Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Exploring the Motherland of Crafts: A peep into Kutch Villages


Many a times I have wondered about the culture and folklore of Gujarat and have always come to the conclusion that at several points, the cultural interests of Rajasthan and Gujarat show the same colors. I always took special interest in Rajasthani traditions and Gujarat’s match with it made me curious to look in it’s box as well. Gujarat is forever known for its rich cultural heritage and customs. Among all other unique customs of the state its art and craft hold an extraordinary position worldwide. Wood and stone carving, metal works, mirror works, embroidery and printing are the most distinguished arts and crafts of Gujarat and Kutch is the motherland of it. So, when on my way to Rann Utsav, I was scheduling my visit to Kutch villages as well. And the very next day of my festival visit, I got an opportunity to explore rural Gujarat which overfilled with talent and craftsmanship of Kutch people. Here, then follows some of my glimpses from the rural Kutch.
My first stop was Nirona village. This village is famous for its 400 year old Rogan Art. This art is practiced and carried on forward by Khatri family. This is the sole family in India who are carrying forward this art since generations. The Rogan art derives its name from a Persian art form of ‘Rogan’ meaning oil-based.  The artists use castor oil which is heated on high flame and subsequently cooled to give it a semi-solid gel like form. This form is referred to as Rogan. It is then mixed with pigments of various colors to give it different hues. The Rogan is then applied on cloth with a ‘kalam’, a small metal stick. As the hand moves on, the fine thread of rogan gets applied on the same. 


                                                                       Rogan Art

Once the artists draw Rogan in one half of the cloth, it is then folded immediately so that the other side of the cloth gets the same impression. The folding has to be done within 2 hours of application of Rogan or else, the paint may dry out and won’t be able to make the finest impression. The cloth is then open dried in sunlight until the paint sits firm. 


                                                                   Sun dried

‘Tree of Life’ is the most famous art matter in Rogan. Apart from it many other illustrations of artist’s choice are created on sarees, wall hangs and ladies stoles. Rogan is applied free hand without any prior sketches on the cloth and the dimension and accuracy is completely dependent on the artist’s eyes. No doubt that this art form is too much painstaking and time consuming.
Next was the home of a copper bell maker. The copper workers or the Luhars of Kutch are originally from Sindh. The Luhars of Nirona have been preserving this art work since time long. While male members participate in shaping the metal to an attractive form, women of the house come forward to look after its sales. The copper master pieces are made though simple interlocking of the metal without any welding. The hammering and fine tuning of the metal results in unalike copper bells which creates unique sound. 

                                                                      In mood

The magnum opus of these luhars is the musical instrument ‘Morchaang’. Apart from it, different musical gadgets that produce all the seven tones of music draw special attention. All of these are purely hand hammered and then tuned without the use of any machine or other equipment. Wind chimes, key rings, table clocks and other ornamental copper items are available for a price. I brought a S-shaped wind chime with small copper bells hanged to it. Our driver said that these same bells are tied to the necks of the cattle and their vibration spreads upto 2 kilometers.




                                                           
                                                 The Copper Works with their 'mentor'

A lacquer craftsman’s home was the new destination. Presently, there are nearly 30 families who carry out this craft. Lac or resin from the trees are collected and heated to give it a wax form. It is subsequently mixed with different colored pigments to produce colored lacs. These are then applied and polished on variety of finished wooden products to give it a glazy look. 


                                                                 Lac works

Kitchen ladles and jewelry boxes are the hot cakes of lac. Women from these families also join hands with men to fabricate lac items. As we moved out of their home, wearing traditional lehenga-cholis and covered till their chin, I found them busy in mixing the pigments.
Time was running out and so much was left! Our driver suggested visiting Gandhi-nu-Gaam near Khavda village and Kala Raksha centre at Sumrasar village. Kala Raksha centre is a craft museum run by an NGO and is dedicated for the preservation and promotion of handicrafts of Kutch. 


Kala Raksha works with 8 traditional arts; the regional embroideries Suf, Kharek, Paako, embroideries of Jat, Rabari and Mutava, Patchwork and Applique. Apart from the last two, all 6 of the arts are carried out by young women. The fine embroidery and needle work needs patience and brawny eyesight. Hence, as age comes up women become incapable of doing the fine embroideries and get restricted in Patchworks and Appliques only. I caught sight of an elderly woman who was doing a Patch work of the very familiar game ‘Snake and Ladder’. She greeted us with a cheering ‘Namaste’ and continued showing her Patch works to us. The bright colors of red, white, yellow and black with yellow ladders formed a distinctive wall hang. 


                                                                  The Patchworks

Then there was another jovial woman busy with her Suf. Continuing her needle work with a red thread, the white stole was slowly getting a glam look. 

