Friday, 16 February 2018

Indian Epic - Travels in Kutch, Gujarat - The Desert, Crafts & The Party Monks of the North


Wednesday got off to slow start after we got caught up in a traffic jam caused by a herd of water buffalo taking a morning stroll.


Eventually Susan, Jon & I arrived at our first destination, the Kutch Fossil Park, founded by celebrated war veteran, Mohansinh Sodha, who has spent the last forty years tirelessly travelling the length and breadth of the Kutch region collecting fossils, he even discovered a new species of sea cow which is now named after him. The sheer amount of bones, fossils and prehistoric rock formations on display are quite astonishing. Jon was lost for words after I pointed out triceratops and diplodocus bones, after twenty-five years together it was the first time I'd revealed my childhood obsession with dinosaurs.


Next on our journey was the monastery at Than, home to a Tantric order of Hindu sadhus known as Kanphata (split ear) after the heavy agate rings they traditionally wear in their ears.



The whitewashed complex at the foot of the hill encloses a handful of medieval temples, tombs and domed dwellings.


If you're wondering why I'm not expiring from the heat in my long-sleeved polyester maxi it's because it's still winter in Gujarat with the peak daytime temperature averaging at around the high 60s (approx.18°C). If you've been put off visiting India because you can't deal with the heat then Gujarat in January could be the place for you.


For a small donation travellers can spend the night in the temple dharamshala*.

* a Hindu resting house for pilgrims.














We were invited to stay for a chai with the chillum smoking monks and we sat on the floor and watched while the monk in the turban wove devotional necklaces using this very primitive looking loom. Despite the language barrier they were a friendly bunch, we even got a goodbye hug. Susan named them the party monks, religion never looked so much fun.


Next it was time to visit some of the traditional Kutchi craft villages. Above is Rogan Art which is only produced by a few artisans in the northern village of Nirona. Rogan is a complex process turning hand-pounded castor oil into coloured dyes that are used to decorate cushion covers, bedspreads and curtains with simple geometric patterns (castor oil plants thrive in the Kutch region) . The eagle-eyed amongst you might spot Barack Obama in the picture on the right - he's the proud owner of some Rogan Art - I always knew he was a class act.



Melodic bells made from burnished copper and brass are traditionally used for communication between shepherds. We treated Gilbert to one of the tiniest bells with the embroidered panel.



The village of Dhordo is known for its woodcarving which is then decorated in wonderfully brilliant colours. It was impossible not to buy a couple of those glorious spoons!


Even more fabulous than the crafts themselves were the traditional costumes worn by the women of the village. The Mir tribe can be identified by the artificial ivory bangles with which they adorn their arms. We felt incredibly honoured when we were permitted to photograph these ladies.





Lunch was another delicious 100 rupee veg thali eaten at the roadside in a truckers' canteen, although when I say trucks, I mean carts pulled by donkeys and camels as opposed to diesel. This baby was tethered to the side of the canteen.


Khalo Dungar or Black Hill is Kutch's highest point, rising 462 metres above the vast salt flats. It offers amazing views across the Great Rann, disappearing into a vast horizon.






The reason most tourists visit Kutch is to see the Great Rann of Kutch (also known as The Great White Desert) an almost lunar looking salt marsh located in the Thar Desert. At around three thousand square miles in size it is one of the largest salt deserts in the world. In summer the area is one of the hottest places in India with temperatures averaging at 49.5 °C, in winter the temperatures were low enough for me to have to borrow Susan's wool scarf


Of course, the excitement of visiting the Great White Desert paled into insignificance for most tourists once they'd spotted three odd looking foreigners and we were obliged to pose for yet more selfies.


We were starting to think we'd never reach The Great White Desert before sunset, as it borders Pakistan our passports had to be presented to the border police and endless forms had to be completed in triplicate - excessive paperwork is the legacy of British rule in India. On reaching the checkpoint Jon inadvertently failed to stop at yet another security check causing rifles to be raised and a panic stricken official yelling Foreign man, Foreign man, Stop, Stop!! Thank goodness we had Ramji on hand to avert what could have been a major diplomatic incident.











After a full thirteen hours of sightseeing we were ravenous on our return to Devpur. More guests had checked in and it was a full house for dinner. We regaled our fellow diners with tales of stoned monks, endless selfies and nearly getting shot at the Indo-Pak border.


