Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The Weavers of Ilkal Saree

Look at the pictures here: 

Photo taken from here.

Photo taken from here.

A lady draped in Ilkal whom we saw at the Badami temple complex. She gladly agreed to pose for a photo. 

One of the many Ilkal sightings in Badami. 
What do you see in common? Flaming red pallus. These pallus are most synonymous with women living in rural Maharashtra and North Karnataka now, although in earlier days that is what women mostly wore on a daily basis throughout the state. If you do not already know the name of this saree, it’s called Ilkal (pronounced ‘Irkal’). And Ilkal is back is fashion as is evident from the first two photos. :-) 

On my trip to Guledgudda last year, to meet the weavers of Khun, we also met Ilkal weavers. There is an eponymous village called Ilkal too, near Badami which obviously is known for its sarees. But we met the Ilkal weavers in Guledgudda and another village nearby called Kamatagi, where we visited the Hotti brothers of the Chamundeswari Handloom Weavers Association which specialises in weaving Ilkal sarees.
So, let me straight away get to the details :-)

We first met Sampath Rathi, who is a wholesaler of Khun and Ilkal. He explained the different varieties of Ilkal. 
What sets Ilkals apart is the pallu- mostly in flaming red, although now they come in several other colours. The technique of the weaving the pallu with the body of the saree is called topi-teni. The pallu is woven separately and was always made of pure silk (even if the remaining saree was a blend of cotton and silk) and is then attached to the body of the saree.

Ilkals come in plain as well as chequered. Even for the chequered ones, depending on the size of the checks there are different names assigned. 

This saree with the smallest checks is called 'kondi-chikki' and this is the 'gomi' design on the border.

These medium sized checks are called 'ragaavali' and the border is called 'chikki paras'.

Here the checks are called 'puthadi' with the lines close to each other, and the border is a zari one. 

Close up of the 'gomi' border. 

Notice the patterns formed where the pallu is attached to the body- Topi-teni. 

The checks in this saree are called 'sherting' with the chequered squares in another colour.
At the Chamundeswari Handloom Weavers Association in nearby Kamatagi, P.L. Hotti, one of the Hotti brothers, also a weaver, took us around and we could see the weavers working on the Ilkal. 

The topi-teni technique in progress. 

We literally feasted our eyes on the varieties of Ilkal they had. Unlike most other places that make Ilkal, this association makes Ilkal in pure cotton. The others are usually a mix of cotton and silk. 

Can't have enough of the pallu :-) 

I wanted to buy everything I saw. 
While we are talking to P.L.Hotti and seeing the variety of Ilkal sarees, two men came in and handed over two dupattas to Hotti. He introduced the two men as weavers, Dashrath and Vitthal Hotti, and the dupattas they got were fresh from the loom  I jumped in excitement and immediately bought a dupatta and also posed with them. Ah! the joy of buying a piece of fabric directly from the weaver and also having a photo with them  They were so humble and down-to-earth. And I felt so honoured buying from them  The dupatta I bought (in the picture) was woven by Dashrath, standing to my right.

With a freshly woven dupatta made by Vitthal and Dashrath Hotti. 
The Hotti brothers had collaborated some time ago with the weavers in Bhujodi to exchanges ideas and techniques in weaving. The result of this is a range of pure cotton Ilkal sarees, even the pallu (which is a departure from tradition as the pallu is always in silk). 

The soft spoken P.L. Hotti talking about the collaboration with the Bhujodi weavers. 

The fruit of the collaboration :-) 
If you want to contact the Hotti brothers, here are the contact numbers. :  9008621276 or 8867707273. We visited Guledgudda and Kamatagi on the same day. 

I've been seeing a lot more urban women too wearing Ilkal these days. Clearly, it's a revival of the saree which was some time ago relegated to the rural areas. A lovely lady designer in Chennai, who is now a friend, who stumbled upon my blog while searching for Khun weavers has launched an entire collection of apparel made of Khun and Ilkal. I love the contemporary take on Ilkal and Khun with her range of jackets, gowns, dresses, stoles, etc. Go check her Instagram page : https://www.instagram.com/tamarai_/ to drool and shop for those :-). I'm sharing some pictures here from their collection. Such gorgeousness! If you are not on Instagram but want to contact Tamarai for enquiries or purchase, you may email Rekha, the wonderful lady behind this enterprise on rekaashok@gmail.com. They also take custom orders. 

I now have three Ilkal sarees in my collection and will post a picture soon in those. 

I hope to discover more such hidden textile treasures in India :-) 

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Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Half-human, half-Universe.

