Heading south

Heading south from Ahmedabad for more adventures, our first stop was the Indus Valley Civilisation (aka Harappan civilisation) ruined city of Lothal.
Thought to be about 4500 years old, the site is protected by the Archaeolgical Survey of India. Adjacent to the ruins is a modest museum housing artefacts found at the site.
It costs R5/- (about AU$0.10) to gain access to the museum, but nothing to wander about the ancient city.

Drainage system at Lothal

Catherine and Jane inspecting the ancient harbour built from bricks.

The bead kiln

The Harappans were the first to formalise brick dimensions as well as firing them to high temperatures, making it possible to create straight walls and long lasting structures.

The museum has a wonderful collection of artefactsincluding toys, beads made from clay, stone and shell, pottery, a double burial and tools.

Toy oxen cart

Painted pottery shard

Clay toy figure

Beads made from semi-precious stones

Various terra cotta pots

Leaving the city: a trip to Patan

We left the dust and noise and crazy traffic of the city behind on Sunday with a day trip to Patan, Gujarat’s old capital, now a rambling dusty town. But there are threee major attractions for history and textile lovers: The Sun Temple at Modhera, near Patan, Patan Patola Museum and Rani ki Van (the Queen’s Step Well).
Our 12 seater bus was due to pick us up at our hotel at 8:30, but it had mechanical problems, so they sent a 20 seater instead…. a ridiculously over-sized vehicle for three passengers!  We hadn’t yet left the city when the driver suddenly pulled over to the side of the road, picked up some grasses from a man with a table full of it and started feeding some cattle over the fence. Puzzled, I asked if these were his cows… yes – he keeps them in this paddock and stops by to hand feed them this long green fodder when he can.
A long, noisy, bumpy ride north through the outskirts of Ahmedabad city eventually led to a highway, and after about two hours, we pulled into the parking lot of the Sun Temple. Once through the ticket office, the temple complex is set in manicured gardens with feather-tailed squirrels darting about in the late winter sunshine. The weather has been very pleasant, hovering about 27 degrees, with cool breezes: perfect for travel and sight-seeing.
I wrote another post about the Sun Temple here >>> where you will find more information, so I will just post some pics here.

Sun Temple

Ceiling detail, Sabha Mandap at Sun Templ

Leaving the beautiful 11th century temple complex behind, we headed into Patan to visit the the Patan Patola (double kat weaving) Museum – the product of 35 generations of the Salvi family going back to the 11th century.
For those who are not familiar with double ikat weaving, the process is an extremely complicated one. First the silk warp and weft threads are tied separately with cotton thread on the sections  marked out according to the proposed design. This tying process will protect the thread from taking up the dye. After dying, more sections are tied & different shades of colour are produced in this manner. It is not until all the threads on warp and weft are coloured to the desired design that the weaving begins and the final design is realised. I cannot imagine how much skill and training this process demands!

A Patan Patola sari – the pattern is created by dying both warp and weft threads in intricate patterns before weaving the two together

Because it is so specialised and difficult a technique, the Patan Patola is highly prized, with a simple sari costing about  1.5 lakh rupees, (about AU$150,000), and more as the intricacy increases, and each sari takes four to six months to weave if two people work on it five days a week.

Detail of the tied threads ready to be dyed

 

 

Shekawati

After a great night’s sleep in my luxurious palace bedroom with beds so high, a footstool is provided, and bathroom as big as my living room, I was ready to face a day of research in the Shekawati area of northern Rajasthan.
My driver, Bhajirath (Bhaji for short) was proving to be a great companion – thoughtful, funny, informative.  Also a great one for the selfie – a form of photography I normally spurn, but when in India…..

Bhaji & I chumming it up for a selfie

We left the palace after breakfast to explore the area famous for the abandoned havelis (mansions) built by rich merchants when the Silk Road passed through Rajasthan. The traders competed with each other to build grander and more elaborate havelis, temples and stepwells, only to abandon them, and the camel trains, when shipping out of Kolkata became a faster option to get their goods to the world.
The havelis are famous for the painted murals inside and out. Many are in disrepair, some are renovated and turned into hotels or restaurants, others lie in pieces waiting to be sold off for someone to reconstruct or create their own haveli.

