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.

 

Rann of Kutch, White desert, Kutch handicrafts

Rann of Kutch

When you step into the Rann, the first thing that strikes you is the expanse. The white desert that extends in each direction as far as the eye can see. Mirages, white sand, crystal salt and a little water on the surface is all that’s visible. No human, no animal, no life at all. It is a sort of catharsis, purging all the crowded thoughts. Suddenly, the mind’s lens refocuses into the most important thing in your life. In a short span of time, your mind is all cleared out and formatted.

Kutch, Rann of Kutch

Clothes worn by Kutch people

This land of whiteness is a backdrop to a million colours. The brightly dressed women gleam with their little mirrors all over. Kutch is a melting pot of various cultures. The blend of the local Gujarati culture with the adjacent land of Sindh is vivid in every aspect- food, language, cultural practices. I had a whirlwind tour of Kutch a couple of months ago. In an effort to cover the whole of the region in 4 days, we relentlessly travelled across the largest district in the country. Bhuj has a local airport with flights from Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Or you could take a night train/bus to Bhuj from Ahmedabad (about 7 hours away)

 Day 1: We landed in Bhuj at 7 am. Bhuj is a quiet little town that shoulders it’s responsibility of being the gateway to one of the best tourist attractions very well. A motley of new budget friendly hotels have sprung up all over the place to accommodate tourists with all kinds of pockets.

Bhujodi, durrie, woolen kutch shawls

Bhujodi durrie weaving

After breakfast, we headed out to the local Bhujodi, a local market with a host of shawl weavers. Make sure you pick up a warm shawl for the cold winter nights here. On the way to this place, make sure you check out Shrujan. This beautifully done up craft centre is the place of work for women embroiders from various communities of Kutch. These women interact with designers here creating masterpieces. Prices are certainly on the higher side, but owning such an impeccably crafted piece is definitely worth it. The plan was to head to Ajrakhpur next. But we had spent too much oogling at the beauty of these fabrics.

Hunnarshala, Vernacular architecture, craft based architecture

Hunnarshala, vernacular architecture

We headed to Hunnarshala, the mecca of eco-friendly and vernacular architecture research. Hunnarshala is a heavily guarded secret. One look at the place and you will desist coming back to your steel and glass home. You will crave for the practicality and earthiness of the vernacular architecture in your home. They are now training the local craftspeople/youth in carpentry and masonry techniques. So next time, you are looking to redo/built your home, please look them up.

The evening was spent strolling along the local market. We tasted some roadside samosas (hot pockets filled with potato/lentils and deep-fried), khakra and various pedas (milk-sweets). The market is also home to a variety of silver jewellers. But we were too exhausted to explore any further.

Stay tuned for more and do check out my co-traveller’s blog for an indepth exploration on Gujarati food all over the state.

 

 

About 80 percent of my wardrobe is filled with clothes made with all sorts of block printed fabrics. The stripes, the florals, the bright colours, the muted ones, the big designs and the tiny prints. All the while, I thought these blocks were machine made (I did know making blocks existed, just that I wasn’t prepared for the finesse). My fondness for the Keri design (paisleys) extends to everything from my curtains, to bedsheets and of course 80% of that 80%!

I reached Pethapur which is about 50 km away from home. For the amount I travel, this is hardly any distance. I’ve been planning this for a very long time. Finally I got out of my inertia and decided to get there. This time I had the contact number of the person making these blocks. My Ajrakh printer gave me all the details, thereby killing all the adventure!

Mukeshbhai has a perpetual smiling face. It was just the kind of smile that had a hint of humor behind it. He was sitting there creating a difficult design and also mentoring his son and nephew (both in their twenties). Both of them were making such complex designs that made my eyes pop out! I found the designs beautiful, but Mukeshbhai seemed hardly impressed. He is disappointed with their performance and blames it on the generation; the impatient bunch that this generation has spawned.

Here is the design that his nephew was working on. He has carefully stenciled the design on the soft wood.

For hours on end and with meticulous precision, he drills tiny holes using this simple, hand operated drill.

In another corner of the balcony, his son is putting some end finishes on this block.The finer details are carved using a set of fine tools.

