Sunday, March 28, 2010

Knitting in India...

Wendy and I often relaxed in this fashion at the end of the we are on the patio of our hotel near the Ramthambore tiger reserve. We're both knitting socks--Wendy has two socks going on one long circular needle, while I am knitting Entrelac socks in the more usual way with double pointed needles--and sharing a 1 litre bottle of Kingfisher beer. Our preferred beverage would have been white wine, but that was hard to find in India!

Other places we knit included (1) on the train to Delhi, (2) standing in line waiting for the Ahmedabad Calico Museum to open, and (3) occasionally in the car. We didn't see any other knitters on our travels--this might be something that people would do further north where it's not quite so hot.

Monday, March 22, 2010

India Vignette #4: Food

I'm not exactly sure what this woman is making...curd or paneer? She was using a wooden whisk type of tool to agitate the liquid (milk?) inside the earthenware container. I need to do a bit of research on this!

Here I am trying my hand at rolling out roti under the watchful eye of our host's kitchen helper in Ahmedabad. I didn't succeed in rolling out a very round and symmetrical roti--for that I would have had to start at about age 4 and continue for several years!

Here's a fellow making Jalebi. I was tempted to try it but decided not to. Later that day, at the Vishala a Gujarati Crafts Village Complex just outside of Ahmedabad, we got some on our plates at dinner. It's sweet and rich.

Here's a view of my dinner plate that day...served on a stitched bamboo leaf plate which is biodegradable. This is what was commonly used for dinnerware in years gone by.

When we walked through the bazaar in the old city of Ahmedabad, there were spice merchants with mounds of spices for sale.

Finally, we enjoyed a snack of an "Indian burger" on the street--probably the best veggie burger I've ever had. I wish I could replicate it here at home.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

India Vignette #3: What caught my eye...

When I downloaded my images to the computer, I reviewed them quickly, discarding the blurry ones and rotating any that needed to be turned. I realized with this quick look, that I am particularly fond of layered images...images with repeating pillars, corners, edges, doorways, etc. Here is a selection of what caught my eye taken at a variety of historic sites. I have labelled them all so if you
double-click to enlarge them, you will also see the label. Click on the back arrow at the top of your browser to return to the blog.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

India Vignette #2: More colour...

Further to my post yesterday and the colourful fabrics hanging out to dry (I love a good looking clothesline!), here is colour expressed in another fashion--the Hindu festival of Holi. This is celebrated every year at the full moon just before the spring equinox, and this year was March 1st. We felt so fortunate to be involved in the farm's celebration of "dry" holi, meaning that dry powder was used in a careful way as opposed to the "wet" holi where coloured water (or paint?) is sprayed everywhere.
The boys (and some girls) living in the nearby village were the first to visit, and after sprinkling a little of their powder on our host's feet, they were sprinkled in return. And they all received a cookie (I felt like telling them to wash their hands!)

My feet were sprinkled too!

The final visitors were the girls and women who sang and danced.

Friday, March 19, 2010

India: Shopping, Shipping and Receiving

I've decided to write and post vignettes about my Indian experiences using lots of pictures. This is the first one, inspired by my parcel mailed from Jaipur via SAL Mail (meaning "Surface Air Lifted" and is the least expensive) on Wednesday February 24 and arrived in Vernon the same day as me, Friday March 12. What great service! Double-click on an image to enlarge it.

These men were in Gamthiwala Fabrics in Ahmedabad. The man on the right is the fellow who served me, and the man on the left is the owner--he wrote up the bill and took my money. The man in the centre is a block printer from Kutch, visiting for a few days. Both Anokhi and Maiwa are strong supporters of his work.

On the way to Jaipur, we stopped at "Shri Govind Arts" in Bagru and were treated to an array of block printed, mud resist and indigo dyed fabrics. Once again, we seemed to be following Charlotte Kwan's footsteps--Maiwa buys a lot of its natural dyed fabrics here, and Charlotte was just there the week before. We learned that this workshop also uses chemical dyes for their brighter saturated colours which Indians prefer.

By Wednesday it was apparent that I would not be able to carry all that I was buying, so we went to the post office. Here's the customer service man sewing up my parcel.
It arrived intact, if a little dirty, 2 1/2 weeks later. I left it on my table for several hours, savouring the delights it held.

I finally undid the stitching and released the contents, spreading everything out to enjoy.

And the last phase was to wash and hang up the fabric. I am in the midst of ironing it all.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

India Wrap, Part Two

I thought I was going to write a bit each day, but it's now Sunday...I'm still enjoying the most amazing sunrise here in the Eden Valley just south of Carlisle. I work up this morning to see a band of luminescent orange and yellow across the horizon. I bounced out of bed to have a better look. Even 45 minutes later, the light is incredible...softly pink and violet... I'm on a dairy farm cum sculpture gallery (see until next Friday when I fly home. I'm visiting old friends, Bernadette and her husband Jonathan. B & I worked together in a restaurant called Yan Tyan Tethera (1-2-3 in the old Cumbrian dialect) in Keswick from 1973 - 76. We're having a reunion of staff and customers to celebrate our former boss' 70th birthday next Wednesday. There will be about 30 people coming for tea. We've been planning this since my visit last June.