Painted haveli

Miniature portraits in the doorway of a haveli

Faded glory

Haveli graveyard

Spare parts

Shelves full of antique artefacts

I was also on the lookout for old beads and jewellery & my search took me to a trader in the bazaar – now a deserted place with a few guys and dogs passing the time in the shade of ancient trees.  I was the only foreigner there. Kishore had taken over some subterranean tunnels with steep stone steps leading down to his collections of antiques collected from the abandoned havelis. Originally the food cellars of a haveli, these tunnels have no electricity, so browsing is done by torchlight.
One 300 year old dhola (I think this was the name) – bucket, begged me to take it home with me, and my resolve neither to add weight to my luggage nor lighten my bank account dissolved  as I admired the work of the tradesman who hammered out this metal, riveted it together, fashioned into the elegant bulbous shape & finished it off with a wrought handle with swivel. It was originally used to fetch water from a well. Now it will find a new home in Australia.

Getting out of town

It was always going to be a long and tiring day, but I didn’t realise how long and how tiring it would turn out to be. I left Castlemaine at 7pm by train to Melbourne, a quick catch up with my daughter, SkyBus to the airport for the 1:10am flight to Mumbai via Singapore.
I was counting on the complementary champagne and extra leg room in my modest upgrade to Premium Economy to provide the sleep I needed to keep me functional for the long flights and the following two days of travel.
The best laid plans were undone by an extraordinarily uncomfortable seat (wondered why I bothered with an upgrade), and with food being offered at ungodly times of the night, a crying baby behind and flickering screens all around, sleep was hard to achieve.
The wakefulness was interrupted by the stopover in Singapore where I paired up with Jeanette from Mumbai, returning to India after visiting her family in Australia. Changi terminal is so vast, that by the time we had found our way to the correct departure gate & lots of chats, it was soon time to board again with renewed hope of some sleep.
The second leg of the journey held more disappointment: more food, noise cancelling headphones that only slightly muffled the unhappy child but managed to magnify the crew’s announcements to a deafening level of decibels, and a screen that refused to go dark all conspired to keep me in an annoyingly wakeful state.
However, I was seated next to Richard, an Australian CEO of an Indian company returning to work after the Christmas break. Interesting chats ensued and he told me of his company’s charitable work in the Dhiravi slum in Mumbai, which, according to Wikipedia, is considered one of the largest slums in Asia. With an area of just over 2.1 square kilometres and a population of about 700,000 making it one of the most densely populated  areas in the world. He also told me about Reality Tours who run tours in the slum, the proceeds from which provide amenities to the slum community.  (I have just booked a tour for my last day in India). Although nearly sleepless (I think I snatched about an hour of shuteye somewhere), the time was spent pleasantly until touchdown in Mumbai at 10:30 local time, about 20 hours after leaving home.
The next stage of my journey that day was a flight to Jaipur where a car would be waiting for me to drive to northern Rajasthan to the 17th century Alsisar Mahal (palace), now converted to a hotel, and still owned and operated by Abhimanyu, the Raja of Khetri.
However, after a four hour wait, the Jaipur flight was delayed a further two hours: plenty of time to meet new people and have lots of interesting chats.
Finally arriving in Jaipur at 6pm local time and nearly 28 hours since I left home, I met Bhajirath, my driver and companion for the next few days and we headed north for a four hour drive to the dusty village of Alsisar and the palace for a well deserved sleep in a very comfortable bed.

….. and now ready for some more Indian adventures.

Alsisar Mahal

Countdown to the 2019 Cloth and Stone Tour

Christmas has gone, New Years Eve is tomorrow, and then in the wee small hours of January 3, I fly out of Melbourne to Mumbai via a short stopover in Singapore. I choose Singapore Airlines because they leave at a reasonable hour (mostly) and arrive at a reasonable hour with short stopover times at Changi Airport.

For this tour, I have upgraded to Premium Economy which will give me extra leg room and a few perks like priority boarding, great food and champagne. I plan to drink just enough champagne (probably 2 glasses as it doesn’t take much of the stuff to make me sleepy) to help me make use of all that extra legroom to sleep soundly, as the next few days will be flurry of private pre-tour activity and research for a new tour I’m planning.

