The arts and crafts from the Kutch region are well known today. There is a lot of interest in the fabrics, the weaves, the prints, silver jewellery, copper artifacts and these products are in demand not only in India, but all over the world. Yet, one craft which is not getting the focus and appreciation it deserves is pottery.
Reviving the ancient art of Kutch pottery
The history of pottery in the Kutch region dates back 5000 years at least. Pottery products have been excavated from the archaelogical site of Dholavira, an ancient city belonging to the Indus Valley civilisation.
Talking to Meera Goradia, the director of the Kutch-based NGO KHAMIR, I get to know a little more about the efforts being taken to bring alive the tradition of potters in the region. There are many who have stopped their craft, mainly due to a loss in livelihood. In some villages, the potter’s wheel now lies unturned. Yet in others, there is renewed interest as the craft has also started integrating aspects of newer and more contemporary designs that might appeal to a modern consumer. It is a tough challenge, no doubt, but a step in the right direction is an exhibition being planned to be held from January to March of next year.
I spent a few days with KHAMIR and had some wonderful interactions with the team which is coordinating the efforts there, including project coordinator Niraj Dave, Shrishti Verma (who is meticulously documenting everything), Gayatri Kodikal (filming/photography), Mumbai based ceramic artist Rekha Goyal (curator for the project), local Bhuj potter Ramzubhai and Ganibhai and American India Foundation fellow Gini Morgan. Meera keeps an eye on the overall direction and progress.
Involving traditional potters from seven clusters
The aim is to get local potters involved in the exhibition, and give them a platform to showcase products for a craft that needs a fillip and encouragement. Secondly, involve different sections of society and gather enough interest in the project and expose it to a wide audience. Named after the age-old technique called “Ghadai” used by traditional potters of Kutch to create large objects, the exhibition has been conceptualised to showcase the handicrafts of the kumbhars.
In this technique, a basic form is first thrown on the wheel. After that, using different sized round stones and a “paddle”, a desired shape and size is beaten out of it. While it looks deceptively simple, it requires a lot of skill and hard work.
According to KHAMIR, “Ghadai will evoke the ancient connections of the human spirit and clay through archaeology, mythology, and traditions; explore the process of pottery from mud to final product; highlight the significance of the craft through traditional and modern uses; and provoke questions about the future of the craft, the artisans, and the societies we build.”
The NGO is working with seven traditional pottery clusters of the desert region and also attempting to trace the history of pottery in this area. Currently, the team is travelling through different villages, talking, interacting and filming the artisans in order to compile a comprehensive history of the craft. I accompanied the team on an excursion (more of which will come in a later post) and it was interesting to see potters talk about their challenges and witness their dedication to keep their craft alive.
In the village of Gundayali (close to Mandvi town) Yusufbhai talks about how in every village, the most important member would traditionally be the potter; he was bestowed with the name prajapati, lord of the people. Sadly, with the products losing relevance, many of them replaced by metal, plastic and other artificial material, the “need” for such products has gone down drastically.
|Yusufbhai, who is one of the potters of Gundayali village talking about some of the issues they face today|
I also get a taste of fresh honey made from hives on the property. And a quick lesson about these hardworking insects and the art of creating honey. They create honey, covering them in hexagonal structures inside the hive, using the support of the small wooden frames placed inside. We take out a slab and remove a slice of the “white” piece. And out oozes the nectar. I’ve never had such fresh honey before!
The main bungalow is designed to fit in large families and the rooms are interconnected. It’s suitable for for families who want to keep an eye out on their errant kids.
Besides the main building, there are also a few more rooms in another long building (which was earlier a shed) but now has been converted into comfortable stand-alone rooms. These are also an option if you are travelling as a couple in a smaller group.
The property also has an ample playground outside with swings, see-saws and whatever young children need these days. I suspect an iPad, but well, one mustn’t give up hope completely.
There are some sights around which you might also want to explore, especially if you have a few days in hand. You will be close to sights such as the Periyar Wildlife sanctuary, Munnar, Idukki dam and the Managala Devi temple. There are other activities like plantation walks and hikes that can be organised. Or I recommend what I prefer – a full day of lounging chair, eating good food and doing nothing. Maybe just read a book, sleep and laze.
