Family History and Sightseeing Tour of India – March 2017

A summary of a family history and sightseeing tour of India by Anne Brookes

On our fifth trip to India in 2015 we had travelled with the ‘Families in British India Society’ and this group tour had been faultlessly organised by Indus Travel. As well as good accommodation we had travelled to many places of interest connected to fellow travellers, plus ones relating to the Brookes clan and several old cemeteries on behalf of British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA). We also spent time on the tourist trail, which included visiting the fabulous Golden Temple at Amritsar, the Taj Mahal at Agra and Shimla. Because many of the places we wished to explore this year were not on the normal tourist route, we contacted Indus travel to request their knowledge and expertise in organising a bespoke tour.

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel

By Vikramjit Kakati (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

After much discussion we flew from Heathrow to Mumbai on the 7th May, to enjoy a few nights staying at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel—expensive but a lovely pre-55th wedding anniversary treat. With only a first name and photograph, the staff at Indus Travel had located our previous guide Sunita and so, with our trusty driver Santosh, we began another tour of many interesting sites in Mumbai. We were transported in our comfortable Toyota Innova car, with Santosh avoiding numerous scooters and erratic car driver to revisit St Thomas Cathedral, various temples, an interesting museum and several of the other sites, as recommended on the tourist map. I had requested a return trip to the huge dhobi complex and also we were fascinated watching the final part of the ‘lunch-box’ delivery service. Sunita was unavailable on the next day but Santosh was on hand to take us wherever we wanted to go. This included an early morning, through the Sassoon Gate to visit the busy fish market area, where trucks arrive with blocks of ice, ready for the fish and prawns to be transported elsewhere. Along with several tours from the cruise ships, we walked around Crawford Market; the livestock area didn’t appeal but the array of fruit and vegetables was amazing and we did purchase bananas.

On the 11th we left Mumbai for an interesting drive, through hills to Pune, where we checked in to the comfortable Hyatt Regency Hotel, situated on the outskirts of the large modern city and after a relaxing afternoon, next morning we were ready or another sightseeing trip with our guide Daya. Our main reason for visiting Pune was to visit the church and cemetery which had a connection with John’s maternal grandmother, who along with several siblings, during their father’s army posting, had been born here. We were made very welcome at St Mary’s Church and John was shown the original christening and death records pertaining to the Waite family. We then proceeded to the St Sepulchre Cemetery; where not surprisingly, the area dating back to the late 1800’s was very overgrown but photographs were taken to pass on to BACSA. We reverted to being tourist and were shown many interesting places, including the house where, during a period of house arrest, Mahatma Ghandi and his wife had chosen to live simply, in one of the many rooms. We also saw a popular ashram, where celebrities pay to dress in flowing robes and also live the simple life, which appeared to include periods of non-energetic dancing. As one of our interests is the history of WW1 & 11, we appreciated the visit to the beautifully kept Kirkee Commonwealth War Cemetery.

Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Terminus Station)

By Shaileshsonare (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

On the 14th we had another long journey to Sholapur and I had to smile when we passed the sign ‘ALWAYS OVERTAKE FROM THE RIGHT’ but as the trucks invariably stayed in the right lane, this sign was ignored by all drivers. The purpose of this visit, to what was more of an industrialised town, was to see where John’s father, Archie Brookes, was born in 1906 and where his grandfather Oliver had been posted (probably from Calcutta) to work as a train guard. Oliver’s career with the railways ended in 1937 with him holding a prominent position at Victoria Terminus (Chhatrapati Station) in Mumbai, before retiring to live in Bangalore. Once again we were booked into another spacious and clean room at the modern Balaji Sarovar Premiere Hotel, located on the edge of the sprawling town and adjacent to the small airport. Next day we were joined by our excellent guide Amit, who did his best to describe how Sholapur would have appeared during the early 1900s but now very little of the old town survives. However we were introduced to the station master of the present Railway Station, which was opened in 1956 and given a brief talk about how the original railway still retain some of the original ideas—including the train engines showing odd or even numbers, to indicate which way they are travelling. We were also shown the area where the railway employees, including John’s grandfather, would have lived and worked during the period Oliver resided in Sholapur and then travelled to the isolated Christ Church, where Archie was christened to meet the caretaker and take photographs. Then after a tour of the town and a promised visit to Bhuikot Fort later, we were taken to First Church and met Pastor Vivas Vinay (who also looks after Christ Church); he and his wife made us very welcome and although no records exist from the early 1900s, we did have a nice chat.

