Two of my three travels to Uttarakhand, last year, introduced me to some of the most enthusiastically independent women I have met. The first bevy was in Chirag (Central Himalayan Rural Action Group) in Kasiyalekh. Chirag is a social enterprise that works with local communities by diversifying and creating various livelihood opportunities.

In Chirag, I met an introverted group of four women. Initially they wondered what made us (I had company) stop at their workshop when the store was on the floor below. I wouldn’t really call them shy. After a few minutes, they told me that completing a stuffed toy usually took them a little lesser than a month. Impressed by their quick finesse, I asked them how much time would a pair of leg warmers take. They replied ‘3-5 days’, with a friendly shrug. This group usually provided the finishing touches of the products to standardise the look and feel.

Later in the day, we happened to cross through Kilmora. A retail store run by the non-profit Kumaon Grameen Udyog (KGU). (KGU and Chirag work closely on a certain initiatives.) KGU trains and encourages the local communities to make and sell winterwear like mufflers, caps, shawls, jackets; food items like jams, dried herbs and spices and miscellaneous products like solar lights and stuffed toys. Their products were similar to the production I saw in Chirag.

However, it wasn’t until my re-visit in October when I actually got a chance to interact with the women artisans of Kilmora.

Read: Meeting the Nomadic Van Gujjars in Uttarakhand

Getting acquainted in Chirag.
Getting acquainted in Chirag.
Sharing a smile.
Sharing a smile.
I bought those leg warmers.
I bought those leg warmers.

Who are they

They are the women next door, literally. They stay in neighbouring villages, which is usually a short walk away from the store. Between their morning domestic chores and late afternoon family obligations, they make their way to the workshop and create these wonderful crafts.

The group in Kilmora.
The group in Kilmora.
The quaint display in Kilmora outlet.
The quaint display in Kilmora outlet.

What do they do

The group can be casually divided into two—one are the professional employees, who train and evaluate the women and their crafts, respectively. And the other consists of women who actually make the products.

Kamala Devi Bisht, knitting supervisor, is one of the core members of Kimora. Her work requires her to traverse across the various Kimora outlets to equip the women in the necessary skill, and supervise the quality of the creations. At the end of each work day, she checks every knitted product, weighs it, makes a note of the deductions and pays the creator for her time and labour. This is her full time job.

The other group essentially work as freelancers. They clock in the stipulated number of hours, make the products they are taught and allotted, collect their monthly wage and go home. Apart from the financial independence that this part-time job has brought to them, a majority of them told me that it also satisfied them socially. They felt like coming out of their domestic space and meeting other women made them feel confident and capable. One of them distinctly articulated that it also gave them the occasional chance of meeting strangers like me! The other job satisfaction was that they saw their names on the items they knitted. This boosted their self-worth and fuelled accountability.

Read: People of Kumaon, Uttarakhand

xxx bai is an industrious worker.
Kamala Bisht is an industrious worker.
It is always nice to see your name in print.
It is always nice to see your name in print.

How can you help

Buy local. I have seen the same products that either stores sell in distinguished shops across many metropolis. These are sold at thrice the price. However, cost is hardly the point I’m trying to make.

When I bought a woollen scarf from Kilmora, it had a name tag on it. This is the woman whose effort and time created the stylish, innovative and colourful knitwear I own today. It gave me a glimpse into her life. In space, we’re connected.

That feeling of fulfilment you will not sense, if you do buy the same product in your city.

Both the organisations invite involvement in a number of ways. If you’re crunched for time, help them financially. If you’re curious, volunteer with them. Teach, stay, cook, walk, understand and create with your hands—there is much to do here. It is magical how much we learn by giving.

Some of the other products in Kilmora.
Some of the other products in Kilmora.
Meet Pushpa.
Meet Pushpa.
As I left.
As I left.

Read: The Women of Spiti

How do strangers enrich your travel?

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Amrita Das

I have been a travel and culture independent journalist. My bylines have appeared in many publications worldwide including National Geographic Traveller India, Lonely Planet Magazine India, The Indian Express and World Travel Magazine. A fellow of Media Ambassadors India-Germany 2019 program by Robert Bosch Stiftung and Centre for Media Competence, University of Tübingen. Currently, I am the photo editor for RoundGlass Sustain, a wildlife and conservation e-publication. I live in India.

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22 thoughts on “The Kilmora Women of Kumaon, Uttarakhand”

  1. Lovely! Is there any way a bigger market can be tapped for these products keeping intact the essence of what they do or without the sky high prices corporate stores usually charge for such things.

    1. I understand the business of it- in the sense, the transport fees, labour charges and some states have additional taxes, etc. The artisans don’t eventually suffer because they’re not paid as per produce. Most of them get monthly salaries. Chirag sells some products online. But when we travel to such places, how many of us actually go out and buy local? In my experience, this number is small. Plus, it is always nice to meet the end-user of your creation no? :)

  2. Now this is a wonderful post and each one of us can contribute in our own little way… when we travel . These women are true entrepreneurs and buying stuff made by them is nothing less than our contribution to a social change.

    1. Absolutely, and to make them feel more capable. It also encourages me to pick up a skill I discontinued. After my first visit from Uttarakhand last year, I started knitting once again :) It is a two-way street of social change.

  3. The best of you that I have read till now. As travel bloggers more we highlight the local people and their stories responsibly we contribute to their cause. Keep them coming

    1. Thanks Anindya. I agree that as travellers we must travel responsible and contribute to local livelihood :)

  4. Such an amazing post Amrita! Thank you for sharing this. Love how their name is written on the products that they painstakingly create. Would love to visit this place!

    1. Please do, Chaitali. I would be grateful if you and/or any of my readers visit these shops and buy their work :)

  5. Great post, Amrita. I love getting deeper into the local culture in Kumaon. A great reminder on how buying local makes a difference.

    1. Thanks Shivya. Uttarakhand’s many layers are beautiful to explore. And of course, as travellers, we should enable local communities.

  6. Hi Amrita….nice one. Being a kumouni I have been feeling this since childhood. My mother used to knit pullovers socks topis etc for us. There is a lot of potentials in the women here. They are really doing hard work. I salute. Thanks for writing.

    1. Absolutely Madan, they’re doing great work. Don’t thank me. They deserve the eminence.

  7. Wonderful post about these inspirational women. I visited the centre in Dinapani and was absolutely amazed with the work and the quality of products they were creating.

    I shall make a post on my experience too. :))

    1. Welcome to Travelling Ides of March Shubham. :) Yes, they are inspirational. And I look forward to your stories.

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