If you’re looking at options in the Idukki district which are homely, comfortable and take you away from the hustle and bustle; the Kalarikal Heritage Bungalow makes for a good choice.
The website: Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow
Tariff: Starts from Rs 3250 and also includes breakfast. Other meals are additional.
Rooms: 3 premium and 2 classic.
Facebook: Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow
My Flickr Album (some of the pics are courtesy KH Plantation)
Thousands of birds call the Banni Grasslands Reserve in Kutch, Gujarat their home. An excursion into this dry but rich ecosystem, has delightful surprises unfold, as you turn every corner.
“Leave nothing but footprints; and plant trees. Lots of trees.”
Only someone wise and passionate can utter these words. And they come from none other than Jugal Tiwari of the Center for Desert and Ocean (CEDO). Established in 2005, the organisation has been tireless working on ecology and conservation issues for the last 9 years. Tiwari, who is originally from Rajasthan, on a visit to Kutch, fell in love with this area.
It’s not hard to imagine why. What appears at first sight to be dry scrub desert, has more surprises, twists and turns than a detective novel and you look forward with anticipation to the next sight!
We enter the reserve in the early morning hours. The cranes are already up, and fly across the morning sky, just beginning to glow with the first rays of the sun. In the horizon, another flock is taking off. And then yet another. Flying in their trademark V formations or sometimes in a line, behind each other.
The common crane is resident of the reserve from September to April.
Says Tiwari, “when they leave, it’s like your mobile has gone into silent mode”. Their song is replaced by silence. And then again in September (between 17-19) when they arrive, the skies are taken over by their happy song, heard even from a distance. This is what has kept Tiwari going, every year for the last nine years. He knows each and every specimen in this area, their behaviour, their whereabouts (most of the time!).
As the early morning light casts a magical glow on the surroundings, I ask him why it’s called a grassland. This is something even Tiwari is not sure of. There are wetlands, dry scrub, bush, Prosopis juliflora (invasive non-native species) and weeds (as in the picture). But there is no grass anywhere. And yet this area is called a “grassland”. Perhaps, the guy who named it was sitting at a desk somewhere and somehow forgot to actually visit the region!
For miles on end, all around you, there are cranes everywhere. On the ground, and up in the air. Of course, you can’t really get close to them. The minute they see you approach, they take flight, gliding gracefully across the skies. In the opposite direction.
We park in an open area where for miles we see weeds and Tiwari points out the Chari Dhandh – the main water body where the flamingos arrive in droves. The pink flamingo is resident in the park during this time. They are usually in the water, feasting on small water insects. From the distance, I can easily count hundreds. This time, the rains haven’t been good enough, says Tiwari. As a result, the water will dry up soon.
In another corner of the lake, are a flock of pelicans. These large birds float on the water and move together, as if in slow motion. It’s like watching a ballet performance. With birds. Another corner, Tiwari points out spoonbills – I drink in every sight hungrily – through the binoculars. As a city resident, the only thing we usually see around for miles are roof tops and ugly concrete structures. This is paradise; a sight to be remembered.
Up in the air, there is more drama. A marsh harrier is being chased by a couple of smaller birds, trying to scare him off. And then a whole drove of rosy starlings sweeps across my field of view.
After watching the watery ballet and on air drama, we move towards the dry scrub area. The birds are up early morning and they’re dancing from one shrub to another. We’re lucky to see a jackal strike a pose and look towards something.
A little further down, a Steppe eagle is surveying his prey. It strikes a majestic pose; and when in flight it has an impressive wing span of around 6 feet. On a tree top is another bird of prey – the long-legged buzzard. They’re all looking for breakfast.
From the shrub, we move on to an even drier area. Just small clumps and scorched earth. Even here, there are birds, small mammals and insects. You just need a keen eye. Our driver, well acquainted with the environment by now, spots a sleeping fox. She is curled up beside a shrub and let us gaze at her for a few minutes. Our few minutes of paparazzi like behaviour is more than she can take. After giving us a glance, she slinks off into the distance.