Our Family History Tour was now over and we reverted to tourists with a circular route towards Goa had been arranged; this involved more very long drives but seeing the scenery, people and animals of rural India was fascinating. However, despite roughing it in some places over the years, I was disgusted with the Madhuvan International Hotel in Bijapur; the wording international was a misnomer and my wording would have said Madhuvan Doss House and Flea Pit. To be fair we had been advised that whilst Bijapur had some wonderful old architecture, including Gol Gumbaz Tomb, it was not a tourist area and so we didn’t have high expectations. However, it didn’t help that the place resembled a building site and the receptionist couldn’t find our names in his tatty book. John did try to explain that an executive room should have been reserved but there was a language problem and so we ended up in a tiny room with a dripping A/C system and extremely hard beds. We had decided to move on to our next destination rather than stay a second night but fortunately, after a phone call to Indus Travel who phoned the hotel, an executive room was available. The word executive was also was a misnomer as there were no towels etc, we also had a hole in the ceiling but at least the beds were ‘less firm’ and we had enjoyed the sights. NB—for future tourists wishing to visit Bijapur, the nearby Hotel Pearl did appear to be of a higher standard of accommodation.

Our next two night stay was in the modern EEFA Hotel at Belgaum, where we had a lovely spacious room, comfortable beds, a fridge and a working shower. We had an interesting stay, with a tour of the town, visiting more temples and enjoying a tour and a chat with a volunteer at a non-religious but less commercialised ashram. On the 20th we drove to Hubbli, where we stayed in a comfortable suite at the Clarke’s Inn; again this was perfectly acceptable accommodation, especially when we finally received towels and toilet paper. Once again we had a comprehensive and interesting tour of the town with Santosh, which included many temples but also a view of how the locals lived in their nearby farming community.

The long drive to Goa included many miles through a Nature Reserve with signs advising of the varied wildlife there but all we saw was one monkey as we approached the coastal region. Our third visit to the Cidade De Goa Hotel, located just outside Panjam City was restful but we also chose several areas to visit, including the wonderful churches in Old Goa. On the 27th we were on the road again for our long drive to Chiplun, where we stayed in an isolated spot at The River View Resort; our first room had a dodgy toilet but once we had moved we could enjoy the old world charm of this slightly ‘down at heel’ accommodation. The views of the gardens and the distant river made up for the many steps to the dining room and after the noise from the ‘all-inclusive’ families at Cidade De Goa, it was very peaceful here. Once again Santosh took us on a tour of the area and at our request this included a visit to the railway station in Chiplun; we had rail tickets for next day and wanted to be on the platform when Tuesday’s Mandovi/Mumbai express departed. It was fascinating to watch the hundreds of passengers climbing aboard, what appeared to us to be, an already full train. However, as Santosh had to take the car back to Mumbai on the 29th, we did decide to travel with him rather than wait until late afternoon for our train. Our final long drive was another interesting journey and I watched as we negotiated busy junctions and heavy traffic in the various towns and in one we stopped for a delicious Tali lunch. I also saw many school children going to or from school and drove past fruit sellers, cows, goats and abandoned road widening projects, all on the way back to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. With the hard working and reliable Santosh, Mumbai, was where we enjoyed the last two days of our wonderful return trip to India.

Santosh, who had been at our disposal 24/7 since picking us up at Mumbai airport 24 days previously, was there to take us back to the airport for our return to the UK.

