Driving, crafts, and arriving at Roopangarh.

We left Jaipur, realising that we had not seen the Lake Palace at any point. It occurred to me that this is what Shakti must have told us to ‘look left’ so it didn’t spoil our surprise… I saw a picture – it looks amazing… Maybe we should have let over-friendly tuk-tuk guy take us there, but doubtful as he also wanted to take us to a shopping area. Instead, we might think of it as something to go back to give us an excuse to revist another time…

We had discussed visiting some craft shops as the guide book tells us that Sanganeer (on the way out of Jaipur) is the place to do this. Shakti tells us that most of the factories are moving towards the tourists in Jaipur now, and there’s not a lot to see in Sanganeer, but he agreed to take us anyway and see what we could find.

We drove to Sanganeer, and pulled up where we could see some fabric drying. The people working there allowed us to watch them at work, rinsing dyed fabric. Shakti (who seems to have a number of skills) pointed to the fact that the fabric was screen printed rather than block printed, and that it was not good quality.

He then crossed us across the road to where some men sat making blocks for block printing work.   It was a tiny workshop in the style which we now realise must be quite typical, a bit like an English garage with an open garage door. They showed us some work in progress, and some blocks which we could buy now, for reasonable prices, from 50 rupees to 300. More blocks bought than we will know what to do with, we headed back to the car.

Onwards to the ‘Blue Pottery’ factory. Jaipur is famous for its blue pottery, although Shakti informs us it’s only bought by tourists as there’s not particularly a taste for it among local people.

We managed to find the place where the new factory is, and immediately through the door was a gentleman painting pottery. We were told the brush is squirrel hair to give it flexibility and strength.   While he painted the outlines a chap next to him did filling in with colour.

He talked us through the process, from ground quartz, wheat flour and acacia gum to finished pot, with one of the potters demonstrating the process, sitting cross legged on the ground, and powering his wheel with a wooden stick which he moved in circular motions to get it going…

Upstairs he showed us a kiln which had just finished its three day firing, and we were shown some square vases which had taken maybe a week each to make, as well as some tiles just out of another kiln. He then took us onto the showroom in case we needed anything.

Steve asked if the square vases from the kiln were for sale and the owner went to bring some for him to look at. Jack found a ‘head’ which he felt his friend would probably need, and Ella found a tiny camel, and various other bits and pieces. All was going well until Ella started off across the showroom, with her feet straight through the middle of all the newly kilned square vases which had been laid out on the floor.

As I heard a crash, the thought passed through my head to not turn around/maybe it would be fine, but it was quite an undeniable crash, so I braved it… I saw that four or five of them had been smashed, some clean in half… This made us all feel rather guilty, as we had seen how much work and time goes into each one. The man said it was ‘OK’ but… Ella felt particularly bad and so did we. When we paid for our items, we added on 450 rupees (£5 ish) to compensate for the damage and that seemed to cheer them up slightly. We also saw the owner go to talk to one of the craftspeople, evidently discussing whether they were reparable.

Steve had got talking to the owner’s father, who was telling him about the history of the factory. The vases are made from quartz and acacia gum and they were keen to tell us that these are the only ones in the world that are made this way. He gave us some clay to feel and it was more squishy/almost stretchy than usual clay…

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After the crafts it was time to head to Roopangarh, with a stop for lunch along the way. Shakti again gave us the choice of ‘tourist, mid range or cheaper’ but seemed to think we’d handle the cheaper one this time. He explained that the food would be the same but the ‘surroundings’ less good. He was completely right – the seating and table were basic and metal, there were a few flies around… but the food was great and we did it – we managed a 900 INR lunch, and a massive lunch at that.

So onward to Roopangarh… As we get closer the roads lose their tarmac, and are more like hard-core rubble (I think that’s what you call it)… The roads are single track now, and as we get to the village itself the most noticeable addition is the little fluffy pigs with long snouts that look a bit like wild boar. Jack starts an immediate campaign to adopt one. Ella names another one ‘Snoot’. (Snoot and chums remain unmoved and nose their way through rubbish and drains, little knowing the future that awaits them).

The gates to the fort are impossibly narrow, and a dog leg. Presumably they were not made for Toyota Innovas, but Shakti manages it with aplomb.

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We are met with a welcome from Gopal and other staff members who take us up and show us the room. We have already been told the hotel is empty and we are the only tourists. The hotel is absolutely huge (as befitting a maharajah’s palace). The room they show us to is enormous, with high ceilings, a massive double bed and two singles. Gopal lets us know that they will have some tea ready for us in 10-15 minutes, and then we can take a walk around the village before it goes dark.

The setting for a cup of tea is fabulous – next to an enormous courtyard, with ramparts looking down onto what looks like it would have been a moat. And the courtyard is now a tennis court. Jack and Ella ‘play tennis’ for a while (they’re a bit out of practice/not very good to say the least, so pretty much every shot needs to be retrieved), and after a while one of the watching staff joins in (I asked him if he plays, and he says ‘a little’). Another smiling member of staff positions himself as ‘ball boy’ and they have a fun twenty minutes.

We go on our walk around the village, and immediately are swamped by small children ‘what is your name?’, ‘my name is…’, ‘hello, what is your name?’. Each one has to do the routine and one boy who was missed out follows us for a while until I make sure he’s also had his chance, then he leaves us to it. Gopal tells us that every single time he does this walk with guests they do the same, which can be every day, and they never tire of it.

He takes us first into a workshop where they are making wooden doors by hand out of acacia wood. From there we move a few doors down to a ribbon making ‘factory’ which appears to be two small rooms on an upper floor of the house. She invites Ella and I to ‘pick the two best’ and shows us lots of ribbons which have been made there. We pick two and ask Gopal what we are to pay. He explains he gives her a little money once a week for this, but that it is OK to pay if we want to, so we give her a small amount of money and she gives us more ribbon… It is very very loud in there. The machines seem to run off some kind of engine, which smells like an old fashioned steam engine. The system looks amazingly efficient, but fairly Heath Robinson and is mostly made out of wood.

From the ribbon factory we move a few more doors down to where marble is being fashioned into bowls and pestle and mortars. Again it’s incredibly loud, with angle grinders, and other machines which appear to be like wood-turning for marble. Again we are invited to buy something if we choose, for around 100-200 rupees. Ella and I are both drawn to the same green marble bowl, and given that our pestle and mortar at home is rusty, we are hopeful they’ll have one in this green marble colour. He hasn’t, but he says he can make one for us before morning. He shows some bowls which need finishing, one of which he does on an angle grinder while we wait.  This is a worry, as he appears to have already lost half a thumb in a previous angle grinding incident, so we certainly don’t want him to rush.

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On our return to the hotel we have a short while before dinner. We’ve chosen in advance so they have time to buy in the right ingredients for us. Dinner is pretty good, and Ella’s mixed vegetables are dairy-free and declared her best yet.

After dinner we go and sit around a fire which has been lit in the courtyard, and chairs set around it. We talk to Gopal and the manager, Surrendra before retiring to our enormous room.

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