I always tend to leave for India on Mother’s day - not the nicest day to leave, but it works out to be the best in terms of work, weather and fitting in all our suppliers. At least I leave in the evening, so we get the day together as a family.
I managed to get about 5 hours sleep on the plane and landed a little late in Delhi at midday on Monday. I just love arriving in India, the immediate change in culture, the heat, the sounds and the smells are all different to home.
After a run the gauntlet taxi drive to the hotel to shower and change, I was straight on the Metro down to see TARA projects in South Delhi. If you click on the link, you’ll see the amazing work this WFTO accredited company does. TARA supply us with some photo frames, our ceramic drawers and our wooden hearts and stars. There are loads of samples to see and choose, a bit of an Aladdin’s cave. I was shattered by the evening, but still managed a few bottles of Kingfisher to wind down. Now the fun starts, how to continue working all week and combat jet lag? I’m sure it gets harder as you get older!
I was looking forward to Tuesday and meeting Conserve India, another Fair Trade company that we have been on the radar for years, but it’s just never happened. An early morning metro ride to the furthest westerly station and a short drive after to their workshop. It's great getting out of the tourist part of town and meeting the locals that never see tourists. You tend to get stared at quite a bit but when you smile at them, you get the biggest smile back. Conserve India make loads of products, but we’ve been developing a range of leather bags and accessories with them amongst other products. Hopefully, they will all be ready by autumn.
Wednesday was the day I was and wasn’t looking forward (for travel purposes) to, a 5 am start and a train to Moradabad, a town 160kms east from Delhi to see Noah’s Ark, another WFTO accredited company. These guys make most of our wooden frames, boxes and glassware. We’ve been working hard on new products and have loads in the pipeline. I don’t want to give away too much, but there should be a bit of a sideways move in our product range this autumn.
The main aim of Fair Trade is to help others, to work with communities and to improve their lives. I was lucky enough to visit one of the schools they run; it’s all free for children, as most of the kids come from a underprivileged background that may have been sent out to work if Noah's Ark didn’t help. I was then taken to see Kamrool from KH Handicrafts, a small business that has been helped enormously by Noah's Ark and now helps other families by employing and training more of the locals as their orders have increased.
Back to Delhi on the train again. The trains are fantastic in India. I was on the Shatabdi (a fast train, but still travels at an average of 48km per hour) where I was given a breakfast of tea and veg cutlet on the way out, paneer curry, dhal, curd (yoghurt) and tea on the way back and it tasted excellent.
On Thursday, I flew to Udaipur, the Venice of India and, more famously, where Octopussy was filmed! I’ve been here loads of times but still get blown away with the scenery and ambience of the place. Udaipur is an amazing city and I’m lucky to have so many friends here; it seems like everyone knows me!
Before I left Delhi, I wanted to visit the Tibetan market, where there is always a few bits and bobs to buy for the festival season. Unfortunately, it was closed, but I did get to see the biggest flag I’ve even seen. Udaipur is where the majority of our photo albums and journals are made. We’ve been working with our supplier for the last 15 years. He was our first ever supplier, we came across him whilst travelling when we were young. The day was spent catching up with friends, the artists, and designing new samples.
Due to the success of our Celtic leather journal range and three string journals, these will be increasing. I also visited their handmade paper factory, where all of our paper is made. We know most of the staff and it’s always a pleasure to see them again. The factory is in a small village outside Udaipur, with only 50 houses and we are happy that we’ve given at least 30 of the local women continued work so they can provide for their families.
Saturday was the day I was most looking forward to, a trip to see where our popular handmade leather bags are made. We were on the road for 14 hours that day, visiting different families in and around Jodhpur. It was a pleasure seeing them and learning more about how our bags are made and seeing the skills that have been handed down from generation to generation. In one house, grandfather, father, uncle, cousins and sons all work together using tools and skills that have been used for centuries in leather work. The only machine in sight was a foot pedalled sewing machine.
My whistle-stop tour of our producers in India had almost come to an end. I had a couple more days sitting, chatting and drinking chai with the artists, getting samples made and taking more pictures of the Lake Palace Hotel before flying back home, feeling very excited about the work that had been done and the samples we will be receiving in the next few months.