It can feel lonely at times when you’re traveling, particularly if you’re a shy introvert who is uncomfortable talking to others (probably neither qualities that make for a ‘good’ traveller). Making small talk with randoms has never been my skill, so I tend to just escape from it all with a book, or books plural, if it’s a long journey.
The last few hours on the train were not helped by h’anger and being stuck at Ghandiham station.
When I did decide to get off to buy snackage, we promptly set off. Should have tried that trick a bit earlier, obviously….meanwhile in terms of announcements, there’s no tannoy to explain what the delay might be (the regular everyday delay, which could be solved by changing the timetable to reflect the reality, a delay because we are sooooooo slow, they want to let an on time train through, or just the really no rhyme or reason delay that is the train equivalent of an Indian head wobble) and the guard doesn’t meander through to explain either, so it’s all guesswork, speculation, or, in my case, blind ignorance . It took a call from my host at Bhuj station to advise me when the train would be arriving.
Two very nice ladies, seeing me hot and bothered with the delay (basically a face that was set to ‘for fuck’s sake’, whilst I breathed slow and steady, knowing getting reet royally hacked off was not going to solve the issue), offered me a seasonal sweet, a chocolatey solid, ghee filled chili and cardamom flavored thing, that made my arteries groan (particularly at the second one) and then some crisps. It took the edge off, and was a reminder, yet again, of the generosity of others. A smile goes a long way, and food…..even further….
We all disembarked slowly, sweaty, uncomfortable and stiff from sitting, and penguin like, walked to the screaming hoards offering taxis, rickshaws and the like. A rickshaw then took me out into the rubbish strewn, cow riddled streets to Rotary Colony and to the home of Kutch Adventure Travels, where I was staying for the next 5 nights. The roads were eerily quiet, and the number of cows was ever increasing, as was the flyblown rubbish. I hadn’t seen so much of either in such a concentrated and persistent way for ages. I had started to wonder what I’d wandered into, for a moment, it was so deserted. Finally, turning into Rotary Colony we were in a quieter, cleaner, wide road suburb and at the end of which Kuldip, my host and guide was waiting.
Outside as well was a mum and her pups, taking over the whole road, as if it was theirs, using it as the widest couch possible. In the morning, before we set off you’d check under the car in case any had set up home. Unfortunately since leaving I’ve learnt the Mum was killed so Kuldip has been feeding the pups. Then there were the cows that came a-calling, looking for food, begging, basically, and across the road was a small farmstead with cows, buffaloes and horses. It as quiet, and strangely discombobulating to be somewhere so quiet and lacking in hornings.
Kuldip’s family home was homestay and living quarters for him, his wife and son, and his mother and father. The family had been rehoused here 3.5yrs after the earthquake of 2001, a massive quake of 7.7 magnitude, which killed up to 20,000 people and destroyed nearly 400,000 homes. Even in Ahmedabad, over 300kms away several hundred were killed. It defies all comprehension. Kuldip was 18 at the time, he, his brother and mum and dad escaped their flat by climbing down after it collapsed, killing 18 others in the block. They lost practically everything, and it completely transformed both their lives, (perversely because of the opportunities it subsequently presented) and the city itself, irrevocably transformed. It is hard to imagine how it had been after such a devastating incident, and how rebuilding had reburied again the memories of what was there before.
The tour, which sadly turned into a 4 and not 5 day trip, consisted of visiting villages around the area to see the textiles / rugs / handicrafts being made by the various communities. What quickly became apparent is that so much of what you see across the various parts of India, particularly mirrorwork, embroidery, bandhani (tie dye) actually originates from Kutchh itself, and within that work, particularly the former two, the variants by community are really diverse. It was therefore a great start to the tour to visit the nearby LLDC (Learning Living Design Centre) set up by the Shrujan Trust, who have been working with Kutchh communities since 1969 to revive crafts and create entrepreneurial opportunities for, mainly, women.
Unfortunately you couldn’t take photos of the amazing pieces, or the exhibition information itself, including all the details of the 12 individual communities and their own traditional styles of embroidery. There was no way you could remember the 50 different styles of work and there was also no information at the gift shop about any of it, however you could spend an obscene, and I do mean obscene, amount on the textile items in the gift shop. It was certainly designed with the wealthy Indian woman in mind. I did leave with a new found appreciation for the variety of work and the skill involved and how much tat tourists were being offered up, in lieu of quality products.
We had an opportunity to explore the old Bhuj centre, the Ashcroft market is housed in a converted Victorian garrison, dating back to 1883. The turnstiles in and out seem the be designed to only let the skinny in, and you risk getting wedged if you’re a fatty. I just realized that they were probably put in to stop the local cows from wandering in and harassing smallholders and customers alike. Out in the surrounding streets it was busy, pre-lunchtime, full of people, animals, bikes, mopeds and dogs. Siestas are a way of life here, so it was allegedly winding down, so I’d have hated to see it when it was operating at maximum pace. As we meandered around invariably Kuldip would stop and talk to people, as one of life’s naturally gregarious bods, and the polar opposite of the introverted shy nerd. Half the time he didn’t even know them but was happy to reach a hand out (to shake, not to say ‘halt!’, as that’d be odd), then stop, chit-chat, swap names, stories etc. At the back of Bhuj, where the metal recycling took place, a guy running a stall wanted to know what we were doing and insisted on a photo with his newly found friend. I suddenly started to feel like a guide groupie, bringing up the rear to the main attraction, taking photos as required….very odd! And amusing.
The foreigner is still that in Kutchh, foreign, particularly to kids and subject to shy looks from some, with a wee wave and a lot more tears and upset from others (something I’m very much used to, it has to be said). However there’s a bit more to the screaming child syndrome than just my visage. We passed a grandmother, mum and small baby in a rickshaw and the granny was, I thought, attempting to pass the baby to me. Kuldip asked me what I thought was going on, and when I explained, he said ‘oh no, that’s not it at all. The granny is telling the kid that if they’re naughty then the white persona will come and take them away and eat them’. All said tres nonchalant like….So, that explains the little boy in the village who had an absolute shit fit of tears, screams and hiding behind him mum (admittedly not helped by me copying him, and wailing at him at the same time, I have offered to pay for any therapy required).
Interestingly, in my non-validated research, girls, whilst also shy, are also a bit bolder, and will respond to a big smile, and when away from the group, if asked politely about a photo will nod and then just light up when they see what you’ve taken. I’m always mindful, with children especially, if asking permission, and giving them the choice to be photographed or not.
Hopefully Kuldip will be able to share the photos I took with the village and make them smile a bit more again, as they reminisce about the big whitey who traumatised one of their own by looking at him that time.