On arrival in Mumbai at the very reasonable hour of 10:35, I catch another flight to Jaipur (after a few hours hanging about the very beautiful new airport terminal), where a car and driver will be waiting for me to drive to the village of Alsisar in northern Rajasthan where I will stay at the magnificent Alsisar Mahal – a former 17th century palace.

Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai

Photo credit: Alsisar Mahal

Photo credit: Alsisar Mahal

Living the royal lifestyle, yet working hard on my research, I will spend the next day with my car and driver traversing the towns and villages of this area known as Shekawati, seeking out the abandoned painted havelis (mansions) that the area is famous for.

History has it that in the 17th to 19th centuries, Marwari merchants constructed these grand havelis. Steeped in wealth and affluence, these merchants competed with each other building ever more grand edifices – homes, temples and step wells  – which were richly decorated both inside and outside with painted murals.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Now, most of the havelis are abandoned, their owners having moved to larger centres of trade like Mumbai. Some mansions have been destroyed, while others have had their murals painted over. I will be visiting in order to find some great examples to visit on the tour I am planning for late 2019.*

After my royal whirlwind, I return to Jaipur and then fly to Ahmedabad to have a free day before meeting my guests for The Cloth and Stone Tour 2019.

Stay tuned for more news from the road, and, I’m hoping, some great pics of my royal accommodation and the results of my research of the Shekawati region.

*The new tour, yet unnamed, will take in the Shekawati area as well as an Indus Valley Civilisation ruined city (about 4500 years old), some pre-historic painted caves, an elephant sanctuary in a village, the famous Rat Temple in Bikaner, a magnificent step well and lots more. 

Contact me if you would like to know more about this tour when planning is completed.
Or you could hit the ‘FOLLOW’ button at the top right of the page and updates will be delivered to your inbox automatically.

2019 Tours

The 2019 CLOTH and STONE TOUR to GUJARAT has now been published.
Go to this page to read all about it >>>>
And to this page for the full itinerary and cost >>>>

 

The 2019 TIMELESS VARANASI TOUR has been published.
Go to this page to read all about it >>>>

Stay tuned for updates, or contact me so I can keep you updated.

 

NEWS:
A new tour to lesser-known parts of Rajasthan is currently in the planning process.
The new tour, yet unnamed, will take in the Shekhawati area as well as an Indus Valley Civilisation ruined city (about 4500 years old), some prehistoric painted caves, an elephant sanctuary in a village, the famous Rat Temple, a magnificent step-well and lots more.
Contact me if you would like to know more about this tour when planning is completed.
Or you could hit the ‘FOLLOW’ button at the top right of the page and updates will be delivered to your inbox automatically.

 

 

Ahmedabad declared World Heritage City

June 8, 2017
Ahmedabad, the starting point of our Cloth and Stone Tour to Gujarat, has just been declared India’s first World Heritage City by UNESCO.

The walled city of Ahmedabad believed to be founded by Ahmed Shah some 600 years ago has 26 structures protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, and hundreds of ‘pols’ (old city neighbourhoods) that capture the essence of community living.

The voting countries unanimously supported Ahmedabad citing a secular co-existence of Islamic, Hindu and Jain communities along with exemplary architecture of intricately carved wooden havelis dating back hundreds of years. The countries also recognised that the city was a cradle for India’s non-violent freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi, who lived there from 1915 to 1930.

It will now join the 287 world heritage cities across the globe which includes Paris, Cairo and Edinburgh.

Take a virtual tour of the old city of Ahmedabad.
Click on any image to enlarge the gallery.
Also, check out this link >>>

 

Comparing apples with apples

Thinking of signing up for a Kasu Tour but want to make sure you’re getting the best deal?
Here are some things to think about when making comparisons with similar tours:

  • What is the total length of the tour?
  • What is the daily cost of the tour?
  • Maximum number of guests on the tour?
  • How many destinations/experiences are there in the tour?
  • What is the quality of the accommodation?
  • How many nights does the tour spend at each destination?
  • Method of transport: private vehicle or a mixture of public transport?
  • How many meals are included in the tour cost?
  • Are entry fees, safari fees, local guide fees, driver tips etc included in the cost?
  • Are there any discounts available?
  • Do you have the undivided attention of your Australian host for the entire tour?

