Sunday, January 30, 2011

Manali - Our Base in India

When we arrived the city and its mountains were covered with a blanket of snow; everything, except for the roads where ice prevailed, was white. Our water supply frozen over,  Dominique had to rely on snow for our morning coffee....

We chose Manali as our India base about 18 months ago. The town lies at the end of the world, so to speak. Rothang  pass, 50km to the north, leads to Lahaul Valley, Spiti, Ladakh and Central Asia. It is closed for about 7 months a year. However, for better or worse, things are changing rapidly. Last year saw the unveiling of a new 7 km tunnel, which will bypass the seasonal weather conditions, and give 12 month access to the vast and pristine Lahaul. And last weekend we had this:

A ski lift in Solang, one of the first in India.

All of this fun apart, it is not skiing that brought us here, but a totally different resource of the area. Himachal with its proximity to Ladakh, Kashmir, Punjab and Tibet has established itself as one of the great Indian hand-weaving and wool processing centers. Not only does it offer (at least most of the time, more on this in my next post) yak, cashmere, a bit of bactrian camel, wild and mulberry silks, angora, and several varieties of local wool, but also and most importantly a very long and accomplished weaving and spinning tradition.

Actually, now that we are on the subject, the day that began with the unveiling of our ski lift, ended with the inauguration of the annual winter carnival. The residents of the region, did not disappoint, as all the best weaves were on display in town.

Please enjoy a sampling of the Kinnauri interlocked weft weaves:

Back in India

We are back in India after a 10 week absence.

Delhi was very cold this January...Our usual routine here includes a hotel with the Tibetans in Majnu Katila, picking up supplies at the various markets, visiting printers and designers, chai or lunch with friends and providers, maybe a visit to the Handicraft Museum, or an arts and crafts exhibition, and then the dreaded overnight bus ride to Manali.......

We love the markets here, esp. the tiny back alleys, if your legs are strong, you are not in a hurry, and can handle the constant over-stimulation of all of your senses, you can find almost everything.....Our mission this time is clear mordants and natural dyes....will we succeed or fail?

As always, my first call is to Suresh. He has been our Delhi Taxi Walla for the past four years.  He has also been our dear friend and a dependable collaborator in many of our projects. If you are ever in Delhi and need a driver or a guide, here is your man (sipping a latte this time).

I have made some preliminary inquiries and no one is aware of any natural dye suppliers in Delhi. Of course, I am stubborn and have to prove it myself, so we head-out to the chemical market. Our first stop is a vat dye wholesaler. He knows of no suppliers in Delhi, but has a friend, a retired chemistry professor from Agra University and natural dyes seems to be one of his areas of expertise. Within seconds, I am on the phone with Prof. Aggarwal, and yes there is an ayurvedic supplier few hundreds yards away who also deals in some natural dyes. Oh the magic of India, today it is in the air....

We pass a few hours talking, looking at dried plants and drinking chai with Mr. Naresh. He can provide us with about 20 different dyes. I am halfway there. We pay for our samples, pick up the mordants and head back to the car.

At the end of the day I am exhausted, but so happy. Over the years Dominique and I spent days or even weeks looking for a certain fiber, material, technique or artisan. On many of those occasions we came out empty handed and discouraged, but than there are days like today when India opens her warm heart and unveils a few more rays of its brilliant beauty....