This is just a taste of some of the amazing things I saw and did in Orissa, and will show you some of the things you might experience on a Colouricious textile holiday. I had such a fantastic time, it would take me two weeks to tell you all about it, and I'm not going to do into too much detail, but this will give you an idea of what the experience was like for me personally.

I suppose the adventure really began at the airport on Friday morning, if not on my train to London on Thursday evening! Our Tribal Textile tour to Orissa was also the second half of a double package following a tour of West Bengal, so many of the ladies on the trip were already in India before I arrived. I met up with three other ladies at Heathrow, and we travelled to Calcutta together. I was really suffering with multiple minor illnesses, toothache, sinusitis and a cough and cold so I felt very sorry for the poor lady who had to sit next to me on the plane for the next twelve hours. Luckily, she must have had very good resistance to my germs, as she survived, and we became great friends, and spent a lot of time together over the next twelve days!

Easter Saturday 4th April

We arrived in Calcutta early on Saturday morning, and had a short drive through the city before being taken to one of the most luxurious hotels I've ever stayed in! Calcutta was as bustling as you'd would imagine, it's very noisy, in the daytime at least, and the traffic is insane, but it was really pretty clean and impressive. I had my first bout of 'looking out of the window' itis, there is always so much going on everywhere. In five minutes you can see all sorts of animals, wandering cows, stalls selling fish and vegetables on the pavements, overladen motorbikes, vans and buses, men 'hanging about', women carrying all manner of things, women mending the roads, interesting bamboo scaffolded building sites, temples, parks, billboards with extremely western looking models, funny English signs for schools and IT courses, little stalls with men mending things at the side of the road, rickshaws and tuk tuks, hugely dangerous looking coils of electrical cable and much more. I had a glimpse of the Ganges, which is HUGE, and was a little sad not to have time to stop and see it properly, but there just wasn't time.

There was time for a little rest, and then we were off to a Kantha workshop. This was was held in Shamlu Dudeja's home, a beautiful quiet space in Calcutta. Shamlu is a retired Maths professor, and was a very interesting and extremely refined lady. Shamlu and her daughter Malika run SHE (Self Help Enterprise), commissioning beautiful Kantha pieces from village women in Bengal. We saw some amazing pieces in the shop and in Shamlu's home, I could happily have bought everything in sight, but luckily everyone else had the same idea, so I took pleasure in other people spending money rather than me (this was a bit of a theme some days, I am very happy encouraging other people to buy things I love!). After hearing Shamlu's story, being fed some amazing sweets and the soon to be obligatory Chai, we were all given a small piece of printed Tussar silk (more about this later), embroidery thread, hoop and scissors and personal tuition in Kantha stitch. This was a lovely relaxing hour of quiet stitching, I haven't anywhere near finished the piece, but I will do one day!


Easter Sunday 5th April

After a very odd night's (non) sleep, where I discovered that Calcutta is silent at night, despite the constant noise in the day, we were up incredibly early to catch a 7am flight to Bhubaneshwar! It's a good job I am a morning person!

Bhubaneshwar is the capital of the state of Orissa, and is a funny mix of a fast expanding new town founded in 1948, with important government, university and IT industry buildings and an old town dating from around 2 BC, known as the Temple City of India. At one time there were over 2000 temples in the old town, and it is still an important Hindu pilgrimage centre with around 600 temples today. It is part of the Eastern Indian Golden Triangle of Bhubaneshwar, Konark and Puri, which we visited later in the tour. 

Our first stop was Olasingh, a silk weaving village, where we learnt lots about tussar silk, the type of silk produced in this area. Tussar silk is a short fibred, golden coloured slubby cloth produced by wild moths, rather than moths fed on cultivated mulberry, as we are more used to. It can be spun and woven in a variety of grades, I brought back some beautiful examples of almost hessian grade tussar silk, as well as intermediate and much finer softer pieces. 


On the short walk to the weaver's houses, we saw cashews growing, brick making and a fine array of cows and chickens. There was also a trader in the village while we were there, carrying a mountain of textiles on his motorbike!

We were very much welcomed into the weaver's house, and shown how the cocoons were spun into thread, weaving on a hand loom, and the washing of the coarse spun silk thread.

There was an interesting room at the back of the courtyard, which we were told was a special or holy place and we shouldn't go in. However the gracious lady shown in the photo spinning the fine red silk invited one of my friends and I in. There was a rice grinding machine in the room, which was a bit like a seesaw, and the rice was ground in a small hole in the floor. The walls were decorated with rice finger painting, and my friend was shown how to do this, and encouraged to add to one of the designs. None of this explanation was communicated in English, but it was very friendly and a very special part of the afternoon.

After we left the silk weavers, we went on an excursion to Chilika Lake, a lagoon, where we visited the Kalijal Temple island, and I had an interesting encounter with a Sadhu...

Chilika Lake is a gigantic brackish water lagoon opening into the Bay of Bengal. It is a great place to see migratory birds, but there were none in evidence when we were there! Our boat ride was very entertaining, it was horrendously choppy, and we were in a fairly small boat, with no lifejackets, and we got absolutely soaked several times. One lady was quite badly seasick, but the rest of us enjoyed the experience, and spent a lot of time laughing, possibly slightly hysterically. We saw lots of fishermen and fish farming on the lake, it was an interesting ride.

The Kalijal Temple was a bit of an odd concrete affair for my first Hindu temple, but I made an offering and was blessed repeatedly with peacock feathers by a very happy Sadhu. I didn't have any rupees at this point, and my offering had been paid for as a gift, so I was as desperate to explain to him that I couldn't pay for the blessing as he was desperate to give me my blessing, so we had a lot of flapping between us. Part of the offering included some bangles that were to be hung on a tree, and some more that you were to wear. Mine were tiny, although I don't have very big hands at all, and one snapped as I tried to put it on. We decided that was my Sadhu's curse.