At Kasu Tours, we feel confident that our apples shine brighter than the other apples on this list of comparisons.  What do you think?

What makes Kasu Tours different?

What makes Kasu Tours different?
Our main point of difference is that we take a maximum of 6 guests.

  • We find that by keeping numbers small, we bond better as a group, becoming friends very quickly;
  • Low numbers allows us to stay in boutique hotels, family residences and havelis that can not accommodate larger groups;
  • Small numbers allow closer encounters with the people of India;
  • Each person in a small group gets more one-on-one attention from guides and in workshops;
  • We travel in our own private 12 seater bus so there is plenty of room for everyone, and their luggage. And their shopping.  And boxes of food for picnics, and the cooler full of water;
  • Everyone gets a window seat;
  • Having our own private vehicle also means that there is no waiting around at airports, railway stations and bus terminals: more quality experiences every day;
  • It also means we are more flexible if we want to make a detour or unscheduled stops.

What our customers say

Our recent CLOTH and STONE TOUR to Gujarat was a huge success and my guests had a great time.
Here are some of the things they say about Kasu Tours:

For nearly three weeks in January, I travelled within Gujarat, India with our tour guide, Beverley Bloxham and four other guests.
The tour was named The Cloth and Stone Tour and it well and truly lived up to its name. Every day was filled with fascinating activities and local guides were employed to ensure we gained the greatest insights to the places we visited.
For me, the most heart-warming and memorable times were those in dusty, humble and relatively remote villages where the the standard of weaving, tie dying, wood carving and lacquer work had to be seen to be believed. How special to be able to purchase directly from the artisans.
Through Beverley’s research and previous trips to India, we were able to visit Dr Vasa who showed us his precious private collection of Indus Valley civilisation artefacts – some as old as 4500 years old, and in an extraordinary contrast to the small village experience, to visit Asif Sheikh who is world renowned for his embroidery and who showed us his latest collection, destined for the international catwalk.
I would highly recommend a tour to India with Beverley.”
Margot Ryan.

 

“What a fabulous trip – Jill and I are still talking about it.  Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge, insights and stories and your introductions to such a vast range of artisans. Truly an enriching experience.
When’s the next tour?”
Pauline Cosgrove

The weaver

On my last visit to Bhuj in 2016, my friend and local guide, Kuldip, took me to meet a weaving family in the tiny village of Bhujodi not far from Bhuj. Friends around Castlemaine may remember seeing me wearing one of my favourite shawls in the winter: a handwoven brown and black number with little tassels on the ends. This was made by Babubhai, the weaver about whom I now write.  I bought that comforting brown shawl and some other treasures from him on my last visit In 2016.When I visited in 2016, Babubhai was in the middle of dying some thread green using the leaves of a tree near his house.

The hand of a Kachchhi weaver with the source of his green dye.

Babubhai’s hand with the source of his green dye

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Shades of green drying in the sun.

On this visit, we were greeted by his family and shown demonstrations of spinning yarn and preparing the warp threads for the looms by two of the ladies, while Babubhai finished helping a neighbour with dying his thread.

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Spinning demonstration using a hand turned variation on a bicycle wheel.

When Babubhai arrived, he demonstrated several different weaving styles: mushroo, a kind of satin weave with silk thread on the surface of the fabric and cotton on the reverse; and supplementary warp where motifs of a different coloured yarn are introduced to the cloth. Both look very difficult, with the mushroo loom having seven foot pedals which the weaver’s feet use to govern the various threads in a complicated dance as his hands do something else.

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The warp threads on the mushroom loom.

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Finished mushroo fabric.

This unassuming address at the end of dusty lanes through scrubby bushland produces amazingly beautiful textiles. We were shown some family archival pieces as well as some recent products, one piled on top of the other in a dizzying display as we tried to decide which ones we could not live without.  It is such a treat to be able to buy directly from the talented makers in their home and working environment.

