life · scribbles · Travel Diary

Artisans of Bikaner and The Kalbelias

Hello Dear Readers,

In my last post, I talked about how this year has been. How much I have learned and how this year has been a year of traveling and how I intend to make the most out of the last chapter of 2018.

So here I am, sharing another experience which I think might be worth your time.

I happened to take another tour with Miss Guide You and this time it was to Bikaner.

Bikaner is a city in Rajasthan where people don’t really go for the traveling experience because it is not hyped much for whatever reasons. Tourist companies focus mainly on Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Jodhpur, and Jaipur. It is mostly the foreigners who are exploring the cities of Rajasthan, come to Bikaner or film-makers who know about the place. There have been documentaries made by National Geographic and other foreigners and international organizations about the city of Bikaner.

Among Indians, Bikaner is famous for Bhujia and Sweets and that is about it.

So, this tour was one of its kind. It was not a regular tourism package by anyone, it was a carefully curated craft tour which was personalized and planned in an advanced fashion. There was a lot of research done by the people planning this tour- Kriti Bisht and Ashish Godara, the people who run the organization called Miss Guide You and you could see that a lot of research work has been done to get the kind of experience you were getting on the tour.

On the first day of our tour, we visited the famous Karni Mata Temple. I remember seeing a documentary on this when I was in school and I was so scared to enter to a temple which housed more than 15000 Rats but I did and I don’t remember praying there, I went inside and was just looking around me and taking care of my feet. Visiting this temple was a personal achievement and I am still scared of rats.

Here is a 5 minute documentary by National Geographic Channel: Welcome to the Rat Temple

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This one is a very awkward picture of me with Kriti, standing far away from rats, smiling only because of the camera. It was very difficult to smile in that situation when I was fearing rats.

Post this experience, we had our first workshop – Learning the art of Pugal embroidery from a Pugal artisan.

Who are Pugal Artisans?

Pugal artisans are women who were displaced from Pakistan in 1971, and settled in Thar Desert and used their skills of embroidery to earn a living with dignity. But over time, with privatization and onset of FDI and MNCs, these crafts of Rajasthan are dying and Mr. Ashok Bishnoi, founder of The Charkha is trying to support these artists. Miss Guide You partnered with him and organized the entire tour.

The Embroidery Workshop was one of its kind, we actually practiced the art and not just see it or gain a theoretical knowledge, it was a hands-down experience and we were very happy after our “Tedhi Medhi” Creations.

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My mother after her creation of Criss-Cross Pattern and you can see the happiness of creating something on your own. Art is therapeutic and this workshop gave just the feeling.

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Here we are with our teacher, taking lessons in embroidery.

The end of the first day was marked by a candlelight dinner in our Hotel- Harasar Haveli. Pure aesthetic experience it was.

Day 2

The start of the second day was quite touristy- we went to the Bikaner Fort, hired a guide and learned about the history of Bikaner, the fort and all the kings who ruled Bikaner and which King contributed what etc. We got a lot of pictures clicked and it was one fun experience.

After this, we headed to Raisar Village where we met the people who do handloom weaving. We met the weavers, learned how to use the handloom, even worked with the Charkha and talked to the people there, got to know about the entire process of Shawl Making from step one. We met the families, played with the kids and petted Camel.

There are very few people who are left in Bikaner that actually work with the Handloom and the people who know the art of handloom weaving are not teaching their next generation because of how the world is changing. As we are moving toward a globalized economy, these little weavers and craftsmen are bearing the brunt of it. The crafts which are native to Rajasthan, India are not being appreciated by our own people because we live in urbanized cities and work in corporate offices where blending with the western culture has become the norm. But looking at it from the environmental perspective, the clothes that are made from handloom have minimum carbon footprints while the jeans and the regular clothes that we all wear in the daily routine contribute to the environmental pollution and loss of natural resources and not many people are aware to think like that. Through such trips and this post, I hope we are able to bring attention to this issue and do whatever we can as individuals to help these artisans, their livelihoods and our environment on the whole.

After having an enlightening session with the weavers, we spent the night in the middle of nowhere in the Thar Desert where we did open-air camping, made our own food and slept on Camel Carts. The evening was marked by Kalbelia Performances and Stargazing. I don’t remember seeing millions of stars all at once in so long, that was one exquisite experience for which I really don’t have words. So, I’d rather talk about the Kalbelias.

The Kalbelias

The Kalbelias are a nomadic tribe of Rajasthan. They roam around and form clusters, their main form of survival is through Dance Performances. They are the original Snake Charmers. In Namaste London Movie, it was said that India is a country of Snake Charmers and then Akshay Kumar talked about how India has achieved so much and still people think that we are a nation of Snake Charmers, with that reference, they are the ones who are actually the snake charmers and with the recent Wildlife Act, they earn a living through Dance. It was wonderful to note that their dress and dance movements resemble the typical movement of the snakes. The women who perform the Kalbelia Dance are dressed in Black with beautiful work on their dresses and these women design their own dresses while the men provide the music. Kalbelia dance form is not so much famous in India as such, however, it is the foreigners who identified the beauty and the grace of this dance form and made several documentaries on them.

We even met the kalbelia people there and went to one of their clusters where we saw thw work of the women and talked to the kids there and saw the snakes and how comfortable they all were while I was a bit scared. The Kalbelias were very much aware of the politics of the country and were dressed up in stylish dresses. They may not have a a lot of money with them but their swag was unmatched.

Below, you’ll get the glimpse of our Day 2

Group Picture at the Bikaner Fort

With the Kids from the Weaver Families

Trying to get hold of the Female Snake in the Kalbelia Cluster

Understanding the process of Weaving

 

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Waking up in the Camel Carts after a night of Stargazing and Kalbelia Performances

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The beautiful Kalbelia Woman performing the Kalbelia Dance in the traditional Kalbelia dress made at home.

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Here is me trying my hand at working with the Charkha

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The Extremely Stylish Kalbelia Kids

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So much swag in one photograph-The Kalbelias

Day 3

On the third day of the tour, we went to the Old Bikaner City to learn the art of Tie and Dye. We all were given plain white cloth and all of us got a hands-on experience of making our own stoles.

Usually, we just go to the store and ask for a stole and bargain for the price and our shopping is done. We don’t realize how much time and effort goes into the making of a simple tie and dye scarf. It took all of us and seven artisans to make one stole. I really want to describe each and every process and aspect of it, however, I feel that will take away from the experience that it was. So for this one, I am gonna leave out details and would urge you all to go and experience this on your own. This day was exhilarating and we were all laughs at the end of the workshop. The ones who taught us were so much patient and loving that it was worth it.

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The trip ended with a food walk where we all had the best Ghewar of our lives. “Once you die and go to heaven, that was probably the first meal you will get” these are the words of our tour organizer- Ashish Godara.

With this, I end this post.

When this tour was being planned, I really thought it was a little bit expensive for three days, however, at the end of it, it was more than worth it. Spending money on things sure gives us happiness, however, investing money on experiences is a little bit better, this one experience is something which I will cherish forever because it was more than “little bit better”

Images Courtesy: Ashish Godara

 

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One thought on “Artisans of Bikaner and The Kalbelias

  1. That’s amazing Neha that you loved so much the tour organised with us. By seeing your happiness I’m much satisfied that my work for last 20 years to find something Devine has achieved some success. Thank you very much for making the post.

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