One of the best ways to explore a new locale is through the culture and fashion of the native inhabitants. Traditional dress and adornments can shed a light on the unique history and practices of lost tribes, secretive sects, and alternative groups. Clothing really can shape your world view, I know as a backpacker my travel wardrobe consists of wrinkle resistant pants, quick drying T-shirts and anti-chafe socks. But after seeing some of the magnificent examples of fashion around the world I think it might just be time to up my game.
One of my favorite examples of fashion and tradition mixing came while I was visiting Amritsar, a city in north western India. The amazing Sikh ‘Nihang’ warrior wears a massive oversize turban. The turban is made of over 2,132 feet of cloth and wraps around Baba Avtar Singh’s head in a fantastic feat of balance and style. The rich marigold colors of his robe contrasting to the deep blues of his turban captured my attention and made for some fantastic pictures. On the eve of Diwali, the Indian festival of lights Baba Avtar pays his respects at the Golden Temple and takes the cake for best Turban fashion!
Sikh tradition prohibits cutting your hair in an an attempt to focus on spiritual growth and encourages love and respect for all of God’s gifts. What I noticed most about my time with the Sikhs of northern India was the vibrancy of color, the rich choices of fabric, and the amazing accessories.
From Northern India, I made my way to Rajasthan and discovered the beauty and diversity of Gagra Choli. The Gagra Choli is the traditional clothing for women in the region and is a combination of tight and loose fabrics that seem to suit the climate far better than my khaki shorts.
The Choli is the midriff baring blouse that sits just above the navel and hugs the body. Although short, its still a fairly modest piece of clothing as most women drape a piece of equally colorful fabric over top. The Gagra is a form of skirt, covered in delicate embroidery and gathered at the hips. It’s remarkable to watch women work, dance, and perform chores in these outfits.
The amazing fashion of India took my breath away and gave me insight into the extreme diversity of this marvelous sub-continent.