As a self-proclaimed ‘textile nomad’, I have travelled extensively across India and South East Asia driven by my desire to meet artisans, to learn of indigenous craft techniques and to work with fellow weavers or textile specialists. Travelling with textiles has opened up many doors of authentic interactions with local craftspeople, language barriers melting away with appreciation of craft and skill.
I have been exploring and working in Northeast India since 2014, and it has recently become my permanent home since starting a family here. My husband, Champak Deka runs a bespoke tour company. He is Assamese, born and brought up in the Northeast with an equally enthusiastic appetite for travel in the region. It made perfect sense to bring our skills together and offer curated textile tours of Northeast India. Where previously I was taking textile product from the villages to the global market, I now offer the opportunity to take guests to meet the artisans themselves, to experience their stories firsthand.
Northeast India is off-the-beaten-track of the Indian tourist circuit, with diverse tribal culture and breathtaking landscapes abundant in wildlife and luscious plant life. The local cuisine is full of interesting and unusual flavours and there is a wide variety of craft and cultural events. Textiles are an integral part of the indigenous communities in the Northeast, many of which maintain their traditional lifestyle. The 200+ tribes make up the diverse cultural and social world of the Northeast which is fascinating to explore and to understand.
To explore textiles of the Northeast, it is best to begin by understanding the local raw materials and techniques before going deeper into complex weaving, designs and ethnic identity. There is an abundance of natural materials here from rare silks, to local cottons, nettle fibres, and various other fibrous plants. Weaving is the primary means of creating cloth in this region, and one can see a real variety of looms and techniques. Taking the time to walk around the villages, following the sound of looms, or following the trail of natural dye plants slowly unveils the skills unique to each ethnic community. If a trip coincides with one of the many tribal festivals, visitors are treated to a vibrant display of textiles and traditional clothing brought to life in celebration.
Our first collaborative tour was in February 2018 and since then we have run 3 bespoke tours for textile professionals, researchers and enthusiasts. We tailor the tours to the interests of the guests, starting with a rough itinerary as a framework to build on. As such, each tour has a different flavour and reaches different corners of the region. Having experienced weavers, dyers and supporters of artisan craft as guests is rewarding, especially to see the excitement and understanding when we get into talking technical. It challenges me and pushes me to deepen my own technical knowledge and experience. We have curated tours to focus on spinning and raw materials, or broadly on textiles and festivals, or most recently a tour to get to the source of natural dyes, searching out specific plants and mordants. We like to include a workshop, or some hands-on time at the loom or with the raw materials, there is nothing quite like doing it yourself to appreciate the craft.
In a curated textile tour getting the balance right is really important, including enough textile visits and interaction with artisans to satisfy an eager enthusiast, balanced by cultural activities, wildlife safaris and visits to other local attractions. Getting the balance right of time on-the-move and down time, and the balance of showcasing the culture of the Northeast with authenticity.
It is always a pleasure to be able to introduce guests to the artisans whom I have come to consider as my friends and colleagues, and this is the strength of the tour that we offer. Our tours aim to give guests a personal experience of the Northeast, built on the friendships with artisans and professionals in the hospitality industry that Champak and I have built and nurtured over the years.
We have 2 tours coming up which we are now taking bookings for. Please get in touch for further information.
December 2019 : Textiles, Festivals and Tribal Culture of Meghalaya, Assam & Nagaland
February 2020: Woven textiles of the Northeast with a focus on the Singpho tribe of Upper Assam