We now have to save our pennies for a possible Indus Experiences tour to Burma but with our anniversary trip to America in September, this holiday will have to wait for another year.

Gallery

A selection of images that John and Anne have very kindly sent to accompany this article.

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Textiles of Gujarat

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India held world monopoly in the manufacturing of cotton textiles for about 3,000 years from about B.C.1500 to A.D. 1500. In the middle ages, Indian cotton textile products were in great demand in the Eastern and European markets. The first modern cotton textile mill was set up in 1818 at Fort Glaster near Kolkata. But this mill could not survive and had to be closed down.The first successful modern cotton textile mill was established in Mumbai in 1854 by a local Parsi entrepreneur C.N. Dewar. Sharper mill in 1861 and Calico mill in 1863 at Ahmedabad were other landmarks in the development of Indian cotton textile industry.Gujarat is the second largest producer of cotton textiles.This state accounts for over 33 per cent of the mill cloth and over 8 per cent of the yarn production of the country. Ahmedabad is the largest center where 73 outof 118 mills of Gujarat are located. Ahmedabad is the second largest center of cotton textile industry after Mumbai. Textile tour of Gujarat will provide you an insight into the wonderful world of happy local communities connected with the textiles and their cultural heritage.

Itinerary

Mumbai • Ahmedabad • Pethapur • Dasada • Bhuj • Mandvi • Mumbai

Day 01 – Saturday 17 Sep – To Mumbai
Departure on British Airways from Heathrow and Manchester Or on Emirate airlines from Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester and New Castle.

Day 02 – Sunday 18 Sep – Mumbai
Morning arrival in Mumbai. Transfer to the hotel. Afternoon city tour of Mumbai including visit of Dhobi Ghat – the world’s largest open air laundry where Dhobis (washer men) hand wash the laundry. Stay at the Marine Plaza for 1 night.

Day 03 – Monday 19 Sep – To Ahmedabad
Departure Mumbai by Train /Karnavati Express 12933 (1340/2125) – Air conditioned Chair car. This journey will give an overview of the landscape to the group as against flying. Transfer to the Divan’s Bungalow hotel where you stay for 3 nights. Dinner and overnight.

Day 04 – Tuesday 20 Sep – Ahmedabad
Morning heritage walk of the old quarter of Ahmedabad. This is a guided walk which lasts two to two and half hours. The walk will be conducted by Rajesh Gajjar of CRUTA foundation (Conservation and research of Traditional Urban architecture). The walk begins from the picturesque Swaminarayan Mandir in Kalupur and ends in the most glorious architectural legacies the Jumma Masjid, covering in between the numerous poles, hovels, ornamental facades workplaces of artisans and number of magnificent Hindu and Jain temples.7

There is also a half hour special slide show running through pages of the city’s history unfolding back its birth from a 10th century AD ancient site known as Ashaval to the present Walled city refounded during the period of Ahmedshah and onwards. Effectively anchored the walk, proceeds from Kavi Dalpatram Chowk – which housed the great 19th century Gujarati poet – in Lambeshwar ni Pole, to the classic reminisces of the city’s textile era – the Calico Dome.

Lunch in a local restaurant – After lunch and rest visit Calico Museum of Textiles in the afternoon – here we will see Indian Textiles influenced by the Mughal and Provincial Courts 17th-19th Century Textile Trade of India with the outside world – 15th-19th Century Indian Co Regional Embroideries of India 19th Century Costumes in the Calico Collection – 18th to mid-20th Century (Sindh, Kutch, Kathiawad, Tamilnadu, Orissa, Mithila (Bihar), Bengal, Punjab, Chamba (Himachal Pradesh), Indian Tie-Dyed Fabrics, Techniques of Weaving and Dyeing Wooden Blocks for Printing on cloth. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Day 05 – Wednesday 21 Sep – Day Visit To Pethapur- 35 Kms
Leave after breakfast for Pethapur to see elaborately illustrated floral or geometric motifs, over all or alternate repeats, bold or delicate patterned, block prints mark the epitome of textile design sensibility of Gujarat. Block printing is one of the oldest surficial textile craft forms in world and Gujarat is renowned for this manifestation. The block though a tool in the printing of a textile is a work of art in itself requires great finesse and dexterity and it is a pleasure to watch a block maker at work. The magical marriage created by the transference of patterns delicately etched on a simple block of wood on to the surface of a fabric has created an especially Indian patina which is one of the highlights of world textile history, Block making is a delightfully intricate explosion, taking into consideration the requirements of the printer while giving vent to the creative impulse of the carver. Block carving is a specialized craft form; right from the selection of the wood which is either sesame or teak, the block maker’s personal touch is evident at every step. The craftsmen work for a variety of clients and therefore his design repertoire is immeasurably vast and evolving for continuous adaptation.

