A complete guide to India’s truly natural skincare brands – 1

Many of you must be interested in switching to natural/organic skincare and beauty products, but could be hesitant. One reason is that, the popular ones we all know of are mostly luxury brands (like Forest Essentials & Kama Ayurveda), which are obviously very expensive. Also sometimes people blindly buys products from brands claiming to be natural/organic, when in reality they might just have a very small percentage of natural ingredients and thereby end up having a bad experience. Sometimes even the most popular brands we know hides majority of their ingredients under the name ‘base’, eg: Biotique.

Handmade natural skincare products are safe and are multitasking ones. For eg: a handmade soap made with natural ingredients can be used as a hair, body and face cleanser.  Would you dare to use your shampoo as a face cleanser otherwise?

There are many Indian natural skincare brands that sells quality products at affordable prices. These brands are transparent about the ingredients used and gives all the ingredient info in the label. Here is the list of few such natural Indian skincare brands, that I have already introduced you through the different posts.

1. Juicy Chemistry

The first time I tried JC products was three years back when they had just the fb handle and some amazing products. Now they have grown to be a very popular organic certified brand with a store in Coimbatore and products extensively available through online sites.

The brand is started by a husband wife duo, Pritesh and Megha Asher. The products are pure and made of high quality ingredients and has 0% chemicals/preservatives. All their products smell amazing because of the exquisite combination of essential oils. So eventhough you might feel this is not very pocket friendly, let me tell you, it is worth the price.

Products I recommend:  Body scrubs, body butters, soaps, face mists.

Read my reviews :

Juicy Chemistry citrus and sage foot scrub

Decadent body scrubs for all skin types

Juicy Chemistry Rose Sandalwood Mask

Juicy Chemistry Hazelnut & Vanilla Latte Soap

My favorites and not so favorites from Juicy Chemistry

Spicy Apple Pie anyone???

Juicy Chemistry : Choco-Vanila Body Butter – Now discontinued

2. Gia bath and body works

This is the first natural skincare brand I tried. I wouldn’t call all products completely natural as some of them contains fragrances and safe food colors. The brand is run by Gayatri based on Mumbai. She takes into account customer suggestions and even customizes perfumes. Her soaps are a work of art and looks edible. The fragrances are so good that your bathroom will smell amazing.

Products I recommend: Chocolate creme silk soap, cup cake soaps, oats based face cleansers in various flavours.

Read my reviews :

Pomegranate facial cleanser from Gia 

Daily cleansing method for soft and glowing skin

A divine chocolate soap you will fall in love with

Butter Cream Whipped Soaps

My favorite hair cleanser from Gia

Mintensity Foot soak
3. Zofla

This is one of my recent finds. I have used just one product from this brand, which is the rose water face mist. Unlike many commonly available brands like Dabur that sells chemical solution in the name of rose water (check out the ingredient list next time you feel like buying this : Aqua, Fragrance, Rose Oil, Propylene Glycol, Propyl Paraben, Methyl Paraben, Bronopol.), this rose water is made by steam distillation of organic Kannauj rose petals.

The product comes in a plastic spray bottle and can be just sprayed on to your skin for a boost of hydration, freshness and can be also used to mix your face packs or to calm skin inflammations. I bought this from amazon and it costs only 160Rs for 100ml.
4. Greenberry Organics

Started by a Mom-son duo, this brand is the first ECOCERT certified brand in India. I have used their most popular product, MUDASH 3 In 1 Face Mask, Scrub and Cleanser. The particles are a bit too gritty and hence suitable best as a body scrub. The brand also offers many more skin, body and hair care products.

Read myreview : Best Skincare Finds : Multitasking products for all skin types

5. Blend It Raw Apothecary

Incase you wish to whip up your own skincare recipes or if you are an essential oil junkie, this is the best brand to buy all the flower powders, clays, oils, face mists and what not. I would always recommend getting the ingredients and making products like face mask, scrub, lipbalms, body butters on your own; because then you really know what goes into the product and also these are much cost effective but equally good. The brand is the brain child of my fellow blogger and skincare enthusiast Aarushi, based in Delhi.

