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I AM NOT THE TYPICAL TOURIST!

Sathya Saran  (click here to know more about this blogger)

I am not the typical tourist. I do not 'do' the must-see sights, I do not take selfies against every touristy monument or milestone I encounter and I prefer to make my own itinerary when I travel. Yet, there is one weakness I often succumb to. Of picking up things that are intrinsic to a place or region.

If I can stumble on something rare, handmade, a craft or forgotten art all the better. So my purchases have been varied, both in size and price. They include a rug made of yak's wool with squares that have designs in them, a large ceramic 'egg' from the roadside in Morocco, and a painted ostrich egg from South Africa.  Made by the tribals of Bolivia, the rug is actually a reproduction of their ancient calendar, the 'egg' was something that called ut to me as I drove past on the highway, and the ostrich egg was so quaintly painted with colourful hens on it, that it was irresistible. India has more than enough of wonderful craft to offer, and I always end up buying terracotta mirrors, wooden carvings, indigo dyed fabric, wicker baskets and if on a splurge, rare silver pieces which I can wear all the time. 

Which is why, when presented with saris made from yarn spun from the Deodhar, I was overjoyed and enthralled. I have seen how clothes can be made out of the banana fibre and bamboo, but the Deodhar has always been my favourite tree, growing as it does, fragrant and mighty, in the higher reaches of the Himalayas, and I was delighted to have something that could be a gift from the tree.

We were at an impressive store bearing the name Kumaon Textile Development Corporation, where the saris were being sold.  The shop was at Kainchi Dham where we usually stop for food en route to the mountains when our driver suggested we check out the rare cloths they stocked. Of course, my first thought was what the tree might suffer in the making of the yarn, but the salesman assured me the derivation of the sap did not harm the tree in any way. My questions, as an eternal student of textiles and fashion, got limited replies. The R and D for the project was done elsewhere; the saris were made in far off villages… he was only selling the goods and was not obviously well informed. But, he added, the project had been covered by Surabhi, in the t v series. I told him then, that Renuka Shane and Sidharth Kak were both known to me and I would follow up with them. 

Of course, I knew of the gossamer shawls the women of Garhwal made out of thistles. I had one in my wardrobe, elegant as a spider's web. Now, the Deodhar sari would be another treasure to own. Even as I was deciding on the one to pick up from the variety, the salesman brought another lot… these were more beautifully made, in muted colours, with thread work… and were derived from oak. Needless to say, I ended up with two saris, not cheap by any standard, but well worth the price. I also took the contact details, wanting to research the projects and write on them for my fashion column readers. 

To my dismay, the net showed nothing . The only mention of any research on oak was by the state's Silk Board, on worms feeding on the oak and the idea of deriving silk from them, and still at the nascent stage of exploration. I began to have doubts. Further digging threw up nothing. None of the textile research institutions knew of a project on Deodhar or oak. I checked with experts on handicrafts, and drew a blank. Finally, I called and questioned the manager of the shop. I learned that the shop was not a government shop as the name suggested. And the manager, after hemming and hawing, told me that the R and D was the knowhow of his bosses in Delhi whose number he could not share. I told him I wished to visit the women who wove the saris, so I could write about them; he said it was impossible because they were in far off villages. I assured him I could walk to those villages, I was a trekker of a sort. At that point, his bravado crumbled. He told me that perhaps I had been fooled by sales talk. And the saris were normal saris, cotton or polyester, with no contribution from Deodhar or oak!!

Hmm, I thought. Finally, I have turned tourist in the implied meaning of the term. And joined the ranks of those one easily fooled in their quest for the unusual! I write this so others visiting Kumaon may not be as easily fooled. Log on to google and check the facts before being carried away by 'inventive salestalk'. 
 

SATHYA SARAN
Sathya Saran writes from a wealth of invaluable experience!
 
26-APRIL-2016
 
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2 Comments
 
02-MAY-2016 Dr Vandana Narang
very true Satya these kinds give a bad name to the trade!
 
 
30-APRIL-2016 Meher Castelino
Very interesting article and also sad that tourists and visitors are at times fooled. Would have loved to read and see the women weaving the saris had you met them etc.
 
 
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