Debbie and I had two ladies at our homestay in Jaipur who recommended we go to City Palace and Amber Fort…two must sees. Once arriving at these destinations (ones that Lonely Planet even said we could not miss out on), we were a bit miffed. While they were beautiful, we did not feel a cultural or a spiritual connection and we were wondering what Jaipur had in store for us. Thank goodness for Samir, our driver, who really listened to our needs and made our journey unforgettable. We did indeed travel to Amber Fort, where the royal family lived before traveling to the City Palace. He did not take us inside, but did take us to Tikal where the royal family used to bathe. It had a thousand steps leading to a million different directions. The towns children followed us all around the perimeter saying hello and begging us to take pictures. At first we thought they wanted a picture taken with us (apparently Americans are seen as celebrities over here), but in fact, they just wanted us to take pictures of them! 🙂 They were so cute…running from step to step doing various poses and running back to Debbie’s iPad to check out how they looked.
From there we went to the Water Palace where the royal family used to holiday during the summer. It has been vacant for years but is a beautiful pink palace in the middle of the lake. I took a quick photo op there and we were on our way. Jaipur is known for their precious gemstones so Samir brought us to one of the most famous jewelers in the city. We arrived on a gravel side road and entered what looked like a garage where three men were working on various machines cutting jewels on the hard ground and covered in soot. The owner came over to us and welcomed us. He began explaining how in Jaipur, there were thousands of small family owned jewel companies like this one that have been working in their trade for generations. He took out an Amethyst and showed us the clarity and explained the healing energy powers behind various stones. He then walked us through his manufacturing plant (again…just in his garage) and explained that people like Sting, Madonna, and the Beastie Boys had stood in this very same garage purchasing beloved jewels from him for years. I couldn’t believe it, but low and behold, the moment we walked into his actual jewel shop he had pictures with these icons up on his wall!
Within the first 5 seconds I stumbled upon the most magnificent ring I had ever seen. It was full of Emerald jewels and tiny diamonds wrapped in the most unusual shape. I typically hate Emeralds (my birth stone), but was so drawn to it. I knew in my heart that I could not leave this piece of jewelry after hearing how it was specifically made from this family in India and the backstory of how it was created. The price to me was astronomical (compared to what it would cost in the states…it was dirt cheap) and I had never bought something so lavish for myself before. Debbie was encouraging me to buy it, saying everyone should treat themselves at least once a year to something wonderful that they will have for their lifetime. I knew if I left the store without it, I’d always regret it so I swiped my card and still do not have buyers remorse. In fact, I was really proud of myself for allowing that indulgence for something so memorable that will be with me forever.
As we were trying on jewelry I mentioned to the shop keeper that I would buy everything in the store if I was rich and had millions of dollars. Everything was so incredibly beautiful! He smiled at us and said, you already have all the riches in the world with your hearts and those smiles. Money could never buy what comes deep from your soul. We thanked him graciously and yet again, I was so touched how the Indian people are so generous with their words, love, and meaning. What a beautiful sentiment and every time I look down at my new ring, I will remember those mans words.
Samir then took us to what is called the Monkey Temple, which is another Hindu Temple with a bunch of monkeys running around it. As we entered the large elaborate gates, the outside of the temples were very pretty but nothing that over the top from everything we had seen so far. However, as we walked up some stairs we came across one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen…a temple built into the mountains with an emerald green lake in front. I thought to myself, now this is a place where you can find God. We sat on the edge of the lake and watched the monkeys dancing, playing, and fighting with one another in front of this magnificent temple (pictured above) for about an hour. There was a baby monkey who had found a coconut and was trying to rip it to shreds to get to the milk inside. His monkey friends kept trying to take it from him and then chased him all around…both fighting and playing at the same time. We were mesmerized by these monkeys, seeing the similarities between them and humans and understanding the evolution of it all. As we were about to leave this magical place, the sweetest and warmest breeze swept over me. Again, I could feel Chio everywhere…he has been visiting me so often on this trip in the most precious and spiritual moments. What a blessing to never feel alone knowing that he is there with me always.
We decided to lighten the mood after this spiritual journey and go textile shopping. What an eye opening experience! Samir’s friend, Kalem, came to greet us outside on the busy street to bring us into his textile manufacturing plant. Again this plant looked like a small garage with two men working on different tables doing printmaking by block wood. Kalem explained that people from the countryside would carve out these wood blocks to make stamps and ship them to his factory where they would use paint that was colored by all natural vegetables in the local area. We watched as these men dipped these individual wooden stamps into the dyes and placed them on the white sheets of silk and cotton. Kalem asked us if we knew of stores such as Pier 1 or Anthropology in the states. Of course we did! Well, he said that his shop supplied most of the textiles for their stores. Our jaws dropped! His men would literally labor on these textiles for months on end and then mark up the prices to these corporations to in turn mark up the prices astronomically in the states. It was the first time I had actually witnessed what that tag actually means when you buy something and it says “made it Taiwan” or in this case “Made in India.” SO much attention to detail, pride in their work, and artistry…just to be sold on the shelves to Americans who actually have no idea what went into making them (myself included!). I will have so much more appreciation for these goods moving forward in my daily life.
Kalem took us upstairs where five men were sitting around a table doing bead work for wedding sari’s and mens suits. The stitching was unbelievable and one of the most beautiful pieces of art work I had ever seen. It turns out that making this particular men’s dress overcoat would take these five men six months to make! So much time, energy, and love for one days celebration. The Indian way. From there Kalem asked us to join him in his storefront where he would show us various different types of his finished textile products that we could purchase. As in traditional custom, he offered Debbie and I tea Marsala while they paraded the fabrics in front of us one by one. Every person in the shop were all focussing on us, as more and more beautiful colors, textures, and designs were thrown into our laps. They made piles of the fabrics that we liked and tossed out the ones that we did not. They then proceeded to unravel every single color and design in each one of these fabrics until you could not see an inch of the entire floor room. All I could think to myself was that was going to be a shit ton of folding…dear lord! I immediately thought to myself how screwed I was, having promised myself that I was done shopping after my beautiful ring. However, low and behold I ended up ordering two duvet covers with matching satin pillows, a beautiful elephant tapestry for my wall or bed (made out of old wedding Sari’s) and even got a handmade shirt custom tailored that they made for me in one hour and dropped off for me at the hotel. What service! I had never gotten anything custom made for me before…it was a lot of fun picking out the fabric, explaining what type you wanted, getting fitted, and trying on the fitted product which fit like a glove.
There is so much talk (especially with the upcoming election) about how we should not be outsourcing jobs to third world countries and bringing immigrants into our country. As I sat here watching sweat drip from these men’s brows as they beaded the collars of these magnificent wedding garments or meticulously stamping a million patterns onto thousands of pieces of cloth daily for Anthropology and Pier 1, I thought to myself…Americans would never do these kinds of jobs. They quite honestly are too lazy. The Indians however look at it as prideful work, that help them feed their families and they are proud of their trade. So many Americans (most) hate their professions but have the opportunities to dream big and try to obtain their life’s purpose (which they rarely take advantage of). These people follow in their family’s business and do not have much choice for their destiny. America is a very young country and prides itself on being a melting pot. However, under the skin of it all, America wants to segment itself into being better and supreme by keeping the very same immigrants out that founded it in the first place. Indians absolutely love Americans…I keep thinking to myself, would most Americans have the same respect for them back? They more than deserve it.