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Thursday, 6 January 2011

Udaipur and Ahmedabad

 Outside the Lakshmi temple, Udaipur

We spent Diwali in Udaipur, and what a place to experience the festival of light! Arriving on the morning of Diwali we found the street outside our guesthouse festooned with banners and lights, and were told that the Lakshmi Temple on the street was the busiest place to be that night.

Men and women came and went all day to visit the temple and the atmosphere was wonderful. Udaipur old town,with it's winding lanes which surround the monumental City Palace and the lake ghats, is quite small and every alley was full of locals and tourists in their finest sarees and suits. And, of course, kids playing with firecrackers.

The men's queue, Lakshmi temple

During our time in Udaipur we got talking to the owner of a Durries rug shop, a lovely man who gave us chai and had a long chat with us after discovering we were textile designers. He recommended that we visit Gujarat state as it is an important region for textile production within India, particularly that we visit the Calico Textile Museum in Ahmedabad. We weren't planning on visiting that area, however, travelling in India around Diwali was a force to be reckoned with and something we hadn't factored into our plan. After many long queues, confusion and very kind, not to mention patient, staff we found our self on a very old sleeper bus bound for Ahmedabad-the Manchester of Northern India!!

We arrived in Ahmedabad after a long and very bumpy journey to find a grey and concrete city, the guide book described the road to the train station as 'the busiest stretch of barely controlled mayhem in the country' and they weren't wrong, in fact the whole city centre was frantic, with a atmosphere of industry and gravity stronger even than Delhi.
There are several good museums in Ahmedabad, we particularly enjoyed the Kite Museum dedicated to the tradition of kite flying popular all across India. The kites on display, all of hand made paper, are beautiful and it was a lovely place to escape the rain.
The City Museum had some wonderful folk and religious pieces and a great collection of contemporary modern Indian art and photography. The exhibits themselves and the building are in a slightly dilapidated state however, which is a terrible shame to see but was something we found with all of the museums we visited.

The front gate of the Calico Foundation-unfortunately no cameras allowed!
(Image Divya Bolisetty)

But it was the Calico Foundation Museum of Textiles which we had really come to see. Founded in 1949 at the height of the cities textile boom by the industrialist Sarabhai family, the museum was conceived to preserve and record the traditional handicraft textiles for which India has become famous.

The museum contains a staggering amount of textiles, garment and religious items from across India, all housed within the beautiful Sarabhai family villa. The collection is split into two sections encompassing: Mughal court textiles, regional embroideries of the 19th century, tie-dyed textiles and religious textiles and the second of ritual art and sculpture, temple hangings, miniature paintings, South Indian bronzes, Jain art and sculpture, and furniture and crafts. There are also textile techniques galleries and a library. The museum has played an important role in determining the curriculum taught in the textile designing courses at the prestigious National Institute of Design also located in Ahmedabad.
The collections are meticulously preserved and looked after in an entirely different way to any of the other museums we visited in India. The museum opens four days a week, twice daily for two tours, the morning viewing for textiles and the afternoon focussing more on the religious art. Only 25 may enter on each tour, 15 pre-booked and 10 admitted on a first-come-first-served basis. We arrived an hour early to discover ourselves at numbers 10 and 11 in the queue-this place is popular! We thought we stood a good chance of getting in until 3 more members of the middle aged German tour group in front of us turned up. We begged and pleaded with the guards, but they'd heard it all before and were very strict, not even letting us inside the gate.

It was really disappointing, but we managed to book for the afternoon tour at least! And it really was well worth it, we managed to see quite a lot of textiles, mainly temples hangings and some sarees, but the religious art and sculpture was truly stunning and the whole house had a reverential quality about it.
The tour lasted about 2 hours and once you were in you couldn't leave as members of staff followed the group to unlock and lock rooms as we went. All lights were off to preserve the artifacts and only one switched on at a time.

The quality and quantity was staggering, all beautifully displayed throughout the enormous house. Many items have were saved shortly after independence as the old ways were brushed aside to make way for the new India.

We were so disappointed not to have seen the main textile gallery as it is by all accounts one of the best textile collections in the world, but we are both determined to return one day, and book ahead!! If you ever find yourself in, or near, Ahmedabad we cannot recommend it enough. It is a truly wonderful place, a world apart from the rest of this frantic city and streets ahead of any museum we saw anywhere else in India.

Presedent of SEWA leading a protest,
Admendabad is also home to Self Employed Womens Association (SEWA) which is a trade union regestered in 1972 to help poor self employed women workers gain more power and confidence. They have achieved a great amount over the years and a very active organisation. The staff at SEWA are welcoming and happy to have visitors, however they were all on a staff training the week we were visiting so we were unable to speak with anyone at length.

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