The long flight from Australia arrived in Delhi mid-morning local time. After transferring to the domestic terminal and a short but sleepy wait, it was time to board a Spicejet flight to Dehradun in the foothills of the Himalayas in India’s newest state, Uttarakhand.
I had now been awake for nearly 30 hours and harboring a viral intruder. The bed was the typically Indian and hard as a board, yet strangely comfortable to my exhausted body. The virus was developing nicely, and the night was a series of fitful wakes and sleeps.
Feeling a little better by morning, I made plans to visit the weaving co-op that was my main reason for coming to Dehradun to buy stock for KASU EMPORIUM. It is important to me to find places that are paying their artisans a fair wage as this is not necessarily the norm in India. Most Indian imports into Australia are from large wholesale houses and the cheap prices reflect the double facts that the goods are of low quality and the makers poorly paid. I take pride in the fact that we are choosing some of the best of traditional Indian handicraft for our stock. This means that I firstly undertake research to find suitable organisations, engage in correspondence with them, and finally, when I am happy I have found a place that fits my criteria of quality and fair trade, travel to the sources and personally choose the products. At this stage, my buying budget is small, but this means that most of the stock at KASU EMPORIUM is one-of-a-kind, and probably the only one available in Australia.
The weaving co-op at Rajpur fits all my criteria and more: the artisans are paid well for their labours; the fine wool, organic cotton, silk and pashmina yarns are hand-spun and the cloth hand woven. All colours are derived from local plants, minerals and insects, and the palette ranges from the soft pinks and mauves of the lac beetle, greys and blacks of myrobolam + iron, blues from indigo, reds and pinks from madder, and other colours from brazilwood, cutch, harada, tesu, henna, pomegranate and tea.
In addition, eri or non-violent silk is used, which means that the silkworm is not killed in the process of obtaining the yarn, rather allowed to develop into the next stage of life and leave home in its own natural time and the cycle of life is uninterrupted. In commercial silk production, the grub is killed while still inside the cocoon when it is boiled so that the long filaments are not broken by the emerging chrysalis.
I had probably chosen the worst autorick to take me to Rajpur! The driver had not a word of English, and my rudimentary Hindi in an Australian accent just didn’t work. The auto had problems of its own, stopping at whim and usually in the middle of honking traffic, whereupon the driver leapt out and fiddled with something under the back bumper which seemed to fix the problem for a while. The driver also had no idea where Rajpur was, stopping frequently to ask directions from available pedestrians.
Just as well he didn’t know, as the road to Rajpur narrows into one lane (two if you are an Indian driver) and takes a steep winding route up a mountain on the road to Mussoorie.
The auto was not happy. Nor, I am guessing was the driver but to his credit, he didn’t show it. I wasn’t happy when the motor conked out several times on steep sections, the driver at back fiddling and the handbrake not too clever, resulting in small backwards lurches. I had momentary visions of a flattened driver and the auto and me careering backwards down the hill, losing the valuable ground we had won. That didn’t happen, but I think we were all very happy to arrive, and I gave backsheesh (a tip) to the driver for his valiant efforts.
My reward was to get out of that machine and wave goodbye to it, hopefully forever!
Rajpur has a charming quiet village-like atmosphere with tiny shops and substantial houses rising high on both sides of the road which has ravine-like gutters to allow for snow-melt runoff. The manager, Alam, was watching for my arrival and greeted me at the gate with an offer of tea.
The tiny showroom was like an Aladdin’s cave of beautiful shawls, stoles and scarves: all created from hand spun yarns in colours only natural dyes can create some hand woven, and others hand knitted, . It was with some difficulty that I made my final selection: pashmina, pashmina with silk, silk and cotton, silk with wool, wool alone: no two alike.
Now to get them safely home to Australia in time for the winter chills!