Saturday, January 3, 2015

India: Agra II

Note: I've split this trip into three posts.  While the Taj Mahal is the site that draws millions of tourists to Agra each year, it's not the only thing in town to see.

After spending a cold, foggy morning at Agra Fort, we stopped for lunch.  Food -- both copious and delicious -- was a common theme on this trip.  Care should always be taken when eating in India, though, and especially when drinking water (bottled only, avoid ice cubes), lest you fall victim to Delhi Belly!   

Our last stops in Agra (after a visit to the Taj Mahal!) were to see two traditional industries: hand-knotted carpets and marble inlaid with semi-precious stones.  Both industries in Agra receive significant government support, in part to try and offset the loss of other traditional polluting industries, like iron foundries, which had been ordered to clean up or move away.  Air and water pollution continue to take their toll on the Taj Mahal.  Despite the opulence of the Taj Mahal and the millions of tourists who flow through Agra each year, the common people in Agra are extremely poor.


I never properly appreciated before that hand-knotted carpets require someone to sit and, well, hand-tie all those knots.  A large carpet requires several people working in tandem, dedicating several months of their lives; the quality of a carpet is judged by the number of knots per square inch.  I can see why carpets -- especially before machine processes were invented -- are so expensive!  Given the amount of work involved, the prices in Agra were surprisingly affordable.

According to our guide, carpet-making is traditionally a family industry in Agra.  Each family will only ever make one pattern of carpet, memorizing the intricate patterns and then tying knots at amazingly fast speeds.  When multiple people work in tandem, they sing the colors to each other to stay in sync.  The families pick up cashmere or silk yarn from the store, and then return with the finished carpets. 


Cashmere and silk yarn storage

Inlaid Marble

Parts of Agra Fort and the entirety of the Taj Mahal are decorated with white marble inlaid with semi-precious gemstones.  To make these, each piece of gem is hand-sculpted, its setting carved in marble, the fit checked, and then the gem secured.  It's a labor-intensive process performed on a small-scale today.  Decorating a building the size of the Taj Mahal like this is practically unthinkable!

The white marble is stained with henna to make it easier to visualize.  After all of the gemstones have been inlaid, the henna is washed away to reveal the white marble.


Tables, coasters, chess sets, bowls, cups, and carved elephants available for purchase

An example of inlaid flowers at Agra Fort.  This is one of the simpler designs!

No comments:

Post a Comment