Against the serene white desert of Kutch what stands out is a riot of colours that is evident in the artwork, handicrafts, clothes and accessories typical to this region of Gujarat. When you buy hand- crafted products native to this region don’t feel guilty at splurging rather pride yourself at not only owning a piece of culture, tradition and art but also at having contributed in helping preserve the same.
So, without much further ado here is my list of 10 must shop for things while in Kutch.
If you want to possess a piece of fabric that uses the colourful tie and die technique that dates to the Indus Valley civilization then make sure to pick a Bandhani saree, dupatta, stole or suit. A wide range of fabric options are available from the humble cotton, to georgette or the royal silk, be it crepe or gajji, and now with newer entrants like modal and mashru each lending a characteristic texture and sheen to the fabric. The nimble fingers of women and maidens pull the fabric to make countless knots after which the fabric is dipped in bright colourful solutions. The smaller the knots the more intricate are the designs and patterns and with it rise the price. The Khatris are known for their master craftsmanship and have managed to keep this art alive and are always reinventing with newer trends and styles. For the Gujaratis and Khojas, no festive occasion is complete without a bandhani outfit so much so that even the wedding trousseau of a newly married girl will have at least one bandhani outfit. There are several shops in Danada Bazar and on Anam Ring Road in Bhuj which exclusively sell Bandhani. Shops in Bhujodi and at the Rann Utsav too have rich offerings but if you want them at the best prices, then head to Anjar where the Bandhani making takes place.
Ajrakh meaning ‘blue’ in Arabic is one of the primary colours used in the painstakingly made ajrakh block print fabric. The shapes and motifs of the ajrakh print have been inspired by the Islamic architecture forms like the jhali windows and arches. This block print technique would have been extinct were it not for the efforts made by Ismail Khatri family in preserving this laborious but beautiful art form that originated in Persia/Iran. It is in Ajrakhpur, a town located 15 km from Bhuj, that you can visit workshops and watch the process as well as pick up items at the best rates. There are cheaper screen-printed versions available which look almost like the hand block printed ones so don’t be fooled and buy the handcrafted ones. Like with the Bandhani you will have stoles, dupattas, sarees and fabric yardage to pick and choose from.
Intricate embroideries practiced by the tribes and local communities of Rabari, Banni, Ahir, Ari and Mutva are remarkable. Suf, Khaarek, Paako, Rabari, Garasia Jat, and Mutava are some of the unique styles. Using threads, mirrors and beads designs inspired by nature and folklore are painstakingly hand embroidered on fabrics which are then used to make trendy jackets, bags, skirts and other fashionable attire. A word of caution that cheap machine-made replicas are available en masse so my suggestion would be to shell out a little extra but make sure you pick up the hand embroidered pieces as this way you are also helping in the preservation of this art. Kala Raksha in Sumrasar village, Shrujan and Qasab have some exclusive handcrafted items which are steeply priced. You will also find cheaper ones in Bhujodi village.
A dying 300-year-old art from Kutch adorns the walls of the White House. No prizes for guessing it is the Rogan art which was gifted to former U.S. President Barack Obama by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Khatris have painstakingly worked to conserve this dying art form, that resembles intricate embroidery. You can visit Gafoor bhai Khatri’s home cum workshop in Nirona village and learn and watch how castor oil and natural dyes are mixed and a stick instead of paintbrush used to make intricate designs and patterns on fabric. Peacocks, Tree of Life, floral motifs are some of the designs you can pick and choose from.
To chase the winter blues nothing can be better than the snug, warm Kutchi shawl that is handwoven on a loom and then embellished with mirrors and beads with some embroidery thrown in. There are endless varieties of shawls to pick and choose from be it with bandhani, ajrakh print, embroidery, golden borders at the edges so much so that you will soon be overwhelmed and will want to have someone help you with the selection. My advice is ‘Never shop alone’. Find someone who has similar interests and take them along.
Jhumkas, necklaces, anklets, bracelets, bangles, nose rings, kamarbandhs made with beads and mirrors and silver adorn the tribal brides and women. The chunky silver jewellery is sure to catch your fancy so stock up on these traditional ornaments as you can then flaunt them during Navratri or team them with Western wear and create your own distinctive Indo- Western fusion style. Head to the handicraft Banni villages where the tribals sell their wares or the other options are the shops in Hira Laxmi Park and near the Rann Utsav as well as in Bhuj city.
The kala (meaning black or dark) cotton is native to Kutch and unlike the hybrid cotton which is rich white and soft the organic kala cotton is naturally off white and slightly coarse in texture. The women artisans spend hours cleaning the cotton and hand spinning it into yarns on a charkha which is then handwoven to make sarees, dupattas, stoles and fabric. Khamir an NGO has worked with local artisans to make beautifully handcrafted products that are sold at their store. You will also find kala cotton products in Bhujodi.
Copper bells in various sizes, varying pitch and with the seven notes of the Sargam are another must haves. If you want to watch how these musical pieces are made then do visit one of the workshops in Nirona where the artists will gladly demonstrate. As windchimes, keychains, door bells or decorative artefacts…. the list is endless. So many options to pick and choose from.
Most of us are familiar with the Lac churis or bangles but in Kutch, the same lac or lacquer, obtained from insect resin, is used to adorn the dandiya sticks, spoons, spatulas, rolling pins and even toys. Heat generated due to the hand turning of a lathe melts the lac on wooden products creating psychedelic designs or patterns. The Vadha community in Nirona are engaged in this technique of lacquering which is only found in Kutch.
Leather is used to make handcrafted footwear and bags which are then embellished with colourful threads, mirrors and beads. With genuine leather prices rising you will mostly get items that use cheaper leather alternatives. Fake or original leather the chappals, mojadis and jootis will set your feet tapping and want you to dance the garba. The bags are available in various styles from sling bags to backpacks, totes or clutches. One thing is for sure at the end of your shopping trip your wallets will be empty, but you will have a bagful of goodies and memories.