3The wood working tools used by the artisans are mostly designed by them. Once the block of wood is polished smooth and ready for engraving the craftsman begins his creation of deep relief work. The negative spaces have to be precise and sensitively planned as it is the block which creates the magic of the finished fabric. Blocks are made in a series according to the amount of colours, the final print will contain.

This is highly skilled and meticulous process where registration points of the main block have to match with the relative blocks so that together as a group they make a whole image. Trellises, floral patterns, lehariyas, flora and fauna, geometrical abstractions and even modern indentation are dexterously etched in by the craftsmen.

Kalamkari (Kalam means pen, Kari means work) is an ancient craft of fabric dyeing and printing. In this age of product homogeneity, each Kalamkari piece is exclusive and a visual delight for a fashion designer. A few connoisseurs of art keep the craft alive in the city. Artist dips his kalam (a pen like instrument, made of bamboo or palm bark, sharpened on one end and tied with a bundle of fine hair that serves as a brush) in vegetable colours and his steady hand covers the cloth with designs; every line is a firm stroke. From over his shoulder you see a perfect piece of art emerge.

The yellow bulb over his head shudders as the warm afternoon breeze wafts in and a weak ripple passes underneath the cloth. The beauty in that space and time completely captures you. The exquisite ancient craft of Kalamkari can do odd things to your senses. This art may be on its last breath in the city but it still exists even though it may not make much economy’s sense. In this age of mass production, Kalamkari churns out one-off pieces and offers exclusivity with each craftsman patronizing his own motifs. Techniques of craftsmanship in Kalamkari have been passed down over the years through generations of families. Apart from Ahmedabad, Kalamkari is also thriving in Andhra Pradesh’s Masulipatnam and Srikalahasti villages. These painting are found only in parts of India and Iran.

Evening visit to Vishalla for a visit to the Utensils Museum and dinner. Vishalla serves traditional Gujarati food in village surroundings. It has Vichar. A walk around the hut-like museum makes one’s heart skip a beat, marvelling at the inimitable beauty of these utensils of old age. These utensils have been handed down through the changing seasons and times, over the years.

They speak of the unmatched art and genius of humankind during the days of old when people did not have the modern facilities of our times. The designer could not let our rich heritage pass with these vessels being lost in the fire kilns! He was determined to preserve them, and today, his dream is a reality in the form of Vechaar (Utensils & Vessels Museum).

Day 06 -Thurs 22 Sep – To Dasada (Modera & Patan Enroute)
Ahmedabad – Mother (103 Kms) – Patan (38kms) – Masada (75kms)
Departure after early breakfast for Modhera Sun temple one of the finest examples of Indian architecture of its period. Built in 1026 A.D. the temple is dedicated to the Sun-God, Surya and stands high on a plinth overlooking a deep stone-steeped tank. Every inch of the edifice, both inside and outside is magnificently carved with Gods and Goddesses, birds, beasts and flowers. The main hall and shrine of the temple are reached through a pillared porch and the temple exterior is intricately and delicately carved.4

After the visit we leave for Patan where we will witness the rich heritage of Double Ikat. Double Ikat Patola from the area of Patan is unique with its gem like qualities, gorgeous colours, designs & durability. Its very appearance lures the connoisseur of fine textiles. It has no reverse side. Both the sides have equal intensity of colour and design. The peculiar quality has its origins in a very intricate and difficult technique of Tie dying or Knot dyeing known as Bandhani Process on the wrap & weft separately before weaving.

