Namaste India! Sightseeing in Rajkot with 37 degrees
We arrive in Rajkot in the early morning hours. The city is amazing. Loud, hectic, and wonderful – even at 37 degrees and in long pants (you don’t want to attract too much attention ;-)). Rajkot is situated in Gujarat and has 1.3 million inhabitants. So, basically a village according to Indian standards.
Before we (Julia & Katia – responsible for sustainability and PR at ARMEDANGELS) meet Bhimabai and his family, we have a little bit of time to stroll around in Rajkot. It’s really quite nice in the early morning. The temples and markets aren’t crowded yet and the temperature is still tolerable. We have the feeling that the people here are more open than in Mumbai. Rajkot isn’t one of India’s tourist hotspots – that might be one of the reasons.
We are accompanied by Sanchey and Nikhil. Both work for Suminter, the company that supplies us with our organic cotton and that works very closely with the farmers. Sanchey and Nikhil are always at our side and support us wherever possible. But more on that later....
“I am happy that my land is happy!”
When we arrive in Lakhchokiya, the entire village was waiting for us. This means: Bhimabhai’s family! Almost all the villagers are related to each other. His brother Shamjibhai alone has 10 children, 20 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren. We are a little bit nervous – our hosts too. We are greeted with a Bindi (a traditional red dot on the forehead and a sign of blessing) and the most delicious chai of our trip so far. After the warm welcoming ceremony they show us our room. We are allowed to sleep in Bhimabhai’s bed, which comfortably fits the three of us. He and his wife will sleep on the roof (!!). Our arguments are discreetly ignored. Guests are treated like “gods”... and that is how we feel.
The next day it is time to venture out into the fields to help with the cotton harvest. Bhimabhai is in his element and he knows what he’s talking about. He has been growing cotton for the past 25 years. Back then, his father’s land was distributed among the brothers. He explains that cotton has three growing stages: birth stage, youth stage & mature stage – just like human life. In most cases. Kind of poetic. Cotton in general plays a large role in India. Not only in agriculture but also in religion and culture .
The cotton is easily separated from the shrub and feels just as fluffy as it looks. The harvested cotton is put into an apron. In the conventional cotton cultivation the cotton is sprayed with a chemical defoliant to facilitate the mechanical harvest. In order to avoid this, the organic cotton is picked by hand.
The more time we spend with Bhimabhai and the other farmers, the more we realize how proud they are to be “Organic Cotton Farmers”. They are proud of their healthy land that is not destroyed by pesticides or genetically modified seeds. Bhimabhai’s brother says something beautiful at the end: “I am happy that my land is happy!” This pretty much says it all.
Chapatis, Buffalo Milk und way too tight Saris...
Time flies during the next few days and we immerse ourselves in village life. We help the women bake Chapati at 5am in the morning, we help milk the buffalo and we work in the fields. We are taken along to village celebrations and are squeezed into Saris by Bhimabhai’s granddaughters/cousins/nieces (we haven’t been able to fully understand the family relations quite yet). To our discomfort, but definitely to the delight of the Indian women surrounding us, our European bodies do not fit into the delicate Indian saris. The ladies don’t waste time and just slit the seams and secure everything with safety pins.
The relationship between the families and villagers is strong and the hospitality overwhelming. In order to spare us the hellishly spicy local dishes that are a bit too much for us to handle – especially in combination with the 38 degrees outdoor temperature – they even cook specifically for us. We are slowly getting used to the masses of food and chai that are being offered to us in regular intervals. The people’s openness is impressive – regardless of whether we are talking about caste, traditions or the gender roles that seem outdated to us.
What do worm farms have to do with Fairtrade?
During our trip to-and-behind the cotton fields, a visit to Fairtrade premium projects was a of course a must-do. This is how it works with Fairtrade certified cotton: there is a fixed minimum price for cotton. If the local market price is higher than the Fairtrade minimum price, the higher price has to be paid. This ensures that farmers do not have to suffer from fluctuating prices. Additionally, every farmer receives an extra premium for every Kilo of cotton sold that has to be invested into community projects. It can be used to build water tanks for schools, wells, or, as is the case here, to establish a worm farm.
These are the types of projects we are visiting. Among others a worm composting facility. Sounds crazy, but it’s actually a pretty practical and fabulous thing. The rain worms produce manure from cow dung. Finest organic fertilizer...
Mass gatherings, Diwali, and a bizarre holiday dinner
Before we fly back home, Sanchey and Nikhil introduce us to their families and we see a very special temple. It is Diwali after all. In case you haven’t heard of it: Diwali is one of the most important Hindu holidays – like Christmas to us Westerners – and the festival of lights. The temple is about 100 km from Rajkot and lies on top of a hill. Many worshippers make a pilgrimage to this temple – which often enough takes them days. 500 steps, 500 selfies with Indians, and 500 liters of sweat later we arrive at the top. The turmoil we trigger can be compared to what would happen when Jay-Z and Beyoncé were to walk along the street. Crazy!
After lunch at a restaurant - cooled down to below 0 - we travel to Sanchey’s village. Obviously, he announced our visit and as soon as we get out of the car, the entire village follows us at every turn. Even into his house. Here we are also allowed to experience Indian culture up close. The women give us Mandis (elaborate henna tattoos) and sprinkle Rangolis on the floor (beautiful patterns made from colored sand). The entire time, Sanchey’s mother feeds us with small Indian delicacies. The celebratory dinner takes place between Subway and Domino’s in a food court (!!) outside of town. By far one of the most bizarre moments of our trip. India is always good for a surprise!
Saying goodbye is difficult. We board our plane back to Germany loaded with lots of new experiences, crumbling henna tattoos and filled to the rim with Chapatis.
Before we left, Bhimabhai has a request for us: “Tell the people in Europe to buy more organic cotton. Even your competitors“. We will do that, Bhimabhai. Promise!