Monday 26 December 2016

A Re-cap of Travel in 2016.

It was a high-spirited 2016!
Sometime around this time last year, as curtains slowly drew on 2015, I made a resolution for 2016, and it was that I would make 12 trips and explore 12 new places in 2016, each dedicated to a month of the year. And someone benign on the ‘other side’ granted my wish and gave me one extra trip. Yes, I made 13 trips this year.   
As this year draws to a close, I am filled with gratitude for the year that has been, and more importantly for the travelling I have been able to do. My travel this year was a mix of heritage, culture, cuisines, trekking, nature trips, textile trails, so on and so forth. I realise I am left with a huge back log of posts, as I’ve been either travelling, or planning my next trip or tending to my Art.

Let me walk you through my delightful experiences this year :-) There were 13 major trips and also a few discoveries within Pune that I have also blogged about.
The cave monasteries in Junnar.
The first trip in January was a good dose of history and Archaeology. I travelled with Heritage Insights, a group started by a team of Archaeologists and Indologists who are doing an excellent job taking the rich history and culture of India that is lesser known to a wider audience. That trip was like an official introduction to Indian history and archaeology for me. The trip was to the 2000 years old Buddhist cave monasteries in Junnar. The trip enlightened us about the ancient Indo-Roman trade and its symbiotic relationship with the mushrooming of monasteries along the trade routes. Luckily, I’ve written about this and you may read it here:-)     

A Striped Tiger butterfly.
One Sunday we also went for a butterfly trail with The WesternRoutes and learnt to identify different species of butterflies in the garden. The small park is situated right in the middle of a residential area and the gardener, having taken a keen interest in butterflies, planted flowering shrubs and plants that attract butterflies and thanks to his efforts, the small garden now has around 50 species of butterflies. We spotted the Common Mormon, Striped Tiger, Blue Tiger, Crimson Rose, Common Crow, etc. At one point after the sun rays lit up the garden, there were so many butterflies flitting around, it felt like a fairy land!
Strawberry picking in Panchgani.
Next, also in January, I lived my childhood fantasy to some extent of picking strawberries from a farm. I ate a lot of freshly plucked strawberries and also got back some with me and made jams and parfaits J I surely have a thing for fruit picking! Read about my apple picking adventure here.
Chapati impressions in Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum (instruments for making impressions on flatbread).
Come February, we visited the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum in Pune which houses interesting and ancient artifacts belonging to different eras. We also chanced upon a jaggery making set up on the outskirts of Pune. I, for one, substitute sugar with jaggery wherever possible, because refined sugar accelerates aging apart from the other harmful effects it has on the body from high consumption. So I was delighted to see how jaggery, an oft used ingredient in my kitchen, is made. You can read about it here.
Fresh jaggery !
Heritage Insights had announced its second trip for the year to the lesser known princely states of Phaltan and Aundh. How often do you get to meet people of royal lineage and interact with them? The current Prince, Shri Raghunath Raje Naik Nimbalkar took out time to interact with our group and narrate stories about his dynasty. He even offered us tea and snacks. Yes, we snacked in the palace of the King J While I’m yet to blog about this, it was an enriching experience to go around the Rajwada (palace) and learn history from Royalty himself. The Rajwada has been maintained in excellent condition and it was like stepping back in time to see the artifacts, furniture and objects dating back hundreds of years.
Posing with Prince Raghunath Raje Naik Nimbalkar. 

The Rajwada made entirely of wood and in prime condition. 
I had been wanting to visit Velas for quite some time and that desire materialised in February this year. Velas is a sleepy non-descript village on the Konkan coast which is now on the global map thanks to the conservation of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles by the village people. It was a dream come true to welcome button-like baby hatch-lings into the world and watch them crawl their way to the mighty ocean and be swallowed by waves. You can read about that experience here.

Baby Turtles in Velas. 
March saw us attend a wedding in Delhi. I did make use of that trip to explore the city’s gastronomical delights, including a visit to a 115 year old kulfi shop. Other interesting activities included a visit to the National Rail Museum where I kept wondering where aesthetics has disappeared in trains today and a heritage walk with INTACH Delhi to the Lodhi garden tombs. Take a look at the pictures of the trains from yore and read about the Heritage walk with INTACH here. 
Bada Gumbad in Lodhi gardens. 