There are many birds – including bulbuls, the desert warblers, drongos, larks, babblers, bee eaters – this is truly birder’s paradise. I have limited knowledge of birds, but am always fascinated by these tiny creatures, with their rich plumage and beautiful and distinctive markings. It’s not difficult to imagine how bird watching can become an all consuming and addictive hobby.
As we wander around, suddenly we notice a huge herd of cows walk purposefully towards the Chari Dandh. They have been grazing all night and are now all thirsty. All of them rush towards the water.
Having had their fill, they move away, and we’re treated to yet another beautiful sight – hundreds of camels moving towards their water. It’s time for the cows to go home and give way to the camels.
They enter the water one after another and one of the herders also goes in with them. I read somewhere that a 600 kg camel can drink 300 litres of water in 3 minutes. How’s that for a guzzler?
Tiwari tells me a little more about the extensive research he has conducted in this area. He is hopeful about putting it all together in a book – he has pictures of even the rarer creatures like the striped hyena, the nightjar and the owl. All he needs is a bit of help on the writing front. If he can get some funding, Tiwari is confident about publishing a book on this region – an area that needs more awareness. After all, this rich bio diversity and wildlife should be acknowledged and recognized.
I have no doubts that there’s enough in this dry desert landscape to fill a book. Tiwari has accompanied many photographers into the field on different assignments, helped channels such as Discovery (one of these programs is being currently aired) and National Geographic to portray and take back data, photos and documentation from this region.
What upsets him however is the lack of etiquette of people. Whether it is the way plastic is being used and consumed to the irresponsible behaviour towards our natural environment – Tiwari expresses his disappointment. And rightly so. Even I was alarmed. The day before, when walking on a dry river bed near CEDO, he points out rocks that age to the Jurassic era.
This is very close to the town and yet hardly anyone knows about it. Which is probably a good thing. Except that some irresponsible campers found their way here. Using some of these pre-historic stones as props for making a fire, they’ve left behind remnants of their celebrations – banana skin, tissue paper, charcoal and firewood. What a shame. There are some things Indians shouldn’t do. Camping for one. They have no idea about etiquette. They’re so used to littering everywhere, that their natural instinct is to leave behind all the rubbish. Even if it’s a beautiful viewpoint or a place of historical importance. As a collective people, we don’t have enough sense or responsibility about the impact of the damage we’re doing. There is absolutely no respect for nature. Look at all the plastic people throw around carelessly. No one cares. This beautiful area should be safeguarded and treated as a “historical” site, and yet, people do the only thing they know – trash it.
This is where Tiwari utters his words about “leaving nothing but footprints”.
Why do we go to national heritage monuments, and beautiful view points and leave behind all our rubbish? Something that confounds me greatly. Much as I’m proud of this beautiful and diverse country, I am ashamed at the way we treat our national and natural treasures.
Tiwari’s foundation today is doing some great work in both conservation and helping villages by bringing them the power of solar energy. All this, he does apart from his work and his homestay, which brings him some income. All the rest of his initiatives like workshops, awareness sessions, and planting trees – especially for schools are all free.
His message resounds in my mind long after I’ve left. Plant more trees – everyone in their lifetime should plan at least a few 100 trees. Don’t leave planet earth without planting a few trees. Actually, at least a hundred. It’s the very least one can do to preserve our beautiful and diverse planet.
(Note: With many thanks to Jugal Tiwari for being a wonderful guide to the Banni. And also for the usage of some of his beautiful pictures, as I wasn’t equipped for bird photography!).
Update: Discovery is currently showing this show: Revealed: The Rann of Kutch. Two more days to catch it!
12/12/2014 02:00 PM
14/12/2014 01:00 PM
Like any other small but burgeoning town in this country, Bhuj exhibits all the usual signs. Development on one side – good wide main roads, vehicles, ATMs, and everyone flashing smart phones. But on the other hand, the litter and garbage everywhere is an indication that no lessons in waste management have been implemented. Sadly, it’s just everywhere, including the water body in the middle of the city – the Hamirsar lake.
Steeped in history, and scarred by a devastating earthquake in 2001, some parts of the old fort are still standing and visible as you move through the town. There are monuments that are crumbling, derelict, which give you a glimpse of those glory years. The small gallis through the town hold a quaint charm, albeit a little diminished by large amounts of garbage lying everywhere.
