New Delhi, first day, at the Red Fort – Constructed in 1639 under the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as the palace of his fortified capital Shahjahanabad, the Red Fort was the main residence of Mughal emperors for nearly 200 years. The massive red sandstone structures were the ceremonial and political center of the Mughal state and the setting for events critically impacting the region. The Red Fort was also the site where the British put the last Mughal Emperor on trial before exiling him to Burma in 1858…

On the way from New Delhi to Jaipur: When we arrived at the outskirts of Shahpura village, we climbed into jeeps to navigate the narrow, congested lanes to the Shahpura Haveli for lunch. It’s a beautiful old palace from Maharajah times, and the sister property to our elegant heritage palace hotel in Jaipur, below: the Throne Room and my room.

In Jaipur we stopped by the Ladli Girls Program to  meet the girls and the directors; the name Ladli means Loving Girls, but boys have also been included now. A couple of years back, my guide had suggested visiting the center, billed as a home for destitute and abandoned girls… I demurred for a long time, because frankly it sounded depressing… but when I finally went in 2015 my whole impression was changed by the bright-eyed enthusiastic girls, sitting on mats in a clean airy room, chatting and working on little zipper pouches. School was out for the day and they had chosen to work on various crafts projects. The kind director told us that all the children and teens enrolled at Ladli receive fair wages for their artistic work; the money is saved into bank accounts opened in their names – an unheard-of concept for street children. The accumulated funds are given to them when they are young adults. ‘The entire concept of the Ladli program is to empower participants through skill enhancement, financial security, and a  taste of independence and ownership.’ Many people in the group bought interesting crafts here and several donated to help further the good work.

Behind the Scenes “Textile Heaven” gang on the steps of the Amber Palace in Jaipur.
We drove up the hill to the palace in a caravan of small jeeps because Elephant Riding is not part of BTSA trips. Many other companies now ban elephant rides too, because of the very cruel way the young elephants’ spirits are broken, to be manageable adult elephants.

Gardens inside Amber Palace courtyard.

Camel cart ride down the rutted lane to the printing studio! In nearby Bagru, we chose wooden blocks carved with designs that we liked, then stamped cloth in a workshop with old friend, Deepak Chhipa, in white.

In Jaipur, we were happy to visit Lyz’s friend, the natural dye expert Deepak Agrawal in his market shop of organic dyes. He showed us his book of samples, beautiful soft colors from madder, tumeric, and other plants.

Next we flew from Jaipur to Ahmedabad to meet our Favorite guide! He took us to fascinating Ghandi Ashram/museum on the banks of the Sabarmati River. Ghandi lived here 12 years, and it was from this base that Gandhi led the 1930 Salt March. The Indian government has established the ashram as a national monument in recognition of the influence this march had on the Indian independence movement.

That afternoon we visited a family which is one of the last to paint these intricately detailed cloths which tell tales of gods and goddesses.

Carved sandstone reliefs on the sides of the five-story Adalaj stepwell in Gujarat state, near Ahmedabad.

Commissioned in 1498 by Rana Veer Singh, this stepwell is a superb example of Gujarati architecture. Such water sources were once essential in the arid regions western India, providing water for drinking, washing and bathing. Stepwells were also venues for festivals and sacred rituals. Of course the women had to balance heavy water jugs on their heads, as they climbed the steps UP those five stories!

New studio and ikat museum in Patan town by the famous and very nice Salvi brothers – Master Weavers. They create labor-intensive double ikat with resist-dyed silk warp AND weft; an exquisite silken sari (6 yds.) woven by them can cost thousands of dollars and take months to complete.

Rohitbhai with Cynthia. We had a delicious lunch, toured the very interesting new museum, then were treated to a demonstration of the weaving and thread-tying techniques. A wonderful experience!

The famous wild asses of the Rann of Kutch. These beautiful and untameable creatures are more like elegant zebras, than scruffy little burros!

My mud-and mirror-decorated round bungha or bungalow in Little Rann of Kutch.