                                                                          Suf worker

Kala Raksha museum displays some very basic perceptions of embroidery and their stipulation to the women. It focuses on the rich art and craft heritage of Kutch. The museum has a small ‘exhibition cum sale’ space where different products of the artisans are available for a price. There are stoles and bags with Suf work, clutches with Applique work, embroidered laptop bags, chess boards and many more.





Lack of time made me return to Bhuj and Gandhi-nu-Gaam was left out. But for sure, in my next visit to Kutch I will try visiting the remaining.

How to visit:
Hiring private cars from Bhuj is the best option to look around as public transports do not get into the interior of these villages.

Entry fee
Entry to these villages and Kala Raksha Centre is absolutely free. No tips, nothing!  Only you have to pay for the items you buy. Kala Raksha Centre has fixed price for their items but in other cases you get chances to bargain. But please don’t bargain much from the villagers!

When to visit
These villages can be visited throughout the year. But in my opinion avoiding the summer days will be a wise decision as Gujarat summer is hot and humid.







Wednesday, 2 January 2019

A Complete Tour Guide to Rann Utsav: A Confluence of Nature’s Bleak and Beauty



Everytime I see Amitabh Bacchan on screen featuring Rann festival, I get tempted to visit it. More than two years of planning to visit Kutch during the Rann festival finally came to happening this year. And at last I was out to Rann of Kutch from Vadodara to participate in Rann Utsav or Rann Festival.  Kutch is a district in Gujarat and Rann, a salt marsh (as Google says) is a part of Thar Desert that falls in Gujarat. Sometimes, people also call it Dhordo or ‘The Great Rann of Kutch’ and it is one of the largest salt deserts in the world. The weather of this place is quite similar to that of Rajasthan, much heat during daylight and as the sun sets, mercury begins to fall down immensely.  Our homestay was in Bhuj which is 80 kilometers away from Rann. While the National Highways leading to Rann hoisted colorful flags featuring the carnival, the later part of the roads shared its sides with the vast kilometers of white marsh land that stretch beyond horizon. Just before a distance of 30 kilometers to Rann, we stopped and waited for our turn to get the entry permit to Rann. After spending around 15 minutes at the counter, we got our permit to the white desert.
It was 3 in the afternoon when we reached Rann. We were terribly hungry and got inside a restaurant. A sumptuous Gujarati meal pampered both our stomach and taste. 

                                                              Food for thought

As soon as we were done with our lunch, we drove nearly 2 kilometers inside the desert. Rann is spread over an area of more than 7000 kilometer square and only a small part of the desert hosts the festival every year. Rann festival is a confluence of natural beauty, culture and tradition amalgamated with joy of colors and celebration that reflect upon the mirror of the boundless white desert. The charisma gets more unique and quivering during a full moon night when the marsh land shines clear and bright, presenting a rare beauty of nature to the world.

                                                                  Entry to the Desert

Visitors from far and near have congregated to take part in the fiesta. Irrespective of their nationality, travelers were busy exploring the white land in their own way. Near the parking space, individual camels and horses along with their respective carts were available for a price to take us more into the land as motored vehicles were no more allowed beyond that point. The camels and horses were beautifully decorated with ribbons, ear studs and neck ties. Various designs of mehendis were sketched on them to which they looked much prettier.

                                                           Decorated mammal

‘Madam, do you want a ride to that tower?’, a middle aged man approached us with his brilliantly attired camel as we were gazing at the decorated animals.  Finishing his words, he pointed towards a long structure far away from us. ‘You will like it, I promise. Two Hundred bucks for a single person.’ Staring far, I could only see a tall, wide steel tower like structure. Many people were departing towards the tower riding a camel cart or a horse cart that carried 6 to 8 people in one go. We bargained a little, settled for 100 bucks and set up for the solo camel ride. As the big animal paced slowly, sitting at his back I could see the wide and open white desert that lay in front of me, a barren land that has turned into a beautiful destination. Nature has bestowed its entire serene and peaceful speck in the white land. The reflections of sun on the white soil made it a more solitary and peaceful destination to evolve in. We were passing through the desert terrain towards the tower. The land was little undulated at some points where the salt was still wet while at the other it was a fairly plain region. No sign of vegetation could be traced as far as eyes can go. This was unlike Thar of Jaisalmer, where some bushes and shrubs can be found in the dry desert.  Apart from the desert terrain which we were following, a narrow pitch lane ran beside us leading to the tower which was the path for camel and horse carts. Many visitors were walking along the pitch road as well. The narrow lane was skillfully decorated with lights that were supposed to light up in the evening.






