Why you should care
Because we’re so over Ikea.
In any good cosmopolitan home, you can find a taste of ethnicity — paisley prints, tribal masks, a statue of an indigenous god or two. The prints and colors and mirrors are so ubiquitous that one doubts they’re all thoroughly real. You can now get ikat patterns at Anthropologie and henna tats anywhere you go. But if you’re in the mood for the authentic stuff, the place to go is Jaipur, in northern India, in the desert state of Rajasthan. It’s best known for camels, dal kachori street food and, most important for our purposes, rugs.
The trouble in Jaipur is that every corner boasts a carpetier who claims to be the one, the Mr. Right. We toured through a few of the shops the locals most recommend to give you your next travel itinerary.
Handicraft Haveli, Amer Road
To reach this store near the famous Amber Fort, you’ll wend through some appealingly local lanes. I counted seven goats, three elephants, too many cows and a couple of stray chickens crossing the road in front of my rickshaw. Inside, you can find all manner of artisan products — marble elephants, stone Buddhas, huge wooden doors.
Manager Ashok Soni says the place is 40 years old and specializes in camel hair wool and herbal washes. Here, as with most stores, rugs run between $600 and $60,000. The flavor of the area comes through in vegetable dyes — the indigo plant yields blue, beetroot gives red, mustard flowers offer yellow. You can see some of the rugs and tablecloths being printed out front, on cotton, silk and linen, while three or four weavers get down to business tying more than 40 knots a minute. But this isn’t a factory. Like most shops in the area, Handicraft has its rugs made by some 6,000 families in villages outside Jaipur. Some families have used these designs for ages, and have memorized the patterns by singing songs.
Carpet and Textile House, Near City Palace
Sudhir Kandelwal’s family store has a few floors of rugs and textiles. A specialty: block printing, which here comes on pashminas in addition to silks and cottons. Manager Dharam Veer-Singh shows off the blocks: Two to seven teak wood stamps come in a single set, each one spelling out an outline, which quickly gets filled in with various colors as the blocks add on. “This is the big fashion,” he boasts. After the design sets, the artists generally leave the cloth out to oxidize and dry in the sun. But just to demonstrate, they have a bucket of chemicals on hand — they dip a strip of pink-, red- and yellow-stamped cotton in, and it comes out blue, green and yellow.
Veer-Singh has a few masterpieces to show, like a carpet that depicts in shocking detail the city of Mecca, with Arabic-lettering skirting. Particularly unique? Once upon a while, carpets were made in prisons by inmates who needed something to do. When the prisons cleared out, the carpets went on sale — some right here.
Rajasthali Textile Development Corporation, Amer Road
Three kilometers away, in the second-floor showroom of our next stop, you can find Salim Khan surveying his textiles. The shop has a view of the city’s famous Ganesh temple on a hill in the city’s horizon. Khan’s interested in the rugs’ Persian origins; he tells me came this way when India’s Mughal emperor Akbar reigned; Jaipur was the center of operations for much Mughal commerce and politics. Among all his wares, Khan recommends the diamond pattern and some inspired by the veil design on the city’s Hawa Mahal — an impressive pink palace that dominates any postcard shop’s offerings.