Location: Shaam-e-Sarhad, Hodka, Gujarat
I am constantly astonished by the rich variety of India’s geography. Take the hills - the vast Himalayas, the central craggy Vindyas that inspired Kipling’s The Jungle Book, the soft Cardamom Hills of the Western Ghats where tea and spices grow. Consider the great rivers, kicking off with the Ganga and progressing southwards to the Cauvery. Count the national parks - 106 of them, each with distinctive geology, wildlife and flora. Then, there are the flat deserts and scrublands, best known in Rajasthan, least known high in Ladakh.
Desert also defines swathes of Gujarat state in western India. That is where we go now: to Shaam-e-Sarhad, a few hours’ drive north from Bhuj, the state's textile hub.
But, passionate as I am about India’s textiles, even I need to take a break. Shaam-e-Sarhad, meaning ‘sunset at the border’, provides it and lives up to its name. The prime activity is to gaze at the seemingly unending, subtly changing, multi-coloured sunset over nearby salt lakes, deluging your senses with a double colour-blast in the sky and water reflections. But the hotel is very special, too.
Set in the Banni scrubland on the edge of the Rann of Kuchch, a great salt desert, Shaam-e-Sarhad is a beautiful, peaceful retreat with plenty of spots to relax. The the entire project is created, owned and managed by the local community of Hodka Village. It aims to enable local people, who are the primary stakeholders, to promote and sustain their own livelihoods and cultures (crafts, food, music, lifestyle) while pushing forward rural development through low-impact endogenous tourism. Often, such aims fail for both locals and visitors. But Shaam-e-Sarhad is so carefully considered in every detail that it is a great success.
Importantly, it is authentic, not gimmicky. The spacious, local-style mud cottages are large and well spaced to maintain privacy. Each is decorated with murals, mirror-work, textiles and pottery; the bathrooms are fine. The food is delicious and you can watch the young local chefs preparing it before you enjoy it beneath a splendid textile patchwork canopy.
If you are suffering cold turkey from lack of textiles to buy, don’t worry. Shaam-e-Sarhad’s little tent shop has charming local produce, though keen shoppers should brave huge Arjun Handicrafts nearby - there I found rustic embroidery that I’ve seen priced at three times the amount in Rajasthan cities. Out and about, see traditional cattle farming, migratory birds, flamingoes in season, ingenious desert life, and those sunsets.
On the drive up or back, it’s almost mandatory to pause Kala Raksha, founded by the legendary Judy Frater, a pioneer and trailblazer for saving and reviving many of Gujarat’s distinctive dyeing, weaving and embroidery traditions (great shop). Also, perhaps pause at Nirona village to seek out fabric painter Jabba Arab and Luhar Faruk the bell-maker. Then, it's back to Bhuj's cornucopia of textiles!
Must-do wellness experience at Shaam-e-Sarhad: raw natural beauty
Shaam-e-Sarhad buzzwords: Where shall I hang a textile patchwork canopy at home?
Rooms are bhungas, traditional circular, high-ceilinged mud huts with sloping roofs. There are also tents and cottages. Despite the isolation, there is hot water for showers.
Each surprisingly spacious room has its walls, windows, doors and walls decorated by the villagers. Here the bed's headboard works around the boards of multiple electric switches, and is topped off with guardian peacocks.
A spectacular patchwork canopy is suspended over dining area where guests pick up their early morning chai and gather for meals to share desert experiences. Plenty of quiet spots lend themselves to reading, drawing or just dreaming as you gaze across the surrounding desert.
This intricate beading work is being done by one of the hundreds of craftspeople involved with Kala Raksha, founded in 1993 by artisans, experts and community leaders, energised by Judy Frater. The idea is for the people to present their own cultures; the result is exquisite traditional work.
Luhar Faruk, a multi-award-winner, sits among the brass bells and hangings he makes using his hands and feet, continuing his family's '350 years, generation by generation' metalworking. Find him in Nirona, meet his family, then walk through the little village to find Rogan Arts' innovative Jabba Arab painting cloth for city designers.
It really is time to start planning your Unpacking Wellness experience for 2023!
I am here to help you achieve this in the Himalaya, on the Deccan Plateau, along the coast, and in forests, desert and villages
If you have not traveled with me in a group before ....
Please know that we experience great sights in the best possible way, with lots of add-on encounters and visits to off-beat places. We meet conservationists, curators, craftsmen and musicians, we walk with naturalists, we cook with local chefs. In sum, we imbibe the essence of each area thanks to my four decades of studying and visiting India - and making great friends who I share with you.
For private travel ....
I work with you to create your tailor-made trip to any corner of India, to any budget, for all interests and special needs, for families and parties of friends, for business groups and for honeymoon couples - India is ideal for everyone!