Paan flavoured kulfi at Kuremal Kulfi shop (betel leaf flavoured kulfi)

This is an old train carriage from the 19th century. So artistic! 
In April I ticked another desire off my wish list. I had first heard about the rhododendron flower in Lobsang Rampa’s book. Later I heard that rhododendrons grow in the higher reaches of the Himalayas in India too. I wanted to visit Sikkim where there are dedicated rhododendron sanctuaries, but that was not to be, so I went on a rhododendron trail to Uttarakhand on the Deoriataal-Chopta-Chandrashila peak trail. The most memorable was the 16 km trek through virgin forests between Deoriataal and Chopta where the whole forest blushing with pink rhododendrons greeted us. It was like being in fairy land. I was drunk high on the beauty of the forest as well as on rhododendron juice ;-)
I am guessing Heaven would be like this?? 

Matching in pink! 
While Mumbai is next door and may not qualify as a trip, I would still include it in that category because I had signed up with Khaki Tours to explore the lesser known aspects of an area in Mumbai. Having grown up in Mumbai, I feel there’s a lot to the city that I still don’t know. The Lalbaug Stroll, a walk designed by Bharat Gothoskar of Khaki Tours led us through narrow gullies, crumbling buildings, secret farms, erstwhile sacred groves and had us delighted at discoveries in the city notorious for its super-fast pace of life.
This used to be a sacred grove/ forest many years ago before it became a concrete jungle!

The idols of the deities who were forest protectors remains though. 

Fiery chillies in the Lalbaug market. 
In June came another surprise. I had been wanting to visit the remote village, Kalap, since three years and suddenly in mid-June I found myself in the  un-touched, pristine, beautiful village of Kalap. The high point of my trip was camping for 2 nights and a day at the highest point in that village, called Beejay Top, at 12,500 feet above sea level. I lazed around the whole day on a carpet of flowers, watching sheep and buffaloes pass by, sipping tea, chatting with nomadic shepherds, reading a book and dozing off and on. Of course, I got severely sun-burnt and it took two months for my skin to go back to normal. But that’s not what will stay with me forever. The memory of trekking through virgin forests, gurgling mountain streams, alpine meadows and surreal landscapes surely will.I wrote a piece for the Better India, which you can read here. 
Lazying in Beejay Top. 

Gorgeous sunsets! 

The beauty of the forest was overwhelming. 

Houses in Kalap. 
July was another month for some serious and enjoyable history and Archaeology. We again travelled with Heritage Insights to the 1500 year old cave structures of Ajanta and Ellora. Words fail to describe the stupendous beauty of Kailasa, the largest monolith temple in the world. Every inch of the temple is sheer poetry in stone. We also took the same route that a British Cavalry soldier named John Smith took in 1819 when he discovered the Ajanta caves where 2000 year old paintings on stone still continue to dazzle people.
An entrance to a cave temple in Ajanta. 

The magnificent Kailasa cave temple- the biggest monolith in the world. 

The inscription of John Smith who discovered Ajanta caves in 1819.
Soon after this trip, I attended a 3 day seminar on ancient Temple Architecture conducted by Heritage Insights. The erudite Dr. Shrinivas Padigar enlightened us in a lucid manner about the development of temple architecture since the last 2000 years and the different aspects of its style.
Dr Shrinivas Padigar enlightening us on ancient temple architecture. 
August saw us visit Puttaparthi and then we spent 3 days in Bangalore, exploring old, traditional eateries in the city. Went around the old markets in Basavanagudi to take in the vibrant colors, smells and sounds. The change of weather in Bangalore left me with a bad sore throat which again took a month to recover.
The melt in the mouth dosa in CTR, Bangalore. 