As I touched down in the small Bhuj airport and made my way down the main road, I am excited about my first trip to Gujarat. I decided to bypass Ahmedabad and Baroda, the larger towns, and head straight to Bhuj. My primary reason being that my hosts, Katie and Jehan Bhujwala have graciously offered to put me up at their ancestral home in the town and also help me out with my itinerary.
The house is in the camp area and is constructed in the old style, with tall ceilings, filled with charming antique furniture around a large centre courtyard. The old world ambience still lingers on when you enter.
Once I’ve gotten my bearings, along with my hosts, I set off on a small “discover Bhuj” tour. The town still has the remnants of the old fort, and in places it’s quite intact. We pass by a beautiful gate with some detailed carvings.
The narrow gallis take us to an old building from the British Raj – an orange coloured structure that was the district collector’s office. In the afternoon sun, it reflects the light and still looks regal and stands out amidst the new concrete structures. Today, it faces a grim fate though. Like many of our beautiful old buildings; it will likely be ruined totally or razed to the ground.
A short ride away, is the Prag Mahal palace. The old jharokhas and balconies are still intricate and stand out on the palace wall. To the opposite side, is the new version of the palace. The earthquake of 2001 affected quite a lot of the palace walls and structure.
The new building has an imposing clock tower and with its red brick walls, it projects a feeling of warmth in the fading light.
We wander over to the Bhuj market. Like any Indian bazaar, it’s busy, crowded and filled with people, cows and assorted creatures. Two wheelers and rickshaws honk, trying to assert their right of way. Mostly to be ignored. The honking gets more insistent. Women are about doing their clothes shopping, buying vegetables, silver jewellery, “farsan” – you name it, and it’s available in the market. Including music systems in case you’re missing one at home.
We wander around the streets for a while peeking into the different shops. A farsan shop walla generously allows us to taste a bit of his freshly fried goodies.
Women flocking in front of an obviously popular shop
A shopkeeper gets creative with his doors!
Beautiful antique silver jewellery for sale
No trip to Kutch without stocking up on their intricate embroidery work
A great place for juice is Bhudia’s which is another ride away from the market in an area near the Hamisar lake. The juice is fresh and we choose a delicious mix – guava and pomegranate – much recommended. They also have an organic farm a little outside of Bhuj where you can get a taste of the local thali, if you want to make the journey.
I’m happy with my first taste and sights of Gujarat. I even have fish fry for dinner, (after a visit to the local fish market) which I was a bit surprised about. I had planned to go vegetarian for this trip!
I settle into my large room, adjoining a busy road listening to the hustle and bustle of traffic. My initiation into Gujarat has been hectic, noisy, smelly and colourful. But then I wouldn’t have it any other way!
I look forward to opportunities to travel to the different jungles and reserves in India whenever I can. We don’t realise it but we’re really lucky – there are so many (still) to choose from. Most states boast of such rich flora, fauna and reserved forests and I am still discovering many of them. I’ve written about my experience in Kaziranga, the amazingly beautiful sanctuary in Assam and home to the endangered rhino.
Last December, I travelled into the dense and magical jungles of Kanha and came back mesmerised. What variety and beauty around every corner. Every trip into the forest was filled with surprises and delightful encounters. So what if I didn’t spot the elusive cat (well, that’s another story, for another day!) but I’ve loved every adventure into the forest.
This time, it was an opportunity to visit the Kali Adventure Camp, thanks to Jungle Lodges, and though the monsoons have set in, I still thought it would be a good experience. I was also lucky to be in the company of Supriya Sehgal, who blogs at Teafortravel and is a well-known author of several Lonely Planet guides. So I was in good company!
Here’s why I love my adventures into the forest…
A chance to take in the peace and quiet
I frankly much prefer the chirping of birds, the cacophony of cicadas or the call of a deer. We easily call it noise, but it’s more like sounds of the jungle. And I would rather listen to these sounds than the constant honking of vehicles in the city, where people are in a mad rush to reach Lord only knows where and create such a ruckus in the process.