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A superb silk shawl with supplementary weft design.

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A family heirloom piece with a complicated design.

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Another supplementary thread piece in indigo dyed thread

When the buying frenzy died down, we were invited to share lunch with the family, and it was with much gusto (shopping works up an appetite) that we tucked into some healthy village food prepared by Babubhai’s wife in her tiny kitchen.

After the meal, some rustic handmade musical instrument were produced and we were treated to an impromptu performance of some holy songs. Babubhai ‘s brother kicked it off playing a long-necked stringed instrument he had made, our host joined in on the jaw harp, and then a young boy ran up with first a clay water pot tightly covered with damp cloth and then an upturned bashed up metal bowl: an improvised tabla. Sitting in a semi-circle, all the musicians joined in the singing as we watched on, mesmerised by the music and our full stomachs and amazed at the generosity and talent of these gentle people.

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Babubhai playing the jaw harp with our guide Kuldip behind.

A late surprise: just as we were preparing to leave, Babubhai’s nephew’s wife was encouraged to show us her creation. It is usually the men who carry out the weaving here, but Rasilaben had shown great skill and creativity with the looms.  But it was the next step she took that had us really amazed. With no design training at all, she had taken a length of her exquitely woven cloth and turned it into a totally new design for a dress. She pairs it with wide handspun white cotton pants. A really beautiful and creative design. img_2113

In stitches

A part of our tour that everyone was really looking forward to, even the non-stitchers amongst us, was the full day workshop at Kala Raksha in a tiny village near Bhuj. Kala Raksha Trust is dedicated to the preservation of traditional arts through several streams:
THE MUSEUM
Founded in 1996, and housed at the campus, makes the collections of historic and contemporary exhibits available for visiting scholars and students of textiles. The collection can also be accessed through the website: http://www.kala-raksha-museum.org/

“Uniquely committed to documenting existing traditions, the Trust maintains a collection of heirloom textiles. This local Museum embodies a simple but revolutionary concept: involve people in presenting their own cultures.”

Some images from the museum collection. Click on the images to enlarge.

KALA RAKSHA VIDHYALAYA

“An institution of design for traditional artisans.
Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya is an initiative of Kala Raksha Trust. In its second decade, Kala Raksha sought to address India’s most pressing need: education. In October 2005, the Trust launched this institution, whose environment, curriculum and methodology are designed for traditional artisans, as a new approach to the rejuvenation of traditional arts.”

Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya (KRV) evolved from years of design development based in the Kala Raksha Museum. KRV is an educational institution open to working artisans of Kutch, conservatively estimated at 50,000. It aims to provide knowledge and skills directly relevant to the artisan’s traditional art to enable market appropriate innovation, while honouring and strengthening the tradition.
As working artisans can rarely leave their homes and profession for long periods, the course is a series of modular classes conducted over one year in a local residential setting, using the vernacular language. The institute focuses on establishing long lasting market links.

Our day at Kala Raksha began with a visit to the  museum display housed in a traditional ‘bhunga’.

A traditional mud built and thatched bhunga.

A traditional mud built and thatched bhunga, decorated, like many of the textiles, with tiny mirrors.

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Detail of the tie-down system on the thatched roof of the bhunga.

Amongst so many things, we learned that within a community’s traditional embroidery technique and design motifs, there is much room for personal expression.  This is particularly important when a young couple are betrothed. As they are not allowed to meet before their wedding day, a series of gifts are exchanged, and a girl will typically send embroidered items to her betrothed and his family. It is through the quality of the embroidery and the motifs used that the groom and his family are able to decipher the qualities and personality of the future bride.

Next we were shown some of the historic collection, stored safely in flat drawers with traditional insect repelling herbs and spices tied in muslin to protect the precious textiles.

Then we joined some of the local ladies who instructed us in the finer points of the various stitches used in the textiles of the various communities of the area. A break for lunch with the ladies, and then several more hours trying to learn the intricacies of the stitches.  In my case, it was not so much learning the stitches, but increasing my awe and respect for the makers of these extraordinary textiles.

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Everyone getting involved with the stitches. From left: Margot, Carol, Pauline and Jill in front with our lovely teachers.

