Unexpected encounters with a Kalbeliya family and a book artisan
After my first artisanal discovery in Bagru, now on my way to Pushkar - a sacred city that I had heard so much about in the mouths of tourists - doubting about what I would find there, and whether I would really find something of interest for Mano Etna.
It took me just a few hours to have the frustration flooding my spirit... and it was in that despondency moment that the gods of Pushkar put on my road something unexpected!
After Bagru - one of the textile centers in India - now heading west, towards the city of Pushkar. I had heard about this sacred place for a long time, especially from tourist mouths, and that's how, once I was so close, I decided to go there and see with my own eyes what this sacred city had to offer: in Jaipur I take the bus and there I go...
Pushkar is an important pilgrimage center for Hindus. The city, with 400 temples of blue and white architecture and several bath gaths, echoes chants of prayers and religious songs, as well as drums and gongs.
Pushkar is also famous for its annual fair (Pushkar Camel Fair), a commercial party with cattle, horses and camels. which attracts almost 200,000 people.
The center-piece of this place is the lake. As soon as I got here I could understand it was thanks to its serenity that the city passed a certain feeling of peace.
Here rituals and offerings take place during the day, and at night there are huge Aarti (Hindu ceremonies aimed at purification) take place.
The lake is considered a sacred place and no shoes should be worn while walking around - many foreigners are interpellater by the locals, who run towards them with a panic face, begging them to take off their shoes!
Obviously I follow the tradition but, once I leave the lake area, I put on my shoes again, since the shoe rule and the endless piles of cow poop, scattered along the paths, are a comical and inconvenient combination for walks (mainly the night ones back to the hostel)!
Pushkar is a major attraction and a major selling point of handicrafts for eager tourists. There is a (good) hint of commercialism, but the city remains mystical - or is it the other way around ?!...
Since I had previously booked a hostel for 5 nights, I take the opportunity to sign up for Kathak dance classes (traditional Indian dance), and to do countless online researches on Rajasthani crafts, tribes and artisan castes, on the famous and touristic roof-tops of city.
I wander endlessly through the Bazaar, inspecting all the traditional handicrafts and asking discreet questions to the sellers, in order to gather as much information and knowledge about the most typical craft techniques from this or that place...
I, then, realize that Pushkar is a focal point: traders and different ethnic groups, from different parts of India, come here to bet on their businesses.
It is then that, almost living a "typical tourist" day-to-day (which I, as a traveller, usually don't identify myself with) I question myself:
Is this really what I want and what I'm seeaking for? Is it here where I'll find what I am looking for?
It's true that all the information collected in the bazaar, from the merchants, and all the time of online research were very useful and also helped me to decide my next destination. However, my soul felt empty... I needed to find something, or someone else in this city..
It is then that, the day before my departure, while wandering around the lake, barefoot (as tradition dictates), slowly, half-down and with a feeling of almost disillusionment, already towards the hidden and labyrinthine paths leading to the outskirts of the city, I turn a corner, and my whole body freezes!...
My eyes are faced with a colored "carpet", made of stones and little stones, mirrors, wool and different patterns ...
The treasure guardians are sitting on the floor, right next to it... a family of three: mother, father and baby. And here they spend their days, between chais, water, some chapati, and making typical necklaces of their tribe (Yes, tribe! That's what I've found out later on).
My curiosity directs me to the floor, next to them. The giant smiles come from both sides... the connection is instant and mutual! Between very basic English words, gestures and energies, we communicate... slowly... unhurried!
I then understand that...
the Universe (or the gods of Pushkar lake!), had put something very precious on my path :
a family from the Kalbeliya tribe! Yes, the Kalbeliya, the famous "gypsies from the desert" !
The tribe that I've been researching for so long, which supposedly could only be found in the Thar desert (not far from here), but in no specific location, since its elements have a nomadic life since centuries. In other words, in my head: mission impossible! And yet, there they were... right in front of me, sharing a chai and many stories with me! The family was just passing by Pushkar, and would leave in a few days, who knows where to...
Known for their exuberant dance and festive ways, the Kalbeliya were the designated snake-catchers of India, called upon to remove snakes without killing them.
They are a joyous people known for their frequent festivities and exuberant dancing, which is said resemble the sinuous movements of the serpents they catch. They make their own Bead Jewellery and costumes with a lot of decorations.
1000 years ago, when the Beads were considered to be of high monetary value, they would be transported by tribal people, from one place to another, in the form of necklaces, for easy transport.
Traditionally, the tribes used Beads as money, talismans and for decoration purposes, but later the Beads start to be used for making ornaments, handbags, table runners and other accessories. (more about the Kalbeliya craft technique here.
My recent Kalbeliya friend is also an excellent dancer, and she explains me all the decoration details used during the dances to enchant snakes.
The sun begins to set and announces the end of my meeting. So I decide to bring with me a handful of necklaces loaded with history and stories...
I leave the desert-colours guardians with a full smile, and I ... with a full heart!
Here, just a few of them...
(Click on the images to view the products in the shop)
To see all the Kalbeliya necklaces I brought, click here.
The gods of Pushkar didn't stop here and showed me that when our smile is big there is always room for a bigger one ...
(image for reference only)
Back at the hostel, I meet a friendly book artisan, from the Rajput caste (from Sanskrit raja-putra, "son of a king"), with a giant white smile.
Rajputs are a large cluster of castes, families and groups composed of multiple components, sharing a social status and an ideology of genealogical descent. The Rajput are descendants of the Xátrias, one of the dominant classes of great warriors in the Indian Subcontinent, particularly in the North of India.
I get fascinated with his art of notebooks making, using 100% recycled handmade paper, and with cover and back cover covered with printed fabric... And my astonishment: the fabric covering the books is hand block-printed with typical designs of Bagru (place and technique that I got to know in my last trip - see here).
It's already late, but I still recognize the unique and genuine opportunity of this meeting, and I immediately start to choose some notebooks, leaving my turban & bearded friend with an even brighter smile!
(I regret the lack of photos of this special moment once I my mobile phone didn't have any batery left... I never thought this day would reserve me so many surprises!)
Here are just a few notebooks available in our shop...
(Click on the images to view the products in the shop)
To see all notebooks I brought, click here.
I finally say goodbye to Pushkar, the city of my "disappointment-and-surprise"...
I will take a quick rest because I will leave, still in the middle of the night, to my next destination... A journey that doesn't seem to come easy, by bus, along the roads of the almost desert Rajasthan... (check my next blog posts).