Take your pick from the 100 varieties of snacks. 
Right in the beginning of the year, I had kept October as a free month with no travel, because there was Durga Puja in the first week of the month and Diwali at the end, so I wanted to be home and celebrate with my husband.
Bright flowers in the market. 
I had plans for September of volunteering in a farm in a place from my childhood dreams, but again that was not to be. But turns out everything that happens is for one’s best. I had not recovered from my throat infection and my husband too was down with flu. Had the trip happened I would have been away for almost 20 days. So, I am happy in hindsight, that I was resting at home and also present for my husband.
We found a Veena making workshop. 
We went to Goa in November for a friend’s wedding. Some people would be annoyed if I say that Goa is over hyped. It’s too touristy for my taste, or maybe I haven’t discovered the less touristy places there. While we didn’t go around much, the high point of the trip was the wedding itself. My dear friend had chosen a perfect venue for his wedding, by the sea. With the music of the waves crashing on the rocks, the soulful rendition of the Shehnai by a very talented musician, the moon above accompanied by the Vedic chants as the couple took their vows made for a surreal experience.
The venue of the wedding. 
Another sudden trip in November was to Guledgudda to meet the weavers of Khun and Ilkal and then a heritage trail to Badami, Pattadakkal ( a 1500 years old UNESCO World Heritage Site), Aihole, Gadag and Lakkundi to marvel at ancient temples and their architecture. While I am yet write about this power packed trip, I did manage to write a post on Khun.
A weaver weaving Khun. 

Ilkal saree. 
 This month, we attended a wedding in Rishikesh, on the banks of the river Ganga and then headed to Shimla and then spent a day in Chandigarh. This was again a gastronomical delight to sample various winter delicacies up north.
The famous and delectable gulab jamun at Baljee's in Shimla. 

One can't go to Chandigarh and not have rajma chawal ( rice and kidney beans).

The scrumptious winter speciality- makai ki roti and sarson ka saag (corn flour flat bread and mustard leaves curry). 
The year is coming to an end and I have given myself a good score for travel although not for blogging regularly. As the sun sets on this year, I await the sunrise on the new year and look forward to the amazing places where the winds will take me. 

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Thursday 1 December 2016

In Search of the Weavers of Khun.

Khun fabrics come in a variety of bright colours and patterns. 
Drive across the countryside in Maharashtra and north Karnataka and you will see beautiful rural women going about their daily work clad in beautiful Ilkal saris and a particular kind of self-designed bordered blouse made of the fabric called Khun, also called Khana in Karnataka.

While I did not get a perfect shot of a traditionally clad woman in a Khun blouse, I have taken this picture from this blog.
This beautiful woman with a big, bold bindi and stunning nose ring, called 'nath' has worn a khun blouse. Photo taken from here.
While my next post will be on the Ilkal sari weavers, in this post I will dwell upon Khun, which has come to be my favourite fabric. My associative memory with Khun has been with the bygone era in Maharashtra, which I haven’t experienced, but which has a particular sanctity seen through my urbanised eyes. Of women clad in bright saris, beautiful Khun blouses, wearing the crescent shaped bindi on their foreheads, bold women comfortable in their own skin.

My cook too wears Khun blouses on a daily basis, and while Pune markets are flooded with Khun fabrics, it is only last year that I decided that I must have Khun as part of my wardrobe. So I went on a Khun rampage and bought some meters of cloth in various colours, and got some sari blouses, crop tops and skirts stitched with them.
Wearing a Khun blouse with a Kalamkari saree for Durga puja.

Wearing a Khun crop top in Badami. Photo by Vaijayanti Chakravarthy.
Given our fast paced city lives, we seldom pause to ponder over the people who have contributed to making a piece of fabric and clothing. Even if the clothes are machine made, there are people who choose the colours, design the cloth, and operate the machines. And in the case of Khun, where it is still pre-dominantly handloom, I couldn’t help wondering about the people who created this beautiful fabric. In all the shops I enquired, the shop owners weren’t sure where it was made, guessing it may be in Kolhapur or in Karnataka. But I wanted a specific lead, so I could go and meet the weavers.