Read my review : Dandruff free silky hair and soft supple skin with simple DIY skincare recipes
6. Krya

With roots strongly based on Ayurveda, Krya adhers strictly to the age old textual methods of product preparation. This is a lifestyle brand and apart from skin and hair care products, this brand has baby care and home care products as well that are 100% herbal, vegan & cruelty-free.

Preethi Sukumaran, one of the founders, always finds time to respond to customer queries. She prescribes a holistic approach where she suggests changes to lifestyle and food habits. She also posts videos in the Krya blog addressing the lifestyle issues of urban life and ayurvedic way of living.

Products I recommend: Hair oil and hair wash powder, hair color, detergent.

Read my review: 

Summer hair care with natural hair wash powders : Featuring Krya and JivaVrksa

All natural and safe home care products
7. Burst of Happyness

Baed on Pune and run by Shreya Sharan Pawar, this brand was started as a result of her quest to find remedy to the allergies brought about by chemical based skincare products. The brand offers vegan soaps, shampoo bars, serums and many more body care products.

Product I recommend: Natural deodorants in lavender and rose scents.

Read my review: All natural and vegan deodorant
8. Cape Of Good Hope

Manisha creates beautiful art in soaps. Her soaps looks so pretty and smells amazing as well. The last product she sent me was a geode soap customized with ingredients that are harmonious with my zodiac. She also customizes products based on customer needs.

Products I recommend: Let Manisha know your skin concerns and leave the rest to her. My favorites are the Rose wine scrub and Green tea soap.

Read my reviews:

CGH Pepper soap review and a little surprise

Take time to smell the roses

Teas Please from Cape of Good soap

Cape of Good Soap : Rosewood and Mint soap

9. Junaili

Can a product so simple and pure that it is a raw material in itself, be as effective as the skin care concoctions with many exotic ingredients?

Junaili carries the purity of the Uttarakhand mountains and mist. This himalayan apothecary run by a family, uses just one raw material : Apricot.

The cold pressed apricot oil is customized into hair, face and body oils and the kernals are processed into scrubs.

Read my review: http://flavoursofbeauty.com/junaili-apricot-body-scrub-simple-and-pure/
10. Ancient Ayurveda

This Kerala based brand works with Prajwala, the world’s largest anti-human-trafficking shelter based in India, to empower women. Wood ash soaps are their specialty and these soaps oozes of ayurvedic tailas. The soaps are so soft and melts easily.

Read my review: Ancient Ayurveda Woodash Soaps

11. Amara Organix

This Chennai based brand is by the lovely lady, Mehar. You name it and they have it, a wide range of skin care, bath and body products and exotic soaps that caters to all kinds of skin care needs.

Recommended: Handmade soaps,  Brightening Face mask

Read my review: Moisturizers and face masks curated for summers : Introducing The Skin Pantry and Amara Organix

Hope you liked this post. I have not included any luxury brands in this feature. I will be consolidating more products and introduce you to more authentic brands in the upcoming posts.

Comment below about your favorite natural skincare brands and the recommended products.

An evening at the Pushkar festival

Pushkar fest is one of the largest livestock fares in the world and we couldn’t complete our Rajasthan trip without visiting this colorful cultural mela.

This was our last day at Jaipur and we were planning to explore Amrapali showroom at MI road, before heading to Pushkar via Ajmer. While bidding adieu, the owner of the Vimal heritage, a very sweet and beautiful lady, asked us to check out Chameli bazar instead. According to her, while Amrapali is exhorbitant in pricing, this one on the other hand has many affordable alternatives.

by the beautiful indoor pool area

Chameliwala market

An arch saying ‘Chameliwala market’ and a small lane leading inside, is the entrance to the silver abode. This can be easily missed eventhough it is on the roadside. Since it was early, most of the shops were closed. here mostly wholesale sales takes place and so window shoppers are ignored, unlike at the Johari bazar. An array of tiny shops, displaying gorgeous handcrafted silver jewelry peeped at us through the glass windows. I went inside one of the shops called Rathi Silvers. This one had all kinds of silver pieces from tribal to enamel works, contemporary pieces to traditional jhumkas. I bought a pair of beautiful studs with blue enamel work.