We travelled again in the afternoon to Gopalpur on Sea, an old British seaside resort, where I think my Granfer may have been briefly stationed during the second World War. On arriving at all the hotels on the tour, we were given lovely gifts of flowers, or necklaces, and sometimes given souvenirs on leaving too. The hotel in Gopalpur was lovely, it was a little eccentric, but had a wonderful atmosphere and it was gorgeous to be by the sea. There was a bit of an odd attitude to swimming in Orissa, some of the hotels had pools, but they were generally open from 8am to 7pm, and we didn't have much opportunity to use them until the last few days. The pools were all manned by someone who logs your visit, I think that not many people can swim, and they seemed rather worried about people drowning if swimming in a pool without supervision. Swimming in the sea was a definite no-go, which was a shame, but the drop and the currents did look a bit scary even to me. 

Easter Monday 6th April

Easter Monday started out as a day where we expected to be on the coach for a quite a while, but ended with new respect for and first hand experience of the not particularly great, but certainly improving, infamous Indian roads!

There are lots of changes in India at the moment, it is a rapidly developing country, and has a newish Prime Minister in Narendra Modi. We saw much evidence of investment in infrastructure, even the most remote villages we visited had electricity and often mobile phones, but road improvements were very high on the agenda in Orissa. It takes an awfully long time to travel by road, even short distances have to be driven fairly slowly, and huge stretches of some roads, hundreds of kilometers long, were being worked on while we were travelling. Unfortunately, these roadworks seem to take place concurrently, with each stage happening at the same time, along the full extent of the roadway, rather than completing a stretch at a time...

Saying that, it really wasn't a problem. I don't like coach trips at all, and will go to huge lengths to avoid them at home, but in India, it was lovely. There was always something to see outside the coach, wonderful scenery, interesting villages and towns, or something to talk about, or delicious food to eat, shopping show and tell to enjoy, or just sewing or reading, or looking at the map to see where we'd been. I didn't mind a minute spent on the bus, it was very relaxing (once we learnt not to sit near the back where the bumps jolted worst!).

These are some pictures of a typical small town, where we stopped to use an ATM, an experience in itself, as they sometimes didn't work, but also unnervingly addressed you by name on the screen when you entered your card! Indian Rupees are a closed currency, so you can't take them into India, and they can't be traded, so we all used our debit cards when possible, and withdrew money from ATMs before we went to any remote villages. Everything was unbelievably cheap, lunch usually cost about £2.50, and was always wonderful, and you could buy very nice fabric by the metre for £1, and hand woven artisan textiles for as little as £5.

The first village we stopped at was Padmanabhpur, which is famous for what was confusingly referred to as tie and dye, but we came to realise was ikat. Of course, ikat is made using tie dye, but on the threads before they are woven, rather than by tying and dyeing the finished cloth. The weavers here used hand looms again, but wove traditional patterned and coloured cotton saris. Everyone was very welcoming and the children all asked us to take their photos and show them to them. This village, and most of the other villages we visited, takes part in a Orissan sponsored scheme to preserve traditional crafts, and were fairly used to the idea of tourists wanting to see how they worked. Orissa is one of the poorest and least visited states in India, with a tribal population of around 22%, and although we could see that tourism was important, we only met one group of four Australians visiting the same areas as we were. Including the four Australians, I encountered six westerners aside from our group the whole time we were in Orissa, so tourism is very limited. We had special permits that allowed us visit some areas, and our guide had to check in with the local police whenever we visited these protected villages.

I bought a traditional cotton sari in Padmanabhpur. it wasn't really the nicest sari I saw, but the family who wove it were so lovely that I really wanted to buy something from them. This was a really happy village. The colours everywhere in India were amazing, but the smiles here really added to the warmth, it was a lovely place to visit, and I felt very welcome indeed.

There was a weavers education centre not far from the village, where we met dyers and weavers, and spent a lovely time picking out gorgeous saris to buy. Show and tell was pretty good on the bus that day!

We visited a Saura village in the afternoon. This is one of the oldest tribes in Orissa, and they are known for their tribal wall murals. We saw these designs in many places in Orissa and also translated into block printed fabric, but I felt a little less comfortable in their village, so didn't take so many photos out of respect for the villagers.

Our road trip then continued to Rayagada, but on the way we had an eventful breakdown when our bus got stuck in the mud. It had rained the day before, and there were roadworks along here where new bridges were being built at quite short intervals. Each new bridge section had a little dirt bypass, which had turned into a mud bath. Our bus stuck fast in one, shortly followed by a overcrowded local bus who tried to overtake us, and got stuck just in front. We all got out, and there was lots of umming and ahhing, where no-one really took charge, and various locals made different attempts to move either of the vehicles. We tried to help by laying branches across the mud to drive over, and wedging stones behind the wheels. Eventually, the local bus was freed and drove off, and we all called after it for help! The local driver must have had second thoughts, and the bus reversed along the good part of the road. Then the passengers returned to help free our bus too. It wasn't at all frightening, it was quite good fun, but it did take a long time! Isha, our wonderful tour guide looked after us very well, and kept everyone supplied with food and water. We had to go on a huge diversion as soon as we met a road junction, as there was a similar mud pit seemingly each mile on the road to Rayagada. It all worked out fine in the end, we arrived at our next hotel safely late that night, slightly exhausted, where they offered us our evening meal as if nothing had happened!

To be continued....

Katy travelled to Orissa with Colouricious, find out more about the 2016 Tribal Textile Tour here.