The full set of photos from our trip to the North of Kutch can be found HERE.

In other news we're trading with Judy's Affordable Vintage at Leamington Spa tomorrow (HERE).  If you do come along and I promise to try not to mention India too much.

Linking to Patti & the gang for Visible Monday.

63 comments:

  1. Lordy, held, albeit briefly at gunpoint! There's a tale to tell...

    I love the water buffalo, what a lovely 'traffic jam' to be caught in, and the absolute poppet tethered to the caravan is ridiculously gorgeous, what a sweetheart!

    I love all the beautiful crafts in this post, the spoons are incredible xxx

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    1. After those beautiufl people, the gorgeous animals and the incredible landscape and crafts those guns were a real shock to the system, I can tell you!
      I don't think I've ever seen a baby donkey before, isn't he fluffy? xxx

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  2. mwahah, such a fabulous bunch of photos, and such a delightful narration! so many lively details about the people, the crafts, the art and the landscapes!
    and that amazing salt desert which looks incredible!
    Loving these posts!!
    besos

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    1. Thanks, Monica! Sharing my photos makes me feel like I'm back there - I wish I was! xxx

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  3. I'm glad Jon didn't get shot. That desert is another strangely beautiful place. I get a real sense of space and sparseness from your photos of Gujarat.

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    1. Yes, the vast open spaces of Kutch are so very strange in comparison with the India we're used to, I'll never forget it. xxx

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  4. I'm always amazed that there are beautiful places in the world like this. Thank you for sharing your fab vacation!

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    1. It's my pleasure. It really was a revelation, visiting a place completely unspoilt by mass Western tourism. xxx

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  5. love the white desert pics - magical atmosphere!
    xxxxx

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    1. Thank you, it was! Strange to be cold in a desert, though! xxx

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    2. once we camped in the white desert in egypt - in december. it was 5°C at this night.....never was so happy to see the sun in the morning..... xxx

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  6. How absolutely fascinating, the temptation of souvenirs must have been almost overwhelming!

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    1. So many incredible things to buy - especially those kitchen implements. xxx

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  7. Ha ha your celebrity status could've turned into international infamy! Your photos of those women, in fact all of your photos of people, are wonderful - I'd have them framed and up on the wall. Loving the intricate carvings everywhere and the Rogan Art is lovely. xx

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    1. India is beautiufl but the people are utterly incredible. I've never seen costumes like the ones worn in Kutch - I wish I could have captured more images of the tribal people. xxx

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  8. Gilbert will be properly adorned now. Jon is a rebel....perhaps not the best place to step out of line lol. You look cold! I have no fear that on other parts of your trip to India you soaked up some sun

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    1. It was odd being in India and not being hot - perfect for exploring, though! xxx

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  9. Goodness, I'm glad there weren't any bullets flying!
    How did you resist buying everything?

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    1. It was so hard not to get carried away - I could have bought all those bells and every single kitchen implement in the entire village! xxx

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  10. That's my kind of traffic jam. Better being stuck behind a herd of water buffalo than behind a queue of cars spewing exhaust fumes! I love the sound of those chillum smoking monks, and the crafts and traditional costumes look fantastic. How beautiful is The Great White Desert! That episode at the checkpoint must have been properly scary, but what a story ... xxx

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    1. If only our roads were full of water buffalo instead of cars, eh? xxx

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  11. You do such a wonderful job capturing the beauty of the people in your photography. I always miss your blog posts when you travel, but know the wait is worth it to see the picture you post of your adventures.

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    1. Thanks, Alex, that's so kind of you to say. xxx

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  12. I love those spoons and how beautiful those ladies are in their fabulous clothes.
    Hugs-x-

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    1. Thanks, Sheila. The costumes of the different tribes in Kutch are just incredible! xxx

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  13. Amazing, amazing travelog! I enjoy every picture! I feel that you were especially on fire this trip to India (though it is always interesting, there is something extra this time). You and Susan look amazing in your brightly colored outfits! That baby donkey (??) is sooo adorable. And I love, love seeing your videos - more please!