'She was half-Human, half-Universe'- A.R. Lucas.
May be I'll draw another version of this quote some day.

Half-human, half-Universe.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

A Birthday Party in Sarmoli

You've heard of the saying, 'You can't have your cake and eat it too'? Well, I realised if you are a Hindu that's totally possible. Now, before you think this is a religious statement, (of course I am a proud Hindu) let me hasten to explain why  This year, I had a unique wish for my birthday. I wanted to celebrate my birthday with the Nature fairies in a forest and wanted the birds to sing my birthday song  Well, while it may sound like fantasy to some, I knew that was totally possible. The only hitch was that I also wanted to be with my favourite person that day- my husband who couldn't travel with me. So that is where being a Hindu came to my rescue. For us Hindus, we get to celebrate our birthday twice a year, one on the day as per the Gregorian calendar and another as per the Hindu lunar calendar (called 'tithi'). Both birthdays usually fall within a few days of each other. So I spent one birthday with my husband and the next day I was off to Sarmoli (about which I have posted earlier). So, on my Hindu calendar birthday, I went on this amazing trek-cum-birdwatching trip on the upper reaches of the Munsiari mountains, where I had only birds (hundreds of them), the snow capped Panchachuli mountains and the forest fairies for company. And just as I had wanted, I spent the whole day being enthralled by the beauty of the forest, reading a book, taking a nap on the flower strewn grass, and meditating, with the birds singing for me in chorus throughout:-) We even had a little party with me eating some delicious gobi-parathas and rajma which my host had packed for me while the birds snacked on insects and seeds around.  I cannot even begin listing the variety of birds I spotted, but I've drawn a few. To the left is the Yellow billed Blue Magpie, Rosefinch, Woodpecker, Verditer Flycatcher, and to the right are the Long tailed Minivet, Barbet, Warbler and the Black and Yellow Grosbeak. All the birds looked like they had been dipped in buckets of happy colours and sprinkled with some more for patterns  That's going to be one of my best memories forever. 

A birthday party in Sarmoli with birds. 

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Drunk on Rhododendron.

'Drunk on Rhododendrons'. That's the title of this illustration. While on most Sunday mornings, I make a perfect cup of coffee and sit in the balcony with a book and some great music in the background, today I did something different. I woke up early at around 5.45 and completed this drawing which I had been postponing forever! It is inspired by the rhododendron trail in Deoriataal-Chopta-Chandrashila peak, which I did last year, where I was literally drunk on rhododendrons- visually as well as the actual juice of the flower  Today is also the day when the Warkaris begin their annual pilgrimage from Dehu and Alandi in Pune, carrying the 'padukas' (wooden footwear) of the 17th century saint poet Sant Tukaram and the 13th century saint poet Sant Dnyaneshwar respectively, to the Vitthal-Rukmini temple in Pandharpur. This is almost a 800 year old tradition in Maharashtra which sees thousands of pilgrims brave different weather conditions as they sing and dance in a spirit of devotion to God. I was wanting to join them for part of the pilgrimage this year, but couldn't make it. Instead here I am, listening to Abhangs (devotional songs written by the saint poets), completing this drawing and hoping I can join them next year. Google up 'Pandharpur Wari' for some stunning photos of the pilgrimage. And have a great Sunday.

Drunk on Rhododendrons.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Icelandic Puffin

Seeing my bird illustrations from Sarmoli, a client from Iceland asked me if I could convert a picture of a Puffin into an illustration. It was fun working on this cute bird  Although I had a low-res image, I did the best I could and the client was happy, so it worked out well.

Icelandic Puffin.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Journey of the Mountain Stream.

I just completed one interesting assignment which I will share shortly, and finally got around to completing this drawing- the idea for which had been brewing in my mind for over a year  This occurred to me during the two treks I undertook last year, but mostly in Kalap where we relied only on stream water in the beautiful forests to quench our thirst. While savouring the water from different mountain streams, each having their distinct taste, I imagined the water melting from the mountains into my parched throat- So, do you know why mountain stream water tastes delicious ?
Kissed by the Sun,
Icy crystals turn into liquid silver
On the high mountains.
Down they begin flowing,
Purified by fish of myriad colours,
And scented with the fragrances of cypress, pine and deodar,
Merrily it flows over gems and crystals,
Agate, quartz, and jasper, that the forests are strewn with,
Holding the music of the birds in their sparkling veins,
As they chirp and feed on its waters,
Tasted by leopards and bears (to add to the exotic quotient :-),
Dusted with the pollen of flowers
And enriched by their sweetness,
Frolicking under the moon and million stars,
Each drop holds beautiful stories,
Penned by forest fairies.
And when I drink that water,
I hold them in the atoms of my body.
Next time you taste mountain stream water, remember how it has travelled to you, and you will appreciate it manifold.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Retracing the Path of Nomadic Shepherds in Kalap.

