A tale of two torans

14 January 2019

We are visiting the village of the ladies who make Moti Bharat (bead work).
The women, whose ages seem to range from late teens to seventies, are seated on the floor of the verandah surrounded by their wares. Moti Bharat craft is the art of making household decorative items and and jewellery from tiny seed beads woven together to make either a flat fabric or to cover items like jars, gourds or constructed forms.

I have visited these ladies on a previous tour in 2017 and it is a pleasure to meet them again and introduce my guests to the fine work they produce.

On the last tour, I purchased a rather splendid toran (window or door decoration) from Naina who proudly displayed it for the camera.

Naina with the toran I bought from her in 2017

A demonstration of beading around an object.

A fringed toran 

On the most recent tour in January 2109, after perusing all the glittering wares spread before us, my eyes focused on another toran, which to me looked to be older than the rest of the work there. In my stilted hindi, I asked if this piece was old. My assessment was confirmed, and on enquiring after the maker, Benba was introduced to me.  A woman about my age (late 60s), she told me that this was a piece she made for her wedding dowry about 50 years ago.  Of course I bought it, as I was very pleased to give a new home to a genuine dowry piece.

What had alerted me to the age of the piece was the uneven sizes of the beads. New items are made with very regularly sized beads, which I’m guessing would make it a whole lot easier to weave the intricate patterns. In the detail images of Benba’s toran below, the different sizes of the beads can be seen, and the artful way in which Benba has used them in order to keep the weaving as flat as possible.

Detail of Benba’s toran showing the uneven sizes of the beads

Benba with her dowry toran. Other torans can be seen hanging in the doors and windows in the background.

Now, as I write this blog and looking closely at the image of Naina with her much more recent toran, I notice that the pattern is exactly the same as Benba’s piece.

This raises some questions:
Is this a traditional pattern which is regularly used by  the artisans?
Is this perhaps a family design and Naina is related to Benba, carrying on the traditional pattern?
Has Naina recognised a great design and is honouring Benba by reproducing it?

I guess I’ll have to ask those questions on my next trip to the lovely quiet village of the bead weavers.

Naina in 2019

The front yard of the house of the bead weavers.

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?

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.

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.

A new(ish) word

According to the Collins English Dictionary, the word glamping (noun) came into existence about 2000 – 2005, and means “a form of camping involving accommodation and facilities more luxurious than those associated with traditional camping.”

We’re glad the word came into existence as it perfectly describes our accommodation at two of our destinations on The Cloth & Stone Tour to Gujarat.

Our accommodation at Gir National Park (where we take a jeep safari to see if we catch a sighting of the Asiatic Lion and other rare species), is well equipped luxury tents set in over 4 acres of land surrounded with a lush green mango orchard.

The final two nights of our tour will be at one of India’s best-kept secrets: the deluxe camp at Mandvi Beach, a part of the private beach estate of the Maharaos.  The tents are hand crafted, and each has its own verandah, spacious air-conditioned bedroom, hand carved furniture,  attached bathroom and decorated in the colonial-period camps of erstwhile royalty.

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Apart from our planned activities (see itinerary), there are other options: nature walks and bird watching in the palace estate, beach volleyball, massage, camel rides or a lakeside picnic.

What’s not to love about glamping in India?
Coming with us?  Get your deposit in before end of September 2016 for the early bird discount, or claim some of the other discounts available here >>>

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Map the tour

The CLOTH and STONE TOUR to INDIA will take place in the state of Gujarat at ground level in our private vehicle.  That means we can stop at will to enjoy the colour and diverse wonder that is India up close, and enjoy many encounters with locals and wildlife.  Map the tour here >>>

Fellow travellers on the road north, Kachchh.

Fellow travellers on the road north, Kachchh.

The Timeless Varanasi tour begins in the city of Ahmedabad and takes us to Varanasi to immerse ourselves in the history, culture and spirituality of this ancient city.
Map the tour here >>>

Evening Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat

Click here to check out some of the sights you might encounter on the tours.

A walk through a village

Sometimes words are not needed …. enjoy the pics!

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Village wall, Nirona, India

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The village petrol station

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Namkeen and sweet shop

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Samosa maker

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Cat with a view. Note newly rendered mud wall.

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Old stone road markers

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Cow passing temple

Hot masala chai

Hot masala chai

Curious kids

Colourful temple

Handmade bell

The bell maker’s tools

Stylish gentleman in the corner food shop

Tethered

Another stylish gentleman in the corner food shop – note the beautiful hand embroidered shawl.

Young village girl and cow

Cow licking its nose.

Door on village house

Another door, another house.

And another one….

Temple again.

Village life 1

I love taking detours into villages and on the way from Bhuj to The White Rann my driver is taking me to visit Nirona to see some very special craftwork: the very rare to the point of being endangered, Rogan work.

