Located on the westernmost tip of India, Kutch has a unique and peculiar ecosystem. Its salt marshes are parched in the summer, but lie submerged under rainwater through much of the monsoon. It’s hypnotising to look at, but terrible for vegetation. Yet despite this starkness, the nomadic and pastoral communities that inhabit Kutch have devised their own methods of survival, as well as a rich tradition of handicrafts to add ornamentation to their barren landscape. For a craft hunter, Kutch is a treasure chest like no other, where each village has a different compartment of delights.
As the men of the Maldhari and Rabari community in Kutch roam the open lands, grazing their cattle, they are easily identifiable by the piece of Ajrakh cloth that they wear, either as a lungi, a turban, or simply thrown over a shoulder. This intricately block-printed fabric is produced not far from the India-Pakistan border, in a village called Khavda. The laborious, 16-step process of decorating fabric with geometric patterns inspired by Islamic architecture ensure that the colours don’t run when washed.
Simpler but just as beautiful, is the pottery that Saraben’s family create out of local clay. The pots, bowls, plates, small urns, jugs and glasses have a distinguishable red colour that comes from geru, a natural dye applied onto the surface of the objects using a piece of cloth. Designs made of black and white lines and dots bring the pottery to life, transforming into art. Saraben’s house has a small showroom, where you can see and buy these creations.
Getting There: Khavda Village is 72km/1hr10min north of Bhuj.
You know you have arrived in Hodka when you spot young girls dressed in exquisite hand-embroidered clothes playing around a cluster of bhungas, or mud huts. The setting and the garments—befitting of a scene from a film—make up everyday life for these village folk. While the men graze their cattle, the women and children make magnificent embroidered fabric, which is sold as quilts, bedspreads, kanjiris (long blouses) or hair accessories.
The area is home to a large number of pastoral communities, and leather is abundantly available. To fulfil the large demand for harnesses and shoes, men of the Meghwal community produce leather goods, adding their own unique Kutchi touch by colouring the leather and embossing it with geometric patterns. In Hodka, a few houses away from the ladies doing embroidery, visit the leather craftsmen and buy mirrors, mobile covers and file holders, besides more traditional products like shoes and water containers.
Getting There: Hodka village is 64km/1hr north of Bhuj.
PM Narendra Modi shone a spotlight on Nirona when he gifted United States President Barack Obama a Rogan, intricately painted and displaying fine craftsmanship from his home state. Traditionally used to decorate bridal wear, Rogan is done with a special kind of paint, made using oil from the seeds of the castor plant, a crop found in abundance in the area. It is now used to embellish everything from skirts to wall hangings and file holders. Until a few years ago, families across Nirona, Khavda and Chaubari villages practised Rogan art, but today only the Gafoorbhai Khatri household in Nirona keeps this art form alive.
Nirona is also home to the Kutchi makers of ghantadi: copper bells that have distinct tenors, and are tied around the cattle to help their herders identify them. Made by the Lohar community of Nirona, this sustainable art form is made using scrap metal and is said to be a thousand years old. Rectangular sheets of scrap metal are beaten into shape and joined together using a locking system without any kind of welding. Cattle herders work with Lohars to ensure that the bells they have ordered produce the desired sound. Nirona is also home to five Wadha families that make lacquered wood objects, using lac extracted from insects. It is among the few parts of the country where real lac (and not synthetic paint) is still used.
Getting There: Nirona Village is 40km/50min northwest of Bhuj.
In Bhujodi, a village located on the outskirts of Bhuj, the majority Vankar community make some of the region’s finest fabrics. This community is involved with weaving, tie-and-dye and block printing. The Rabaris, who also live in the village, supply the Vankars with fleece to make shawls. Whether you are a potential buyer or just a keen enthusiast, the Vankars are happy to have visitors come to their homes to watch live demonstrations.
Getting There: Bhujodi village is 9km/15min east of Bhuj.
Khamir was set up to strengthen and promote local crafts after Bhuj and its surrounding villages were devastated by the massive earthquake in 2001. The campus is located 14km from Bhuj, and houses craftspeople who work there and interact with visitors. Built using sustainable construction technologies, the Khamir campus also has a guesthouse, where visitors can stay and participate in workshops and events held there.
Getting There: Khamir is located 14km/23 min from Bhuj, behind BMCB Social City at the Lakhond-Kukma Crossroads. Visit www.khamir.org for more details.
Close to Bhujodi, the Hiralaxmi Crafts Park was set up in 2005, to provide rural artisans with a platform for their crafts, and to help them reach a larger audience. If you can’t travel to the villages across Bhuj to visit the craftspeople themselves, do stop by this park, where artisans from across the region showcase their various wares.
Getting There: Hiralaxmi Park is 14km/30min east of Bhuj, near Bhujodi Village and off the Bhuj-Anjar Highway. Visit www.hmcraftpark.co.in for more details.
As the largest city in Kutch, Bhuj is an excellent base for exploring the surrounding villages. Public transport is erratic and congested and it is best to hire a car for these excursions. Most local drivers know their way around the region, and the craftspeople who reside there. Alternatively, plan your visit with the help of a guide beforehand.
Getting to Bhuj
Air Bhuj has an airport with two daily flights from Mumbai. Alternatively, fly into Ahmedabad and go to Bhuj by road. Taxis charge approximately ₹2,500 for a one-way trip from Ahmedabad (332km/5hr20min).
Rail Bhuj is connected to Mumbai by several trains, including the daily Kutch Express.
Road Take NH8 out of Mumbai to Vadodara, and get on to the Vadodara-Ahmedabad Expressway. From there, take SH 7/NH 947 towards Viramgam, and continue on the road to Bhuj via Dhrangadhra, Halvad, and Bhachau.
Stay During the peak tourist season from October to March, the following resorts in and around Hodka Village open, offering accommodation in traditional bhungas, cottages and tents.
Shaam-e-Sarhad www.hodka.in; doubles from ₹3,400; open 15 Oct-31 Mar
Gateway to Rann Resort www.kutchrannresort.com; doubles from ₹4,000; open Oct-Mar
Mahefeel e Rann Resort www.mahefeelerannresort.com; doubles from ₹4,800; open Oct-Mar
Chaitali Patel is the former Associate Editor, Special Projects at National Geographic Traveller India. She's partial to nature, history and the arts. She believes that every trip is as much a journey within as it is one outside.