Blue enamel silver studs

The people in Jaipur are ery helpful and homely. An old man, one of the staff at the shop phoned his friend in Kerala and had us talk to him, when he came to know that we are Keralites.

On the way back, we stopped at the lassiwala shop at MI road, but found it no match for the thick creamy gulab flavoured lassi we had at Johari bazaar.

We had arranged for a cab to take us to Ajmer, followed by Pushkar and finally drop us back at Ajmer railway station, from where we would travel to Udaipur.

Ajmer

Since we were passing Ajmer, we decided to stop at the Ajmer Sharif Dargah, which is a shrine of the sufi saint  Moinuddin Chisti. It was listed as one of the top must visit places around. The lane leading to the shrine was packed with locals and tourists. No vehicles were allowed there so we had to park at the beginning of the road. Providing parking lot itself is a big business here and every other house has a paid garage for public parking. We need to bargain with the owners or else they will just quote 300-500 Rs for parking.

The Ajmer dargah

We started to the dargah by walk and we were followed by many auto drivers offering to take us till the shrine at “just” Rs 200. The shrine is just around 5min walk and you don’t need to hire a vehicle. I was wearing a dress that didn’t cover my ankle. I was offered a shawl for free at the entrance of the dargah, to cover my legs till the ankle. Also you will be expected to cover your head in certain areas inside.

Unlike the dargah in Bhuland Darwaza, this one was over crowded, noisy and buzzing with street vendors, guides and the homeless. It didnot have the peaceful and serene atmosphere I expected, which was disappointing. It might have been a holy place once, but now it’s more or less a bait to attract tourists. We didn’t spend much time inside at all and left in around 10min.

Pushkar

Pushkar fest : The fest happens every year in November, for a week around the full moon day. People from all parts of Rajasthan gather here to trade livestock as well as to take part in competitions which includes moustache competition, camel race and the voice of Pushkar (Pushkar’s version of American Idol) to name a few. Also this is considered as a very holy time and people come to visit the famous Brahma temple (the only one in the world) and to take a dip in the Pushkar lake to wash away all sins.

Waiting for the next safari

We reached Pushkar by around 4 pm and we left the cab and driver at the public parking ground. As we walked towards the mela ground, we could see the men, women and children clad in traditional Rajasthani attire getting down from buses and carts, heading to the mela. The evening sun was warm and we could see small tents scattered throughout the desert. On either side of the road, temporary stables were erected for horses and camels. From pure white albino horses to black stallions, the variety of breeds brought here are remarkable.

These beauties…

There were huge bulls and different breeds of cows brought for competitions as well as for sale from different parts of north India.

Mr Stubborn

There are many shops around that displays metal accessories with colorful pompoms and threads. But once you approach these, you will realize that these are the fineries for camels.

The camel jewery store

One can also shop for ornate daggers and swords here as well.

Dagger shop

There were two major mela grounds : one, Carnivalesque with many rides like the giant wheel, hot air balloons, giant swings, and the other ground is where the competitions and camel safari takes place.

Loud and colorful

Maha Aarti

We headed towards the ghat ofthe holy lake which is surrounded by temples on almost all sides.

Mandap

Devotees were climbing down the many stairs towards the river bank, where the evening aarthi was taking place.

devotees gathered for the maha aarti

The loud beaming voice of the pandit chating mantras in tune, hundreds of diyas lighted along the steps leading to the water, sweet fragrance of dhoop and agarbattis and the golden rays of setting sun gave us the most picturisque welcome.

The serene Pushkar

There are many shops selling decor items, agarbattis and funky attires along the roads leading to the ghat. We spotted a buepottery store here as well. Since my brother had asked for a blue bottery coffee mug (after we left the blue pottery store in Jaipur), we decided to buy it from here. To our surprise we found many new designs at cheaper rate.