The gorgeous sunset at Beejay Top. 
It was sometime in 2014 that I stumbled upon the Kalap website. It said, ‘Untouched Garhwal’. Before browsing further through the website, I instantly made up my mind that I would visit this untouched beautiful place sometime. But something or the other came up and I couldn’t until June 2016. You may call in serendipity, but Anand Sankar, the man behind Kalap, had posted on one of the Facebook groups asking if there were any women trekkers and bloggers who would be interested in joining the Nomad’s trail. Incidentally, that was the very trail that had caught my attention on the website. I’m not sure if he heard, but I almost screamed ‘yes’ in my reply to him. Flights and buses booked, in a week’s time, I found myself in Dehradun which was the meeting point for your journey.
Anand, a tall man, with a straight face and gamcha wound around his neck picked me from where I was staying. I would discover later that behind the straight face is a super witty and funny bone that would have us all cracking up with laughter at almost everything he uttered! I found myself with 4 other girls and a gentleman from the Army. We drove for around 9 hours and 200 kms and reached Sankhri, a small town and base for many treks, from where we would start the trek to Kalap, the village.
We stopped by this pine forest on the way to Sankhri.
In Sankhri, we had our dinner and breakfast at this amazing home stay of Balbir Rawat. His wife Kalma whipped up some sumptuous local delicacies out of local fern, rajma (kidney beans) and rotis (flat bread). Everything was extremely flavorful. We also saw him make plum juice. They also make and sell jams and pickles. Sadly, I did not buy since I didn’t want to carry excess baggage on the trek. They are also on Airbnb, if anyone is interested.
Balbir Rawat making fresh plum juice. 

The Himalayan home-stay is on airbnb

Delicious food made with fresh produce. 
Now, the trail we were doing was a The Nomad’s trail, which meant we would be following the path of the nomadic shepherds who along with their flock of sheep move from one pasture to another. Only that the path from one pasture to another passes through untouched forests, gurgling streams with the sweetest water, quaint villages frozen in time, alpine pastures carpeted with flowers and the most gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.
The rickety bridge over the roaring river. 

We stopped at this house to rest in the afternoon, in Dhawla. 
While commercial trekking places frequented by trekkers and tourists have well marked paths which offer beautiful views, what struck me from the very beginning of this trek was that the sanctity of Nature and the trekking route had been maintained. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that Kalap had been socially isolated till as recent as 2013 and few people know about its existence. I had written an article for The Better India about the initiatives Anand has introduced in Kalap, which you may read on this link. The people of Kalap also consider themselves as the descendants of the Kauravas from the Hindu epic Mahabharata.
We climbed well above to see the same river snaking across the mountain. 
The views were splendid throughout, including crossing a roaring river on a rickety bridge. Come Monsoon, and the bridge gets washed away only to be built again in winter. Around noon time, we reached Dhawla, at 4500 feet above sea level, which is where the Kalap story began. 
First view of Kalap. 

Around two decades ago, a lady along with her three children left the drudgery of the city and arrived in Kalap to be closer to Nature and lead a different way of life. She and her children built the house on their own, set up solar power and got educated by Nature herself. Call it providence that Anand bumped into one of the children, Naren (now an adult) in 2008, who took Anand to Kalap. Anand fell in love with the place and the people and realising how isolated the community was and sensing a potential, decided to build a model of responsible tourism around it. The house has been empty since the lady and her children moved back to the city in 2002, after living there for 15 years, after the collapse of the only bridge across the river that gave them access to a road on the other side.  It was nice to visit the house and hear the story.

Hearty meal for dinner. 

People busy ploughing the fields. 

We rested for a while to escape the scorching sun and started the trek again. By evening as we approached Kalap, at 7800 feet above sea level, little children from the village who had spotted us from a distance, gathered to welcome us. As soon as the entered the village, a de ja vu feeling set on me. That’s because I had visited the Kalap website so many times and admired those wooden houses, and now, I was seeing them for real. The total area of the Kalap gram panchayat is 14 kms from end to end and the population is around 500. 

Rajmohan's wife in the kitchen. 

