Delhi - Varanasi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jaipur - Ahmedbad - Bhuj
Twofold's epic three-week adventure to India in February/March 2016 focused on the sights and textiles of Rajasthan and Gujarat. (In the future this will be split into two shorter trips.) Our group met in Delhi where we stayed at a charming boutique hotel. A highlight of our time there was visiting the studios of various young designers to get a behind-the-scenes look at Delhi's exciting design scene. Rounding out our experience of this famously frenetic city, we toured Delhi's classic tourist sights, sampled innovative Indian food at some of the city's best restaurants and shopped for one-of-a-kind textiles and fashion at some of Delhi's most interesting boutiques.
Our next stop was enchanting Varanasi. We enjoyed a private tour of a nearby weaving village, where luxurious silk fabrics are handwoven on 19th-century jacquard looms for high-end clients in India and abroad. We were also deeply moved by the experience of watching the Ganga Aarti, an evening ritual that takes place on the banks of the River Ganges, and seeing the funeral fires at Manikarnika Ghats from aboard a boat with our charismatic local guide.
Our next destination, Udaipur, is renowned for its pretty lakeside views, iconic floating palace, and hilly streets lined with old havelis. Our private guide took us on a fascinating tour of Jagdish temple and the City Palace, a highlight with its exceptionally-preserved interiors. As a counterpoint to the opulent splendor of the palace, we experienced village life up-close on a community tour organized by a non-profit providing educational and economic support for rural communities. During this tour we also enjoyed visiting a women's social enterprise and collective, which produces textiles and garments for brands in India and overseas.
En route to Jodhpur we stopped at the awesome Kumbhalgarh Fort and impressive Jain temple at Ranakpur. We booked surprise luxury accommodation for our guests at RAAS Jodhpur, which was a wonderful treat in the middle of our adventure! We thoroughly enjoyed spending a full day in the gardens at Mehrangarh Fort, which provided a spectacular backdrop for the World Sufi Music Festival, an annual event that brings together Sufi music artists from India and all over the globe, which was a highlight of our trip. At the fort, we also got access to the fantastic Turban Gallery, which is currently closed to the public, where we enjoyed seeing turbans of various style from throughout Rajasthan.
With an elegant, family-run boutique hotel as our base in Jaipur, we explored the textiles and crafts of Jaipur in addition to some of the city's classic sights. We enjoyed getting our hands dirty during a block-printing workshop in Bagru, a town with a long history of block-printing and dyeing. This followed an interesting walking tour of the village, during which we saw people who specialized in various steps of the hand-printing process. We were also fortunate to visit the workshop of a high-end block-printing label, where we saw the finest-quality examples of this Indian craft. We explored Jaipur's specialty shops, including that of a renowned textile collector and we enjoyed a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the jewelry workshop of one of Jaipur's famous gem merchants in addition to walking the streets of the Old City with our knowledgeable and well-connected guide. Another highlight of our time was a cooking class we took at a private home.
Our short time in Ahmedabad, in the western state of Gujarat, gave us a fascinating glimpse of this teeming city, starting with our stay in a lovingly restored haveli, typical of 19th-century Gujarati townhouses with its central swing and court, which was situated in a maze of old residential streets. Our local guide took us on a rickshaw tour of the city, which included visiting a paper factory founded by Gandhi, which recycles textile waste; exploring a stunning 15th-century step-well and mosque; and touring old havelis currently under restoration. Capping off our visit was a guided tour of the world-renowned Calico Museum of Textiles, which has an exceptional collection of Indian textiles.
Our wonderful guide in Bhuj gave us a rich, personal experience of this fascinating area in far-western India, renowned for its textile crafts. We visited weavers and bandhani dyers in and around Bhuj and the Great Rann; spent a morning at a festival where local Communities—both Muslim and Hindu—gathered to sing and dance; stepped with bare feet on the crunchy salt flats of the Great Rann of Kutch and spent the night in mud huts; visited remote communities known for their distinctive mirror-work embroidery; cooked with our guide's mother and enjoyed her delicious meals; and met two expatriate designers who live and work in Bhuj, drawn to the area for its textile traditions. To conclude our extraordinary adventure, we spent our last day at an artisan design school, founded by a visionary American textile scholar, where we participated in weaving, bandhani and embroidery workshops with graduates from the school.