                                                                   White moods

‘Madam, Indo-Pak border is 70 kilometers from here. You have to go straight following this road,’ informed the camel driver. To be very frank, as I did not had a binocular I could see nothing except the vast saline land. He continued, ‘Sometimes the army personnel travel through this route, may be while patrolling.’ I softly replied, ‘OK, I understand.’ And asked him few questions about his home and family to which he replied that he has a family of three children residing in nearby village. He primarily does farming but during Rann festival camel riding of tourists is his sole source of income. We rode for almost 20 minutes when we reached the base of the tower. The steel structure which I thought to be a tower was not actually one but an erection of many steel plates connected together giving it a cubicle shape and height. After paying off, the driver bade a good bye and I went near the structure to have a close view of it. Hundreds of tourists were loitering far and near around the structure. Some localites were singing traditional Gujarati folk songs while harping their instruments. 

                                                                  The performers

The ‘Viewing Tower’ as the name plate read, signifies the structure of a salt crystal. Since the desert is a salt flat, the 15 meter high tower comprises of structures of crystalline salt cubes. This is the point where the approaching road ends and there is no human habitat beyond it. There were security personals all around the trail since Rann started, this junction being no exception. Tourists were prohibited from climbing the tower and were restricted to the tower base only. 


                                                                   Viewing Tower

We hanged around while taking photographs and exploring the salt desert. Dusk was approaching near. They say that after a moon lit experience in Rann, sunset at the same is worth lifetime. Temperature was gradually going down and the sky was changing colors. We decided to walk the distance to return to the parking lot. The blue horizon has already become red. The downing beauty of the sun made my Rann trip more memorable. 





Shades of sunset

While we were returning towards the parking lot, many tourists were making an onward journey towards the viewing tower.  Walking for next 20 minutes we reached the parking space. It was already dark and we headed towards the festival ground. The festival ground is spread over an area of few kilometers extending in diameter. The festival arena was ornamented with vibrant flags and multicolored electric lights. 


Small and big stalls on behalf of Gujarat Government supporting Gujarat tourism, its culture and tradition along with recent state developments were set up in the festival. 



                                                              Government stalls

Apart from them hundreds of stalls displaying and selling handicraft items were there. Gujarati handloom sandals, leather shoes, bags and wallets, embroidered sarees, scarfs, dupattas, gowns, skirts, lehenga-choli, handmade bead necklaces with earrings, crafted bags and purses, antique wooden show pieces and other handicraft products are the main attraction of the stalls. Unable to resist myself, I gazed around and also bargained for my chosen items. 






                                                           Its shopping time!

Plenty of food stalls with a variety of options including sandwiches, pizzas, burgers, golgappas, pav bhaji and other such mouth watering delicacies were present beside the handicraft shops. Local vendors selling tea and coffee, different chat mixtures and corn cups were also present near the food stalls. 




                                                              Snacks time

Few open stages were set around these stalls where cultural program was going on. Gujarati folk performers dressed in multihued outfit were showing their talents. Mesmerized by their flair, we took the audience’s seat for some time.
The temperature was going down more as the clock struck 8. The multicolored electric lamps have already lit up the premises. The joyous atmosphere turned more bright and dazzling. Uncountable heads of visitors could be still noticed around us. We geared up to return to Bhuj as it was getting colder. At last my two year long dream got a shape. I was infinitely besieged and contented about the visit. I was only thinking of the vast and beautiful desert that all of a sudden a placard came into my notice. It was again Amitabh Bacchan saying, ‘KUTCH nehi dekha to KUCH nehi dekha’ (You have seen nothing if you have not seen KUTCH). The barren land of Kutch is the perfect embodiment of the quote in true sense.


Festival time
Every year the festival continues for more than 100 days. It starts from November beginning and continues till mid February. The festivity continues for the whole day. The outdoor activities both for kids and adults ends by evening and most of the stalls get closed by 9 at night.
Best time of the day to visit the festival is in the afternoon when the temperature is not as hot as of day and moreover, one can view the sunset in the desert as well.


How to reach

The nearest railway station and airport is at Bhuj. Rann of Kutch is at a distance of 80 kilometers from Bhuj. The best way to reach Rann is to hire a private car from Bhuj and explore Rann and other places. Public buses or autos are not available for Rann.

Entry permission
Just before 30 kilometers to Dhordo, two small counters are there from where tourists take their permission. This junction is called Bhirandiyara checkpost. These counters stand on the way to Dhordo and cannot be missed or overlooked under any conditions. Though there is no official board as such but presence of security officials and a bit of hustle bustle at a left turn to Dhordo will surely draw attention. Four wheeler costs 50 INR while adults need to pay 100 INR per person for getting the permit. One needs to produce any Government ID proof while obtaining the same.

The permit is available online as well at https://www.rannpermit.com/

This is the only permit one has to make. There is no other entry fee to the festival. Also, parking inside the festival ground is free of cost.

