There is more to Pench in Madhya Pradesh than its jungles and this is what adds to its infinite charm.
“Would you like to see a potter’s village where every household makes pots?” asked my hosts at Kohka Wilderness Camp and my answer was an instinctive yes. While Pench is known for the jungle that was the setting of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’, there is much more to see and enjoy in Pench and being the kind of traveler that seeks offbeat experiences, this sounded like music to my ears.
Pots & Pans
A ten kilometer drive from Pench through green landscapes leads me to the small village of Pachdhar. The narrow mud roads of the village are dotted with houses that have one thing in common – all kinds of terracotta pots. The small village has roughly 100 families and is home to the Kumhaars, a native potter community of the region. Sourabh Ghosh and Sanjay Nagar who run the NGO Kohka Foundation explain that they came across Pachdhar while looking for artefacts for Kohka Wilderness Camp their ecofriendly jungle retreat. When they commissioned work to the potters they found out that the potters continued to use manual wheels. This is when they decided to do workshops led by professional potters from Wardha in Maharashtra who taught the villagers to make tumblers, lanterns, lamps and pans. Walking through the small muddy road, I stop at the home of one of the villagers who is busy at the wheel. With a small mound of damp clay next to him he is busy at work when I step inside his mud home painted blue and white (like almost all houses here). He explains that the basic raw material used is a combination of black soil and red soil as well that is kneaded together with clay and water. Taking a small portion in his damp hands he places it on the wheel and starts shaping it into a pot. Using a thread he cuts of the base and holds a well-defined pot in his hand. In fact you can also try the process and the villagers will guide you as well. However my pot (or rather what I thought was a pot) turned out looking nothing like one. Once the pots are ready they are placed in a kiln again made from natural materials like hay, firewood, broken pots and cow dung. The firing process also changes the colour from the dull grey to the bright terracotta shade and then the products are ready to be retailed.
Making the Difference
The potters of Pachdhar are seeing a revival of interest in their products now and are expanding their product base as well. You can also find idols of Goddesses here – that are in strong demand during Diwali when the lamps sell like hot cakes. The villagers attribute the growing number of tourists who come through the hotels of the vicinity for the revival of their fortunes. The product range today includes terracotta chimes, animal figurines (especially tortoises) and kitchen ware that are gaining a lot of traction as well. And while they benefit from private workshops there is still much that can be done to improve their lives. As I was discussing this with a potter, I saw a small child sit near the wet lamps. Naturally I quiz him if he would like his son to become a potter and he instinctively says that he wishes his son gets a “city job” as working on the wheel is a hard job. It’s a hard truth and I hope that better conditions ensure that the craft continues to the next generation. For now I have memories of Pachdhar – many small lamps, a tortoise, a couple of pots and a figure of Durga that I hope will help the artists in a small way.
How to reach:
By Air: Nagpur airport is 110 kms away.
By Rail: Nagpur Railway Station is about 92 kms away.
By Road: State and national highways connect Pench to other cities in the state.
Stay: There are a variety of options but if you are looking for a rustic stay check the Kohka Wilderness Camp.
Best Season: November to March
This story first appeared in Sakal Times dated Jan 5, 2020 here: