Textiles and Culture in Jaipur
Dashing headlong into a breathtaking journey of textiles and culture, I was starting my six-week textile tour planning trip with a bang. Running at speed with the threads of my textile trip to India over the next week in Jaipur and Jodphur.
Exploring for pleasure in Rajasthan and Gujarat with my travelling companion Tanneke, we intended to take Jaipur, Jodphur by storm before I continued onto South India.
Tanneke and I met in 2015 in India. She is one of the youngest and bravest 70 year olds that I know. She is an intrepid traveller. Doubtless it’s her Dutch explorer lineage that makes her such a citizen of the world. Nothing fazes her and she always pushes me beyond my comfort zone when we’re travelling together.
Hidden Gem in Jaipur
Tanneke had booked us into a fabulous historic haveli, The Rawla Mrignayani Palace http://www.rawlamrignayanipalace.com/ for our stay, inside the old city walls.
A family-owned 300-year-old palace with a rambling maze of different levels, corridors, roof terraces and vast old rooms with colourful stucco decoration as an indication of its’ past glory.
Our room was big enough for three beds and enough room to Tango round the rest of the room with ease. I breathed a sigh of relief to find that the huge old cupboard against one wall was stuffed full of big fleecy blankets to pile on the beds.
A once impressive Art Deco green ceramic suite with a full-length bath graced the en suite. Unusually there were enough hooks to hang up clothes and washbags and plentiful hot water. Just no heating! I wore all my layers and socks in bed that night!
I had imagined all sorts about Jaipur but what I hadn’t imagined was the cold! I think it was unusually chilly in February 2020, which saw temperatures at night dropping to almost freezing.
The owners, our hosts couldn’t have been more helpful and friendly. There are conflicting reviews about staying here on the internet. All I can say is that it was incredible value for money and I would stay here again if I was in Jaipur in the future. I think the flavour of real Jaipur life that I felt at the palace is worth the slightly rough around the edges facilities.
I know that the family are dedicated to renovating and restoring the palace in time and it’s an ongoing labour of love. It’s certainly very romantic!
Were my Fears Groundless?
What I had imagined about Jaipur turned out to be completely untrue. Ragged kids, beggars everywhere, dirty streets, really bad air pollution and people just interested in doing business and nothing more. I think this was a mix of reading articles in the 1970’s and news reports more recently, about air pollution in Delhi.
What I actually found there was not that different from my experiences in the South. The Rajasthani people are very hospitable, friendly and proud of Jaipur and their state. I didn’t feel harrassed in the slightest. In fact, where we were staying in the old city was within walking distance of the Palace of the Windand the Jantar Mantar, and we seemed to just blend in with all the other unremarkable travellers browsing the streets and markets with no bother at all.
So Much Love
Although there’s the usual chaos, the streets are in quite good condition for India, all the walls of the gorgeous buildings in the old city had just had a refreshing coat of the famous Jaipur pink this year which gave a very impressive effect as we walked around. I can’t remember being bothered by anyone in fact. Quite the opposite,
I was intrigued by so much in the streets that I was the one bothering other people. The makers of delicious street food, the little shops full of dazzling displays of clothing and textiles. I had to keep stopping to ask how was this or that made? Nothing but smiles and helpful responses, even if I didn’t buy anything. I absolutely felt the peoples love and pride for their city and its culture.
The traffic was as manic as anywhere in India but no more so than other cities. We were lucky on the pollution front too as there had been a stiff breeze for a few days, taking any air pollution away and giving glorious clear skies for all of our stay.
Fabulous Amber, Fairytale Palace of MyChildhood
Of course, a trip out to see the palace of Amber was unmissable. I have a book at home called ‘The Worlds Greatest Wonders’ that was my bedtime reading all through my early childhood. The black and white plate of “The Deserted Palace of Amber” was one of my favourites.
I’d imagine riding up to the gates on a white horse and drifting round the exotic deserted terraces to eventually discover a handsome Indian prince in one of the gorgeously decorated rooms. It only took 55 years! Sad to say, no sign of a white horse, definitely not deserted now and remarkably, no handsome prince awaiting me. You can however approach on a camel if you have a mind to. We walked leisurely up the steep approach and had time to fully take in the majestic beauty of the exterior.
Contemplating a Violent Act
Once inside we subjected ourselves to the services of a guide. Although very informative, the constant requests for us to disport ourselves at certain strategic places to get the best photos of ourselves became such that I could have happily nudged him over a balustrade at one point. The palace is well worth a visit however, with never to be forgotten images still in my mind.
If you’re looking for a peaceful spot to rest and contemplate for a while after the bustle of the palace, there’s a splendid step well just up a little lane to the left further along the main road that’s a candidate for the source of Escher’s drawings. Ingenuity and beauty combined in a harmonious whole.
Textile Lovers Dream
Within walking distance to the Amber palace is the world-renowned Anokhi museum,https://www.anokhi.com/museum/home.html celebrating the traditional textile practices of Jaipur and the region. Work shown there is a breathtaking tribute to the skilled artisans of the area. So informative about the different processes involved in the various decorative textile techniques such as Ajrakh and Bagru styles of printing and dyeing. A must-see for all textile enthusiasts.
My only disappointment of our stay in Jaipur was not having enough time to discover the areas where handmade and hand-decorated textiles and clothes were for sale in the city.
On display in the old city markets and in the shops were countless mill made, reproduction screen-printed copies of block printed cloth and machine embroidered cloth made to look like hand embroidery.
I know now that I have to do more research beforehand to find the centres of production and sales around Jaipur for traditional handmade textiles for my next visit.
Tracking Down the Chhipas in Jaipur
Searching for wood block printers today we came across Rangotri https://www.rangotri.com/, a wonderful block printing workshop and shop where a father and daughter team are devoted to employing as many skilled block printers as they can and one dedicated block maker to help keep the craft alive in Jaipur.
Here they use innovative new designs as well as historic blocks. Working to global commissions, they also provide hands-on workshops to anyone wanting to learn the craft. A huge archive of historic blocks is treasured here to choose from.
This from an article in the New York Times that mentions Rangotri’s fabrics. “Chhipa, for instance, derives from a conflation of the Nepal Bhasa chhi (to dye) and pa (to leave something to bask in the sun) and chappana (“stamping” in Hindi); it also denotes one’s caste, one’s job, and is often also one’s last name”.
The Intricate Art of the Block Maker
To continue the Chhipa theme, along the road and round the corner, Rangotri directed us to an area where there was a small cluster of block makers in little open shops all chipping away. The skill of these craftsmen is breathtaking. All done very precisely with small tiny chisels at a brisk pace. Next time I’ll go with a design that I want translated onto a block. Skills that need to be kept alive with as many orders as possible. I wish I knew how to describe where this was! No street signs so I videoed the immediate area in the hope of recognizing it next time.
Be Prepared for a Wonderful Visit
As an introduction to the famous pink city, it was a stunning and extremely pleasant surprise. My personal tips are:
- Stay within the old city walls to get a true flavour of historic Jaipur.
- Central accommodation enables you to be able to walk everywhere as the traffic can be at a standstill at times.
- Be prepared: Research as much as you can before arriving if you’re looking for something specific beyond the well known tourist sights. It’s easy to be distracted!
- Enjoy a visit of longer than three days to make the most of Jaipur.