Textile festival

Trip Start Apr 01, 2008
Trip End Jul 15, 2012

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Where I stayed
Tent City

Flag of India  , Gujarat,
Tuesday, December 9, 2008

It was Ella who suggested we all make a trip to Gujurat as she had been there a few years back and had fallen in love with the beautiful textiles and embroidery work which the province is renowned for. She was also keen to meet up with two Indian acquaintances who had taken her under their wing - the infamous Hemant Predan and Reika Patel from the Ahmedabad tourism office.

Luckily for us, the state capital is a food lover's paradise. We dined out on the most exquisite thali for less than 2 GBP each with endless refills of dhal, chickpea curry, spicy potato curry, aubergine curry, coconut curry, chapati, poppadoms and chutney, all washed down with glasses of fresh lassi.
We also discovered a fantastic rooftop restaurant called Seva Cafe whose philosophy is based on unconditional giving and loving service. It is run in conjunction with other charitable works as a means of providing work, raising money for those in need and heightening awareness. There are 6 full time staff who grew up in the local slum and all other workers are volunteers. Anyone can sign up for a shift - we were served by a handful of eager school kids. None of the food is priced so guests choose what they want to pay and a chart showing all ingoings and outgoings is displayed for everyone to see. The food was excellent, particularly the basket chaat - pastry cups filled with chickpeas, aubergine and caramelized red onion. If we'd stayed longer we would definitely have signed ourselves up for a shift.

The Textile Museum was fabulous and housed a magnificant array of ancient embroidery, as did two treasure troves in the heart of a residential area where we bought some great Christmas presents. We made a visit to Gandhi's Ashram before catching a sleeper bus to Bhuj. Bunks on coaches rock.

In Bhuj we met the big, burly, betel-nut chewing Hemant Predan who was larger than life and greeted (squashed) us all with enormous bear-hugs. He had a wonderful way of scarcely opening his mouth when he spoke so as to prevent the large chunks of betel from spilling out onto his audience. This Godfather jaw combined with a head which sat tilted back gave off an air of pomposity, but it was harmless, amusing Indian pomp.

Hemant Predan had many a story to tell and we soon learned that a considerable amount of what he said was to be taken with sizeable pinches of salt. Nevertheless, he was a jovial character who made a great deal of effort to ensure that we enjoyed the Kutch festival weekend.  As far as the organisers knew we were his very important chauffeur driven guests - influential journalists and photographers for a top international newspaper. Tickets for this annual festival are highly sought after with a 2 year waiting list!

After watching an impressive procession of traditional Gujurati costume and colour, we drove to a small village to check out the textiles and artisans at work. Hemant arranged for us to stay the night with the the most famous wool maker in the province and we were further fortuned by an invitation to the local wedding but our luck wavered when it was time for bed as we had to sleep on the floor. Oh well, when in Rome...

The following 3 nights were spent in tent city, temporarily erected on the edge of the Great Raan of Kutch, not far from the Pakistani border. Our VIP tents were fabulous with the latest in comfort technology including air conditioning, electric heaters, soft beds, ensuite bathrooms, fluffy slippers and desks for writing up our all-important articles. We dined on delicious buffet food and thought how awesome Glastonbury would be in similar conditions.

Hemant Predan marched about the site looking terribly important and claimed to be frightfully busy 24/7. For some reason our driver changed and we ended up with a one brain cell bloke who actually turned out to be lovely but had the worst sense of direction known to man so we travelled for hours in search of various villages famed for their textiles.

One such village was made of mud - beautifully constructed with smooth, undulating levels and spotless homes. The locals were friendly, if a little inbred. The village elder, who spoke no English, insisted we follow him out to his field to look at his motley herd of cows. His attentions were focused on Abi, although she had no idea what he was babbling on about. She was laughing politely and wondering if he was trying to suggest they elope into the Great Rann of Kutch together by cow. He showed her over to one particularly beautiful heffer and was in full babbling flow as he casually started playing with the beast's rectum, before nonchalantly sticking his index finger up the cow's backside to have a good poke around. Luckily Tom managed to catch this on camera so we can laugh at the evidence for years to come. You know what they say about village folk and their animals...

Unfortunately Ella lost her phone in the village and despite going back to search, it was never found. My money's on the old man with the sticky finger and I don't want to know where he put it!
On the final evening of the festival all tent city guests were ferried out into the desert by camel cart to watch a colourful theatrical performance attended by the chief minister of Gujurat who is, by the way, a very important person. Ella and I wanted to take some decent shots of the actors on stage so muscled our way to the front of the audience. The chief minister saw us, introduced himself and asked if I could take a snap of him holding the moon. Get in there with the Gujurati chief minister...

Once the festival had finished we spent a final night in Ahmedabad and went on a mission to buy a few bottles of rum for Hemant in return for all his hard work. Gujurat is a dry state and the only hotel selling alcohol in the capital turned out to be closed. What to do? Fortunately a loitering tuc-tuc driver overheard our dilemma and said he could get hold of some whiskey from a friend close by. He just needed 1500 rupees (20 GBP) and would be back in 20 minutes. Hmmm. As always, my suspicions heightened but trusting Tom handed over the money to the smiling, head wobbling driver and off he pootled. I told Tom that he was a sucker to have paid before seeing the goods. So we waited. Twenty minutes passed. A rough looking crowd of locals congregated, having caught wind of what the foolish Westerners were up to. Thirty minutes passed. No sign of our man. Forty minutes passed. By this stage I was convinced we'd been done like kippers. You can't give a tuc-tuc driver 1500 rupees and expect to see him again! Especially in India! To my absolute astonishment he returned almost an hour later with the tipple, his head still wobbling. This experience was a great lesson in the importance of trusting others and proved that a suspicious nature is not always the way forward!

With the whiskey hidden firmly away inside my handbag we caught a tuc-tuc to Hemant Predan's flat. His hospitable wife and friendly daughter offered us endless nibbles whilst Hemant and Tom knocked back the spirits. The rest of us refrained as it was late and we had a very early train to catch the next morning to Goa. Nevertheless, the soiree extended significantly when Mrs P produced her little shop of bangles and Ella asked to see their wedding photos...Hemant was quite a catch in his day!

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