Project Kalayatra – A Solo Traveller’s Sojourn with Art

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By Lekshmi Nair

“To appreciate magic, you do not need to be a magician. To appreciate art, you do not have to be an artist”.

Project Kalayatra is barely months old, kick-started in the month of March 2016 it’s an endeavour by solo traveller turned social entrepreneur Lekshmi Gopinathan. Supported by a team of enthusiastic and ably talented volunteers, it’s an attempt, a crusade to help and protect endangered art forms in various parts of the country. Twenty nine year old Lekshmi quit her full time role as the Head of Communications of an e-commerce website and set out to travel the length and breadth of the country, unravelling artisan communities, interacting with them and making art tours, on the go.

Project Kalayatra was formed out of a purpose for Lekshmi’s wandering, an avid traveller, she knew that the life of a nomad called out to her. Yet, her travels needed a purpose and she found them on the streets of Varanasi, talking to a weaver, one fine day. There has been no looking back and Kalayatra has travelled to Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Nepal and Uttarakhand searching for artisan communities. Kerala is her next month long project.

Explore the Gavri Dance of Bhil Men, the sensual Kalbelia of the gypsies, learn puppeteering in Jaipur, make some patch quilts in Barmer, visit the legendary and fictional ghost town of Kuldhara, live in the desert with the camels, paint in Pushkar, sing in Jaisalmer, weave with the Gurungs in Nepal, pray with the monks in Mcleodganj, explore a writer’s muse in Mussorie or trek in the mountains to meet the artists, this is the world of Kalayatra, a small step at changing lives, one at a time.

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Through Kalayatra, anyone can witness and experience the life of an artist in the remote corner of the country- volunteering, working and living with them. All of these at a very affordable cost, these are all backpacker’s art tours and hence are not heavy on the pocket. The idea is that anyone and everyone should be able to afford it. Lekshmi’s experience of having worked as a documentary producer and setting up other start up organizations has come in handy while she rows the Kalayatra boat, solo.

Art is dying and by art, Kalayatra does not mean the incredible ones you see in galleries and museums, they mean art and craft created by artisans in villages and small towns, from crammed up spaces, using their hands, it means handicrafts. Lekshmi saw their endangerment up close while travelling and after toying with the idea it marked its spot in her head and heart. Numerous websites offer artisans the choice to a kind of fair trade by offering their products online on e-commerce websites, that’s great and needful but in reality the issue is much deeper. Lekshmi through Kalayatra wants people to encourage, motivate and experience the life of these talented men and women, because everything is not about money and Kalayatra believes in that.

Lekshmi is working to build the idea into a self-sustainable model for the communities. Kalayatra is a means to give these artists a chance to preserve their history and the travellers a chance to embrace art.

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