The Patola was traditionally woven in a sari length of 5 to 9 yards by 45” to 54” width. The range now extends to include tablecloth border, scarves, and handkerchiefs. Design Elements of Patola : Essentially the design in a Patola are based on traditional motifs called “Bhat”, These designs include “narikunj”, “pan”, “phulwadi”, “chowkdi”, “raas”, “chhabdi”, “chokha”, “navratna”, “panchphool”, “sarvariya”, “laheriya” etc. Flowers, animals, birds & human figures form the basic designs New geometrical designs using vegetable dyes were developed and displayed at the Festivals of India held in Paris, London, Tokyo, Washington and Moscow.

Also visit Rani-Ki-Vav – stepwell on the banks of the Saraswati river, which are a distinctive form of subterranean water resource and storage systems on the Indian subcontinent, they have been constructed since the 3rd millennium BC. Stay at Rann Riders for 2 nights. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Day 07 – Friday 23 Sep – Dasada
Morning desert safari across the Little Rann of Kutch, a salt marsh, looking for wild ass and water birds. Afternoon tour of settlements and villages along the Rann of Kutch, renowned for their embroideries.

Little ran of Kutch has one of the most interesting ethnic communities called Rabaris. Once a nomadic people, Rabaris follow an interesting lifestyle and customs. Most of the Rabbis are now settled, though some still continue to be semi-nomadic, raising cattle, camels and goats in the arid deserts of Kutch and western India.

Those settled live in small hamlets either in villages or in small towns, sometimes jointly with other ethnic communities and sometimes as a single ethnic unit. Rabaris can be easily identified by looking at their women folk, who are usually clad with long black head drapes, distinctive heavy brass earrings which hang low, stretching the earlobes. Their jewellery is modest in comparison to other tribal women. The sanctuary is well known for its group of the stale joke brown Asiatic (Wild ass), which does not live elsewhere in Indian lowlands. We can see with Little Rann of Kutch black buck (Indian antelope), Nilgai or blue bull (India’s largest antelope) and the graceful chinkara (Indian gazelle) are other mammals. The main carnivores of the Little Rann of Kutch are the endangered Indian wolf, desert fox, Indian fox, jackals, desert and jungle cats, and a few hyenas; also we can see during the visits flamingos, pelicans, ducks, cranes and storks. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Day 08-Saturday 24 Sep – To Bhuj ( 208 Kms)
Drive to Bhuj, capital of the captivating Kutch region. En route stop at Dhamdka, Azrakpur, then stop at Khamir (Kachchh Heritage Arts Music information and Resources centre )  where Mr Harish Hurmade will give you an insight into the fascinating rural crafts of Kutch. Home made lunch will be served at Khamir. Later visit Bhujodi on way to Bhuj. Dhamadka is a major center of the Ajrakh block-printing technique, Dhamadka is about 50 km east of Bhuj. Some artisans have now relocated to Ajrakhpur, closer to the city, since the earthquake of 2001. Later visit Ashapura Crafts center & Shrujan (an NGO).
Bhujodi is a small town 8 kms southeast of Bhuj. It is a major textile centre of Kutch, with the vast majority of the 1200 inhabitants involved in textile handicraft production. Here you can meet weavers, tie-dye artists and block printers, most of who belong to the Vankar community. Many will let you watch them work; just ask around. Stay at the Kutch Safari Lodge for 3 nights. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Day 09 – Sunday 25 Sep – Bhuj
8Amidst the Desert land of infinite dimensions, are quaint little villages. These are the last villages on the India-Pakistan border. Here you will come across master craft people’ exposing their traditional art, turning out master pieces every day. Their ornaments, clothes, utensils, everything they use – will make you feel as if you have stepped into lifestyle museum leaving you spellbound.

