Hawa Mahal, Jaipur (Pic courtesy: godisha.in)

Summer isn’t the best time to go to Jaipur, or so I thought. A work trip took me there last month and I had an extra day to myself. While a part of me just wanted to huddle inside the hotel, binge watch TV and get some R&R, I am glad the other half prevailed. A little googling and I was out there to recee Jaipur. Not a big list in any way, but if you like my kind of things, is the kind who prefers gawking at beautiful things over buying them, this list is for you. And yes, do this only if you have already covered Amer fort, Hawa Mahal and Anokhi Museum.

1. P.M Allabuksh and Sons

An old place with gigantic hanging lamps, shiny brass plates and a retro world charm. I chanced this while on my way to somewhere and I stopped in my tracks, literally. Go there just for the feel of it. And when you step out with a mission to have a big enough home to fit that pendant lamp, get a lassi from one of the shops there. Lonely planet recommends just one of them, but trust me, all of them are awesome. And for more hunger, Lal Maas at Niro’s. Perfect lunch.

2. Leheriya

Leher means waves in Hindi. And the chiffon leheriya sarees are just that. Wavy, breezy, colourful. A meagre Rs.100 for a dupatta, you feel like you stepped out of Raghu Rai’s pictures. Pick one anywhere on Johari bazaar. Most of the stuff on display is very bad, but the real gems are Leheriyas.

3. Head to C scheme

Now you are in the hip part of Jaipur. Religiously check out Anokhi, Soma and Rasa. You will be bowled over with endlessly beautiful clothes and home accessories.

4. Anantaya

A store that I fell in love with. Anything you pick up here will be a piece that will up the style quotient in your home. I bought a lotus coat hanger in brass and copper. For Rs.1350, it was value for money. Trust me, I don’t say that often. After this, a quick visit to Neerja pottery on Jacob’s road to stock up on some pretty blue pottery buttons and coasters.

5. Chaisa Cafe

Now you need some chai and maggi here. Delightful interiors and perfect chai. Remember to step out and gape at the Vidhaan Sabha, a stunning piece of architecture.

6. Pandit Kulfi

Just before you end this lovely day, make sure to stop by Pandit Kulfi near Amer Road. Google it and ask a million people. It is so small that you may walk by a hundred times and not figure out the place. Have both the malai and paan versions for Rs. 20 each.

So enjoy your day in Jaipur!

Rann of Kutch, White desert, Kutch handicrafts

Rann of Kutch

When you step into the Rann, the first thing that strikes you is the expanse. The white desert that extends in each direction as far as the eye can see. Mirages, white sand, crystal salt and a little water on the surface is all that’s visible. No human, no animal, no life at all. It is a sort of catharsis, purging all the crowded thoughts. Suddenly, the mind’s lens refocuses into the most important thing in your life. In a short span of time, your mind is all cleared out and formatted.

Kutch, Rann of Kutch

Clothes worn by Kutch people

This land of whiteness is a backdrop to a million colours. The brightly dressed women gleam with their little mirrors all over. Kutch is a melting pot of various cultures. The blend of the local Gujarati culture with the adjacent land of Sindh is vivid in every aspect- food, language, cultural practices. I had a whirlwind tour of Kutch a couple of months ago. In an effort to cover the whole of the region in 4 days, we relentlessly travelled across the largest district in the country. Bhuj has a local airport with flights from Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Or you could take a night train/bus to Bhuj from Ahmedabad (about 7 hours away)

 Day 1: We landed in Bhuj at 7 am. Bhuj is a quiet little town that shoulders it’s responsibility of being the gateway to one of the best tourist attractions very well. A motley of new budget friendly hotels have sprung up all over the place to accommodate tourists with all kinds of pockets.

Bhujodi, durrie, woolen kutch shawls

Bhujodi durrie weaving

After breakfast, we headed out to the local Bhujodi, a local market with a host of shawl weavers. Make sure you pick up a warm shawl for the cold winter nights here. On the way to this place, make sure you check out Shrujan. This beautifully done up craft centre is the place of work for women embroiders from various communities of Kutch. These women interact with designers here creating masterpieces. Prices are certainly on the higher side, but owning such an impeccably crafted piece is definitely worth it. The plan was to head to Ajrakhpur next. But we had spent too much oogling at the beauty of these fabrics.

