Archive | April 2011

Rajasthan Patchworks

After the walking tour of Mandawa, Shankar asked if I was interested in stopping by a shop to see textiles. I assumed that he had a connection to this shop somehow: either a family member was in the business or perhaps he was getting a commission for bringing tourists there.

This is a common practice and shouldn’t automatically be taken as something negative. Shop owners have no way of reaching potential customers other than having a good location where there’s a lot of tourist foot traffic. Guides don’t make much money, and the small commissions they get (one or two percent of the total amount the customer purchased) help them support their families. Although sometimes it happens, guides don’t always take you somewhere you’ll get ripped off pricewise. This shop was government sanctioned, which was a guarantee that tourists wouldn’t be overcharged. Government sanctioned shops have fixed prices.

If the guide shows more interest in taking you shopping than sightseeing, then your suspicions are well founded. But Shankar had done a good job showing me around town and tourists do also come to shop, so I thought nothing of it. He showed me to a shop a little ways off the main street. I might not have found it on my own.

The store was a kind of co-op that supported women’s needlecrafts. Rajasthan is famous for textiles and fabric crafts, so this was something I definitely was interested in.

I asked to see some patchworks. They had a dazzling selection. The most common way to display textiles for the buyer is to unfold them and spread them out on the immaculately clean marble tiled floor.

The patchworks were all hand stitched and lavished with embroidery. Most of them had metallic threads, and many were beaded, reflecting the Indian woman’s love of all things sparkly. Women can only work two to three hours a day on them. The smaller patchworks take several months to complete.

I asked the manager whether the shop has a website, and he said no. He admitted he is a bit old fashioned and prefers to do business face-to-face. I suggested that people all over the world are interested in handicrafts such as these, but simply showing them a business card wouldn’t stir any interest to buy these items the way seeing an internet photo gallery of these incredible works of art would.  He said he would give it some thought.  He has a son who is in college learning web design who should be able to help.

Here’s what was on the business card he gave me:

Bhanwar Singh (his name)
C.M. Souvenir Shop
Manufacturers & Exporters of Durries, Handicrafts, Silver, Paintings, Textiles, Hand Embroidered, Blue Pottery, Etc.
Main Market, Mandawa 333704
District Jhunjhunu (Rajasthan)
Tel. 0091-1592-223884

Email:  pariharbhanwarsingh at yahoo dot com

If you’re going to Mandawa, this is all the information you need. It’s a small town, and anyone you ask on the street could tell you how to get there, despite there being no street address.  It’s India, and people are very friendly. Someone will probably even take you there.

And by the way, I didn’t leave this shop empty handed!


A Golden Painted Room

At one haveli, for a small fee the owners allowed visitors into a particularly well preserved interior room.

It’s difficult to imagine being wealthy enough to afford to have the interior of your house hand painted like this.

Real gold leaf was used in much of the detail of these frescoes.

Some of the details in the room were reminiscent more of a church than a room in a private home.

I recognized several Hindu gods and goddesses in the frescoes. This is Krishna, always shown as blue, and Radha.

Hanuman, the monkey god.

Mandawa Havelis

Shankar Singh, my Mandawa guide, began to point out the frescoed havelis that were on the main street.

Some were in good condition or had been restored.

Shankar explained that some owners had abandoned their havelis, and certain of them had thus fallen into decay. Others were still being lived in by the owners. We then stepped into the yard of a haveli where the occupants were still living there.

These permitted peeks at the private homes made the already inexpensive fee of the local tour guide into an incredible bargain.

Shankar was excellent at pointing out particularly well preserved frescoes in unusual locations that I might have missed.

There were so many of them in one small town of around 20,000 that it was astonishing.

Mandawa in its heyday must have been magnificent.

Even with many of the havelis falling into disrepair, it was incredibly beautiful.

The Town of Mandawa

With the congestion of the big city well behind me, I was enjoying this small town. Namaste India Tours had arranged a local guide to take me on a walking tour of Mandawa. Without a guide, I would only have observed everyday life here.

Everyday life in Mandawa would have been plenty interesting on its own. But I was about to become acquainted with the things that Mandawa was famous for:  havelis and frescoes.