Wearing a Khun skirt and posing with journalist Shefali Vaidya.
Finally, in a seminar I attended, Shefali Vaidya, a noted journalist, who is also a Khun enthusiast told me it’s made in Guledgudda and soon after, a lady at a stall in a handloom exhibition gave me the contact number of the person from whom she sources the fabric.
The lanes of Guledgudda.
I immediately called up another friend, a long-time Khun lover asking if she could accompany me. Tickets were booked, leads were contacted and off we both went in search of Khun.
Sampath Rathi with khun and Ilkal saree. 
We first stopped at the home-cum-office of Sampath Rathi, who is a wholesaler of Khun and Ilkal sarees. His grandfather had migrated from Rajasthan to Guledgudda in 1924 and made this place his home. He has hundreds of weavers who buy the yarn from him and give back ready Khun and sarees and he charges a margin from the weavers. His cotton yarn mainly comes from Hindupur in Andhra Pradesh, silk yarn from Bangalore and artificial silk from Gujarat. So this works well for independent weavers who don’t have to get into logistics, but just buy whichever yarn they want and give him the ready cloth, which he then distributes and sells in various cities. 
You may also like my post on Handloom weavers of Bhujodi.
Khun comes in different materials and colours. 
Khun comes in combinations of silk and cotton, polyester and cotton and artificial silk and cotton. And in innumerable designs, motifs and patterns on the cloth.

A lady weaving Khun. 
I had read one of Shefali Vaidya’s posts, where she mentions that Khun is called so, because ‘khun’ means sugar and this is a fabric worn by women in the sugar cane belts in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Sampath gave me a more technical meaning. He said khun is a unit of measurement. Khun means half a meter, so two Khuns make a meter of cloth. So one roll of Khun cloth has 44 Khuns, i.e, 22 meters.

A hearty lunch at Sampath Rathi's home.
I asked him how old Khun is, when did it start?  In textile history there are stories of weavers migrating to other geographies, to escape oppression of invaders (that’s more likely in India due to the Islamic invasions), or to escape drought or famine, and then combining their own weaves with that of the weaves of the new place and forming a new one. Did anything like that happen with Khun weavers? He had no answer. He said this is the first time that someone had asked him this question and said that it is at least more than a 100 years old, based on general knowledge of the area.

Brothers, Motilal and Ambalal Ghanshyam Shah Chavan.

The dyes arranged on shelves. 

Un-dyed yarn.
What makes Khun unique is that it is the only fabric which is primarily made only for saree blouses, hence the original width of the fabric is 31 inches, although now weavers have increased the width to one meter.
We feasted our eyes on the numerous bright shades of Khun
and Ilkals and also bought some. 

To get this shade, they mixed, 100 gms red and 10 gms yellow. 

Getting ready to dip the yarn in the cauldron filled with dye. 
It was already 1 pm by then. Sampath casually said that after lunch in his home we could go and meet the dyers. I was filled with gratitude. He did not wait till we asked him where we could have lunch. We were just travelers who had stopped by to meet him and buy a few things. Yet, he asked us to join his family for lunch. When I thanked his father, he merely said, ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’, the ancient Indian belief and custom which means, “Treat guests as God”. That’s the spirit of India, which still thrives in the villages and warms my heart.

There it goes.

Wringing the yarn to remove water. 
After a hearty lunch, we visited the house of Motilal and Ambalal Ghanshyam Shah Chavan, brothers who are weavers as well as dyers. On the way to their house, we could hear the clickety-clack of handloom and well as power loom from the houses all around. They were in the process of dyeing yarn with bright red. They are the two out of the only five dyers left in the whole of Guledgudda. Their daughter promptly brought us some tea, and with their limited Hindi, they managed to explain the process of dyeing. Water is heated in a huge cauldron at a temperature of about 40 to 50 degrees Celsius. There were dye powders which are mixed to get the desired shade and colour. When we went they were dyeing a crimson red for which they mixed 10 gms turmeric yellow in 100 gms red dye. Interestingly the colour gets absorbed by the tarn and the water itself remains colorless. 
The steel dryer meant for yarn. 

How the yarn is separated to prevent it from getting entangled. 