Hunnarshala, Vernacular architecture, craft based architecture

Hunnarshala, vernacular architecture

We headed to Hunnarshala, the mecca of eco-friendly and vernacular architecture research. Hunnarshala is a heavily guarded secret. One look at the place and you will desist coming back to your steel and glass home. You will crave for the practicality and earthiness of the vernacular architecture in your home. They are now training the local craftspeople/youth in carpentry and masonry techniques. So next time, you are looking to redo/built your home, please look them up.

The evening was spent strolling along the local market. We tasted some roadside samosas (hot pockets filled with potato/lentils and deep-fried), khakra and various pedas (milk-sweets). The market is also home to a variety of silver jewellers. But we were too exhausted to explore any further.

Stay tuned for more and do check out my co-traveller’s blog for an indepth exploration on Gujarati food all over the state.

 

 

When folklore and reality are blurred, there is a sense of fantasy that pervades the air. As the local folk point out the forest where Lord Ram met his love Sita for the first time, the smell of fresh flowers, the blushing young girl and the budding romance is clearly audible in their voice. Every corner you turn, there is a relic from an era that for us urban dwellers exists only in mythology. It is explained in a manner of reminiscence, as if the event happened before their eyes. One cannot blame them for it, cause it does happen in front of their their eyes almost everyday. They paint these wonderful scenes on their walls, on paper, on fabric almost everyday. Sometimes Sita’s floral motif skirt is a blue and sometimes a bright green. The change in color depicts the season when the artist painted- the blue flowers that lend their violet-blue shade bloom in the winter.

Madhubani paintings are believed to have originated as a wall adornment during Lord Ram and Sita’s wedding. Sita’s father, King Janak commissioned women from all over the kingdom to paint. The women painted to impress the ‘baraat’ (wedding procession). The area locally referred to as ‘Mithanlanchal’ comprises of the area north of the Ganges and south of the Himalayas. In present day, part of the area falls in Nepal. Janakpur in Nepal is a major centre for this art form.

Madhubani paintings are an essential part of women’s lives in the region. The women use colours from their own garden. They squeeze out the red from berries, grind leaves for green and burn rice in an earthen pot for the deep black. They make brushes using bamboo sticks and paint walls with beautiful motifs of Gods and nature.

The form starts with a border. Once the intricate border has been worked upon, the main motif takes centre stage. Featured above is the  ‘Kohabar’, a ritualistic painting drawn in the marital room. This is where the bride and the groom meet each other for the first time.  Symbols of happiness, fertility, good healthy and prosperity complete the painting. The auspicious symbols like fishes, ‘Kalash’ (a jar of holy water), betel leaves, coconuts and a bride in her wedding finery add finishing touches.

Life in these villages dispels most myths. Even the idea of a mandatory 24 hour power and water seem somewhat excessive. If you can attain happiness with a few hours of electricity, warm your hands on the freshly made oven fueled with cow dung, eat smoking hot ‘bajjiyas’ made from shrubs in the kitchen garden and watch the women paint their breathtaking designs, everything else seems irrelevant. The women here begin their day early. It isn’t easy to fire the stove on cold misty mornings. When all the housework is over and done, the neighborhood women gather together to paint. The colours come from each other’s garden. With advice aplenty from older ‘didis’ and ‘maajis’, the younger ones slowly venture out.

Vimla Devi has been painting as long as she can remember. Her little box contains colours and brushes laid out to suit her style. She labours over her painting for long hours, taking breaks only to offer advice when asked for. She lives in her own world where she witnesses Ram and Sita’s life everyday.

When all these women would paint individually, there weren’t many takers. As they happily receive me, they aren’t sure if I would have come into contact with them if they had still been on their own. Being in a group empowers them to face a world that they have rarely encountered. Married off young, they have never stepped out of the confines of their home. Even their dire circumstances failed to get them out all by themselves. In a group, they are all together. Happily weaving stories and participating in administrative tasks in the office, they have been able to break free from bonds that always relegated to take a place at the end of the system.

As I prepare to leave, the women take down my number. They make sure to call me and check if I reached my hotel safely. So I am a part of that group now. I am happy.

Stacks of Dhurries from Salawas

Stacks of Dhurries

I just cannot stop buying rugs. I absolutely believe that rugs can instantly transform a house to a home, make you feel cozy and add that bit of colour to typical, dull apartment floors. When I moved into my husband’s bachelor pad, these simple additions were the starting steps to making my home.

