Wading Through the Tacky in Search of the Takli

It’s “season” now, and the hippies have arrived in force. There’s a group of Russians here to learn yoga, and always a lot of people at and around the castle (one of the attractions in this village, and pretty close to the house where I’m staying). I’ve been trying to stay out of all that mess, but the other day went along on a sightseeing day trip to Vashisht and Manali.

It. Was. So. Touristy. Outside the temples there were all these guys hanging around selling jars of saffron, and old ladies in pattu trying to get you to hold their angora rabbits and take a picture. Old Manali looked like any little hippie enclave in NorCal or Oregon–a cafe with murals of Bob Dylan, shop after shop of patchwork satchels with big OMs embroidered on them. Mall Road was more mainstream touristy, with sidewalk vendors selling wooden keychains with your name carved on it and every shop selling the same array of mass-produced shawls.

Since learning to spin the other day, Padmini has become obsessed. She was determined that somewhere in this sea of tacky we would find a place selling takli. Of course we thought, what kind of shop would carry such a thing? At one point we were in a shop full of knitted and felted doodads, and I noticed a takli in the display counter. I asked the guy if I could see it, and he took it out for me. The thing was huge, at least a foot long. I twirled it in my fingers to see how it spun, and he started to explain to me what it’s used for. “I know,” I said. “I’m a spinner. We want to buy them. Do you have any more?” No, he didn’t, he just had the one for display, but he pointed us to where we could find them for sale. So off we went, out of the main market, next to the bus stand, up the steps, where we found a few women sitting around knitting and a whole bunch of empty metal frames for small sales stands. We thought we must not be in the right place, so we went back down and inquired at some of the nearby shops, where they pointed us right back up the steps. We went back up and Padmini asked one of the women, who (as usual) at first didn’t understand our request and then expressed disbelief that city folk like us (let alone a foreigner like me) would know how to spin. Alas, the shop was closed that day. We retreated to the relative peace of Naggar, and Padmini’s husband told us he had seen piles of takli in Kullu market.

So the next day we got on the bus to Kullu. The bus did not disappoint, with beaded fringe and tassels across the front window, Hindi music blasting, and a pigeon hanging out next to the driver the whole time. We veeery sloooowly bumped along the 20 km to the end of the line.

There, right by the entrance to the market, we found a no-name hardware and weaving supply store. Sure enough, right up front were two boxes full of roughly carved but functional takli. We sat there spinning them on our palms to find the ones with the best balance and fastest spin. I also picked up some string heddles and reeds to set up a little backstrap weaving, and as we ran back to catch the last bus we found a little pick-axe to help dig up roots for our natural dye experiments. That’s my kind of shopping spree.

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