Where to stay:
The tent city at Dhordo or Dhordo tent city is an initiative by the Gujarat Government to provide accommodation to tourists. It is a closed area located at the heart of the festival ground with ample luxurious amenities. One is not allowed inside the tent city if he/she does not have a tent booking at the same. But to be very frank, the tents there are just over priced! If you wish to have an extravagance stay these tents are the perfect shelter for you but if you are a budget traveler, my suggestion is either to stay in Bhuj or in any other private tents near Dhordo.  Many private tents and cottages are available in and around Dhordo which are available at a much lower price than at the tent city. Average price starts from 3K and it goes on depending on its facilities. One can even go for homestays or hotels in Bhuj. These are much cheaper and can be booked at a price as low as 1.5K with all modern amenities. I booked my room in Samarth Homestay at Bhuj. Our host was a retired army man. He proved to be very much obliging and guided us for the local village tour. The 80 kilometer distance from Bhuj to Dhordo is a smooth one and it won’t at all will be a problem to drive the distance to reach Rann. 

Where to eat
The Government tents at Dhordo include all the meals in its charges. Most of the private tents near Dhordo do the same as well. Many restaurants give out their counters in the premises where one can please their stomach as well. One can choose from a multiple option to satisfy hunger. Gujarati Thali is the most popular palate in the restaurants but North Indian and South Indian delights are also available. But be careful as all the prices vary 20 to 30 rupees than normal.

What to see
The white salt land is itself the major attraction of Rann festival. The enormous saline land becomes more attractive and spectacular under moon. While enjoying star lit sky in Rann, one must also take care of the temperature. It is terribly cold once the sun sets. If one is unable to enjoy Rann under moon, I will definitely suggest experiencing the sunset. It’s worth a lifetime.
Apart from it, the festival ground hosts innumerable stalls and activities. Fun games for kids, small toy train rides and magic shows are quite a handy for kids.  Skyzilla, paramotoring and ATV rides are some other outdoor activities which one can take up in the carnival. Cultural programs are held every evening both inside the tent city premises and outside it. Again you won’t be allowed to the enriching programs inside the tent city if you don’t have a tent booking L  Small stages are built at few junctions around the stalls where Gujarati folk performers showcase their talents. Stalls that up bring tourism, heritage, culture and customs of Gujarat take a front seat in the fair.  Apart from these, innumerable souvenirs and gift items like handloom bags, shoes and clothing, ladies accessories, bed sheets and dupattas are available at the stalls for a price. One has to positively bargain a lot before buying the attractive pieces.

Other useful information
  • ·         Quite a number of refreshment rooms are there both for gents and ladies.
  • ·         The entire festival ground is plastic free.
  • ·    It is quite hot during the day but freezing cold after evening. So carry your sunscreens, sunglasses and scarves along with jackets and mufflers.
  • ·       Covered shoes are the perfect footwear for Rann. One should be careful while walking in the land as some parts of it are muddy with wet salts.

Other destinations in and around Kutch
  • While in Kutch apart from Rann, the second not to miss destinations are the local Kutch villages.
  • Apart from the villages, few links for other attractions like Kala Dungar, Mandvi Beach Vijayvilas Palace, Kutch mseum etc. are given for your help.
       Also, read

           Exploring the Motherland of crafts, A peep into Kutch Villages

    Everything about Rann Utsav    

    Popular places in Kutch   

    







About

Bird of passage, who can survive solely on the feel of new roads beneath her incurably nomad, sneaker clad feet. HELLO travellers....!! You are most welcome to my travel and adventure BLOG!! Talking about myself is something I find extremely uncomfortable, because, WHAT DO I TALK ABOUT? My daily routine, my preference for blindingly bright colours, or my awesome transition from a boring Physics-loving Middle-schooler, to part-time Techie and full-time Lover-of-new-places? My passion for jumping around from one landscape to another parallels my extreme attachments with vegan food, and take my word for this one, that says a LOT. Anything that tempts both my stomach and my eyes are my darling. My trolleys and backpacks are quite frayed and harried-looking, but I think I would be proud of myself if I looked like that, had I been a trolley or a backpack. Just kidding, they're overworked. It's fine to be overworked, that other time, I was in Paris... But never mind that story, I tend to go off on too many tangents. I'm fundamentally not an extremist: I love both hills and beaches, but neither to the extent of disliking the other. I love long drives on highways, clicking in sunny beaches, driving through green hills, walking across white mountains, dancing in vibrant desert, running in dense woods and etc etc etc. :) All my photographs are proud exhibitors of the imperfections of my skin, because they are natural, and unburdened by filters, thank you very much. This blog is more of an account of the thousand and one ways to blunder around the world, and less on what planned traveling should be like... I hope you relate and enjoy! Just get ready and join me to unleash the beauty and charm of travelling!! Less filter..more real!