The Art of Block Printing !!

The larger part of shopping in Jaipur is all about traditional block print designs on bed spreads, skirts, shirts, stoles, table linen and the list goes on. Its almost impossible to return from Jaipur without that elephant print to remind you of your trip. While most of the printing is done in Sanganer and Bagru in the outskirts of Jaipur, some of the stores have a small workshop in Jaipur itself. I was looking for a place within Jaipur to get a first hand feel of Block Printing and finally found this store where the person very kindly demonstrated and explained the art.Block Printing Jaipur

The blocks are made of locally available wood. Sometimes, 2 or more pieces may be stuck together to get the required thickness and for applying pressure during printing. The design is transferred onto the block and then the outline groove is created. The metal outline is made of brass for the blocks that are used for printing on silk so prevent slipping and for fine designs. Block Printing JaipurThe blocks used for cotton and other coarse material has the outline made of copper or some other alloy. Actually, it is difficult to cut finer designs on wood since it may break or chip away with use.

The number of blocks required for one print depends on the number of colours to be used, each block design corresponding to a colour to be used.  The printing is done outside in ie first the outline and then the coloured ones. The colours used are natural dyes, made from plants, spices, ground stones etc. Typically, yellow is obtained from turmeric; red from beetroot, blue from indigo, cream from fullers earth, green from a mixture of indigo and pomegranate. He printed the elephant design that we had earlier seen inside out, dipping the blocks in the required colour and pressing it hard on the cloth. It is usually done from right to left when a long piece of cloth needs to be printed.

The freshly printed piece was then soaked in a small tub of water which had a tinge of chemical which converted the reddish colour to green. Then it was dried out in the sun !! I also learnt how to distinguish between machine printing and hand block printing.

Block Printing Artistes

While it may appear easy and a one man job, it is actually a process that involves different people with specialized skills !!

  • Artist who draws the design in minute detail
  • Block maker who has the mastery on wood
  • Metal welder who produces the outline of the artist’s design
  • Designer who decides the colour combinations
  • Colour makers who prepare natural colours
  • Block Printer who produces the design on cloth with great dexterity

If there is time of hand, do visit the Anokhi Gallery on the way back from Amer to get a good view of block printing or better still spend a few hours in Bagru, get hands on with the artisans !!

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Discovering the Bong Connection in Jaipur

Bengali’s are a curious lot !! some ready to trot and explore the world and some others happy to be home with the neighborhood gossip pot. I belong to the group that trots for no  gainful reason but for the love of the smells, sights and sounds of distant lands.

Quintessential Bengali Tourist

I bumped into hordes of Bengali tourists in Jaipur; at every site, eatery, shopping area, street corner  and inadvertently became privy to piquant conversations in loud and sometimes hush tones. After a hectic bout of sightseeing, I would smile to myself listening to animated discussions on saucy domestic conspiracies, relationship woes over glasses of sweet “lossy” Jaipuri style and sometimes figure out that the bulging middle aged woman next to me was actually discussing her weight woes and wondering about my diet. In my usual style, I quickly departed from the bench under the tree not before leaving a smart alecky comment in Bengali much to her horror 🙂 However, this post is not about the Bengali tourist in Jaipur not nor is it about the accidental discovery of an eatery promising delicious “maccher jhol” (fish curry) in distant land but about history !!

City Palace Courtyard Jaipur

Creator of Pink City

As I pored over the map on Pink City and wandered through the lanes, I found some order in all the apparent commotion. It was actually very well planned and conceived 3 centuries ago by a Bidyadhar Bhattacharyya who applied Vedic Vastu principles in the design and construction. He was a Bengali who had travelled from Naihati, now a suburb of Kolkata to be employed as an accountant in the Royal Court and subsequently entrusted to be the chief architect by Sawai Jai Singh who was impressed with his knowledge on Vastu Shastra.

