Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Bhuj, Gujarat, India

November 16th-25th

We arrived in Bhuj at 6:30am. We piled into an Auto Rickshaw with all our luggage and arrived at her house by 7am so we could all nap before Aarati had to go to work at 10:30.   Her roommates arrived back from their holidays just as she was leaving and after they had washed up a bit, took us out to lunch before they themselves headed out to work. Dedicated women! 

All three of them are doing pretty amazing things In Bhuj.  Aarati’s roommates, Hardika and Bhawna both work for a company called Hunnarshala.  The short version of what they do is that they are helping to get people back into acceptable earthquake proof housing using natural or waste materials.  It’s pretty incredible.  There’s a school on the compound that is training young boys to be carpenters, stone masons and general builders and they are learning these techniques.    This is particularly necessary these days  because  in 2001 there was a horrible earthquake in this area.  People are still recovering from it and trying to build in safe and sustainable ways.   The earthquake was such a big event that people reference time as “before or after” the earthquake and we had a few people ask us if we had visited here “before quake”.  

Aarati works for an NGO called Sarjeeven.  I’m sure Sarjeeven is doing lots of things I don’t know about, but I do know that Aarati is out working with herders in the Kutch region: buffalo, camels, goats, sheep.    She is doing work looking at the interconnectedness of their work with the artisans in the areas (block printing, wood carving, bell making) as well as helping them to find ways to keep their lifestyles and homeland sustainable.  

Having heard from all three of them that we needed to get up to see the villages and the artisans, we hired a guide to take us out and show us around.   We spent two days out in the desert staying in a community run “resort”, Shaam-E-Sarhad.   Our guide, Kuldip took us to meet all sorts of artisans and see all sorts of work:  lacquer, embroidery, Rogan painting, bell making,  pottery, block printing, woodwork and leather work.  It was all stunning and it’s all being done by hand.   The resort we were staying in had traditional style homes so we slept in a “bhunga” the same style of structure we were seeing in all the villages we were walking through.   We even got to go out to the great salt dessert, the Rann of Katch. To get there we had to get permits as it’s only 70K away from the Pakistan border.  It still hasn’t fully dried out yet from the last rains so walking on it meant cracking through a shell of salt into 4 or 5 inches of mud.  Pretty fun!  All in all, it was a excellent trip out into the desert and I’m glad we did it. 

Back in Bhuj we drank lots of Juice.  Oh man. There is this incredible Juice company called Bhadia and every time i walked by we bought some delicious fresh juice from them: coconut lime,  custard apple (an actual fruit),  mango,  guava/mango/grape,  jamon (like a grape but a slightly different sweet).  Man it was so good.  We also did a bit of sight seeing as well, visiting the museum and the palace, walking around the lake,  spotting the lone pelican, getting a haircut and generally just blending in (ha!).   One of Aarati’s friends, Satish, is also doing work with Artisans and so he brought us out to meet some of them.  We started with a man who has an honorary degree in Blockprinting. His work is incredible and he generously told us about the entire process. Then we went to meet a weaver who sat at the loom and showed us how everything works and finally we went to see some tye and dye artisans.  In each of these places, Satish had to sneak around because if one person saw him, then he would get called over to talk to another person and it could have gone on forever.  It was really neat to be seeing all this work and I was thankful to be walking around with him as clearly his connections with everyone inspired them to be generously forthcoming with us about their work. 

