Gujarat

A 4-week trip around Gujarat at Christmas 2012 and the New Year

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Factory visits

One of the (rather uncomfortable) oddities of travelling in India with a driver is the ability to walk into people’s working lives and ask them to explain their production process.

Cotton

So on a whim north of Diu we set off to find out how seeds get removed from balls of raw cotton and wandered into a factory where ginning machines extracted the bolls from huge piles of cotton. The seeds were then fed to cattle.

sugar-cane1

Sugar

On the way to Junagadh we visited a family factory producing jaggery (raw sugar). Sugar canes were being fed into a crushing machine and boiled down in a series of three iron basins. The girls of the family fed the dry cane husks into a furnace under the boiling pots.

sugar-cane2An older man was standing in a container of water, crushing some herbs with his feet, extracting a flavour for the sugar.

The final pot was emptied into a mud container where the yellow sugar paste precipitated, and the barefoot boy scraped it off the mud and into tin containers for sale.

Screen printing

screen-printers-Jetpur

In Jetpur we walked into a fabric printing factory where they showed us their collection of screens – often resembling wood block patterns – and a vast room where the fabric was printed.

Hand weaving (Khadi)

gondal-mill1At Gondal we visited a hand weaving factory. Quite Victorian; a deafening room full of treadle weaving looms operated by young women. Ear protection was available but no-one was using it. Shuttles shot and clattered, the women controlled the speed, peddling with their feet, mending broken threads as they went along. Each could produce 6-7 metres of simple woven cloth a day. Followed by a quieter room where they were preparing the warps.

An old guy sat on his own in a third room knitting socks on an extraordinary little machine. He enjoyed taking us through the process in great detail. He produced about 22 pairs a day.

gondal-mill2Finally a room that at first glance seemed almost empty, but there were rows of woman sitting on the floor, hand winding yarn into bobbins for the looms.

We bought some of their output in the shop; a £2 shirt, some fabric for Kim at around £2 a metre and 8 napkins (35p each).

The khadi movement was set up by Gandhi in the 1920s. The spinning of home-made cloth was both practical (promoting rural self-employment) and political (boycotting the cloth manufactured industrially in Britain).

Medicines

Also in Gondal we turned up at an Ayurvedic factory. (Their claim to fame is that Gandhi gave a speech here in 1915 praising ayurveda.) We feigned a sudden interest in the manufacture of pills and syrups while a man showed us around mixing, grinding, heating, and packaging of a range of products. He held up a bottle marked that it was derived from pure cow urine.

Best was the bottling line which consisted of an enormous metal container with a tap at the bottom where a man flowed contents into small bottles, one by one, while the man next to him fastened on the tops.

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