Day 5 - Fair Trade India Tour April 17 2014, 0 Comments

As the sun rose we decided to give up on sleeping and sit up on our bunk to see the view outside the train. A traditionally dressed kind and quite elderly Indian man sat upright on his bunk below. As we were attempting to sit up in our upper bunks with low overhead he invited us to sit with him below where there was a window. We graciously accepted his invitation and soon our hosts brought us a boxed breakfast they had picked up from a bakery local to one of the many train stops throughout our journey. It contained a white bread and cheese sandwich, cookies and a banana. We offered to share some of our sweets with our cabin partner but he declined.

Annette and I decided to brave the restroom/sink area located at either end of the car to brush our teeth and attempt a little hygiene. Using bottled water (something we were becoming very used to at this point in our trip) to brush our teeth and hand-wipes for freshening. Watching her putting her contacts in using a small compact mirror on a bumpy train ride was most impressive.

Devendra, one of our hosts, came in to the area and pulled the latch on the exterior door, allowing fresh air in a not so fresh compartment. We stood there for a while, breathing in the outside air and enjoyed the view of our new terrain. The landscape had changed from congested and noisy city life to a serene and peaceful desert landscape. Wide open spaces dotted with desert trees and an occasion village would pass by. Even the traditional clothing changed in this region on the occasional person we would spot walking or working the land. Listening to the rhythmic sound of the train, breathing the fresh air and viewing the new landscape was almost meditative and put me in a very perfect state of mind for our arrival to Barmer, Rajasthan.  

We arrived at the Barmer at 10:00 in the morning. The station was a pleasant surprise as by it was clean and quite in comparison to the Delhi station. As we walked outside the station it was obvious we were back in a city as it had all the sights, sounds, traffic, crowds, cows and general chaos typical of what we had seen so far, this time only smaller and not as intense. We boarded the bus to drive circles around the very small downtown loop as the bus driver attempted several times to access the street to our hotel. After several failed attempts it was decided that it would be best to walk the short distance to the hotel as it was unlikely he would get the bus onto the street.  

As we adventured on our short walk to the hotel we realized that it was literally just across the street from the train station and we could have just walked from there instead of ever boarding the bus in the first place, but it was a nice downtown tour. The entrance to our hotel had several huge mud hornets’ nests hanging from several floors above. The lobby was air conditioned but had that similar musty smell we have become accustomed to. We went up to our rooms for much needed showers and rested for an hour before we were meet back in the lobby to visit our natural dye, block printing and kantha group.


As we boarded our bus to head to our next Fair Trade Group, Manish informed us that our plan for tomorrow was in a holding pattern still awaiting local government to grant us permission to visit our artisan villages deep in the Rajasthan desert, just a few kilometers from the Pakistan border.   Optimistic that we would gain approval we headed to see our 6th artisan group of the trip.

After a short bumpy ride not too far from Barmer we arrived at a walled facility on a lonely dirt road, the home and partner of One World Fair Trade,  a Block Printing artisan cooperative that not only use natural and vegetable dyes but actually create them right at this facility. As we walked to the entrance there was a very noticeable cobalt blue stained opening in the block wall that we later learned was the doorway of sort that they passed the dyed fabric through for drying in a large open lot across the road, the indigo dye being the darkest and most dominant color.


The director took us through each stage of the operation, beginning with showing us the water recycling center that was created with the support of SETU. This wonderful project saves about one million gallons of precious water a year! There was obvious and well deserved pride from the cooperative and SETU regarding this project. We watched as artisans demonstrated the technique of rubbing baseball sized balls of natural yellow dye made from Harad Root and Arandi Oil into the inner walls of plastic drums of water. Apparently the yellow harad root, collected by local tribes in the forests of Madhya Pradesh & Gujrat, is the base for many dyes. Acacia tree gum and lime paste is used to make a resist paste and when the dye was the right concentration, large sheets of natural muslin type cotton fabric was submersed into the liquid dye, sinking and pulling until the fabric took the color. When removed, it was hand wrung and moved to an outdoor centrifuge that looked like an old washing machine to assist in removing the water. The still moist fabric would be twisted and smacked against a concrete slab to help soften the material.


We saw the red dye made from the rust of iron mixed with Tamarind seeds simmering in large copper cauldrons over wood fires, the fabric dipped, pushed and lifted with a wooden pole. The black dye made from rice, barley, auran and clay. The most impressive dye of all was the indigo, a very rich and dark blue dye made from the indigo plant, taking months to create as it is buried in the ground and fermented with cow dung. The concrete indigo storage vessels and everything near stained with the stunning blue color. The color magnificent, the odor, not so much!




We then moved to the main office for lunch, a modest room in the rear of the facility with one desk and gorgeous finished textiles folded and stacked in piles against the walls. They had chairs brought in for us and we relaxed and enjoyed boxed Indian meals, served in compartmentalized plastic trays before heading to see the block printing.

We watched as master block printers moved with speed and confidence as they precisely dipped positioned and struck the carved wooden block with the side of their palm to stamp the fabric with constant and rhythmic fluidity, occasionally grabbing a handful of dried and ground cow dung, similar to saw dust, to cast over the top of the wet print to dry before moving to the next section of fabric. This is done in layers as one color from one block design lays atop another, some having many, many colors applied one by one creating stunning works of art. The artists invited everyone to try their hand crafting their own small block printed work of art. It was enlightening for all to experience just how difficult it was after watching so many artisans make it look so simple and effortless.



We then moved to a large shaded outdoor bamboo structure to find a group of women artisans, sitting on fabric covered flooring surrounded by wonderfully colored kantha fabric, a traditional long stitch craft on very colorful sari fabric, making many of the scarves, throws, blankets and bedspreads that you will find at One World Fair Trade. Between the very colorful traditional dress, veils, exotic jewelry and brightly colored kantha fabric, this room was a feast to the eyes. A happy and social communal workplace where village artisans can gather to work together as their children played together, obviously happy as there was many smiles and much laughter in this room.



We drove back to hotel and went straight to our room, again exhausted from another long hot day in the desert environment.