Undeterred by the searing May heat, Simran Chaudhary (Founder of Artisau) and I recently travelled to Kutch, on a journey to immerse ourselves in the traditional crafts and cultures of the region.
Jutting out into the Arabian Sea, Kutch is a large, arid desert district in the state of Gujarat, at the Western most point of India. We were last there some 11 years ago, as young college students from NIFT Gandhinagar. This somewhat nostalgic return brought us in search for the best artisans to collaborate with for our burgeoning clothing and homeware collections.
Coincidentally, our old college technician had just connected with us on Facebook and now lived and worked in Kutch. Viren Bhai and his young apprentice greeted us in the hotel lobby on our first day back and would act as our guides over the next 3 days.
First up was an old favourite, the home of block printing - Ajrakhpur. Here, we called on Dr. Ismail Mohmed Khatri; owner of a 5th generation family textile business and world renowned UNESCO authority on this most ancient of printing forms.
Dr Ismali gives us an insight into the process: A patterned block is hand carved out of sheesham wood, then dipped in ink and painstakingly pressed and repeated across lengths of fabric. After many hours, the beautiful patterned textiles emerge - and go onto to be made in scarves, shawls, skirts and home textiles.
Apparently business is booming and any sampling will have to wait until December - This is both good news and bad!
Next we headed to Khamir, an initiative to promote traditional Katchchhi crafts and culture and involved in the preservation of the local environments and community. We were welcomed and shown around by Shabri, who generously shared the prolific work Khamir are doing: the creation and production of 'Kala' Cotton, indigenous to Kachchh encouraging sustainable cotton production; working with weavers to produce 'Kharad' rugs (unfortunately a craft that is now practiced only by 2 families) among other projects.
I was keen to see these unique rugs being woven, originally woven in Camel and Goat hair but the artisans are in the process of building a large workshop space to scale up production - I guess I will have to wait until my next visit, perhaps to sample some of my own designs in Kharad!
The rest of our trip included an epic trip to Kala Dungar - 'Black Hill', which is the highest point in Kutch and very close to the Pakistan border; followed by a journey to the Rann of Kutch or White Desert - the largest salt-flat desert in the world. The best time to go is in the winter from December to February when the water retreats and one can see the gleaming white salt in all it's otherworldly beauty.
It also happened to be peak wedding season at the time of our visit and we were lucky enough to be welcomed by the family of a prospective groom for a natter one afternoon. Fascinating to learn that there is just one day each year, when it is customary for all the weddings in each community to take place - meaning if you miss your annual slot, you have to wait a whole year! There were 50 weddings scheduled for the day after our visit in the a nearby village; unfortunately our journey back to Delhi had already begun, so we missed what would be one heck of a party...
What a memorable three days driving from village to village on beautiful roads (Well done Mr. Modi!), seeing extraordinary colour, meeting incredible craftspeople, learning and sharing stories over endless cups of tea. Can't wait till next time...we surely won't wait as long!
Hope you enjoy my photographs that document our whirlwind trip.