The traditions of needlework and textile arts are preserved by almost every community and caste in the semi-arid regions of Saurashtra and Kutch. A full day’s safari exploring some of the Kutchi village communities offers an insight into the traditions and the daily life of the artisans whose work is integral to the culture of the region.

The village of Nirona is the only place in the world where the tradition of Rogan art is still practiced (a method of producing dyes from natural resources and castor oil and creating intricate and long-lasting designs on silk and cotton). Nirona also offers the chance to see artisans making copper bells and practicing wood lacquering. The villages of Dhordo and Ludia provide an opportunity to see Bandhani (tie and dye,) block-printing and the intricate embroidery and embellished bead and mirror-work that encapsulates the folk culture of Gujarat. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Day 10 – Monday 26 Sep – Bhuj
Early morning visit to Kala Raksha Kendra. Kala Raksha museum intends to make excellent examples of crafts available to artisans, so that traditions can be perpetuated in a contemporary way. The museum focuses on textiles from the communities with which Kala Raksha works and is located at the Community Center in Sumrasar Sheikh village. Each object in the collection is accessioned with thorough documentation. For further synthesis of information, a document containing exhaustive information on each of the styles with which the collection is concerned has been produced. The collections also include a library of books on textiles and related topics, today totalling over 200 volumes many of them rare, archives, photographs and slides.Rest of the day at leisure. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Day 11 – Tuesday 27 Sep – To Mandvi
Drive to Mandvi where you stay in Serena Beach Resort for 2 Nights. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Day 12 – Wednesday 28 Sep – Mandvi
Free day. Dinner in the hotel.

Day 13 – Thursday 29 Sep – To Mumbai
Drive to Bhuj airport and fly to Mumbai. Your flight with Jet Airways 9W 7006 departs at 1715 hrs and arrives Mumbai at 1845 hrs. Transfer to the Marine Plaza for 1 night. Dinner and overnight at the hotel.

Day 14 – Friday 30 Sep – To London
Transfer to the airport for your flight to London or regional UK airports.

Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Pethapur, Masada, Bhuj, Mandvi, Mumbai

The Cost

Per Person on a Double / Twin share basis £1,376.00

Single room supplement £480.00

Cost Includes:

  • Accommodation with private facilities on twin, double sharing and single room basis as per the itinerary.
  • Meal Plan- Daily breakfast and dinner throughout the tour. Lunch at local restaurants and at Khamir as shown in the itinerary.
  • Train reservations in air-conditioned chair car
  • All transfers and sightseeing by an air-conditioned coach.
  • Services of a local English-speaking tour escort.
  • Entry fee at monuments and places of interest.
  • Internal flights from Bhuj to Mumbai.
  • Complimentary mineral water while onboard for transfers & sightseeing.
  • Full ATOL & ABTA bonding.

Cost does not include:

  • International Airfare. (Please contact us for competitive air fares)
  • Visa Fee for India – Current requirement for obtaining an India visa require the applicant to visit the visa centre in person. If you wish to avail the services of a visa procurement company please click here.
  • Camera fees at monuments and other places of interest.
  • Any expenses of a personal nature like laundry, telephone calls, beverages, gratuities etc
  • Travel Insurance.

How to book this tour

To book this tour, please compete the booking form, sign and e-mail it to us. A non-refundable deposit of £400.00 per person is needed at the time of booking. Balance payments will be due 8 weeks before departure. You can make the deposit payment by debit card or electronic transfers to our bank. Credit card payment will be charge at 2% extra. Our Bank details are on the booking form. Bookings are confirmed on first come first served basis. When the tour is full we will take about 5 additional names on the waiting list to replace their booking with any cancellations etc.

If you wish to join the tour and fly from any country other than United Kingdom please contact us for land only arrangements.

Click here to download the booking form.

Read our Booking Terms and Conditions