Spotted this naughty one dressed up as Lord Shiva

Back in the ground, the voice of Pushkar had already started. A stage was set on one end of the ground. The competitors sang peppy Bollywood movie songs and the crowd cheered and applauded for the best ones.

My man was very interested in camel ride and felt that the single ride around the ground was too short. While we were enjoying the music, we could see the hot air balloon getting inflated at the other end of the ground. It would go up a few inches and will get pulled down and this would go on every few minutes. Initially we thought they were struggling to get it to rise, but later found out that this is all the hot air balloon fun one can experience for a few ten bucks.

There are quite a number of temporary shacks, setup as eateries, selling local delicacies.

Never say no to Jalebis

We tried the dal batti churma in one eatery close to the mela ground. After dinner we headed back to Ajmer railway station and spent the most boring 3 hours of the entire trip, in the  waiting room of the station. But the next day held the promise of a new city, the city of lakes.

NOTE: We missed all the competitions, as they happen in the mornings mostly.

The festivities are at its peak on the full moon day. So incase you are planning to spend just one day at the fest, plan it for then.

For safaris, camel rides or even shopping, the locals will quote double or triple the actual cost most of the time, as they can easily identify a tourist. So polish your bargaining skills and keep them handy.

Hope you enjoyed this post. Do let me know in the comments below.

Also check out:

Day 1 : The grandeur of The Pink City

Day2 : A walk through the art, architecture and history

Day3 : The Majestic Taj

Relax, shop and enjoy the colors of the city of lake

Take time to smell the roses

It has been a while since I reviewed products, so here is one that features the ingredient  ‘Rose’.

I was never a fan of the floral fragrances one often finds in perfumes or skincare products. But when you choose natural products, you will find that the fragrances are mild and natural. This is because the essential oils, flower hydrosols or distilled waters used in these products, carries only the natural fragrance of the actual flower, which is very mild. That is exactly why these natural scents fades away sooner than the chemical fragrances.

  • Rose and Wine Body polish from Cape of Good Soap

This product has a heavenly fragrance. It is sweet, divine and the product looks delicious (reminds me of Rooh Afza, but no you shouldn’t try  it).  I wish the brand made a body butter in this fragrance.

Ingredients: Organic rose, red wine, organic cane sugar, organic sea salt, organic honey, English rose essential oil.

The product comes in an interesting plastic pouch with nozzle. This makes it very convenient to use just the right amount of product and also travel friendly.

The body polish is mild and can be used by even sensitive skin types. It is very moisturizing and leaves the skin soft. The texture and fragrance combined makes the bath with this polish a very luxurious, spa like experience.

The only negative I can think of is that, the sugar and salt melts easily on skin. So this is not really a body scrub incase you are expecting one, but a buff thTat gently polishes the skin.

This is a great addition to winter skincare regime as it effectively helps in removing the dead skin without stripping the moisture off.

  • Ayca Rose and Bergamot Night Cream

This is a light night gel and not really a night cream. It would suit mostly normal to oily skin types and can be used as a day time moisturizer as well.

Key Ingredients: Essential Oil of Rose & Bergamot in an aqueous Extracts of Bay & Neem Leaf, Cinnamon & Cupressus Bark & GlobeThistle Flowers, Wheatgerm, Jojoba, Grapeseed, Almond & Lemon Oils in a plant derived base with Beeswax.

The cream keeps the skin dewy and soft. The fragrance has stronger notes of Bergamot than rose, but it is very pleasant. It will not brake out even oily skin and also, a little goes a long way

Negatives would include the steep price and the misleading name (I was expecting a cream and not a gel based formulation).The product comes in a small glass amber tub, which makes it not so travel friendly.

  • Tickled Pink Hand cream from Naturma

The product claims to be 100% natural and 77% organic. I find the name of the product really cute and it has impressive ingredients.