    <3

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    1. Thank you so much, Natalia! That baby donkey was the cutest thing ever, I don't think I've seen one before! xxx

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  14. I am so pleased you got one of those bells, I thought they were amazing. Ha ha @ the stoned party monks!! I enjoyed hearing your English accent in the video very much Vix :-)

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    1. Those bells make such a lovely sound - apparently every one sounds slightly different so the shepherds can identify their own flock! xxx

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  15. Another interesting post vix , That rogan art is beautiful and the colors on the spoon selling women are amazing xxx

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    1. Thanks, Shabby! The colours in India re breathtaking especially in a barren landscape like Kutch. xxx

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  16. I loved the party monks and the salt flats were amazing. Whoah being held at gunpoint, how bowel loosening is that?! xxx

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    1. God, I hate those guns - they're so scary! There's loads of signs in Mumbai that say "Trespassers Will Be Shot", it makes my blood run cold! xxx

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  17. Loved seeing the crafts and the amazing vivid outfits of the craftswomen.
    What an incredibly steady hand must be required for the Rogan art, I don't think the artist in your video could have been on the chillum pipe. LOVE your people pics and the salt lake is extraordinary....if not a bit eery. xxx

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    1. The Rogan artist made it look so easy! I think I'd need a puff of the chillum to steady my nerves! xxx

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  18. So many adventures! I love these gorgeous pictures, thank you!

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  19. There is a wonderful vibe coming from each of the photos- they are very special.The one of yourself & your friend Susan in the desert is so atmospheric x

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    1. Thank you so much, Flis. Susan and I were losing the will to smile at this point, we were exhausted from posing for all the selfies! xxx

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  20. That salt desert is amazing, and I am so glad Jon didn't get shot trying to get you there! Great photos and stories - I am so enjoying the recap of your trip.

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    1. The desert was like being on the moon, so very strange. We took our shoes off and walked in the salt - it didn't half sting! xxx
      PS I'm glad he didn't get shot, too!

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  21. Cant wait for the next episode. Love the picture of you in the salt desert. It’s all so exciting xxx

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    1. Thank you! Can you believe that I'm wearing a beige scarf? That's how chilly it was! xxx

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  22. Wow! The castor-oil dying technique, the beautifully dressed tribal women – a true visual feast. The cameo from President Obama was a bit bittersweet for this American – because wow, I miss him so much.

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    1. I'm so glad you're enjoying the posts. There was so much to see every day and I think we only just scratched the surface.
      Barack Obama is held in high regard throughout India (and the UK). I loved that he owned some Rogan art, such a class act. Everyone we spoke to was utterly perplexed by his predecessor. xxx

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  23. I don't see how on earth you can resist not buying every single piece of craft-work! Dang it's beautiful.

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  24. I loved the people pictures so much with the vibrant colours in their clothing, you have some fabulous photography on this post.

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  25. The photo of you and Susan in the desert is absolutely gorgeous! What an adventure!

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    1. It was such an adventure, I'll never forget it! Thanks for reading. xxx

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  26. You had me at "Party Monks" but I was utterly captivated by the baby donkey and the amazing salt flats. They looks so weirdly beautiful. The stunning colours of the women' clothes and the beautiful textiles are incredible. I am glad that you all were okay but this sounded like an incredible adventure. Xx

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    1. The Party Monks were pretty special - I bet their ear piercings would be the envy of many a hipster! I loved the baby donkey. xxx

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  27. Ahhh what a way to experience a country. You are my travel idol. The "party monks", the magnificent desert, the animals, food and colors all come together when you post. xox

    -Patti
    http://notdeadyetstyle.com

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  28. At the risk of repeating other posts, wonderful, evocative pictures. I've been to India three times but never to Gujarat. What an intriguing place. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you so much. We've been to India over 30 times and it was our first visit to Gujarat - such an amazing country, so many places to see and revisit! xxx

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  29. 'Wednesday got off to slow start after we got caught up in a traffic jam caused by a herd of water buffalo taking a morning stroll.' What a brilliant sentence, I can think of worse ways to start the day.
    xx

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    1. You couldn't make it up, could you? That's why I love India so much, it's a constant source of surprises! xxx

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  30. What an exciting outing! I just love that decorated cart and the huge cooking pot. Stoned monks? Whatever next! Wonderful colourful spoons and puppets. The women's bracelets were amazing all the way up their arms - I wouldn't be able to get mine past my bingo wings!

    Weren't you tempted to get down and lick the salt desert floor so you knew it actually was salt? Or is it just me?

    Have a fab weekend.
    xxx

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    1. Ha! Bingo wings indeed!
      Jon did decide to taste the salt and then moaned about how salty it was, men, eh! xxxx

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xxx