The ashram in Pondicherry is affiliated with many traditional creative, or hand-crafted endeavours. One of which is the handmade paper factory on the north side of the town; an absolute must see for me as a designer and incredibly interesting for Pete too as an engineer.
In the UK, there is no way you would be allowed to walk around any type of factory, as a member of the public, without a strict guide and probably protective clothing. In India there is no option but to wander round without a guide and try not to fall into a pulping machine! There were basic directional and ‘no photo’ signs but otherwise you were just allowed to explore which was a proper treat!
I was lucky enough to go to the James Cropper paper mill in the Lake District as part of my job in 2011 and some parts of the process looked relatively similar in Pondy, only the scale was much smaller.
Cotton rags are delivered to the factory, in sacks which are also cut up and put into the mix: nothing is wasted! The rags have to be hand sorted, dusted and then chopped in a cutting machine. The pulp is then produced in a beating machine, and in Pondy this takes between 4 to 6 hours depending on the grade of paper required. I’m not sure what the timing equivalent was in the lakes, but here is a comparison of the vats that the process happens in.
I remember some of the vast machines used in the drying process in the Lakes, here is a similar machine in Pondy. The size difference is crazy! You had to walk over the ones in the Lakes! Most of the drying process is done naturally in India, given the climate. Each fresh piece of paper is put between two sheets of felt and left to dry.
On the Pondy site they also marble the paper, this is done by hand in big trays of water using oil paints after the paper has been made. This means that no two patterns are the same and some of the colour combinations are incredible. The men working there were reluctant to show us it in practice but we got the gist!