Photos by myself (Sony Nex5N)
I, like most others thoroughly enjoyed Bhuj for many reasons. Despite being a more rural town, traditional and closer to the border of troubled Pakistan, we always felt more comfortable and welcome. I am unsure why, but the people seemed to respect us as tourists - less staring, no one with cameras in our faces, were very kind and friendly and wanted to know where we were from. They were not aggressive salesmen/women, but rather smiley and simply welcoming. Because of this, we were very relaxed and happy. One of the trip highlights was the wood block printing with Dr Ismail and sons (and super friendly/helpful deaf assistant as seen in above photos) who were all kind enough to let us use their tables to practise wood block printing techniques and understand the mordents and dyeing process.
We were first given a plain cloth that had been pre treated with a mordant (helps natural dyes connect to the fibres) so the cloth looked a creamy yellow. Then we had to choose some blocks to make a print. I used 3 different blocks. The straight 3 line block, a zig zag block and a straight arrow tail print which I alternated. I was extremely pleased with the result. Later we dyed another sample in natural indigo (see above photo of Akshita and her newly dipped design). After they had dried, we rinsed in the baths (also see above Kathleen rinsing her piece). I later bought a fabulous 7m of silk fabric with a beautiful natural dyed wood block print upon it, good business for Dr Ismail. His grandson was a treat to photograph as he was also playing with the blocks and dyes, and was covered in indigo. He was very cheeky and loved standing still for a photograph - not.
The following day we went to Jabar Khatri's clean studio space for Bhandani (like Shibori) tying and dyeing. This is an extremely time consuming and delicate process and I quite enjoyed the therapeutic nature of the repetitive tying. The women involved in tying Bhandani are paid quite poorly, but as they progress, they eventually get better and more efficient and they start to earn more. Mr Khatri works with natural dyes and materials, and the art is over 400 years old. It originated in Punjab and is a community craft, which means women are encouraged to work at home to dual look after family and the home, and to sit amongst peers who are also Bhandani workers. The lighter the fabrics the more folds before tying. You can see my small sample that has been dyed with a bag of log wood shards, which produces a brilliant purple in the fabric.
The following day we went to a Khatri Rogan textile art family which involves natural oil and painting on fabric. I especially loved their Tree of Life designs. We then went to a bell maker and I bought 3 bell designs (one for mum and dad). I quite enjoyed his method of cold joins instead of soldering. The rustic look of the bells are quite iconic to the area. Just a short walk away we visited a lacquer craftsman in the Koli tribe that hand makes and paints beautiful wooden kitchen instruments, spice containers and rolling pins. This craft is very iconic to Western India too and watching the process was very interesting. In this same village, there were a long row of beautiful young girls with hand made crafts which were just beautiful. The crafts were made from recycled fabrics. I fell in love with some pieces and bought myself a handmade doll and something for a close friend in Sweden.
After we went to Kala Raksha museum, but sadly only had 30 minutes to view the cute cottages of craft research centres. I bought a gorgeous little bag that has been hand embroidered and beaded by local women. They provide a small library, workshops and awareness programs to locals about keeping the crafts industry alive. I also sat down with an elderly artisan who wanted her photo taken with her stitched animal designs which were so cute! The elephant and camel are frequent icons in western Indian crafts. Next we had lunch at Sham E Sharad resort which had the magnificent coloured sail cloths framed to the ceiling. On the way home we stopped by some Bhunga houses which are traditional Western Indian structures with walls adorned with mirrors in various patterns. They were also selling local handicrafts where I bought a leather cuff which matched my outfit on that day. The colours inside these Bhungas were beautiful.
After that huge day, we started a fresh morning visiting Judy Frater and her Artisans at the Kala Raksha workshops. We mainly worked on Rabari embroidery. Sadly I didn't receive the assistance I needed and was instead pretty much had my sample design dictated for me, leaving me with no creative freedom whatsoever. I guess it was due to the woman's age and the language barrier, but it left me in a very sad mood. Moving on from that, we visited Mandvi which is a giant Dow (boat) making/repairing yard. It was great to see how the men assembled the boats with large planks of wood which were pulled up via ropes. It was all very dangerous and archaic the methods in which they were operating, but interesting none the less. Next we visited Vijay Vilas Palace which was quite disappointing on the inside, but breathtaking upon the roof, overlooking rural forests and watching the sun set. After we watched the sun go down over the Arabic sea at a beach resort which was beautiful. The water was warm and the setting was picture perfect with the deck chairs and straw umbrellas. The dinner following was disappointing.
I am now back in Ahmedabad. Today we visited the Calico museum which was okay. A lovely archive but the curators (guide) was extremely unpleasant and demanding with her bossy and condescending ways of talking to the visitors which made me feel very annoyed. sadly, I could not take any photos in this exhibition.