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. 

As we woke up refreshed on day 2, we were all excited to hit the road. After all, we had crafts waiting for us at the other end. Our first stop was at Nirona, the village famous for its abundance of crafts. We stared off meeting Jabbarbhai, the youngest member of the last couple of families involved in Rogan art.

Rogan painting, Kutch tourism, Nirona, Bhuj

Jabbarbhai, Rogan artist

Rogan art (ironically) was a cheaper and faster alternative to embroidered fabrics. Embroidery is a time consuming process. Embroidered fabrics were given away as part of a girl’s dowry and hence the outcome had to be of superior quality. It is the mandatory skill that a mother passes on to her daughter as early as when she is 4 or 5 years old. The daughter-mother duo then embroider the clothes that the young bride would take with her to her marital home. So Rogan painters came up with a quick fix. Apply paint to one side of the fabric and then fold it to form a mirror impression on the other side. Lo and behold, you have a complete design and much quicker than it would taken to embroider it. Over years, this family has fine-tuned the process making this art too a highly precise one. Now some of their paintings sell for much more than their embroidered counterparts.

Copper bells, Nirona, Kutch, Bhuj, Rann of Kutch

Salimbhai, copper bells making

After a long chat over a cup of chai and haggling over a painting, we overshot our schedule by a good hour. We then proceeded to the copper bell makers. I am not dwelling on the process in this post, if interested you can read it here. The bell makers graciously show us the process of making a bell. A bell is known to be one of the most complex acoustical instruments to make. To see these artisans with minimal tools shaping out these wonders in multiple numbers is a wonder. You can buy bells in 13 sizes, bells made into interesting wind chimes and a lot more here.

Wood turning, lacquer, Kutch, Khamir, Rann of Kutch, Bhuj, Nirona

Wood turning and lacquer, Kutch

The bell makers accompanied us to the lacquer artisan Bhaiyyabhai’s home. Just while we were there, a bunch of foreign tourists walked in. As is the case always, we were asked to wait till the guests leave. We helped the artisan by explaining the process in english and at the end of it, we were family! We bought some little take-aways ourselves.

Wood carving, Gandhi nu Gaam, Khavda, Shaam-e-Sarhad, Kutch, Rann of Kutch

Wood carving, Gandhi nu gaam

With a whole lot left to do for the day, we quickly wrapped up our conversations and headed to Gandhi nu gam. Here we met Aacharbhai, the village head and wood carver. His beautiful geometric designs were converted into furniture. Personally I wish he’s not ‘varnished’ the wood. It was too glossy for my liking, but I did make a mental note on the designs for future use. At the end of this, we realized that we did not have any lunch options. We decided to check out Khavda, where we found the hidden gem-Qasab. The centre there is similar to Shrujan, though the focus in embroidery was much more local. They also had some interesting info on different musical instruments. On lunch, we saw some tourists (who had made prior arrangements for lunch) have their delectable Gujarati thali here. They wasn’t any left for us, so we had to scout for another place. Of course, not before hoarding beautifully hand-crafted bags and pouches. Word of advice- When in Kutch (and traveling without a local guide), carry your own food. Though the hospitable locals may offer food in their homes, it is better to have an option in your bag.

Shaam-e-Sarhad, Hunnarshala, Rann of Kutch, Hodka, Kutch, Bhuj

Shaam-e-Sarhad eco-resort, Hodka

Hodka is the best of all Kutch villages. Shaam-e-Sarhad is in season is the place to stay. If by any chance you happen to visit Kutch during winter and miss out on this experience, I would count it as life’s biggest regret. The food here is par excellence and the hospitality addictive. Designed by Hunnarshala, built and run by the locals, this place is a perfect example of the outcome of the marriage between design capabilities and local skills.