Jaipur Amber Fort

Obeisance to Jessoreshwari Kali

After crossing the courtyard in Amer Fort, the entrance on leads towards a temple of Sila Devi who was also known as “Jessoreshwari Kali”. Now in Bangladesh, Jessore is a Shaktipeeth where the palms of the Devi were found. Though Man Singh I, built the temple and installed the deity, the origin of the idol is shrouded in mystery. While some believe that Man Singh received it as a gift during his marriage with Raja Kedar’s ( chieftain of one of the provinces within Bengal) daughter after the latter lost the war. There is another version about Man Singh -I praying to Goddess Kali for blessings to win the war and she directed him to a stone (Sila) and instructed him to make an idol out of it and yet another version of him forcefully taking it away from the temple after conspiring with the chief priest of Raja Pratapaditya Roy’s court.

Rajmata Gayatri Devi ~ Beauty Personified

The last connection is with the most beautiful princess of the century – Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur. She was a quarter Bengali by birth and a complete one by naturalization. She belonged to the Cooch Behar royal family who have mixed descent from a tribe in Assam (Koch Rajbongshi) and at the time of state formation in the Union of India Cooch Behar came under Bengal. Her paternal grandmother Suniti Devi was the eldest daughter of Keshab Chandra Sen one of the early proponents of Brahmo Samaj.

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10 Must Do’s in Jaipur in 24 hours

Nearly 3 centuries since its inception, the pink city of Jaipur is not so pink any longer. The pink is where it was sometimes taking on an orange hue under the glare of the afternoon sun though it has been slowly and steadily edged out by the sprawling modern city growing beyond its walls. The gateway to Rajasthan, Jaipur is fast emerging as a sought after business destination but for tourists, the best time to experience the colours of Jaipur is between October and March when the air is nippy and the warm sun is more than welcome . I had limited time on hand and had a long list of do’s and with a little bit of planning, I could squeeze all of it in a day.

8am to 1.30pm

1. Jaipur Amber FortAmer Fort is an imposing structure overlooking the Maota lake about 13kms away from Jaipur. Originally built by Meena kings as a tribute to Goddess Amba, it was modified and rebuilt by Raja Man Singh and enhanced by his successor Raja Jai Singh. The elaborate courtyards, mahals and palaces with impressive carvings and inlay work leaves the visitor spellbound at the larger than life stature of the Rajput kings and their opulent life styles. It is open from 8am to 4pm for visitors and the light and sound show from 6pm in the outside lawns is highly recommended to experience the history of Amer.

 

2. Jaipur Jaigarh FortJaigarh is the victory fort named after Sawai Jai Singh II who built this as the military fort to protect the living quarters of Amer Fort. The fort museum has some rifles, armoury on display  as well as the 20 feet long, 50 tonne Jaivan cannon which was made in the Fort foundry but was never used. The long passages along the fort lead to a courtyard overlooking the artificial lake that sustains Jaigarh. Choose a guide carefully who will explain things around and not force to visit the fort shopping area.

 

3. Jaipur Nahargarh Fort View from Jantar MantarNahargarh Fort was constructed by Sawai Jai Singh II in early 18th century. This fort on a ledge at the side of Aravalli Hills provided a magnificent view of Jaipur and was often used as a hunting retreat. Infact, you can see the fort from different parts of Jaipur specially Jantar Mantar. Later Madho Singh extended the fort to include living quarters for his queens which were all similar in design and connected through a long corridor. If you thought row houses and apartments are modern architecture, you must visit Nahargarh.

 

4. Jalmahal was built in the middle of Man Sagar Lake around 1800 AD by Sawai Pratap Singh and later modified and restored by Sawai Jai Singh II. On the way back from Amber to Jaipur, stop by the lake for a photo stop. The palace is now renovated and transformed into a luxury boutique hotel and is out of bounds for ordinary tourists. The palace appears like a glittering jewel in the evening.

