Chapter 1 - Lost and found in Gujarat
Fourteen flights, 4 train trips, 2 long car journeys and 16 hotels - it's a mammoth undertaking for a month in India. I wouldn't normally attempt a trip like this, but since I missed a trip earlier in the year, I wanted to cram in a visit to my existing suppliers as well as a few new ones.
Experience has taught me that things often don't go to plan in India. Planes get cancelled, trains are late, weddings or festivals mean that suppliers might not be available when you are, so with this in mind, it pays to have a Plan B, and remain as flexible as possible.
If you follow Woven Stories on Instagram, you would have seen what I got up to in Jaipur and surrounds. Block prints were hunted down, purchased or ordered - everything from indigo khadis to light cotton florals. I have my favourite places to go but I'm always on the lookout for something new, and now that I've been trading for 6 months, I've got a better idea of what my customers want. I'll be back in Jaipur at the end of the month so I've left some suppliers till then.
Next stop, Bhuj in Gujarat. Here's where things started to go a little off-piste. I had to catch a plane to Mumbai to get another flight to Bhuj. My last Instagram post was sent from Mumbai airport...see you in an hour in Bhuj (I thought).
I have no one but myself to blame for what happened next, after all, I was the one who booked all the flights. My ticket destination was Bhavnagar (airport code BHU, which is almost Bhuj, right?), and even though we flew on a tiny prop plane that I had very little confidence in, I did in fact arrive there.
It should have been a clue when my hotel pickup didn't appear. Of course fifty taxi drivers then offered me their services, but none of them spoke much English and didn't seem to know the hotel I was booked into.
I did what any English speaking person would do at this point and said loudly, "English? Does anybody speak English?" A young Indian man stepped forward and said with a Gujurati accent, "Yes, I am Australian, what seems to be the problem?" He asked to see my plane ticket and my hotel booking confirmation and then said very calmly, "Hmm, I see the problem, you are in Bhavanagar and your hotel is in Bhuj 450km away, but don't worry, we will fix everything."
My immediate thought was, BUGGER!!!, but that passed, because when you're in an unexpected place and a complete stranger tells you they'll take care of your problem , all you can do is trust that they will.
Things moved swiftly from this point. Another local family who were picking up an uncle from Florida, heard of my plight, whisked me into one of their 3 cars and took me back to their house.
Then the family went into overdrive, first booking me a bus ticket (which was later deemed to be unsuitable as I had to change buses in the middle of the night) and then organising a driver to arrive in an hour who would drive me for 7 hours overnight to get me to Bhuj. Thoughts at this time included "RAPE, PILLAGE, ROBBERY, CRASH, CRASH, CRASH! " (yes, I think in capitals) but the family assured me that the driver was reliable, so I went with the plan.
In the meantime, I sat down to dinner with the family. They were utterly delightful, well-educated, lively conversationalists who stuffed me full of Gujurati delicacies, then packed me a bag of provisions to take on the journey. Many photos were taken - mostly by them. Phone numbers were exchanged - all of theirs for 2 of mine. I was made to eat (more), drink 2 glasses of water, and then sent to pee (did I need help in the bathroom? No, I have been going to the toilet on my own for many years now, but I did manage to spray myself with toilet water from their baffling array of taps, so perhaps I should have accepted the offer).
The driver, who spoke little English, was instructed to stop every 2 hours for a bathroom break - a welcome respite from the road, as night-driving in India is not for the faint-hearted. Overloaded trucks, tooting horns, flashing headlights and swerving traffic are not conducive to sleep. Thankfully, I received a phone call from a member of my new family, as well as the original young man from the airport, every hour on the trip to make sure I was still alive.
So, after a night in the car cocooning myself in white light and summoning up assistance from everyone including Baby Jesus and Ganesh, I finally arrived at my hotel in Bhuj at 4.30 this morning. I've had a day off, I felt like I deserved it!
You may think I'm a little insane after last nights events, but to tell the truth, I live for moments like this - it's one of the advantages of travelling solo. I'm guessing if I had a travelling companion this probably wouldn't have happened because unlike me, they would have checked Google maps. It did make me wonder though, would I go out of my way to help a stranger to this extent?
It's back to work tomorrow. I'm looking at Ajrakh blockprints, bandhani and organic khadi weaves while I'm here, so stay tuned for the next instalment - Bhuj and beyond, unless of course something unexpected happens!