CHENNAI: Ever watched a Brazilian tie-and-dye a ‘bandhani’ sari?

Thanks to city-based Lekshmi Gopinath who has merged her passion for travel with a purpose to help India’s artisan community — foreigners from all over the world are now flocking to experience ‘art tours’ while they holiday in India. The venture called Project Kalayatra (Hindi for art journey), “gives people a chance not just to interact  but actually live with people like weavers and puppeteers for anywhere from a day to three weeks,” explains the 29-year-old.

The tours are currently available in textile hubs like Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, as well as parts of Nepal, with Kerala and Uttarakhand in the works soon.

What began as a let-see-what-happens sort of idea that kicked off with just three travellers in March has now expanded so much that Lekshmi has quit her full time job and giving up her rented house, all in order to be available to travel year-round. “My rent was 33,000 and I thought I could use that to cover at least three weeks of travel so why not?”

Encouraged by her sailor husband who clearly enjoys the same passion for wanderlust and friends she’s made en route various trips in the past who now offer their translation services to her clients for free, Lekshmi let’s on that for now  the only profit she makes are the ‘smiles’ of strangers who send her photos from their rural adventures. “That’s the price of keeping these art tours affordable,” she explains. And she isn’t exaggerating — a day of accommodation with an artisan family with all three meals included is covered at a throwaway Rs 600. “The entire amount goes to the artisan of course,” Lekshmi clarifies, adding that bettering their livelihoods is what set her on this path in the first place. Down the line, she shares, “My hope is to set up a portal for these artisans to sell their crafts and get on board the e-commerce boom that they are so far behind.”

For the moment though, she is crowd funding her venture in the hope that more travellers like herself will get to connect with people who sit still to create beauty with their hands.

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