 

5. Jaipur-Gaitore-Royal-Cenotaph-ChhatriGaitoreWhere the royals have been laid to rest. The Chattris or the cenotaphs of the entire Jaipur Royal clan is housed in a compound in Gaitore and is a quiet place away from the hustle and bustle of Jaipur. The marble one with arched domes and 20 intricately carved pillars is dedicated to Sawai Jai Singh II. Stop by on the way back from Amer Forts to Jaipur for about 15-30 minutes and you will surely get the essense of the place

 

2pm to 6pm within Pink City area in Jaipur

City Palace Courtyard Jaipur6. Jaipur City Palace is in the heart of the city and while some parts are open to public, the royal family continue to reside in the Chandra Mahal. It is a sprawling compound with different museums showcasing clothing, jewelry, armoury, buggies, gathering halls, handicraft centres etc. The gates in the inner courtyard dedicated to the different seasons and a religious deity have ornate motifs specially the one with the peacock. Opt for a audio guide if you want to move around in your own pace. Photography is not allowed in most parts so let your eyes feast and the heart feel the grandeur for posterity.

 

7.Jantar Mantar in Jaipur Jantar Mantar – which unveils everything about the sky above us. Located next to the Jaipur City Palace, this observatory built by Sawai Jai Singh II in his quest for astronomy has about 14 Jantar’s (Equipment) performing Mantar (Calculation) to tell us the time, date, eclipse, movement of the planets etc. The tall Samrat Yantra 27 feet high and angled at 27degrees to match the latitude of Jaipur is actually a Sun Dial that predicts the time of the day pretty accurately. Take a Audio Guide and go around at your own pace and if you are not a great astronomy buff, you can complete it in 1-1.5 hours

 

8.Hawa Mahal Jaipur Hawa Mahal – The Palace of Winds is a bright pink façade complete with numerous (953) latticed windows was originally built for the Royal Ladies to observe street processions and festivities. It is a five storied structure and you need to climb 5 storeys to experience the breeze in your hair.  Located within walking distance from City Palace in the Pink City Premises with wonderful street food stalls around. The pictures of Hawa Mahal have been synonymous with Jaipur for years

If  you are spiritually or religiously inclined stop by at the Govindji Temple within Pink City for the evening arati.

6pm onwards …

BlockPrinting059. Shopping: If you are looking for knick knacks and traditional Jaipur handicrafts and block printed stuff, tye and dye Bandhni, bangles and jewelry then hunt around the various lanes in Pink City Market. Check for the quality and also bargain hard. There are some workshops and outlets on Amer Road which are specialized in Block Printing and Tye and Dye. Some of them will gladly show the art of block printing if possible visit one such place. The high end boutiques  in the malls and up market areas of Jaipur have some wonderful pieces of traditional and fusion clothing which of course come for a price.

 

10. Rajasthan_LalMaas2Ethnic Taste – If you are a non vegetarian, you cannot leave Jaipur without relishing the famed Lal Maas or fiery lamb. Niro’s, Handi etc on MI Road are the most recommended joints for the taste of the royals. LMB or Lakshmi Mishtan Bhandar in Pink City is an institution by itself to taste the piyaz kachori, mawa kachori or rabri !! During the day take a sip of that creamy lassi off the street corner and you will struggle to keep awake.

Travel Tip:
  • Stay close to MI Road or Pink City for easier sightseeing. Some budget hotels are available in Bani Park near the station which are not too far away.
  • Hire a Auto for the day trip in Jaipur @ Rs 800/- or opt for a taxi. I found the autos to be more flexible and they also climb up to Jaigarh and Nahargarh. You might have to walk up in Amber Fort but that is not so difficult a climb
  • Buy a composite ticket for all sights in Jaipur to avoid long queues in all sites. Start early and try to reach in Amber by 8am in the morning. The elephant ride is unnecessarily expensive and long queues so drive up if you want to avoid that. It will take about 2 hours to do it at regular pace. Hire a audio guide for Rs 150/- if you are alone and don’t want to hire a guide.
  • Jaigarh will take about 1 hour and Nahargarh another 1/2 hour.
  • Photostop at Jal Mahal and then another 30minutes in Gaitore before you head back to Pink City.
  • Quick snacky bite of kachori/ samosa/ chat and head to city palace followed by Jantar Mantar  and Hawa Mahal
  • Stop by at the Govindji Temple for evening arati. Temple is located right behind Chandra Mahal but you will need to take a detour to reach the entrance gate.
  • If you have time on hand Royal Albert Museum, Galta Monkey Temple etc