Rajmohan's grand father who is 103 years old and fit enough to do his own work and walk long distances. 
I’ve visited many villages and have been disappointed to see old structures being torn down to make ‘modern’ homes, completely stripped of traditional architecture which lends a unique beauty. Traditionally, homes in rural India always have earthy colours, because they are made of natural materials. And this is what has been retained in Kalap. All the houses are made of wood, there is no littering and it is really like being transported back in time.

Trekking through the forest. 

The Karba settlement from a distance. 
We were put up in the house of Rajmohan Singh, one of the three permanent staff of Kalap Eco-tourism. The  house was abuzz with activity as curious kids flitted in and out, women scurried about, cooking and making arrangements for us, a teacher with Kalap Trust, Ashwini, busy with her lesson plans while we sat for a while, resting our limbs and agog to explore the beauty of the place.
After a much need high carb dinner of rice, rajma and rotis, we retired for the day. 

The sun streaming through emerald greens. 

Gurgling streams quenched our thirst all along the way. 
Next morning was the time to explore the village. Come sunrise, and people were busy ploughing the fields, women carrying hay or wood on their heads, children running around, cows being led to graze elsewhere, the younger lambs and calves looking irresistibly cute and chewing away continuously at grass, and the clouds shifting shapes in the porcelain blue skies. Unlike most other villages, there are no chicken, roosters and hens running around. The entire village has adopted vegetarianism and follow the teachings of Radha Saomi. It is still one of the few villages where the barter system exists successfully and the village is self-sufficient.

At Bangla bugyal. 

Eating bhel-puri after trekking in such picturesque surroundings was a great idea. 
After breakfast we set off for our next stop, Bangla Bugyal (bugyals are meadows) at the height of 9,500 feet above sea level. We crossed another settlement of the Kalap village called Karba, at 8,500 feet above sea level. The views, needless to say, were splendid. We crossed many streams, each stream offering water which tasted a bit different, owing to the minerals and stones and rocks, that it flowed over. I savoured every drop of water from every stream, knowing that it may be the freshest possible water that I’ll ever get, untouched by humans, purified by the natural elements and which may have been partaken of by wild animals :-)

The full moon at Bangla bugyal. 

Dew drops on my tent. 
We crossed pastures, saw shepherds with their flock of sheep, met fluffy mountain dogs, listened to the winds whistling through tall pine and oak trees. Finally we reached the sprawling Bangla Bugyal and set up our tents. Morning was invariably splendid, as in any camping site. The sun teasing the clouds, birds chirping away, as I sipped hot tea and observed dew drops settled over our tents and leaves.

Chole and rice for breakfast. 

Breakfast done, our trek this day, took us through some unmarked trails, unlike the previous days where there was some semblance of a trail. But Anand, knowing the area like the back of his hand, guided us, as we made some steep ascents, puffing and panting and hoping that we don’t slip over and fall! This was a bit challenging as it rained hard, (and boy, the heavens open up when it rains in the mountains), the temperature plummeted, as we staggered, trembling and stiff with the cold, to Beejay Top, the highest point in Kalap at 12,500 feet above sea level. The staff struggled against the strong wind to erect a tent to shelter us from the rain and gust, as we sat huddled in a circle.

A meadow we crossed was strewn with wild walnuts. The fragrance was aromatic, similar to spices used in pulav or biryani. 

Cobra lilies. 

Catching my breath! 

Small sized strawberry like berries dotted the forest floor. 

After what seemed like an eternity, when the rains and wind retreated, what unveiled itself in the sky, left all of us speechless. The setting sun lit up the clouds till they looked like giant floating lanterns, silhouetting the mountains to produce a sight that landscape artists would dream about.  And that wasn’t all. There came three shepherds with their flock of sheep and goats adding more texture to the experience. As I went on my knees to take pictures of the flock, some looked right into my camera, as if posing. I even held a black lamb which was a cuddly big ball of wool and didn’t want to let it go!
We felt adequately compensated for the strenuous trek with all this beauty. After a hearty meal of khichdi with dollops of ghee, and admiring the night sky as much as my still shivering body could permit, I retired for the night.

A shepherd paused to pose. 

The best sunset in my life till date. 
The following day, I will remember for a long time to come. We camped on the meadow the whole day, and I spent the whole day lazying around on a carpet of flowers, with butterflies and bees prancing and humming around me, sipping tea, reading a book and napping, only to wake up for food and to the sound of buffaloes and sheep chewing grass nearby. A Gujjar (nomadic shepherd) had stopped by with his herd of buffaloes. While the buffaloes stared at me lying flat on the grass, wondering if I was a new variety of grass, I chatted up with the Gujjar. Since it’s a remote area, leopards and bears still thrive around. He told me that once he had fought off a leopard trying to attack his sheep. He sustained severe injuries and had to be hospitalized for a month. He showed me the marks, the leopard had left with its teeth, adding that his right hand nerves haven’t fully recovered from the attack.

