The day had barely set in and we were already on our way to Bhanjraru, a sleepy town in remote Tissa region in Chamba. Flocks of sheep were already on the migration route and we were often stuck amidst herds of sheep with the Gaddis making pain striking efforts to clear the way. Gaddis of Himachal dressed in their traditional attire passed by me and it took me down the memory lane with thoughts of the frail Badri Dass rushing through my mind.
I had accompanied my professor on a research study on Gaddis of Himachal in Chamba and we were headed to a small village Holi in Bharmour area of Chamba. Holi is a small hamlet around 20 km short of Bharmour, the erstwhile capital of Chamba. It took us 3 hours from Chamba to reach Holi as the road was pathetically bad. The year was 2004 and with no mobile connectivity in the region, we were virtually on God’s mercy.
Badri Dass, an old acquaintance of my Professor was a rich Gaddi by any means. He was the owner of 500 sheep at that time. Given the market rate of Rs. 10,000, each of his sheep commanded, i felt like a pauper in front of him.
His modest home was nothing short of a museum. His wife was a skilled craftsperson and had woven a range of woollen fabrics which could even leave the most talented lot of the designer awestruck. Out of curiosity, I asked her to show her products and explain the way they had been knitted.
She explained that wool fibres need to be sorted in different lengths to make distinct articles. These are then washed, cleaned and combed. Spinning of this combed wool is done on a charkha and the wool is finally woven on Rachh or Khaddi.
I was visibly impressed with a black and white square pattern blanket that Badri Dass had worn. Known as Gardu, the blanket is a specialty of Gaddi community and is used by them on special occasion. These are usually gifted to guests and i felt bit offended when he offered one to my professor but gave a courteous smile to me when i expected the same.
Sensing my uneasiness, Badri Dass started explaining the way, Gardu is woven. The blanket is woven by joining 45 by 60 meter width of Patti. These are sewed together and when finally ready could be 5 meters long and 1.5 meters wide.
A smaller version of Gardu, known by the name of Gardi is also commonly used by Gaddis. This has similar patterns as Gardu but is usually used by children who accompany Gaddis on their journey with the flock. To this day, I have a grudge with Badri Dass for he could have gifted me a Gardi, if not a Gardu.
Patti, Dodh and Shawls are the other specialities of Gaddi community that occupy a special role in their dress. While Patti is a single colour fabric usually available in white or black, Dodh is generally white. Patti is used to make coat or cholu for men and a kurti or pyjama for women.
Soon enough, the road was clear of herds of sheep and we were in Bhanjraru. Thoughts of Badri Dass and Gaddis of Himachal still occupied by mind and I yearned for meeting him, all of again.