The jungle on the other hand is the last refuge of a different kind of quietude. Some people call it “dull”. Some people don’t actually know what to do with themselves in a forest. There’s a stillness that can be a balm in our hurried lives. I think if you want to just step back for a while, and let a different kind of peace wash over you, the forest is the place to head to.
The anticipation of what’s to come
Arjun our guide on this trip has his ears and eyes attuned to everything; even the slightest movement catches his eye. It’s interesting to watch naturalists in their habitat and at work. They are extremely sharp and develop an innate sense of knowing when an animal is nearby. Their ears alert to even the smallest of sounds. I remember a time in Kanha, when we sighted a dead sambar on the roadside. It was definitely a tiger kill, and we thought he would come back for his lunch. So we waited there for nearly an hour.
There’s nothing much you can do really but hope during this period. And anticipate. And try and predict which way the animal might appear from. Sadly, it was not to be. The tiger was in no mood to appease our hunger for a sighting. But a lot of the fun was in the anticipation.
You’re alert, you know there are many eyes watching you from behind the tall bushes and grasses. But whether you get to see them is a matter of your luck and chance! The animals are not going to give you anything on a platter for sure.
The thrill of the sighting
While most people think they’ll see a tiger the first time they go out into the forest, the chances are actually quite low. Arjun tells us that there are around 15 tigers in this massive Dandeli-Anshi stretch. Imagine the possibility of a tiger in your path just as you happen to be on a safari. You can just calculate and imagine the chance. It’s rather low. But there are so many other animals in the forest, that while you’re possibly looking to sight a tiger, it’s really interesting to see other animals in their natural habitat. Many endangered, rare and quite shy of any thing that resembles a human being. Arjun spots a pack of wild jackals in a far away bush. Something we would never have seen without his help. Jackals are shy (like most other animals) and we are lucky to sight 3 of them in a pack. They look at us too for a moment. It must be a better sighting for them I’m thinking. There are 4 of us.
Then there are the spotted deer who stare at us when we are quite a distance away. Or dash across the road trying to avoid us. But as soon as we approach, they skitter away.
High up on a tree is the serpent eagle, regal and patient, waiting to spot his prey on the ground. Once he catches sight, he will swoop down and catch it, leaving his prey very little chance to escape. On another branch is the pretty peacock, exhibiting his feathers in a downward swoop and letting us admire him from afar. When he’s had enough, he disappears into the wild.
The thrill of a sighting can keep a wildlife lover in raptures for hours, days and even years!
It’s a lush, human free zone
There’s something I really like about the fact that the forest is lush, green and also an area where there are very few humans. The forest is one last refuge that we must guard strongly. Especially, in a country teeming with a billion and a half people, it’s absolutely refreshing to not sight another human. Though I was deeply disappointed when at the end of our safari, we encountered a jeep filled with loud tourists, whose group contained two women wearing yellow neon-coloured clothing and a few guys wearing the shiny multi-coloured sunglasses.
So, yes – there are those who have absolutely no idea about the rules of the forest and it’s sad that people carry their city behaviour and bad habits back to the forest. I wish there was a way in which such people could be banned from entering. They deserve to live only in the cities and not be let out.
But otherwise, the monsoons are a low peak season so not too many people venture to these parts. I’m glad we did though. Despite the showers, we did sight animals and enjoyed the lushness that the forest offers during this season. An an interesting fact to know: Karnataka’s forests are open throughout the year, unlike many others which close down during the rains.
Just as we were exiting the reserve, we catch a glimpse of this beautiful guy with rippling muscles. The Indian gaur, in case you were thinking of a Bollywood actor. The gaur is a rather huge creature and with his impressive horns; you don’t want to be too close. He looked up for a bit to give us a pointed stare and then went back to his busy work task of chomping on something green. Was he scaring us off to say don’t come back too often?
But, despite his word of warning, I know I’ll be back.
About Jungle Lodges
Jungle Lodges operates 16 resorts spread all across Karnataka including Bheemeshwari, Dandeli, Devbagh, Bandipur, Kabini, Bidar amongst many others. Accommodations varies from tents to rooms to independent cottages. Besides, there are 3 resorts operated on management contract. The company promotes eco-tourism, wildlife tourism, adventure tourism and various outdoor activities like trekking, camping, white water rafting, fishing etc., that are non consumptive components of eco-tourism and in general help in environment conservation.