Khun being made on a power loom.
The yarn is then hung on a steel rod and then dipped into the coloured water. It takes around 30 minutes for the colour to latch on to the yarn. After half hour, the yarn is squeezed and put in a dryer to quicken the drying. The dried yarn is then neatly combed and gathered together by hand to be used in a handloom or power loom. The Chavan brothers had a power loom running inside the house, so we went and took a look at it. The power loom makes around 20 meters of Khun per day whereas it takes around 15 days to make the same on handloom. That’s another reason why the handloom industry is struggling to survive.
Brothers, Siddharamappa and Jagannatha Mallagi.
We thanked the Chavan brothers and proceeded to our next stop, to meet the Mallagi brothers, both weavers of Khun. Both Siddharamappa and Jagannatha Mallagi have been weaving Khun since their teenage years, having learnt the craft from their father. They, too, didn’t know the history of Khunn and estimated it to be over 200 years old. They have around 6 looms in their house and all family members do weaving. All, except the next generation who have IT jobs in Bangalore. According to the Mallagi brothers, there is no bright future for Khun, as the next young generation migrates to cities in search of better pay and also because weaving is hard work and requires one to master the skill.. There are currently around 4000 weavers of Khun in Guledgudda alone, a huge decline from the 50,000 weavers in the early 2000’s. The average age of the Khun weavers is above 40 years.
Their home-cum-workshop.
I observed them working on the handloom and in the stillness of the house, the rhythmic taps and clacks of the handloom seemed poetic and musical. 
The Mallagis specialize in pure silk Khun and use only natural dyes which are chemical free. Thus, the pricing is relatively higher, since the dyes are sourced from various places. The indigo dye, for example, is grown in Andhra Pradesh, which sends the raw material to Germany, where it is made into powder form and sent back to India. I wondered why there are no factories to do this in India !
The Mallagis weave Khun only in pure silk and use natural dyes. 

Displaying the various colours. 
A skilled weaver weaves around 3 meters a day and Rs 600 per day is the labor charge if they have weavers from outside the family. They manage to weave around 40 meters per month.
Such a lovely colour Khun being woven.
There was such a serene look on the faces of the Mallagi brothers. I asked them if they were happy doing this. They replied saying that weaving is what they have done all their lives and this is what they know, so they are happy. I could sense the contentment too on their faces, as I sipped on the fresh lemonade they offered. Here, too, we bought some meters of fabric and thanked them profusely for their time and hospitality.
I got my pick fresh off the loom :-) 
I was inspired to illustrate my own version of one of Jamini Roy's paintings to represent Maharashtrian women in Ilkal and Khun with the crescent moon bindi and 'nath :-) Here it is. You may visit my art page, Purple Soul. I am taking orders for  prints of this work. Please contact me on for the same. 

My version of Jamini Roy's women in Khun and Ilkal.
I wish more designers take up Khun as a project and convert this beautiful fabric into interesting contemporary wear, which will find a wider audience. While browsing, I found this blog with an interesting take on Khun, in the form of a trouser. 
Khun stitched into a trouser. A brilliant idea:-). Photo take from here.
A friend, Vaijayanti, also a Khun enthusiast, wore a kurta made of Khun during the trip :-)
Kurta made of Khun. 
You may also buy directly from the Mallagis and from Sampath Rathi. Their contact details are given below. For those who are buying from the weavers/artisans for the first time, please DO NOT BARGAIN. I'm assuming others who buy from weavers, would not need that instruction as they would be sensitive to the work of the weavers and artisans and do not bargain over the price. The weavers put in a lot of work and time, not to mention years of expertise in creating a piece of cloth, so let's support them by paying whatever they ask for. You will need to know Hindi, to communicate with them. 

Sampath Rathi: +91- 9448776400
Mallagis: +91- 9008484671

We travelled from Pune to Badami by train, stayed at KSTDC Badami and hired a cab to go to Guledgudda, which is around 30 kms away. We also visited the ancient temple complexes of Pattadakkal, Aihole and Badami which I will be writing about soon. 

Edit 1: September 2019

I received an email from the publication house that manages the Ministry of External Affairs, Govt. of India's magazine called India Perspectives. They wanted to use my photos in the August 2019 issue of the magazine. Here are the pictures. 

Edit 2: February 2021

I received a message from a fashion designer yesterday who is mentioned in the below article and she accused me of using her images without due credits. I explained to her that the publisher has written the article and used my photos with permission (as well as hers). But just to be clear, I have blurred her images and re-uploaded the images which show only my photos clearly. I have also circled my name where the credits are given. The first page of the article is uploaded so that the heading of the article is known. Hope this leaves no room for confusion.

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