Flocks of sheep on the other hill top. 

A distant shot. 

Such a blissful day it was on the meadow! Photo by Anand Sankar.

I wore floral toe-rings :-) 

The lunch was heavenly. I think anything would pass off as heavenly in such surroundings. 
He asked me if I had some painkillers. Anand later mentioned that the shepherds are addicted to painkillers. They are all the time exposed to the natural elements and that does take toll on the body. The trail which we had found to be challenging and which we did for recreation, they do for a livelihood, regardless of the seasons or their health. You know that mountain sheep and goats easily walk on precarious looking edges looking for grass, oblivious that a human (their shepherd) has to follow suit on the same perilous path. I saw shepherds, walking and standing on such steep paths and edges, that the very sight of that freaked me out. But that is a way of life for them. Anand pointed out that the Nomad’s trail has been walked upon by only the shepherds, their flock and few humans who have done the trail. It felt mighty good hearing that.

The Gujjar with his buffaloes.

The bite mark of a leopard on his hand. 
The staff preparing our meals. 

The staff was sturdy to lug such heavy tree logs. 

Anand Sankar, in traditional Garhwali coat. 
Anand had earlier whetted my appetite by mentioning that sometimes the Gujjars make fresh cottage cheese in their tents which they sometimes sell. Anand and his team have used this earlier for cooking in the camps. The very thought of eating paneer made from the milk of buffaloes fed on alpine pastures, flowers and stream water, was enough for me to follow up umpteen number of times on the same. Anand dispatched two of his staff in search of the paneer, but sadly that day it wasn’t available! 

Morning in Beejay Top just before sunrise. 

The staff and members of the trek. 
Another interesting insight was how the trails are formed. The sheep and goats urinate as they are walk in a file, and they generally follow the same trail by smell, and urinate again on that path. When the urea in the soil crosses a particular limit, it becomes too toxic for the grass or plants to grow, and hence a trail is created.

Hello there! 

Hey you! 

This ball of wool was the smallest in this shepherd's flock. Photo by Anand Sankar.

Look how this shepherd is standing precariously on a rock. 

Another stream.
Anyways, it was one of the most magical days at Beejay Top and the next day we climbed down at stayed at Karba where we snacked on freshly plucked apricots, enjoyed the views of the terraced fields and interacted with Rajmohan’s very friendly frail looking Mother who showed us her heavily tattooed arms and legs. After staying the night there, next day, we came back to Kalap to learn more about the initiatives of the Kalap Trust set up by Anand. Taking a hot shower felt like luxury after 5 days of no shower. I discovered to my horror that I was severely sun-burnt and looked scary in the mirror, thanks to the nap under the sun in Beejay Top. But sun burnt skin peels off, new skin grows and I would give anything to go back to Beejay Top and relive the same experience!

Freshly plucked apricots. 

Rajmohan's mother. 

Beautiful tattoos on her legs. 

Children of Kalap. 

Traditional food item made with Amaranth flour and served with ghee in the centre. 

A class in progress.
We went around the village, admiring some of the more intricately carved facades of houses, and watching the very lively teacher, Ashwini, teaching the kids in a very fun and interactive way.
The day ended with a traditional meal made of Amaranth dough and loads of ghee, served with apricot and mint chutney. A little girl whom I had become friends with, gave me some walnuts as parting gift. What a sweet gesture and touching end to a great stay and experience.

Beautiful carvings on houses. 

Good to know:
  • The Nomad’s Trail is a moderately difficult trek. Go if you have some prior trekking experience.
  • They have other easier trails too, for families. Check their website or contact Anand.
  • Carry thermal wear and adequate woolens even in summer, because in the higher altitude, it gets very cold. I had not carried thermal wear, because I thought it would be warm in June, but it was extremely cold.
  • For women who have their periods during the trek, carry sufficient garbage bags and newspaper and dispose the waste back in Dehradun, unless you have some bio-degradable options. There is no option of disposing or burning sanitary waste in Kalap. Check with Anand about this.

Savour each moment in the forests. Finally I realized my dream of travelling to ‘Untouched Garhwal’.
I had a good mind to kidnap this superlatively cute grey lamb.

Back home after a beautiful 9 days.
Visit www.kalap.in for more details on the responsible tourism projects.
Visit www.kalaptrust.org for the initiatives in Kalap.

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