But first breakfast! We had left Bhuj early and now I was looking forward to some good village food. Continue reading

A beautiful man

A friend and I visited a small village outside Bhuj to see some Arjarkh printing – a style of block printing local to this area. We hired an autorick to take us there and our driver and his mate – both sharing the tiny front seat designed for one – had some English and great senses of humour, and with my rudimentary and Daniella’s much better Hindi, we all got on very well for the duration of the trip.

We had a lovely time with the textile artists and spent quite some time making our selections to take away with us.

But the most memorable moment of the day for us was as we were leaving the village. Heading out of town, we saw a guy, slightly greying in his long stubble, so maybe in his 40s, walking towards us with a big bundle of greens wrapped in a purple cloth on his head. He had an angelic smile and it was something about his manner and the elegant walk, his confidence, his choice of colours, his headscarf, that compelled us to stop and ask if we could take his photo. He was delighted, and as he shifted his weight to create a photogenic pose, it occurred to me that he was gay. Daniella spotted it too, and as we snapped our pics, he kept striking poses in ever more camp styles worthy of anything from Priscilla Queen of the Desert. He was having a lovely time and one of our drivers, not wanting to miss being photographed, decided to pose with him, at which point our village guy really vamped it up. The driver at this stage hadn’t realised he was being snapped with a gay guy, as open homosexuality is rarely seen in India, and certainly unusual in a tiny village like this.

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Lovely man with lovely greens

Posing with auto driver

Posing with auto driver

But the best was yet to come. Photo op over, he gave a polished catwalk-style turn to continue his way home and gave the most high-camp mincing walk I have ever seen and disappeared around the corner without a backward glance as we applauded and whooped his magnificent exit. This guy was certainly happy in his skin as his serene yet mischievous smile attested.

Moments later, it dawned on our driver that he had just been posing in the arms of a ‘gaanda’ and he nearly ran off the road in mock disgust, then broke into uncontrollable giggles. Of course that set us off, teasing him and also not being able to control our laughter. The whole way back to town was punctuated with more spontaneous bouts of laughter to the point of tears.

Footnote: two days later in another village about 50km away from the first one, walking the tiny lanes, we turned a corner and there he was again. Smiles all round, and of course, more gorgeous poses. In all the theatre, I forgot to ask his name, so to the anonymous ‘only gay in the village’ thank you for sharing your beauty and the fun!

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Beautiful poser

Lunchtime at Shaam-e-sharhad

 

I arrived at Shaam-e-sarhad (Sunset at the Border), a mud-built resort in a village last night just at dinner time, tired and dusty after a day on the road visiting villages, artisans and points of interest on the way from Bhuj. After dinner, accompanied by village musicians drumming, singing and dancing, I retire early without a bath as the hot water will not arrive until the morning and the warmth of the late winter day is giving way to the cold of a desert night.

I slept well on the hard bed, had a deliciously hot bucket bath, sat catching up on blog articles in the common area near the open-sided dining hall, and now it is lunchtime. Continue reading

Village resort and the pastoralists of the Banni

I am staying in a mud-built resort – an initiative of and located in the village of Hodka in northwestern Gujarat, not far from the famous White Desert or Rann of Kachchh.

My tent at the mud resort at Hodka village

My tent at the mud resort at Hodka village

Meals are taken in the large open-air pavilion with grass roof and ceiling of colourful fabric. The central food station is attended by a group of lovely young men from the village. They are really friendly and I try to remember their names. In the tourist season they work here, then in off-season (summer – when it is way too hot for tourists) there are other jobs to do.

The guys ready to serve dinner. From left: Natha, Maya Valji, Manish and Gayani

Natha is from a family who do mud work and wall painting.  Mani is 16 years old and the lowest in the pecking order here, doing general cleaning work and food serving. He has the biggest whitest smile always ready to light up his brown face, and tries to please all the time.  Valji is one of the serving staff. He is a member of the family who do all the resort’s mud and mirror work for which this region is famous. They also make the wattle and daub fences and paint the walls with traditional designs. In the off-season, he goes to Mumbai and Delhi and works on mud-work commissions and he is planning on creating a bird sanctuary nearby.

Once I have shown an interest in a few of the guys, spruiking my few sentences of Hindi, asking names, what their roles are etc., the others also want to tell their stories and I realize that it is my genuine interest in them that is the main difference between me and a visiting Indian family who treat them as staff only and as such, do not take an interest. That is the difference between a society built on class and caste and the Australian egalitarian style. The side benefit for me, of course, is that I get extremely good service and attention from these lovely guys, and after less than one day here, they are beginning to anticipate my needs. (Later, when it came time to leave, they lined up to bid me goodbye.)

Valji, who will be married in March after a thirteen year engagement (he and his future wife must have been betrothed as children), sensed my genuine interest in the place and the people and gifted me a book which I find both fascinating and educational. It outlines the biocultural community protocol of the Maldharis of Banni (the pastoralists of the Banni grasslands  in this district in the north of Kachchh, Gujarat). The Maldharis have been the custodians of the biodiversity-rich Banni grassland ecosystem and have protected it and nurtured it for over 450 years.

