A Journey to Jodhpur

How my last trip to India changed the way I look at Indian antiques

It was February of 2020, just before COVID-19 put a pause on everything, and I was traveling with a small group of colleagues. After picking up our rental car, we went to check into our hotel and were immediately immersed in the hustle and bustle of the Blue City. I had only been to Jodhpur a couple of times before, and I remember feeling an immediate sense of culture-shock upon arrival.

No matter how many times you travel to India, it’s hard to get used to how many animals you see everywhere you go. Cows and camels are an intimate part of everyday life. Cows roam the city in streets and always have the right-of-way as Hindus regard them as sacred, and camels are often used for transportation much like horses in other countries. Along with the constant close-proximity to large animals, driving itself is a very different experience than what I’m used to. In the USA we are accustomed to wide, spacious paved roads full of SUVs and large trucks. In India, like in many other Asian countries, driving is much more chaotic. First of all, motorcycles and mopeds are one of the primary forms of transportation for everyone – even families. Secondly, because of all of the animals and the fact that people on two-wheel vehicles tend to weave in and out between lanes, the local driving laws are thought of less as rules and more like strongly-suggested guidelines.

Cows in car traffic in India
Camel pulling blue metal wagon full of logs
Two adults and two kids all riding the same motorcycle

In my last blog post, I gave our readers a glimpse into what my job usually looks like once I reach any destination. Usually the group’s schedule is quite full from the moment we land, which means that most of our sightseeing typically takes place through various windows as we travel from one source or products to another. This trip was special, however, because we actually had some free time to go explore the city right off the bat. I was particularly excited about this because my previous trips to Jodhpur had only given me the knowledge of a few hotels and restaurants, and I was eager to learn more about the area.

To get the best view of the city and to learn more about Jodhpur’s history, we decided to visit the famous Mehrangarh Fort which sits on the top of a large hill overlooking the city. 

Mehrangarh Fort

Stone fort on a hill
View of city below stone fort

Constructed in 1459, this impressive fort is spread out over three miles of land, and it’s ringed by massive stone walls which are up to 118ft high and 70ft wide. Within the grounds of Mehrangarh are five stunningly-wrought palaces as well as an expansive museum which houses a variety of ancient relics. The palaces were constructed over a period of 500 years, and they are known for their intricate carvings and opulent courtyards while the museum is full of galleries pertaining to art, artifacts, and fashions of pre-Industrial India. In order to enter the fort, visitors first have to pass through a series of seven large, elaborate gates which were constructed in the 1700s and 1800s to honor various notable events in Indian history.

As soon as our guides led us through the towering gates, it was like being transported to another place and time. One of the reasons that I have always loved traditional Indian furnishings is that the intricacy and artistry of their hand-carved pieces is some of the best in the world. This same level of artistic mastery was on full display at Mehrangarh. If you’ve seen how one highly-skilled Indian artisan can turn an antique piece into a beautifully carved masterpiece, just imagine what scores of master craftsmen could produce when constructing rich palaces over a span of 500 years.

As we began to explore the fort further, our guides pointed out how the palaces within showcased breathtaking examples of classical Indian architecture, such as the use of multifoil arches, prominent columns, as well as elaborate floral motifs and symmetrical geometric forms.

Here are are some examples of the beautiful archways and columns that we saw:

Ornate arches and columns in wall of fort
Ornate arched doorway leading to interior of fort
Ornate arch in front of aged copper door

We also learned about Indian jharokhas and jaalis, which I found fascinating. Jharokhas are small overhanging balconies while jaalis are screens of intricately carved cutouts in walls or windows. Here are a few that I found to be particularly beautiful:

Overhanging Jharokhas carved balcony
Geometric carved window screen with flower shapes
Colorful Jaali carved window screen

We had enough time to see each of the palaces and to tour the Mehrangarh Museum. While there is information about many past centuries, much of what Mehrangarh is dedicated to took place in the 1700s and 1800s. I don’t know about you, but I knew next to nothing about what was going on in India during these revolutionary centuries. As we strolled through the halls and saw rooms dedicated to events that most Americans have never even heard about, I felt like I could understand more about India as a nation. A beautiful nation with a complex history and incredibly talented citizens. A nation teeming with multiple ethnic cultures and religions where arts and scholarship have flourished for centuries.

A Fresh Perspective

After our trip to Mehrangarh, we went back to the hotel for dinner and bed. The next morning and for the rest of the week we got to work visiting sources and purchasing products. In my previous blog post about my experience as a Buyer, I explained how exciting it can be walking into one of our source’s restoration centers. Many of these centers are filled to the brim with delicate wooden accents and pieces of sculpted stone from bygone eras.

Piles of antique furniture in India
Piles of antique furniture in India
Artisans working on restoring antique furniture

With India’s history on my mind, I felt a new appreciation for the furnishings I saw throughout the week. It’s always humbling to visit one of our sources who are able to lay out hundreds of expertly-crafted antiques for us to check out, and I couldn’t help but imagine how many of these types of products must still be nestled within ancient homes and forgotten palaces, waiting to be discovered.

As mentioned, throughout the week I was able to purchase some of the best pieces that I had ever procured as a Buyer. Here are some of the standouts that display gorgeous hand-carved detailing:

Hand-carved furniture door design
Hand-carved furniture door design
Hand-carved furniture door design

I had always been impressed by the artistry of Indian antiques, but I was surprised about how some aspects of these pieces were reflective of what we saw in Mehrangarh Fort. I had known for years that antique Indian furnishings often had doors boasting elaborate cut-out screens, but I had never understood that these were imitations of classic jaalis found in traditional Indian architecture. I had always appreciated Indian pieces with heavily-ornamented columns and pilasters, but I had never realized that Indian architects had employed similar columns for centuries.
Much like the palaces within Mehrangarh, these beautiful pieces make it easy to see the stunning intricacy and painstaking attention to detail that is a central aspect of India’s traditional buildings and furnishings. I love how effortlessly scrolling floral motifs flow around and incorporate repeating geometric patterns. While these are some exceptional examples, Indian pieces showcasing hand-carved excellence are not a rarity, they can be found coming from every major historical era and are found in every region.
Sometimes I worry that stunning antique pieces such as these could become lost as the world moves further and further into the modern era. But, then I remember that people the world over are starting to appreciate reclaimed goods more and more, which is creating a significant incentive for Indian artisans to continue restoring these types of furnishings. I also remind myself that our work at South Platte actually combats this type of loss. I know that I can safely speak for everyone here when I say that we love having the opportunity to protect traditional craftsmanship, share these global finds with the public, and, of course, help our customers find a one-of-a-kind piece for their home.

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