It is a riot of colours the moment I enter the streets of Raghurajpur, a village located about 15 km from Puri in Odisha. The walls come alive with murals. Deities and demons jostle for space but I am fascinated by the tribal motifs. There are birds flying out of the canvas, flowers blooming everywhere while seasons change on the walls. But the village has one central theme. The triad deities of Puri – Lord Jagannath and his siblings grace every house as you can see them painted everywhere. Raghurajpur is a Heritage Arts and Crafts Village and every house here is a veritable art gallery while every villager is an artist. While there are so many craftsmen and women here, the village is famous for the “chitrakaars” who create the patachitra. “Pata” means cloth and “chitra” is a painting; the art has evolved from the traditional murals of Odisha, dating back to the 4th century. Every chitrakaar here has learnt the art from his ancestors and is well versed in creating tussar paintings, palm leaf engravings, papier mâché toys and masks, wood carvings, cow dung toys, among other crafts. Walking around the village, you can enter the homes of these artists which are like mini studios. You can watch them at work, listen to their stories and even bring home a patachitra.
Cobbled alleys, old broken houses with wooden balconies and slate roofs – the rustiness of Garli left me under a spell on my visit there last year. Established by the Sud community which primarily comprised traders, Garli happens to be one of India’s first heritage zones in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Each house here sees an interesting blend of Himachali and British architectural forms. During their time here, the British gave a facelift to this village by building elegant havelis and mansions. It was sheer joy to see some 19th century kothis and havelis like Chateau Garli, Rayeeson Wali Kothi and the Santri Wali Kothi, living examples of the bygone era. Be it the Belgian glass window panes or the Belgian chandeliers in Chateau Garli, each corner of the house exudes the heritage factor. Most kothis bear gorgeous murals and Rajasthani motifs on the walls. It was an absolute delight for a history buff like me. The village is an excellent example of progressive planning even during those days. The village panchayat is very actively involved in retaining the heritage character of the place by always giving advice on new constructions. The scenic beauty of Garli, coupled with some great local cuisine and nature safaris makes it an offbeat getaway option.
A visit to Garli would be incomplete without a day trip to the Kangra fort and Masroor rock-cut temple. Also, don’t miss out on a night safari. A reserve forest nearby is home to leopards and wild boar.
Desert craft: Watch artisans working at their crafts at Hodka, a typical Kutchi village with painted houses and skilled craftspersons in the desert province of Kutch. The mud-caked huts called bhungas adorned with rustic wall art never fail to delight swarms of visitors. Tourists flock to Kutch in droves, captivated by its stark landscape and bounty of handicrafts. At the desert village of Hodka, 65 km north of Buhl, they get a chance to shop handcrafted items like embroidered bed sheets, stoles, armlets, appliqué patchwork cloth, trinkets and junk jewellery.
Painted Life stories: A yesteryear ghost village, Saur in Uttarakhand, is almost like a gigantic walk-through art gallery today with every wall of every house in the village brought to life with colours, motifs, text and stories. The transformation from an ‘abandoned’ to ‘art’ status happened, thanks to Project FUEL which undertook the task of beautifying Saur, amongst many other wrecked villages in the state, sometime last year. Project FUEL documents life stories and wisdom tales– they used the stories of the locals of Saur to paint images on the walls of this hamlet. They got a muralist, typographer, painters and many volunteers to dye the village in varied hues of life. “We didn’t want Saur to be just an art project, we were also concerned about the livelihood of the families that still live there. That’s why we started the Ghost Village Fest, an annual festival where the locals put up stalls, conduct workshops and travellers are encouraged to come, stay and experience the village life first hand. This year the women of Saur conducted unique workshops on making green salt and pine jewellery and generated enough funds,” says Deepak Ramola, Founder and Artistic Director of the “The Wise Wall Project”. So, look forward to community living, wall paintings, hands-on village experiences like food foraging, pine needle craft making, folk music galore, sumptuous Garhwali fare and a celebration of human wisdom!