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Jill learns some stitches from one of the Kala Raksha ladies

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Deep concentration from Pauline (left) and Sue (right) as one of the ladies demonstrates her stitching technique.

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One of our very patient tutors.

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And another of our teachers

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Sue learning from her stitching tutor.

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A lot of concentration from both tutor and student, Carol.

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Carol shows off her new stitching skills

Whilst the preservation of tradition is paramount at Kala Raksha, innovation is also taking place. Artisans are telling stories through the technique of appliqué as well as applying their traditional stitching skills to a vast range of wonderful products available for purchase in the on-site shop….. we spent quite a lot of time, and rupees in there!

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One of the narrative appliqué panels showing scenes from the life of Gandhi.

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A detail from another narrative panel about monsoon time.  Note the use of scraps of block printed fabrics.

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Another detail of another panel.

The people (and animals) you meet….

During our two days’ stay at the royal guesthouse in the village of Sayla, we were shown around the local villages by Motilal, loaned to us by the owner of the guesthouse, the Crown Prince of Sayla, Somrraj Singh.

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Motilal, our guide for two days, with Sandy the spoilt house dog at the royal guesthouse.

Whilst staying at the guesthouse, our host had arranged for us to have dinner in a farmer’s house nearby. So off we all went, we six, our host, another guest, Dev, our driver Gajindra and Motilal. This village had never hosted foreigners before, so as usual, we were treated as honoured guests and the subject of way too many photos. With very little common language, I entertained a crowd of young boys with photos from Australia until eventually our dinner of hearty vegetarian country Gujarati food was served. There was not a lot of light, but I managed to get this pic of the family buffalo in his stall.

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The family buffalo in its stall.

The following day, Motilal took us to see the ikat weavers and bead workers mentioned in the last post. He also told us we had been invited to lunch with a family in the town of Wadhwan, friends of Somraj, our royal host. This was an unexpected pleasure with a very entertaining and interesting man, who, like his father and grandfather before him, and now his son, were wildlife rangers at Sasan Gir National Park. Firstly, we were treated to chai and an overview of life in Wadhwan, and then a visit to his office upstairs where the walls were covered with photographs of lions he had taken during his years as park ranger. More wonderful reminiscences about his time working with the lions and then it was time for lunch. We were seated around a green-topped table with utensils and dinnerware in varying shades of green. Behind our ever-smiling host was one of his glass showcases filled with anything and everything green, from cotton buds to waffle makers, corkscrews, telephones, butter dishes: hundreds of items with only one thing in common – the colour green. He also dresses exclusively in green, has a green car and house inside and out.  When asked why all the green, he replied: “green is the colour of nature smiling”.  You can’t argue with that! Needless to say, we now know him as “The Green Man”.

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The Green Man: our lunch host at Wadhwan.

Motilal also took us to a communal animal shelter in Sayla village. Some 2000 cows are housed and fed there at night before being allowed roam about during the day. There are also some goats, sheep and a couple of orphaned nilgai.

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Kutchi cows as far as you can see.

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A herder in his regional costume.

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Everyone loves to pose for pics.

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Goat herder with a kid.

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Orphaned nilgai kids mixing happily with the cows.

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Local goat with amazing corkscrew horns. Check out his beautiful golden eyes.

Inside the animal enclosure, it was impossible to avoid stepping in dung, as it seemed to be the only thing underfoot. We came perilously close to slipping in the fresh stuff but somehow managed to stay upright.

Some cloth, some stone and a bit of metal

The ‘cloth’ part of The Cloth and Stone Tour has been well covered with visits to various artisans, and along the way, some ‘stones’ were also found. And a bit of metal for good measure.

Around Sayla village where we stayed in the local royal family’s guesthouse, a gently aging remnant of another time, we visited a family who carry on the dying art of Tangaliya weaving, where the pattern of tiny dots is made by introducing a contrasting thread and making a knot around the warp thread for each dot. The resulting pattern looks like it has been made from tiny beads introduced to the weave.

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Tangaliya weaving

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The master weaver of Tangaliya weaving modelling his master piece.

