Hunting for Himroo

Racks of HimrooThere is something mystical about being in a foreign land.  The smells, the scenery, the people, the language and the most exciting for me, the myths.  When I think about stamping my passport in another land, I become so engorged in researching the local culture and legends that once I am on the ground the only logical step is to begin the hunt.  One of the most thrilling hunts of my life came in the form of an exotic fabric found in only one city in the entire world, Aurangabad India.

When I landed in Pune, India, it was the start of Monsoon season.  The rains would come every few hours and sometimes last all day without stopping.  It was mesmerizing and I would often sit on my bed with the window open, fresh Chai in hand just staring at the downpour while watching the women saunter under umbrellas in their rainbow of sari’s.  I knew of the beauty I desired to find but trying to plan a journey of at least 5 hours with no car and no public transport to Aurangabad proved to be difficult to a budget weary traveler.

Finally, as the rains began to let up in late September, I convinced a friend to travel with me under the disguise of visiting the Ellora Caves.  They are a World Heritage Site and the oldest rock carved Buddhist caves in the world, spanning kilometers of the Indian jungle.  You climb the tree line, past signs warning of leopards, past monkeys trying to size you up for snacks they can steal and past the paparazzi of locals who are still amazed to see foreigners in their land of enchantment.  I was so desperate to complete my mission that I made the 675 km round trip on the back of a sporty motorcycle.  By the time it ended my rear end hurt so bad I couldn’t sit and my legs hurt so bad I couldn’t stand.  What in the world was worth this pain?

Himroo.  Himroo is an ancient fabric of unequivocal beauty and technique of masters.  It is rumored to be the offspring of an ancient Persian weaving technique and it only survives in Aurangabad, India.  The fabric itself is an extra-weft weaving technique and a mixture of silk, cotton and silver or gold threads.  Nowadays, they use a metallic thread but in the days of grand Indian royalty, it was woven with pure silver or gold.

Rest assured as we turned the road in between rows of banyan trees painted orange, white and green and I spotted the weaving center in front of me, I shrieked.  I am still thankful that my driver did not wreck but he was most certainly confused as to my excitement.  The bike barely came to a stop before I was sprinting up the drive to the steps of the factory.

 The pieces are woven on throw-shuttle looms and the process is extremely complicated.  One scarf can take up to a week to complete for a small piece, anywhere up to 18 months for a full sari.  When you handle the delicate pieces, they slide through your hands like water and fall into delicate layers below you.  The mix of colors selected for the warps and the contrast of the weft can leave you breathless as one piece I purchased was a combination of emerald green and tangerine tango.

The patterns tend to be florals with geometric borders.  While this may sound boring, the simple intricacy of the movement is breathtaking.  To think that each piece has to be thought out ahead of time in order to prepare the threads made me gasp in admiration.  I couldn’t quit feeling them, mulling over the rows of fabrics and the selection of pieces that were unlike anything I had ever seen in my life.

We walked around with the weavers, through the weaving rooms, fields, dye baths, preparation rooms and anywhere they would let me go.  They talked, I listened with baited breath for the next tidbit of how they design and create these masterpieces.

In the end, I walked away with eight scarves, carefully selected for the appropriate recipient.  The scarves were as thin as tissues in your hand but vibrant and full of life.  The silk was the most delicate weave I have ever felt in my life.  Walking away, I felt so much appreciation for the beautiful works tucked gently in between four layers of packaging in my backpack.  I was thankful for the history lesson, for being able to meet the artisans whose hands create and uphold this ancient art and relived to know the mythical textile of Himroo did indeed exist.

Mission Accomplished.

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