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10 Must Do’s on a Trip to Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer- on the edge of the golden desert in India is the last town on the Western front. Inspite of the dry arid weather, lack of water, extreme climates et al, the impression of the golden city stays with you for ever !! I grew up with the generation of Bengali’s for whom “Sonar Kella” ( detective thriller by Satyajit Ray shot in Jaisalmer Fort) was a part of childhood and I lived every moment during my trip. Everything here is golden constructed out of the famed yellow sandstone popularly known as Jaisalmer Stone or painted a similar hue. If you are willing to spend some time walking aimlessly through the streets enjoying the haunting melodies of street music on their rustic instruments which are slowly fading into oblivion, or admire architectural wonder, hop in and out of shops in the narrow fort lanes, or simply lie on the warm desert sand staring at the vast blue sky then this is the ideal place for you. A few decades ago, it was a punishment to be sent to Jaisalmer known in local circles as  “Jaa Sale Mar” which means “Rot in Hell” for the weather and remote connectivity but now it is a slice of heaven that every one wants to experience.

Best Time to Visit :

October to March is the best time to visit Jaisalmer though it gets really cool and pleasant between December and February. The 3 day desert festival in the first week of February is a splash of colour, folk culture and not to forget about the camel rides and races.

1. 10 Must See Attractions in JaisalmerJaisalmer Fort (Sonar Kella): Built in 12th century AD by  monarch Rawal Jaisal, this imposing golden fortress on Trikuta hill is built from locally available yellow sandstone. This is only living fort in Rajasthan. Apart from the palace and temples, the smaller houses within the fort  have been converted into homestays or shops selling local handcrafts. Stay One night in one of the home stays within the fort as budget permits and experience life in a different way. After a 2 -3 hour visit to the palace, just indulge in some retail therapy and while walking through the lanes, observe the way air flow to keep the place cool in harshest summer. Please take an auto from the first gate up to the palace museum since it is quite a steep walk. Charges will vary around Rs 30-Rs 50

 

Jaisalmer Gadsisar Lake Birds2. Gadsisar Lake: The beautiful patch of water in the heart of Jaisalmer city is soothing to the eye. Several centuries ago it was built as a reservoir for rain water harvesting and eventually developed as a hot spot with temples and shrines along side. Begin your day here with bird watching or spend some time in the evening boating on the lake and watching the sun slip away lending a deep golden hue to the structures around.

 

3. 10 Must See Attractions in JaisalmerHaveli’s: The Haveli’s or Mansions in Jaisalmer are testimony to the very prosperous past courtesy trading on the silk route. Mostly made of locally procured yellow sand stone, they are built in an interlocking style without the use of mortar. They have exquisitely carved facades, with floral patterns, animal and bird motifs as well as latticed windows often known as jharokhas. Must Visit – Patwon ki Haveli ( including the private museum); Nathmal Haveli (built by 2 brothers on two sides yet in harmony) and Salim Singh Haveli ( arched peacock brackets that stand out)

 

4.10 Must See Attractions in Jaisalmer Jain Temples: The Jain temples within the Jaisalmer Fort are exquisite to say the least. They are open till noon for public viewing. They are primarily dedicated to Rishabhdevji and Sambhavnathji. The Jain Temples in Lodurva the ancient capital on the way to SAM Sand Dunes is worth a visit to experience its former glory and the elaborately carved pillars and arches

 

 

5. 10 Must See Attractions in JaisalmerKuldhara: About 20 kms outside of Jaisalmer, this is the set of abandoned village on the way to SAM Sand Dunes from Jaisalmer. Paliwal Brahmins flourished here between the 14th and 18th century only to abandon their homes and livelihood one night under the threat of losing their daughters to the lust of  Dewan Salim Singh. The area is believed to be cursed with reported paranormal activities. We went there in the afternoon and while ghosts were away, we could feel the mother’s despair, a father’s sigh, unfulfilled desires of young hearts as we sauntered in and out of some of the restored buildings.