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Tangaliya weaver tying a tiny knot in a different colour over the weft threads. The partly completed shawl is shown beneath his arms.

 

We also visited a family who weave with beads – a tradition going back centuries in this area.  Tiny glass beads are woven together to make dowry items like household decorations.

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Naina Mansibhai showing one of her pieces of woven beadwork or moti kam

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The beadwork ladies

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The lovely front yard of the beadworker’s house

In the same village, we visited a patola (single ikat) weaver. The patterns in ikat weaving are formed by dying the threads in pre-determined patterns by binding bundles of the weft threads and dying the unbound sections. The calculations are so fine that quite intricate patterns emerge as the cloth is woven.

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A traditional patola design – single ikat

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Closeup of the weaving showing the dyed weft thread that creates the pattern.

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The ikat weaver with his master piece with a modern design taken from one of the carved stone jali (screens) at Sidi Sayeed mosque in Ahmedabad.

India is the land of the unpredictable, and every day throws up challenges and delights in random order. So, when we emerged from the weaver’s house, we were invited to visit a wedding for two couples in progress in the village. As very few foreigners ever find their way here, we were feted like film stars.

We met the shy young grooms and were mobbed by wedding guests wanting pics with the pink ladies. When we were ushered into the room where the even shyer brides were waiting, dressed in their red saris, lots of gold jewellery and henna patterned hands, a whole lot of guys crowded in after us wanting more pics. Feeling claustrophobic in the tiny room with too many people inside, I promised more pics if they all moved outside. Which we did. We finally escaped the mob and headed to our next destination.

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Young wedding guests posing for us.

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The young grooms in the red turbans being eclipsed by the ‘pink’ ladies.

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The wedding car.

Moving on, we were taken to visit a street of bandeneh (tie and die) artisans, and a street of metal workers bashing out brass water pots by hand.

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Lady sitting at her front door catching some winter sunshine as she ties tiny knots in the marked out pattern. After dying, the knots will be removed to reveal white dots.

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A bundle of freshly dyed bandeneh cloth

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Dying the tied cloth.

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Metal worker crafting the top of a water pot.

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A nearly completed brass water por.

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Nearly finished. Next step is polishing.

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A barrow load of finished brass pots off to the market.

More soon……..

A busy week: Ahmedabad and beyond – part 2

A photo essay from the first week…..

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Hand woven ikat fabric from Gamthiwalla in Ahmedabad

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Brunch at a tiny eatery in ald old haveli in Ahmedabad’s old city

Our talented driver, Gajendra at the wheel of our comfy private coach.

Our talented driver, Gajendra at the wheel of our comfy private coach.

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Outside the city, traffic is a little slower

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Flame of the Forest tree at Sasan Gir National Park

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Spotted deer at Sasan Gir National Park

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Lion pug mark – the closest we came to seeing a lion at Sasan Gir National Park.

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A blue bull crossing the path at Sasan Gir National Park

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My guests enjoying a meal at 150 year old royal guesthouse. From left: Sue, Carol, Margot, Jill and Pauline.

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Sue, Carol and Jill looking at the man-made harbour at the ruins of Indus Valley civilisation city, Lothal, dating from 24th century BCE

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Pottery kiln at the ancient city of Lothal.

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House foundations at Lothal showing sewerage drainage system.

A busy week: Ahmedabad and beyond – part 1

It’s been a busy week on the road with the Cloth and Stone Tour of Gujarat: too busy even to get this blog written!  So instead of day by day, here is a brief account of our first week.

Our week began on Sunday in Ahmedabad. Sunday is the day for the Ellis bridge flea market where anything and everything an Indian family might need can be found.
Goats, hairbrushes, motorcycle parts, new cloth, secondhand clothes, saris, all manner of food and drink etc. Most foreigners do not find this market and our group soon became the focus of attention: many requests for selfies with us, hold the baby, taste this food, buy that thing, but mostly good natured banter in simple English from them & simpler Hindi from me. Our group had a great time there, returning happily to our hotel after this encounter with a slice of the real India.

In the afternoon, we headed to the old city first in pursuit of a famous family of cloth sellers, Gamthiwalla, who have been selling their block printed and/or hand woven cloth for generations out of the same tiny shop a few metres away from the ancient Jama Masjid (mosque).

