I’ve just got home from my first trip to India and my ears are still ringing with the hooting horns and wedding music, my eyes are still full of the colour of saris and mustard fields, and I’m exhausted! But what a trip it was, and the perfect destination for a magpie because there is jewellery everywhere!
The first jewel we saw was everything everyone said it was and more, and it glowed like a magnificent pearl in the misty afternoon light on the day we saw it. What a testament to love – and engineering! “A tear drop of love on the face of time” is how the poet Rabindranath Tagore described it, and how apt – and moving – it is.
I’ve written before about the jewellery of the maharajahs and now I’ve seen some of it first hand. While I didn’t actually see the jewels worn here by our host, the Maharajah of Karauli, in a picture taken a long time ago, I was priviledged to see some of the modern jewellery owned by his wife and what splendid pieces they are. Now I know what the name ‘pigeon’s blood rubies’ refers to. All set round with bright diamonds, they must look absolutly stunning being worn with the perfect formal sari.
And then we started seeing the other side of the jewellery in India, and what fun it was. We walked into Karauli which, according to the Maharani, is famous for the bangles they make. On the way we watched a man making bangles out of some sort of white gum that he heated and shaped and flattened and somehow ended up with bright red and yellow bangles. No clue how that happened, and we didn’t stop and watch because we were being pushed forward by tuktuks, camels, cows and motorbikes, but I did have the opportunity to see this particular process again a bit later…
A long drive from Karauli brought us to Ranthambore National park to go and look for tigers, so I wasn’t expecting to find a man making these gum bangles in the forecourt of the hotel! He showed me a lump of the gum which was brown and unassuming looking, but when he was squeezing the heated gum through a sort of tube thing (his elbows are resting on it in the picture) it was bright white. At some point the colour is added, and the ’emeralds’ and ‘rubies’ and ‘diamonds’ but I didn’t see that part. What I did see was an array of hundreds of bangles, all different colours, patterns, sizes and prices from which to choose, and so I dived right in and did my best. It was early, I was going looking for tigers and my selection process wasn’t at its peak, but I ended up choosing 7 bracelets, all different sizes and colours, and only one with ’emeralds’. But they didn’t all fit. No problem! The clever man chose a random bracelet for me to try, and when we’d found the one that fit me, he put it on the stick you can see beside him. He then took all my bangles and heated them over the coals and put them one by one on the sizing stick and stretched them till they got to my size. For the rest of the trip I clattered about with 7 bangles on my arm, the whole colour spectrum covered, and all for a fiver. Happy magpie. Oh! and we did see a tiger! A huge male that made a lion look like a large house cat. Magic.
And then Jaipur – the gem capital of India. Our first afternoon we were collected by one of the owners of the Silver and Art Palace and taken to look at gems. I wasn’t encouraged to take photographs but then, in truth, I didn’t think to ask because I was so overwhelmed by it all! In the lobby were four men cutting stones with what looked like non mechanised tools, but I may be wrong about that because I only had a passing glance and not a full blown tutorial; pity. The big room was quiet and carpeted and all round the sides were huge glass show cases full of all imaginable (and some unimaginable!) jewellery and loose stones. A man per showcase to answer all questions. Behind them on one side were a row of offices with glass fronts and dividing walls so no knocking someone on the head and nicking the goods. We spent what seemed like hours and hours trawling through hundreds of packets of stones, anything we wanted to see tubs of packets were produced for us to look at. We eventually made our purchases – two elderly gents at the end of the room with an old calculator, all receipts hand written – and were driven home through the now dark but still manic streets of Jaipur. That was the high end of the Jaipur jewellery trade ….
Our last morning, and our departure for Delhi was delayed so we decided to go walkabout in the market, and I’m so glad we did. Heaving with people, bikes, tuktuks and a pig or two, we found all the jewellery we could have asked for and then some. Impossible to describe so here are some pictures. Note the gold necklaces in cheap plastic packets…. the ubiquitous bangles for sale beside flipflops and bags of sweets…. racks weighed down with necklaces…. cases full of beaded confections… and a beautiful lady trying on jewellery because her husband had brought her to find the perfect piece as a gift. I didn’t buy a single piece of jewellery for myself because even the most seasoned magpie can dither when they’re blinded by bling.