Satish also took us on our last big adventure in Bhuj.   We took the bus out into the countryside in an effort to go birdwatching. This whole experience was adventurous and a bit hilarious.  The bus ride took an hour. Upon arrival we hired a rickshaw to take us out to the village were we could get a guide.  We spent an hour in the rickshaw getting there.  (I don’t mean to be saying “it was an hour!!” it was a great ride through beautiful desert. I’m only telling you the time so you get a sense of the epic-ness of it all). We arrived at the village just as two baby sheep had been born and the goats were being herded out into the grasslands. While we were busy oo-ing and aah-ing over the animals, Satish negotiated a guide for us and the 5 of us (6 including driver) piled into the Auto to go birdwatching.  Problem was, the road was not meant for an Auto rickshaw. Let alone one with 6 adults in it.   About 2 minutes in the driver and guide start arguing about how long it will take, that his vehicle can’t do this, on and on and on.  We were moving so slow that at one point Satish just steps out of the vehicle and walks along beside it.  Finally,  we are close enough that the guide agrees to take us the rest of the way on foot so we get out of the auto and step into the grassland and are immediately surrounded by grazing camels!   After leaving that area, we stumble upon a herd of water buffalo and then immediately get invited for tea with the herders.  It was stellar!   We continue walking for another hour through herds of buffalo, goats in the distance and past various camps of herders. All this in the hot desert grassland sun. We finally arrive at the tower and relax for about 20 minutes before having to head back.  Unfortunately, we arrived quite late in the day so there weren’t many birds about and it is a bit early in the season for the migrations to start. Regardless, it was quite beautiful and a real delight.   However, we had a bus to catch that night and needed to be on our way.  So we started back.  45 minutes later we arrived at the Auto rickshaw,  45 minutes after that we get back to paved road, an hour after that we get to the bus and finally we arrive back in Bhuj at 4pm with just enough time to eat and pack before we get on the 5:30 bus to head out.   Aarati, thankfully was able to come back and say goodbye to us and when we told her of our adventure she laughed saying “I thought you looked tired! Most people just hire a jeep from here. It’s much quicker that way!” 

It was an excellent last day to an excellent stay with Aarati and her friends in Bhuj.   After 16 days either with her or with her friends, we were finally setting out on our own. 

This is the view of Bhuj from across the lake.   Jamie and I took a little stroll around town and stopped here to find the resident pelican.

At night, the lakeside area is the go-to place for hanging out. Lots of food being sold, people walking around,  socalizing to be done and of course the children's caroseul. While the doll in the center wore that outfit the entire time we were in Bhuj, Aarati has assured me that she does have multiple outfits and has regular wardrobe changes.

What's more fun and adventurous than getting a haircut in a foreign country? The easiest way to handle this was to find a stylist who had the exact style that Jamie wanted. Very easy to explain it when you have the model in front of you. 

I liked the building. 

The pink and white buildings on this street are holdovers from before the 2001 quake.  Since then, building regulations restrict apartment buildings to three floors only. 

JUICE!  Jamie had some combination of guava, mango and grape,  Satish had custard apples (tastes like cotton candy) and I got something that tasted like persimmon.   I'm not sure juice is even the right word.  It's more like fruit puree.   SO GOOD. 

The bhunga we stayed in at Shaam-E-Sarhad

Entrance to Shaam-E-Sarhad.  It's pretty neat what they are doing.  We were very lucky to get a room. They are usually booked months out!  Here's their website: http://www.hodka.in/

This is the man who has the honorary degree in blockprinting. The spread in front of them are the different phases a cloth goes through until is finished. There are, at least, 8 steps.   For those of you that live in the southwest,  The Santa Fe International Folk Art Festival had 17 different artisans from Kutch region. This man was one of them.

Another block printer.   We visited him while he was in the middle of working.   You can see all the block prints on the table to the left and the piece in front of him was being finished as we spoke. 

 The dog got into the dye! 

We lot a looming demonstration. The loom is built into the floor of the building and you can see the shuttles of wool next to the man on the left. 

This work was pretty amazing.  It's called Tye and Dye.  That might sound familiar to you as we all know of tye-dye but this technique is amazing.  In the photo you can see the tiny strings they use to tie up the fabric to get the design and below you can see the result. 

This work is traditionally done by women for their personal clothes, but it has become popular. All over this region I saw this style of design although some of it was screen print and not actual tye and dye technique.   

After having a cup of tea with this man in his house, he brought us out to his wood shop to give us a mini demonstration.  

Jamie has a good appreciation for how hard it was. 

This is called Rogan painting.  Essentially, the paint is like thick, like a plastic and you don't actually touch the paintbrush to the fabric so much as guide the paint onto it with a metal stick.  Can you find the flower we made?  No hints.  More on Rogan Painting: http://traditionalroganart.com/

Water Buffalo! 

The great Rann of Kutch.  70K out is the Pakistan border. 

Our tour guide, Kuldip and is friend Trilce. 

Who doesn't love a photo shoot in a desert? Jamie apparently. 

The lobby of our resort and our great group photo! 

This is a massive ship that was built BY HAND.   You can see another one in the background.  

Our driver in Kutch who kindly doubled as our tourguide and translator. 


Our Tea Break! 

This is the herders day spot. They've put all sorts of branches around to keep the herding animals out. 

An Auto in the Grasslands.  

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