There are different kinds of rugs or carpets available all across India. Like everything else about this diverse country, each region has a floor covering suited to its needs. The heavy knotted carpets of Kashmir protect your bare feet from the biting chill on the floor. The thick and colourful Jamakkalams of Erode in Tamil Nadu plays both the role of a mattress to sleep on and as a seating place for guests.

Panja, the key tool

Panja, the key tool

So on my trip to Jodhpur, I couldn’t resist visiting a haven for rugs. Panja Dhurries from Salawas in Jodhpur are famous for their high quality, sturdy and really long lasting rugs. Rugs are locally called as dhurries. The dhurries are hand woven and the design is perfected with the use of the Panja, a comb like structure (as seen in the picture above)

Threads used for weaving

Threads used for weaving

Made mostly using cotton, wool and jute are also used in making the dhurries.

The loom

The loom

The looms are very crude in nature and are manually operated. The complicated designs are identical on both sides. This is done using the Panja.Usually the process of making a 5 ft by 3 ft dhurrie takes about 15 days and the monotonous process is pepped up with constant conversation from fellow dhurrie makers.

Weavers Nemaram and son

Weavers Nemaram and son

Usually the senior in the family supervises the work of the younger apprentices. So when I met Nemaram, a craftsman who belongs to the community of dhurrie weavers, he proudly introduced me to his son and explained in detail about his progress.

Home utensils used as measuring tools

Home utensils used as measuring tools

What interested me the most were the innovative tools used.  A bowl was used as a base to weave a circle, even their scales are very rudimentary and only a recent inclusion to the tool kit.

Wave like pattern 'Leheriya', the most common design

Leheriya, the most common design

The most common design is ‘Leheriya’, a wave-like pattern common even in Rajasthan’s tie and dye process. Geometrical patterns are in demand nowadays.

Traditional design

Traditional design

Nemaram showed me some traditional designs commonly used by his ancestors, but long forgotten ever since. During those times, the patterns were very elaborate and adorned the floors of the palaces. Animals and flowers were mostly used, along with geometrical patterns to create complex designs. The workmanship was highly regarded and was favoured by the kings.

Shade card

Shade card

Nemaram showed me this sample that he had made with all the colors that are available. This served as his shade card that he showed prospective customers.

Recycling waste yarn

Recycling waste yarn

I am sure Nemaram has no clue about terms like ‘carbon footprint’, ‘recycle’ and all other green ways of life that we all so vehemently discuss and debate. In Nemaram’s case, it is just a way of life. The leftover threads are woven as bases into chairs and beds(like the one above), old clothes are shredded and woven into rugs for their own use and the trimmed ends of the dhurrie are used to fill their pillow cases.

Making dough uisng mortar and pestle

Making dough uisng mortar and pestle

While Nemaram and I were chatting up, his wife silently ground the dal(lentils) into a paste using the traditional mortar and pestle. The paste was seasoned with a few spices, made into small balls and left to dry in the winter sun. Once dry, the vadis would last her an entire year. Her strong hands moved steadily over an hour to grind all the dal that she had soaked overnight. When I suggested that she could use a motor-run grinder, she was aghast and explained how that would never taste the same.

Local Rajasthani food, Sogra and dal

Local Rajasthani food

In typical Rajasthani hospitality, I was treated to an hearty meal of Sogra (their local bread), Gud (jaggery),  dal cooked in their traditional earthen stove and topped with loads of desi ghee( home-made clarified butter). Though the Sogra was a little hard and difficult to chew, the smoked flavour of the dal was awesome and unlike anything that I had ever tasted before.

Dhurries' logo

Dhurries’ logo

The usual story of a slowly fading craft, the dhurries here face stiff competition from the faster, machine made versions. Some socially driven organisations and institutions help keep the looms running. Moreover, the family has also diversified into making table mats, coasters and bags to keep the money coming in. Growing interest in craft tourism has also helped Nemaram and he is trying to make a brand for himself and his community with the Panja logo (as in the picture)

So having been touched by a simple life, a great craft and loads of purchases, I made up my mind to do my bit to ensure keep this craft alive. Nemaram can worry a little less about his son’s future.

P.S: For more pictures, please click here