he said. “As a nation, we tend to be easy-going and laid back and make plans at the last minute. Though I personally requested everyone to buy tickets beforehand, most of the tickets were bought at the ticket booths outside the event.”
However, Shaiykh added that they could provide early buyers with incentives so that people are tempted to buy tickets beforehand, easing organisation.
Another point of concern, which was voiced by a number of attendees was the hygiene conditions. Most of the food items, especially the different desserts, were in the open inviting dust and insects. Moreso, cooking areas were also open. What is ironic in this situation is that members and admins of Foodies R Us criticise different restaurants for their hygiene conditions and push them to maintain quality.
On this, Shaiykh remarked that though he did not come across such display of food, he shared that all the stalls were provided by guidelines beforehand and were requested to strictly adhere to them. He said that all participants were requested to maintain hygiene and ensure that the best quality food was served to the customers. However, he thanked this scribe for pointing this out and said that he will ensure stricter implementation of the regulations next time.
As for the garbage and mess which had collected in the area by the end of the event, Shaiykh commented that more than 200 cleaning staff had been engaged to ensure that the premises was clean and junk-free. However, expressing his disappointment, said that many of those who attended did not abide by their civic duties and did not bother clearing their mess after they were done eating. He requested attendees to be more vigilant in the future and ensure that they also play their role in maintaining a clean and healthy environment.
“In such a situation, an organiser cannot do all the work on their own,” he said, asserting that it is the duty of those attending to also play their part.
Shaiykh further shared that the stall owners were also told to maintain cleanliness and ensure that their garbage is properly disposed. He added that those who failed to do so were fined Rs 10,000.
All in the all, the Coke Food Festival provided Lahoris with a chance to welcome the winter season with a short escape from their mundane routines and hectic shaadi nights, which seem to be consuming our days. The festival is scheduled to hit Faisalabad next weekend after which it will be heading to Karachi before finally concluding in Islamabad in the first week of January.