I spent last weekend on another dairy farm, this one in Rajasthan just outside the city of Kota. Vicky, our escort for the Magical Mystery Textile Tour, also runs this family farm and hosts guests when she's not leading groups about the countryside. Her website is We had two nights on this peaceful property, such a welcome respite from the sounds, sights and smells of urban India. The first thing we did upon arriving at the farm was have a "proper" cup of tea...darjeeling tea steeped in a pot, covered with a tea cozy and eating wonderful fruit cake and chocolate chip cookies. I hadn't realized until that moment that as much as I had been enjoying the chai masala that I had missed my usual beverage.
The next morning we went on our last textile excursion--a visit to the neighbouring village of Kaithoon where there are many people creating the famous Kota Doria fabric. This is a gossamer-like weave, and I bought a few "dupatta" sized cotton pieces. The most amazing lengths were in silk for saris--one spectacular piece was a new original design of peacocks and paraqueets in a Jacquard weave. This was the first place we've visited where new designs are encouraged (rather than continuing to weave only the traditional patterns). We met the young designer, and he took us on a tour of the village to see the warping (in the narrow lanes outside the houses), dyeing, plain weaving and jacquard weaving. The weaving is still by hand on pit looms, and the weavers were all women. This was a Muslim community and it seemed like everyone was involved somehow.
We then stopped off at a small workshop where lac bangles were being made by hand...the resin is heated over coal and the cooled "dough" is rolled by hand. Like every workshop we've been welcomed into, it seemed a rather dicey place to work in terms of safety! Bare feet, no eye protection, etc. None-the-less, I enjoyed seeing the process and selecting a few bangles...

Later that afternoon we were in a boat speeding down the river at Kota. We saw the remains of the bridge that collapsed Christmas Eve (over 40 people were killed and one of the foreign contractors has just received bail to get out of jail), but further up the gorge we enjoyed the wildlife especially the turkey vultures and TWO CROCODILES sunning themselves on rocks.

The next day we enjoyed playing Holi with the farm workers and people of the neighbouring village--sprinkling coloured powder on ourselves and others to celebrate the lunar new year. The boys arrived first around 9AM and sprinkled powder on Vicky's feet in exchange for a chocolate biscuit, then the men started arriving and received a tot of rum, and finally the best part were the women and babies around 10:45 who sang and danced. I'll be sure to post pictures of this when I get home.

We spent our last afternoon and night in Kota at the Sukhdham hotel ( before catching the 11:20 "Golden Temple Mail Train" to Delhi. We were met at the station in Delhi by another man holding a JANET/WENDY sign, a most welcome sight amongst all the touts trying to sell us stuff and take us to their taxi or hotel. This pick-up was again arranged by our Delhi hostess. The same fellow picked us up again the next morning at the dreadful time of 3:45 for the trip to the airport to catch our 06:55 flight. The only good thing about this was that we were able to enjoy good espresso coffee and browse in the book store before departing!

As for culture shock...I am still astounded at the litter on Indian streets (but definitely not on Col Sudhir Farm--that's a litter-free zone) and as I made my way across London to Euston station I marvelled at NO LITTER anywhere. And at Euston, there were no litter bins! So how does it keep so neat and tidy? Answer--an army of custodial staff pushing carts sweeping up anything. I deposited my sandwich wrappings in one of these carts.

I've been enjoying my downtime knitting, reading, snoozing, walking--Jonathan and I went on a wonderful walk yesterday from Threlkeld to Keswick around the backside of Latrigg--and I've cooked a dinner of plain food (roast chicken and vegetables). I really enjoyed the Indian food, but plain is good too!

Thanks for staying with me, dear readers! I'll post pictures when I get home.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Wrapping" up India, part One

It's been over a week since I last posted, and now that I have almost unlimited access to my friend's computer here in England, I will write a few short essays and post them over the next few days.
To pick up where I left off, last Thursday we drove from Jaipur to Ranthambore National Park. Most of the drive was uneventful, until we realized that there were many transport trucks parked along the road, and in fact one large truck was actually blocking the road. It became clear that this was deliberate and not an accident when we were suddenly surrounded by a gang of young men. I didn't feel particularly worried until I saw that one of them was brandishing a large stick... and then fragments of scenes from Indian movies and novels starting to flit through my mind...hmmm....what if this gets serious? Our driver got out of the car to see what what going on. Early that morning, two locals had been struck and killed on the highway. It wasn't clear how this had happened, but the group was pretty riled up. There were no police around. Fortunately, we were able to turn the car around, and our driver found a detour--a narrow and dusty lane that passed through mustard and wheat fields and some very picturesque villages of traditional buildings...round mud brick huts with thatched roofs, beautifully decorated with white figures typical of the local wall art. This was definitely a wonderful aspect of our magical mystery tour! If we'd been on a coach with 15 or 20 other tourists, we'd have been stuck on the side of that road, or forced to drive back and around on the the closest highway.
In Ranthambore, we visited another women's project called "Dastar". Many people are employed at a fair wage stitching by hand and machine. They were working on an order for Ten Thousand villages--tablecloths and napkins (single colour, blockprinted). The napkins are nicely machine finished with bias fabric.
The next morning we were up before sunrise to picked up by a "canter", a large open topped bus cum jeep that seated about 20, for a trip into the park. No tigers were spotted, however we enjoyed the large trees and vegetation. Outside the park boundaries, this vegetation has been stripped for firewood. One of the reasons Dastar exists is to provide alternate employment--otherwise women earn money by cutting wood.
By the end of Friday we reached Bundi in time to enjoy the view of the palace from the road in the setting sun, and then a few hours later to see it illuminated. Our hotel, Katkoun Haveli, was just below the palace, and we enjoyed a great view of it from our window. Vicky took us on a quick tour of the local bazaar, and this was fun. Unlike other bazaars we've experienced, this one is smaller and thus a little more manageable for us! Wendy and I were on the hunt for tiffens--stainless steel containers that every Indian uses to carry their homecooked meals to work or school. We found a set that are a little bigger and also have small plates incorporated--just perfect for packing a picnic to the beach this summer.
So of course, the shopping continued...