This is an important document with the agreement between at first the Maharajah Radheshua-ji of Kachcch in the 18th century. There is documentary evidence (reproduced in the book) that the Madlharis have paid pancheri (grazing tax) since old times, in exchange for the right to graze their animals in Banni without any private land allocation or agriculture. It seems to me uncertain that contemporary governments have ratified this protocol and this document is a well researched and produced call to action to continue the historical rights of the Maldharis.

The Protocol in brief:

We believe that nature has entrusted us with the responsibility to protect Banni and the right to practice our traditional way of life in the Banni and through this biocultural community protocol we call on the government to respect and affirm this right.

In Maldharis biocultural community protocol we clearly state who we are, where we live, our relationship to Banni and our animals, our rights to land, our breeds and associated traditional knowledge and our duties to protect this ecosystem.

There are different stories of how these people came to live in the Banni. Here is one account from one of the elders of the Meghwal Hindus:

Our elders have told us that in 1736, and army from Sindh (now in Pakistan) led by Khaloda Mohammad Mir invaded Kachchh . Our ancestors were asked by the Maharajah Radheshua-ji of Kachcch to fight with his armies and defend the land from invaders. Though we lost many lives and suffered much in the ensuing battle, the Maharajah was, with our help, victorious. To reward our loyalty and valour, the Maharajah gave the Maldharis title to the Banni. As we were pastoralists the Maharajah also decreed that the grasslands should not be used for agriculture.

From further reading, I learn that the Maldharis have developed the unique Banni buffalo especially adapted to the grasses of the Banni.

The Maldharis hold their cattle in high regard. Some of us take our shoes off before we enter the place where our animals lie. Historically the measure of a man was based on different animals he kept. A Maldhari who had a good pedigree pure animals and expert in traditional knowledge was known as ‘bhagiya’ – he who is lucky with animals.

They have also developed a unique water harvesting system that enables them to suvive the harsh Kachchh summers. Temporary wells known as ‘virdas’ are built as a community activity by all the men of the village. The shallow wells are built in the place where a water hole has dried up but where ground water is not far below. The well is lined with logs of wood and Banni grasses: the wood prevents the well from collapsing and the grass filters the water.

I also learn that there are 18 Muslim communities and two Hindu in the Banni. There are strong ties between the communities and in solidarity with the Hindu, the Muslims refrain from eating beef. The Muslims provide milk and ghee to the Hindu Meghwals, who in turn provide leather shoes, saddles, water satchels and help building their bhungas (round houses).

The book goes on to list all the grasses of the Banni with images, the various tribal groups, the indigenous livestock and breeding protocols, and even home-grown vetinary treatments and much else. Challenges to their way of life are also catalogued, chief amongst them is poisonous effluent from industry on the fringes of the Banni: buffalo are dying because of poisoned waterholes.  Another threat  is police harassment.

I am finding it fascinating to delve a little deeper in the various cultures of India, and treasure this book and the brief time I have shared with the Maldharis of Kachchh.

Banni pastoralist with his herd

Banni pastoralist with his herd

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Banni buffalo

The Calico Museum, Ahmedabad

After the first abortive attempt to visit the Calico Museum, I booked in for the following Monday, and arrived ten minutes early for the strictly controlled tour of this amazing collection of textiles. No phones, cameras, food or water bottles are allowed onto the premises, so I arrived only with a small money purse in my pocket and nothing else. Continue reading

Village dining in the city

Saturday night was a time to catch up with old friends in Ahmedabad. We decided to dine at the lovely Vishalla – more an experience than a restaurant.

Vishalla is was designed by it’s owner, Mr. Surendra Patel, as a traditional Indian village, remembering the carefree school holidays he spent in the village.  The attention to detail in this village-like environment is constant: there are lanterns as lighting, the entire area is mud-plastered, and the entertainment section uses no modern sound systems. The effect is further enhanced with Continue reading

Below Ahmedabad

Day 2 has been busy, spending a lot of time in autoricks with the late winter breezes tangling my hair and rendering me a rather scruffy, but happy, individual. The mission today was to visit the wonderful Calico Museum of Textiles and stepwells Adalaj and Dada Harir Vav.

After a sustaining hotel Indian style breakfast with some excellent masala chai, I headed off to the Museum, only to find that I had missed the one very controlled tour (restricted to 20 visitors) for the day and would have to book in for Monday. Continue reading

Countdown…..

This time next week I’ll be experiencing for the first time Air India’s non-stop flight to Delhi from Melbourne – 11.5 hours in the air, leaving at a reasonable 10:45am and arriving at an equally reasonable 5:40pm local time.  On arrival, a visit to money exchange and to the Airtel counter to buy a local sim card. Then a leisurely  drive (in Delhi traffic, maybe not so leisurely) to my bed for the night at a nondescript but convenient hotel near to the airport ready for an early morning flight to the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat state. Continue reading