 

6. 10 Must See Attractions in JaisalmerBada Bagh: About 8 kms outside Jaisalmer town, this was originally built as a son’s tribute to his father in the form of a Chhatri and adjoining pond and garden. Over time, more and more Chhatri’s came up in the area. It still retains the old charm of golden drops interspersed with small patches of green but surely has seen better days.

 

 

7. SAM Sand Dune Camel Love Thar Desert JaisalmerSAM Sand Dunes:  Sometimes words cannot do justice to what the eyes experience and the heart feels. This is one such place if you can shut your ears to all the cacophony around. Enjoy a Camel Ride, walk on the warm desert sand and get that sinking feeling and yet manage to retain balance, adventure with dune bashing in an open or closed jeep and watch the sun slip away in the horizon when the golden desert attains red hues for a few minutes !!

 

8. Tanot Mata: Often skipped due to the distance from Jaisalmer, this is a rewarding journey through the desert almost close to the Pakistan Border. Maintained by the BSF Jawans, who swear by her protection, they take care of her like worthy sons of the divine mother. She protects us on the western front and there are many stories of her avatar taking care of the Indian soil and the sons of the soil during war. The journey to her abode has something for everyone, be it the photographer, the traveler, the tourist or the spiritual seeker. Do not forget to stop at Longewala. The day trip would easily take 7-8 hours and maybe Rs 3000-Rs 4000 given that it is 120 kms away from Jaisalmer. Make sure to carry lots of water and food.

 

 9. Rajasthan_DalBaatiChurmaFood: While in Jaisalmer, keep aside the pulao’s, dal’s and paneer and dig into some authentic local dishes. Some of the curries made of dried desert berries and vegetables is mouth watering. Apart from the Dal Baati Churma, do taste a bowl of Ker Sangri with ghee dripping parathas. Ker is a wild berry and Sangri is a desert bean and they are cooked together with spices and yogurt to get that tangy taste which will leave you yearning for more. Try Desert Boys Dhani.

 

10. Jaisalmer Gadsisar Lake PuppetPuppet Show: The puppet show (Rs 100/-) in the evening held at Desert Culture Centre and Museum in Jaisalmer is one man’s (N K Sharma) love for local culture. The 45 minute show is worth every penny and the series of artefacts collected from rural areas of Rajasthan present the evolving culture of the state.

If you have time on hand, do visit the Wood Fossil Park located 20 kms from Jaisalmer.

Travel Tip:
  • Nearest Airport (Jodhpur) about 300 kms away. Though ready, the civil airport is yet to commence regular service . Jaisalmer is connected by rail to all major cities within Rajasthan.
  • If you intend to cover all the important sites in Jaisalmer, minimum 3 days will be required
  • Most places in Jaisalmer charge separately for camera.
  • Hire a authorized guide for sightseeing.
  • Collect the permit from BSF office in Jaisalmer if you are intending to visit Tanot and Border area.
  • Hire a Car for SAM Sand Dunes, Bada Bagh, Kuldhara, Lodurva and Tanot. Make sure the car and driver are experienced for Tanot.
  • Stay in a Jaisalmer Fort Homestay just for the experience. Stay overnight in SAM Dune Camps only if you are okay with basic amenities and noisy shows.
  • Preferably stick to vegetarian food in Jaisalmer, since non vegetarian dishes seem to be chewy. Enjoy Laal Maas and other non vegetarian delicacies in Jaipur or Jodhpur.
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