I sat there for about two hours, chatting about ‘this’ generation (yeah, I pretended to be older!), sipping chai from the saucer (like they do in Gujarat) and skimming through all his designs. Though the mentoring process where the knowledge is passed on from one generation to another is the key to the progress of handicrafts, very rarely do I see such importance being given to quality and finish.

If you are wondering why I visited Mukeshbhai, wait for some block printed products from CraftCanvas :)

All this while, I’ve refrained from writing about Gujarat. I’ve read (and of course I see them everyday) so much about Kutchi embroidery, mirror work and the beautiful ladies wearing traditional wear that it seemed nothing out of the ordinary for me. Till the point that my husband pointed out that I haven’t blogged about my first project. Its been a year now since its been completed, it is in perfect condition and writing about it seemed the right way to celebrate the anniversary. (Please note that all photos were taken using a mobile camera, regret the quality)

Mud mirror relief work from Kutch

Mud mirror relief work from Kutch

Yes, that was my first craft interiors project. It is a spa and I was offered a project to do something ‘Indian’ for one of the rooms. Since it was my first project, I decided to do something from Gujarat.

Of course, I did the usual stuff- I traveled with an approximate address to find the craftsman. I knew it was somewhere ‘near Bhuj’. I reached there to find a group of migrant workers who belonged to a border village near the Rann of Kutch. The extended family lived in a small house and visited their village once or twice a year to celebrate weddings and other festivals.

Women in traditional Kutchi attire

Women in traditional Kutchi attire

The brightly dressed women are the most creative bunch of people I’ve ever met. They have no formal education, in fact they cannot even draw a design on a piece of paper. They sketch (only for my reference, they don’t seem to need any at all. It’s all in their head.) the design with their fingers on the soft earth. These fingers that have created some exquisite embroidery have more in store.

Traditional Kutchi attire worn everyday

Traditional Kutchi attire worn everyday

The embroidered clothes that the women wear come as part of the dowry. To make this dowry, a girl starts when is just about 5 years old. The best embroidered clothes fetch the best husbands. So the girl learns and perfects the intricate embroidery techniques very early in life. The girl’s mother makes the bridal bag- an even more intricate piece of fabric that is used to pack her daughter’s clothes. The photo is of Kanta and Isha, Ramilaben’s daughter and sister respectively.

Ramila ben, mud mirror relief work artisan

Ramila ben, mud mirror relief work artisan

Ugabhai and Ramilaben are fabulous as a couple. While she works at the creative aspects of the wall, it is her husband who gets the raw material ready.First of all, wild ass dung has to be collected from the forest. Kutch is the only habitat for these creatures. Next the local earth (which is rock dry) is beaten up to a powder, mixed with the dung and made into a paste.

Women working on the base

Women working on the base

The walls are plastered with this. This is called ‘Lippan Kaam’. This is commonplace in most houses in that region and acts as an insulator bringing down temperatures drastically inside their homes. The women are the ones who are involved in making the creative designs.

Work in progress of the spa wall handcrafted using mud mirror work from Kutch

Work in progress

The design is made on the plastered walls. It starts at a midpoint and slowly grows around that reference point. The designs are usualy not made on paper and is the whole process is improvised as the women work together, singing Kutchi songs and teasing one another. The picture above shows how the finished design looks before completing the final painting process.

Final wall at the spa handcrafted using Kutchi mud mirror work

Final wall at the spa

The walls are then plastered with white cement. This process is done by hand and the final finish is done with fingers creating waves. Finally, each mirror is carefully cleaned by hand. The final wall looks like the one in the picture.

If you thought the whole process was interesting and adventurous, it is definitely far from it. On day one, Ramilaben wanted to go back home. Her lehenga was so huge that she couldn’t manage washing it in the tiny bathroom at the spa premises. The commode was another story altogether.  Another issue was that these people do this on their own walls at home, so it can be done at their convenience. With a launch deadline, it was difficult to get them to finish.

But when the wall was finally done, it surpassed all our expectations. The final texture that was done using Ramilaben’s fingers is a remarkable example of hand crafted beauty. I travel to this spa quite often. I run my fingers on that wall, and there is definitely a sense of pride.