Home from India

It is hard to believe that I have been back nearly three weeks now, it took a little time to settle back into the everyday life of being at home. India was all it should have been, sunshine, dust, colours, noise and smiley people, but above all inspiration for textiles. Although we visited, if I have counted correctly, ten museums/forts/temples we had plenty of time for looking at fabrics threads and textiles.

There were marvellous moments such as on the second day when I was admiring some fabric which the guy claimed was cotton, I said it wasn’t so he backed down and produced another range, I still doubted it so did the flame test, his attitude change very fast when I proved him wrong! Then there were the shops which guides insisted that we wanted to look at even though we had said we weren’t interested, their faces and attitudes changed radically when we left empty handed. On the other hand having spent time in a shop not aimed at tourists in Jodhpur where we bought brightly coloured plain fabrics we were called back to share the 4 o’clock cup of ‘chai’. Masala tea sounds disgusting but it is so good, the tea and milk are brewed together and then spices and sugar are added, this particular one had a strong flavour of cardamon….

For the most part the ancient monuments are built either of marble or red-sandstone and are covered with decoration carved or inlaid which are a mine of ideas, shapes and forms which I hope will shape my work over the months to come. It was my second visit to the Taj Mahal but although it is impressive I hasn’t wowed me. We went to the baby Taj which was much more interesting , fewer people lovely carvings and totally unexpected. The Red Fort at Agra was much as I remembered it except that one of the best bits, the haveli was not open which was disappointing.

Fatehpur Sikri took me by surprise, to begin with there was a  tourist complex at the car-park and we had to take a bus, somehow we also landed up with a guide. There was both a temple and a palace, the complex is enormous and it isn’t all open to the public but there was more than enough to feast the eyes. On our way into Jaipur we stopped at the Hamamun or Monkey temple ; what a total surprise. It is very dilapidated and there are loads of monkeys, we didn’t go up to the higher part which was probably a mistake because it overlooks Jaipur. In its hey day it must have been stunning because it was highly decorated with paintings, it is built in a narrow gorge so the early evening shadows give it rather a sinister feel.

Jaipur and a visit to the City Palace where we decided to pay to see the private apartments which was well worth it. We walked up the seven stories on a ramp which spiralled its way up. The palace is amazing and it was even better seeing the private part, not only was it spectacular but due to the cost there were very few people there as well. The rest of the palace was very interesting, although the museums less so, and we had to pay extra to visit them!

We then moved on to Pushkar via the Barefoot college. Barefoot trains women to empower them even if they are illiterate, it was a really interesting visit even if we didn’t have the time to see it all. We saw the medical centre which services the surrounding villages, the solar cooker project and solar lamp project, the latter had 39 ladies from a dozen or so different countries all learning to make lamps without having a common language. We also visited the weaving shed and the communications department. Puppets are widely used to spread information to the villagers and the college has a wide range. On the way in to the college we were held up by a mass wedding, this is common in villages as it shares the costs of the big day, I didn’t count but there were at least 20 grooms on horse-back…

After a night in Pushkar and a wander through town where we found wood blocks and paint for the Holi festival we headed on to Jodhpur.

Our hotel had a roof-top restaurant with a stunning view of Mehrangarh Fort. The amount of carving was breathtaking was so much to see. Again the camera shutters were working over time and I have a library of design elements for future use. The size and scale of the work is breathtaking, there was ornamentation at every turn. The town which is known for its blue buildings has fewer now, they were painted blue originally to discourage termites from attacking the buildings, with modern materials this is less necessary but there are still very colour streets.

On our first evening we found an emporium stuffed full of textiles. We went in and were left alone to explore the piles of things laid out on the floor. When the other couple left we were given a ‘show and tell’ of textiles.

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The guy wasn’t pushy and showed us all the different styles of local work and then samples of work for well known western fashion houses. We were blown away and later discovered that there are many shops like this in Jodhpur and in fact we had a second show the following day. The first guy gave the impression of being knowledgable and unusually wasn’t on a hard sell.

There was a local market which had loads of old saris for sale, we didn’t look closely but for the most part they seemed to be synthetic.

We headed back to Pushkar and spent a day happily printing our own blocks and looking at sari scraps at the Stitching Project with Fiona Wright. We had designed blocks a few months before leaving France and she had had them made up for us.

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It was a lovely day, a real contrast from the bustle of the cities we had visited. On the Sunday we went for a walk with a local guide in the countryside outside  Pushkar, Mr Sharma at first thought that we were there for temple visit, but once we explained he changed gear, he was great and explained what is cultivated and explained a bit about Pushkar. Flowers play an important part and the roses had the most wonderful scent, one type used for rose petals and the other for rose water. Within walking distance we saw a lot more of the local life.away from tourists. Pushkar is noisy, full of tourists and temples and tinny music but it goes quiet at night and we really enjoyed staying right in the middle of town where we could sit and eat on the rooftop.

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Back to Delhi for the last couple of days. Using the metro we headed off to the Red Fort; I was amazed as I had wrongly heard that it was swarming with tourists and hawkers, it was closer to Chandi Chowk than I had thought and there were very few hawkers. It was an interesting visit but I think that we had been spoiled by other palaces.

From there we decided to walk to Sadar bazar, buoyed up by the fact that the distances were smaller than I had thought we set off. We stopped en-route for lunch at Haldiman’s and a short rest. My map was accurate and before long we found ourselves in the spice market, from what everybody had said I had believed the spice market to be to one side of the Red Fort so that was a real surprise! What an experience, the air was full of spice and everybody was coughing and spluttering, it was a great experience.

From there we pushed our way through a local market to arrive at Sadar bazar and the thread shop I had wanted to visit.

Our last day was spent shopping, as if we hadn’t done enough, and visiting Hamayan’s tomb which was built before the Taj Mahal. It was a true haven of peace and a lovely way to pass the last afternoon.

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This is just a summary of what we saw, I took so many photographs and got so many ideas, I just now need the time to work on them. Travelling in India has its frustrations, a driver who was lovely but seemed to have a better idea of what we wanted to do than we did, by the end he got used to us and our atypical approach India; roads which are much improved but despite the three lanes vehicles travel in which ever lane takes their fancy; cows doing their own thing; the noise of car horns due to lack of order in lanes; rickshaw drivers who are convinced that you can’t do without their services…. On the other hand the people are on the whole friendly and smiling and willing to help, one only has to look at the map in the metro and somebody is trying to help you; the colours are mind-blowing and the food delicious… Until my next visit.

Back at home I got my latest journal quilt finished, it is based on a textile print that I saw in the Anohki museum last time I was in India. I have used stitch and appliqué to reproduce the idea, the horizontal stitching is as on the original print.

Caroline Higgs-March-BW

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