Perhaps the finest collection of textiles in the world is privately owned and kept in a series of intricately carved wooden havelis in Ahmedabad, the erstwhile hub of the Indian textile industry. Aquirred by the cotton mill owning Calico family the extraordinary woven, embroidered and printed fabrics were originally complied as reference material for the families design studios.

Visiting the Calico Museum is an event in itself as only 15 people a day are allowed inside the family’s private compound, a lush tropical garden contrasting the dry metropolitan surroundings. A huge gate creeks open and after a typically Indian flurry of beaurocracy I was introduced to our guide who led us through the stunning gardens to the old family residence.

A three sided courtyard of 400 year old wooden havelis, carved with typical gujarati extravagance houses the bulk of the collection. Inside red velvet embroidered Moghul tents, tribal headresses, vibrant carpets and extraordinary gold threaded robes compete for attention. Our small group move weave in and out of the maze of rooms crowded with masterpieces. Our guide knows there are literally thousands of types of fabric to see so points out the most important pieces explaining the techniques used and the reason this type of work developed in that particular village at that particular time.

Open mouthed I examine a tie dye dress with 32 hand tied spots per square inch. Still gasping at the skill I am moved on by a team of ladies who are employed to switch on lights as we enter a new room and immediately off as we exit. The guide explains that the fabrics are completely irreplaceable so they try to keep the lights off as much as possible to preserve the original colors. It’s an extraordinary privlege to see a collection of this quality and the atmosphere is wonderful, everyone who has come to see the textiles has some special interest and is keen to learn as much a possible. This is no ordinary museum experience and I can’t wait to go back.

The best place to stay is the wonderfully quirky House of M.G. a heritage hotel recently renovated by the charismatic Abhay Mangaldas who also has a keen interest in textiles the preservation of Ahmedabad’s heritage.

The Calico Museum, Ahmedabad

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