Narmada Chachi

For one of our recent projects, we invited a three Madhubani artisans from Bihar. Their train was late and since the ladies had never been to Ahmedabad, I went to fetch them from the railway station. I was surprised to find that the leader of the group was a wizened old lady. While I dropped her at the hotel, she refused to give her thumb impression insisting that can sign the register. And she wrote Narmada Devi in English, a lilting handwriting that is typical of someone who has been a painter all her life.

Narmada chachi (aunt) as everyone fondly calls her is the president of the self help group. Her grown up sons are married and live in cities while she lives in the village with her husband. While we often hear stories of male dominance and abuse towards women, this lady tells a different story. Her husband encouraged her to paint. He manages the household when she is away chaperoning the young apprentices in her charge.

As the grand old lady manages the group, orders materials from all over the country, deals with clients and allocates work to the team, she leads by example.

Take a bow, chachi!

summer school, CEPT, exploring crafts, himachal crafts, study tour, DICRC, HImbrothers

#sws2016_kulluspiti

June 2016 was one of the most hectic months ever. Traveling almost every day on non-existent roads, putting our feet up when travel got too much, a group of 19 students, my co-faculty Dr.Mukesh Patel and I were out in Himachal exploring the crafts in that region. Low oxygen levels at Spiti, sub-zero temperatures in the nights and roads of gravel tested the best of us. Of course, with it came the stunning vistas, snow-capped peaks, quaint and hidden monasteries and surprises in the form of murals painted more than a thousand years ago.

summer school, CEPT, exploring crafts, himachal crafts, study tour, DICRC, HImbrothers, kullu weaving, kinnauri weaving, Thangka, hand-beaten metal, prayer wheel

Kinnauri weaving

This course was part of the summer school at CEPT University, Ahmedabad. The student mix of interior design, architecture and planning was helpful in giving the course a multi-disciplinary approach in learning. We witnessed the meditation required for a Thangka painter, a way of life that weaving signifies for the pattu weavers and the sacrosanct process demanded by the metal artisan who makes prayers wheel, the ubiquitous architectural element in the whole region. We covered Thangka painting, weaving and hand-metal crafts across Kullu, Spiti and Kinnaur valleys. Our trip ended with a refreshing and informative discussion with Dr.O.C.Handa, an expert on local crafts, culture and architecture.

And of course, none of this was possible if not for the wonderful team at Himalayan Brothers Adventure. They managed both the logistics and the tough roads so smoothly with barely an hitch. Here are some pictures from the trip. For more, check out #sws2016_kulluspiti on Instagram.  Explore with us!

summer school, CEPT, exploring crafts, himachal crafts, study tour, DICRC, HImbrothers, kullu weaving, kinnauri weaving, Thangka, hand-beaten metal, prayer wheel

Gateway to Lipa

summer school, CEPT, exploring crafts, himachal crafts, study tour, DICRC, Himbrothers, kullu weaving, kinnauri weaving, Thangka, hand-beaten metal, prayer wheel

Thangka-work in progress

summer school, CEPT, exploring crafts, himachal crafts, study tour, DICRC, Himbrothers, kullu weaving, kinnauri weaving, Thangka, hand-beaten metal, prayer wheel

Spinning it up!

 

Lakhpart fort, Rann of Kutch

Lakhpat fort

Day 3 started off with another long journey. With all the craft work done, it was time to check out other sights. We traveled through huge stretches of barren landscape and crossed the Tropic of Cancer (yes, you can stop by and click a picture of yourself!) to reach Lakhpat. Once a prosperous port town, it is now a shadow of its former self. The seismically unstable Kutch region was home to rivers Hkra and Sindhu. During an earthquake, the rivers changed course, leaving the land barren. Add to it the high salinity of the soil, and all that is left of vegetation are just the hardy shrubs. According to Wikipedia, ‘the area was a vast shallow of the Arabian Sea until continuing geological uplift closed off the connection with the sea, creating a vast lake that was still navigable during the time of Alexander the Great. The Ghaggar River, which presently empties into the desert of northern Rajasthan, formerly emptied into the Rann of Kutch, but the lower reaches of the river dried up as its upstream tributaries were captured by the Indus and Ganges thousands of years ago.’

Gurudwara, Lakhpat, Rann of Kutch

Gurudwara at Lakhpat in Rann of Kutch

Nestled inside the village is a tiny Gurudwara. Guru Govind Singh had stayed here during one of the visits and the house eventually was converted into a gurudwara. We were greeted by the local caretaker and offered tea and refreshments. He told us some wonderful stories (including the one above) about the history of the place. From the Gurudwara, we walked up the Lakhpat. Owing to it’s proximity to Pakistan, the fort is guarded by military personnel. Living away from their families for long durations, these men serve in difficult conditions. From their vantage point, we could see an endless stretch of water almost merging with the sky. Some fishermen were going about their daily business.

Mandvi, ship building, Great rann of Kutch

Ship building at Mandvi, Great rann of Kutch

The trip to Mandvi from Lakhpat is a long one. But one that no-one should miss. Mandvi is a beach town and is home to the local ship building industry. A highly complex structure (architecturally speaking) is made without a single design on paper. The master-craftsman is an expert with decades of experience and his measurement using very crude tools is precise. These little ships traverse the sea all the way to Singapore, Dubai and even Africa. Over tea, the builders and the sailors were reminiscing about days spent at sea, Somalian pirates and sea-storms. I could have very well imagined to be on the sets of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. In Mandvi, do check out the palace if you find time.

Every trip has a trip photograph and we had ours! With all this done, we headed back to the hotel to pack up and leave. Another trip with loads of crafts, sights and memories!

P.S: Best time to travel to Kutch is October to February.  There are only a couple of stay options near the desert, so make your bookings in advance. Also these options are open only during season. We traveled off-season and hence used Bhuj as the base and traveled back every night. Though very exhausting, this is possible.

Also it is best to hire a cab from Bhuj as local transport is not well connected. Keep food and water handy as you will travel long stretches without scope for both. Also if driving on your own, make sure to have back-up fuel. As the Rann is close to the border, you need a permit to enter it. So make sure you stop before turning to Hodka to get your permit.