Dhordo, Rann of Kutch, Lippan Kaam, mud and mirror relief work

Lippan Kaam-mud and mirror work artisan

From here  we rushed to see the Rann before the sunset. Though the local folk strongly suggested that we’d be wasting our time as the Rann is still inundated, we decided to take a chance. And we are glad we did! We reached dhordo, the last village near the border. Here we met the local sarpanch (village head) Mia Hussain who introduced to a famous artisan and Sufi singer- Mutva Mehmood Iliyas. We found the artisan working in a tiny room with his television tuned into Sindhi channels aired from the neighbouring country! Though partition was a difficult time for people living in the border, they still have relatives on either side making the geographical demarcation almost meaningless. With me were friends whose families had crossed over to India during the partition in 1947. It was almost a re-union of sorts for them. Mehmoodbhai rendered a Sufi song for all of us.

With our hearts filled with love for our new found friends, we decided to culminate the day with a visit to the Rann. The border personnel were kind enough to let us in considering there were no other tourists. The Rann was filled with water on all sides, as far as the eye could see. The salt was crystallizing in the dried up areas creating a white sheet on the surface. We were spellbound. Nothing could have prepared us for this wonderful sight.  Like little children, we trampled all over the gooey sand, tasted salt fresh off the water and let our minds focus on our irrelevance in the larger scheme of things. We were but a tiny speck in this universe. Word of advice-Please remember that you need to take a permit at the military checkpost (at the turn to Hodka) to visit the Rann.

On the way back on this long day, one thing that stood out was the strong familial bonds. Be it the Rogan painters, the bell makers or the lacquer artisans and even Mehmoodbhai who looked forward to meeting his relatives on the other side, every person in the family was part of life and work. So family matters, the most.

For more pictures of my Kutch trip, please click here and here.


Workshop at Eklavya

Title: Making Diwali gift cards and diyas

Date: October 2013

Venue: Eklavya Sports Academy, Ahmedabad

With over 300 participants, the evening was full of life and energy. GIIS and Eklavya Sports Academy organised a fun evening for the kids. From our end, we managed the crafts section where the artisans taught the little kids how to make clay diyas and paint them. For the older ones, Warli painting on cards and ready made diyas were what were on offer.

There is a Warli painting workshop coming up in two weeks. And I am super excited. As a customer, I love the idea and wish more and more people would do this. As a marketeer, it helps me build a transparency with my customers. They know what they are buying, they know the person who makes it and they know how much this whole process means to me! :) But what gives me the most satisfaction is the idea that I am letting a few explore that child in them. The one that craves for that bright colored cupcake (the adult in them screams ‘non-food grade color’) and the one that loves the rain even if it means popping a crocin and drinking warm water when you get home. Personally when I try to create something, my two left hands are always a source of disappointment. I went to a school that put a lot of focus on making me a good home-maker, but the needlework classes weren’t particularly easy for me. I still dread the ‘lazy daisy’ that ended up as 5 sticks instead of petals and the ‘french knot’ that would create a mass of unyielding thread.  And I can’t paint to save my life. Of late I’ve started dabbling a bit in painting again (ok, it’s only for my interior design course!) and I’ve realised that it is so much fun to let yourself go.

This painting workshop is set to do just that. Create an environment where you learn something interesting, try your hand at color and in the process become aware of a craft that has been around for generations. Warli is perfect for this. It is a simple art form. Traditionally in the Maharastra-Gujarat border, it is done by women in their household. It follows some simple rules.  The paintings use a very basic graphic vocabulary: circle, triangle and square. The circle comes from the shape of the sun and the moon, the triangle comes from mountains and pointed trees. Only the square is outside this realm of influence. It is not influenced by nature, but rather by a basic need of early settlers- their own piece of land. The square denotes an enclosed piece of land. So the central image in each painting is a square, the chauk. The mother goddess is inside the Chauk and depicts fertility.

Image Source: BCA Galleries

The traditional Tarpa dance was popularized by Tantra tee shirts. The dance denotes the communal set up. It is a show of solidarity by people in the community. A well coordinated dance form where the focus is still on the central figure.

Village life is prominent in this form. Women carrying pots of water, a farmer ploughing his field are common themes that recur.

Ganesha has gained popularity in this art form. Originally, it was the Mother Goddess who found the pride of place in the center of the Chauk. Slowly this has been replaced by Lord Ganesha.

So go ahead, indulge that child in you. Or better still, do that with a bunch of people like you-young at heart! :)