Interior of Heritage House, Ahmedabad

Interior of Heritage House, Ahmedabad

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Being Sunday, Manek Chowk ( the old city market) was crowded edge to edge as far as the eye could see. Our auto rick driver dropped us us off some distance from our destination, with the promise of “5 minutes walking only”.  After a good half hour of negotiating the crowds, stopping often to ask the whereabouts of the shop, we finally found it. Closed. After walking around the mosque for a while enjoying its architecture, we headed off to our second destination – a restored heritage house owned by some friends of mine to observe the old building style from the inside and to meet up with Jagdip and his extended family who live at and host paying guests at their beautiful 200 year old award winning home.

On Monday, my guests headed off to see the world famous Calico Museum of textiles: the premier museum of its kind in India and of world significance for its comprehensive collection of handmade textiles and artefacts spanning five centuries. As I have visited the museum twice in recent years, I took the opportunity to attend to some business, but I wrote my account of my visit to the museum which you can read here >>> 

Gandhi’s desk, spinning wheel & staff at the Gandhi Ashram

After the ladies returned from the Calico Museum full of awe and wonder at the collection and the experience that one has in being admitted to the collection, we headed to the Gandhi Ashram.  Mahatma Gandhi was born in the state of Gujarat and he selected a place on the bank of the river Sabarmati very close to the Saint Dadheechi’s temple as well as a jail and a crematorium. Gandhi used to remark, “This is the right place for our activities to carry on the search for Truth and develop Fearlessness for on one side are the iron bolts of the foreigners and on the other, thunderbolts of mother nature.” After building a few essential structures, the activities of the Ashram commenced in 1917. He stayed in the ashram for many years before he began the salt march to Dandi on 12 March 1930.

After visiting the Ashram, we thought we had some free time to visit some optional extras like the Art Book Centre or the Gaatha Handicraft Centre, but the traffic was so bad in Ahmedabad – gridlocked at times – due to the confluence of three factors: a mega international conference, the Kite Festival and the fact that many of the traffic police had been sent to the state’s capital, Gandhinagar, as it was deemed to have more pressing problems with a visit from Prime Minister Modi and other government officials. As a result, the traffic was so slow, we covered 4km in an hour and had to abandon not only some interesting destinations but also dinner at Vishalla, a lovely village style restaurant and museum 15km away.  However, you can read about Vishalla from a previous visit here >>>

Traditional Gujarati food

Traditional Gujarati food at Vishalla

Tuesday was the day when we connected with our comfortable 12 seater tourist coach with its amiable and capable driver, Gajendra. Both will be our constant companions for the reminder of the trip.  And Tuesday was also the day we escaped the city to drive north to see first the Sun Temple at Modhera, and then to Patan, the old capital of Gujarat, to visit the Patan Patola (double ikat weaving) Museum and the World Heritage listed Rani Ki Vav (Queen’s Stepwell).

The Sun Temple – an eleventh century jewel of a temple complex came into view through green manicured gardens and shady trees, with gardeners sweeping up leaves. After all the gritty suburbs, chaotic traffic and dusty dun coloured countryside we had driven through, this was a relief for eyes and soul.
The first monument one comes to is the Surya Kund – beautifully a carved stepped tank that was named after the sun god. Still holding water after all the centuries since its construction, fine architectural details are doubled in perfect reflection.

Kund at the Sun Temple

Kund at the Sun Temple

The other two monuments are Sabha Mandap – the hall, where people would gather for discussions on religious topics and Guda Mandap – the sanctum sanctorum, also known as the main temple.  On my last visit here a year ago, there were no guides to be found, so the iconography in the fabulous carved stone temples was a mystery to me. Luckily, on our visit there was a guide available, and for a measly Rs200 (about $4), he explained myths and legends and the sagas of the gods depicted here.

Sun Temple

Sun Temple

After a healthy lunch of fruit and nuts in the shady gardens of the Sun Temple, we headed off to Patan 20km away – our first stop, the wonderful Rani Ki Vav.

Next stop was the Patan Patola Museum……  see next missive, coming soon.