Kachchh is one of India’s richest areas for handicrafts and is particularly famed for its beautiful, colourful embroidery work (of which there are 16 distinct styles), but it also has many artisans specialising in weaving, tie-dying, block printing, woodcarving, pottery, bell making and other crafts. The diversity of Kachchh crafts reflects the differing traditions of its many communities. Numerous local cooperatives invest in social projects and help artisans produce work that is marketable yet still preserves their artistic heritage. For those interested in embroidery, a visit to the Living & Learning Design Centre (LLDC) Crafts Museum in Ajrakhpur is an absolute must. It's worth trying to get hold of the Kutch Craft Map, printed by the Somaiya Kala Vidya (www.somaiya-kalavidya.org) organisation, which works with individual artisans across Kachchh in a bid to preserve and enhance traditional craft.
To explore the many artisan enterprises in the region, the best option is to hire an experienced guide for a day or so, as they can explain what each village is known for and steer you towards the best places to buy. You can purchase items of superb quality at the locations below; the cooperatives take cards, but individual craftspeople generally don't, so bring plenty of cash.
Local Handicrafts Cooperatives
Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan This grassroots organisation comprises 12,000 rural women (1200 artisans), and pays members a dividend of the profits and invests money to meet social needs. The embroidery and patchwork are exquisite, employing the distinctive styles of several communities. Products go under the brand name Qasab and range from bags and bedspreads to cushion covers and wall hangings. Visit the Qasab outlet at Comfort Inn Prince, or Khavda, a village about 80km north of Bhuj. (With Khavda, call Qasab well ahead if you want to arrange a textiles demonstration.)
Kala Raksha Based at Sumrasar Sheikh, 25km north of Bhuj, Kala Raksha is a nonprofit trust working to preserve and promote Kachchh arts. It works with about 1000 embroiderers and patchwork and appliqué artisans from six communities in some 26 villages. The trust has a small museum and shop, and can help arrange visits to villages to meet artisans. Up to 80% of the sale price goes to the artisans, who also help design and price the goods.
Vankar Vishram Valji A family operation and one of the leading weavers in Bhujodi; it sells beautiful blankets, shawls, stoles and rugs.
Shrujan Just past the Bhujodi turn-off, behind the GEB Substation, Shrujan is a nonprofit trust working with more than 3000 women embroiderers of nine communities in 114 villages. Its showroom sells top-class shawls, saris, cushion covers and more. The embroiderers' other wares are on display at the LCDC Crafts Museum.
Dr Ismail Mohammad Khatri In Ajrakhpur, 6km east of Bhujodi along the Bhachau road, Dr Khatri heads a 10-generation-old block-printing business of real quality, using all natural dyes in bold geometric designs. Go in the morning if you want to see a demonstration of the fascinating, highly skilled process. You can buy tablecloths, shawls, skirts, saris and other attractive products.
Parmarth Run by a delightful family whose work has won national awards, Parmarth specialises in Ahir embroidery. The workshop is in New Dhaneti, 17km east of Bhujodi, on the Bhachau road.
Khamir This umbrella organisation is dedicated to preserving and encouraging Kachchh crafts in all their diversity. At its Kukma centre you can see demonstrations and buy some of the artisans’ products. It’s about 4km beyond Bhujodi, in the Anjar direction.
Traditional Rogan Art The village of Nirona, 40km northwest of Bhuj, features several distinctive crafts (lacquerwork, bell making), but none more so than the award-winning ancient art of rogan painting, brought over from Iran 300 years ago and until recently practised by just one extended family in India in this village. Today, though, the family has started training others in the craft. These delicate, detailed cloth paintings take months of work. Narendra Modi famously presented one fine piece to Barack Obama during the former American president's visit.
In Bhuj, textile dealers line Shroff Bazaar, just east of the Darbargadh. However, plenty of so-called block-printed fabric is in fact screen-printed.
Mr AA Wazir If you’re interested in antique embroidery, contact Mr AA Wazir, opposite the General Hospital. He has a stunning collection of more than 3000 pieces, about half of which are for sale, and is happy to talk about his abiding passion. His pieces are mostly from Kachchh but also from other parts of India and even Pakistan.