During my post graduation days at NID, Ahmedabad I often saw pictures of Kutch and the life of its people with students at the textile department who would visit is region known for Ajrakh printing, block printing and embroidery for study. Being in Gujarat often drawn to the raw and lyrical quality of the art of this region, the trip could materialise only five years hence after little convincing my husband who is also from NID...
The best way into Gujarat is by road if you don't mind driving as the roads here are excellent all over. From Mumbai, Ahmedabad is only 7-8 hrs which was our first night halt courtesy a good old friend. We learnt how much the city had grown, developed and spread out to suburbs which never existed just sometime ago.
The chilly morning sky was filled with kites for Uttarayan or kite festival which was in the coming month and as we geared up to set off to Bhuj. We reached our hotel by evening and explored the old bazaar quickly that was just down the lane, as we knew we would soon be tired. In this brief survey I had already made up my shopping list. Hotels in Bhuj are mostly very basic - just fine for resting at night and setting off by morning.
Salt farming enroute to Bhuj from Ahmedabad
After a quick breakfast at Green Hotel in the market we headed to Aaina Mahal that also houses a museum. Not much is left of this place after the earthquake however some parts have been reconstructed.
At the Aaina Mahal
The museum manager here is a great guide to begin exploration of this region. The first thing we were told was that one would need a written permission from the police station to visit certain areas for security reasons as they were too close to the border. So avoid reaching on a government holiday.
Once we had our permissions in place we decided to do the region in four parts : north, south, east and west kutch each day. Day 1 was north, our first stop at KalaRaksha, an organization that has a guild of artisans that work from their homes in sparetime. This where I first learnt about the different kinds of embroidery and their distinctive characteristics. Interestingly it is a way of life here. For instance the embroidery called Soof is done only by a community of people who have migrated from pakistan, Pako or Ahir Bharat is done by a community of Ahirs. They have a small room where they display the collection from this region to demonstrate each and also have a unique documentation of articles from this region. After visiting some artisan homes here I realised the important role KalaRaksha played in their lives. Not only was it a means of bringing livelihood to homes but they also ran courses and programmes that would sensitize them towards colour, texture and patterns. I was pleasantly surprised to see how they were innovating in their skill and even though we were lost in translation they could communicate with words like 'texture' and 'pattern' to me.
At Kala Raksha Campus
Crossing the Tropic of Cancer enroute to Hodka village
Sham-e-Sarhad Resort in Hodka village
It was around lunch time we stopped at Shaam-e-Sarhad at Hodka. The food counter was about to be closed and we had reached just in time. The food here is simple and home-like. The first thing to strike you about this place is the rustic beauty of the setting and the immense peace. Gujarat is a dry state but hey sure do have somewhat a healthier drink made of curd- the typical chaas served here would work like beer on a hot sunny day and we rested a while.
A crafts village near Hodka
After exploring some more villages and digging for more art, by evening we reached Kala Dungar, a hill top where you'd get a good view of the rann that looks beautiful at sunset before heading back to Bhuj. The India Bridge or the last indian post at the border was another halt.
India bridge from atop Kala Dungar
Day2, was towards Lakhpat in the west - a holy place of the Sikhs. This was a long drive which we interspersed with mata nu madh, the narayan sarovar and some other small interesting locations. Mata nu Madh is a temple complex, however we were happy to be greeted by a flock of flamingos in the narayan sarovar visiting in the indian winter.
Watching the migratory Flamingos at Narayan Sarovar
Lakhpat is actually a walled city, a fortress named after its king. We rested a while in the shade of the tomb of Raja Lakhpat. There is very little public means of transport here and on our departure from here we hitched two elderly men who wanted to go to mata nu madh to pay their respects and had been waiting in the heat for four long hours. In India, there is no bigger driving force than religious faith! Understanding a bit of Gujarati we were able to have a conversation with them on the places that could be of interest which is why we headed for the east the next day.
Raja Lakhpat's tomb
On day 3, we decided to go far east and touch the Harappan remains at Dholavira from Bhuj. But since this was a long journey we fixed up a place for night halt at Rapar with the help of our hotel manager at Bhuj and dropped going southwards as it only had the Mandavi beach, and living in Mumbai we were tired of doing beaches. On our way we halted at Srujan in Bhujodi to see their shop. There is another organisation that empowers artisans here called Khamir. The products here are of great quality and so is the campus. A little further we visited Dr. Ismail Khatri's workshop in Ajarakhpur where his son patiently demonstrated the complete process of resist dying or Ajrakh to us. He told us how after the quake their entire community had to leave from Dhamanka and settle in Ajarakhpur as the iron content in water had increased because of which all fabric would turn black. The process involved all natural dyes. The process of developing a piece of fabric was long and skillful. My respect for all these prints that I saw often at Fab India in the city grew even more. Dr. Ismail had never been to school but he is so skilled and knowledgeable about his work that a university in UK had felicitated him with the honorary doctorate.
The process of Ajarakh printing
At Rapar it was no hotel we stayed at but a school for the challenged. A small village, it is famous for its white metal jewelery. After breakfast with the children here we headed to Dholavira early in the morning in search of what we had read in text books at school - The mysterious Harappa.
Enroute to Dholavira we finally got this close to the great Rann of Kutch
At the Harappan site excavated at Dholavira
Ironically even though articles excavated here have found home in various museums world over, here they cannot boast of a state of art museum and the excavation work has stopped for the last three years stuck in political agendas. We met a local person here who claimed to have been on the excavation team earlier and he became our tour guide to this lost city. Even in a thousand years of what remains one can imagine how beautiful it must have been when the sea was close by. An excellent example of town planning is on display. Our guide took us to the 16 reservoir tanks that were designed in a manner where water for drinking was stored first and then what overflowed automatically went into the reservoir for bathing water. Remnants are scattered all around with a watchful eye one might even find a souvenir to take back home!
With limited time on hand our trip was coming to an end. If only I could find another reason to come back I thought...We sat quietly recollecting what we had experienced as we were now heading back to Mumbai via Ahmedabad.