I’m sure there are more, but let’s start with six. In fact, while many tourists shy away from travelling because it’s raining, true travellers will tell you that a place can be enjoyed despite the rain. It’s a mindset that you need to avoid a destination when it rains. Unless, it happens to be a big city. In which case I would say avoid it like plague. You don’t want to deal with clogged roads, drainage overflowing, traffic jams and all the associated issues that the rains bring to our very well planned cities.
Anyway, this is about the monsoons. And why it’s a great time to travel. Any place takes on a different hue during the rains. I was in Goa last year for 3 weeks and had the time of my life despite the torrential downpours.
It’s lush and green
The valley before you spreads out like a lush carpet. The roads are framed by green trees and grass on both sides. The hills are showing off their full foliage, again in green. It’s so green that if you’re not used to it, you’d probably need tinted glasses to tone it down. But seriously, green is definitely the colour of the season and we all know that it’s the best one to get your relaxed and rejuvenated. Nature really wears this colour well.
You get better deals
You might need to look around a bit and even ask for discounts, but this is a season where you will get lower prices from a lot of home stays, resorts, hotels. If you’re not sure, just ask them. We are spoilt for choose today in the array of options available. And in this era of social media, even if we don’t look for them, they will probably land up in our stream anyway.
Lesser people to fight with for space
So one of the reasons I travel is to get away from the city (where I clearly see the alarming impact of producing a billion and more people) to smaller destinations and locations where you’ll see a soul once in a while. Get away from the madding crowds, the hoi-polloi and give yourself some breathing space. I love the feeling and I recommend it to everyone (at least once in a while).
There’s colour everywhere
Just before the onset of the monsoons, it’s a pretty sight all around. While on a walk outside today in Wayanad where I am currently, I saw so much variety in foliage that I couldn’t stop myself from clicking everything in sight. From vivid reds, to oranges, to colourful yellows and pretty pinks – there are beautiful blossoms everywhere adding to the prettiness quotient of your frames.
Rediscover the joy of getting soaked
I remember as kids, we loved getting wet in the rains. In fact, we would wait impatiently so we could all rush out and do our rain dance. Our parents had to cajole us to come indoors since we would just be out for hours on end. But what a feeling. Do it sometime. Just get wet. Feel the rain on your skin. Instead of running for a raincoat or an umbrella, soak in the sensation of a rain bath. I can tell you from experience – it’s true joy. Last year, on a trek in Wayanad, I got soaked to the skin as it started pouring cats and dogs. But once I gave in to it, began to enjoy the feeling, I realised that I need to let go. (And yes, we will eventually dry off.)
Smell the coffee. And the flowers
The monuments are done and dusted. The hectic sightseeing has been completed. Now, just sit on your balcony and watch the rain. Meditate. Open the door of your room and just relax. Do yoga. Listen to the birds. The rains are a great time to just not venture out and give yourself the “me” time you so badly need (and you didn’t even know)!
Another reason, contributed by a friend
Monsoons are the best time for ayurvedic massages
So, during the Kerala Blog Express, we met a doctor at the Manaltheeram Ayurvedic resort who told us about how the ayurvedic massage is the most effective during the rainy season. In fact, many guests come specifically during this period for treatments. A combination of the temperature, rains and other factors all adds to increasing the effectiveness of the oils. So, isn’t this reason enough?!
So there – I hope I’ve given you enough reasons to step out this rainy season. And if you did, or plan to, do share your “getting soaked” experience!
(NOTE: On this trip, I am using the Canon 500D body and the 17-85 mm lens. All photos [except no 3 and 7 from an earlier collection] in the post are with this equipment provided my photography gear & equipment partner, “Book My Lens”. I’m happy to announce them as a partner and I’m quite impressed with the kind of services they provide. They are a photography equipment rental service based in Bangalore which provides quick service for photography enthusiasts who want to experience all lenses and accessories from Canon and Nikon. Their aim is to provide the best in class, at affordable prices. Do check them out on bookmylens.com)