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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 21, Dated May 29, 2010

Land Of Thread And Mirrors

Benson Issac
Teacher at St Joseph’s College, Bengaluru. Also Freelance researcher and trainer

Gung ho bhungo Traditional mud houses in Kutch, decorated with exquisite mirrorwork

imageWhen we first told people that we were headed to Kutch for a holiday, their reactions convinced us that the world can be divided into two categories of people — the ones who say ‘wow, Kutch!’ and the others who say ‘why Kutch?!’ we were a little confused about what we would find there. The overnight sleeper bus from Ahmedabad got us into Bhuj after a comfortable ride early in the morning. This was to be our base to travel to different parts of Kutch. Bhuj itself is a fascinating town with many parts to it — the old walled city which was very badly affected during the earthquake, the new extensions and the resettlement colony.

Over plates of spicy dabheli (paavwith very interesting filling including grapes and pomegranate) in the bazaar, our trip started taking form. The variety of embroidery and other handicrafts sold in the shops along with the fact that we were surrounded by people who were actually wearing colourful turbans, rabari, banni and jat embroidery teased us into creating a crafts trail for ourselves. Unlike most other crafts centres of India, in Kutch you see people proudly wearing their creations — women on the bus even add mirrors onto the skirts they have on.

Kutch gets its name from‘kachchhua’, the legendary tortoise from the Vedic tale where gods and demons churn the ocean
Nearest airport: Bhuj, Gujarat
Nearest station: Bhuj

We started at Bhujodi, a weaving town, famous for its intricate woollen shawls. The entire village is like a living museum, where one can drop into any of the houses, share a chai and explore the intricacies of pit-looms and figure out the physics of weaving. we visited bhungos — circular mud houses with mirror work decorations and drank sweet milk sweets, bought a quilt that was being given finishing touches. we then travelled to Dhamadka an important centre for block printing, including ajrakh. Don was next and is the centre for Mashru — a bright and striking textile that requires some special weaving skills since it has a silk warp and cotton weft. The story goes that Muslim men were not allowed to wear silk on their skin but mashru (which literally means ‘permitted’ in Arabic) was not taboo to wear, since the surface was silk but it was cotton that lay on the skin!

Mandvi, with its proximity to the sea, and the Toran guest house is the most touristy of the entire circuit. The ship building yard with its huge wooden ships is amazing. This is probably the only Indian wooden ship building yard other than Beypore in Kerala.

Then there is Banni — a 3000 square km desert grassland. This seemingly barren expanse of saline land has some of India’s best pastoral lands with over 40 hamlets inhabited by Mahaldaris, the best guides into the banni. It is a unique ecosystem — a wetland in the monsoon and home to rich birdlife. Keero, a conical hill, is the site of an extinct volcano with marine fossils about 140 million years old! Block printing, weaving, metal work, Indus valley excavations, ship building yards, flamingos, Indian wild asses — Kutch on a shoestring budget. Go find it for yourself.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 21, Dated May 29, 2010

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Annie Zaidi Journalist and author of Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales

The Motorcars Of the Gopis
Arundhati Ghosh Arts management professional based in Bengaluru

Land Of Thread And Mirrors
Benson Issac Teacher at St Joseph’s College, Bengaluru. Also Freelance researcher and trainer

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The Sands Of Time
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Mridula Koshy Delhi-based writer and author of a collection of short stories called If It Is Sweet

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  Relax, It’s Just A Vacation
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  Candid Photographs

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