Ingredients: Organic Shea Butter, Organic Rice Bran Oil, Organic Sesame Oil, Organic Grape Seed Oil, Organic Mango Butter, Vitamin E, Essential Oils: Organic Rose, Organic Gardenia, Organic Lemon Extract & Natural Preservative Salinatural

I have tried many natural hand creams most of which leaves the skin slightly oily. This one is light, non greasy and gets absorbed very fast.

Just like the Ayca cream, this also has more of a gel like formula and hence has to be reapplied after few hours, incase you have extremely dry skin.

  • Organic Rose petal powder from Blend it Raw Apothecary

Eventhough you will find numerous benefits of rose essential oil and distilled rose water online, here are the reasons why I like rose petal powder the most.

  • It is a very versatile ingredient.
  • A tea from the powder, can be used as a toner, for mixing face mask powders or as a hair rinse.
  • The powder along with sugar/salt and honey makes an excellent body scrub.
  • The powder mixed with aloe gel makes an excellent mask.

Read this post for rose petal powder based recipes.

Incase you are looking for affordable & good quality rose water face mist, check out this post .

Yummy and healthy salad and shake

The recipes I am going to give you takes less than 5 min preparation time and are very delicious and healthy. These also make for impressive light eat for guests.

Strawberry lettuce salad with delicious strawberry dressing.

Ingredients: Spinach/lettuce, strawberry, olive oil, honey, apple cider vinegar, paneer/feta cheese, salt and pepper.

The quantities can be based on your need. I used one bunch of iceberg lettuce, around 10 or more strawberries and 250 g paneer cut inti small cubes.

Sauté the paneer cubes in butter for about 2min in light flame. It should still be soft and shouldn’t change colour much. If you have feta cheese, just crumble it into small pieces.

For the dressing: In a mixer, blend the strawberries/ready made strawberry puree with 2 tablespoon olive oil, 3 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoon honey, salt and pepper to taste.  Adjust the ingredients to get a slightly sweet, thick dressing.

I used this fruit pulp for making the dressing instead of using strawberries. I find these ready made all natural fruit pulps very versatile. You can use these to make shakes, juices, jams, cheese cakes to name a few. There is no added sugar or preservatives in this.

Setting the salad: 

Cut the bigger leafs and place them on a bowl. On top of this you can place bite-able strawberry and paneer pieces.  Don’t add the dressing until the time you serve it. Drizzle it on top of the salad and give a good mix. Taste it to make sure the taste of the dressing comes through. Add more if needed and voila the salad is ready. You can also add juveniles of almond to garnish.

All natural super thick shake

Ingredients: Ripe guava, strawberries(strawberry pulp/ mango pulp), rock salt, milk/yogurt

Preparation: Just blend all the ingredients and add little milk/yogurt to looses the shake and bring it to the required consistency. Adding a pinch of rock salt really brings out the flavours. You can also add some paprika for a hot after taste.

Hope you liked these recipes. Comment below your favourite recipes.

Relax, shop and enjoy the colors of the city of lake

From Jaipur, I took you to Agra and now I am taking you to Udaipur . We had stopped at the Pushkar fest for a day, but that story is for another day. I found the atmosphere of Udaipur very relaxing and slow paced, like in Hampi. Udaipur’s culture is strongly connected to the beautiful ghats and water bodies of the place .  We stayed for 3 and a half days here and rather than hustling around to visit all tourist attractions, we spent these last days of our 1 week trip, relaxing in the serene atmosphere.

We reached Udaipur early in the morning via train, after attending the Pushkar fest the previous night. The train was mostly occupied by locals who wore traditional Rajasthani attires.  It was great to see this cultural shift from Jaipur.  We were really tired and had missed a good night’s sleep. So we directly headed to Thamla Haveli, where we had booked our stay for the next 3 days. The haveli is an old but well maintained 3 storied building on the banks of Lake Pichola. But we were really disappointed when we saw the room. It was very small and cold,  with no ventilation and no opening for sunlight.  But we being too tired from the continuous travel,  just crashed in the bed and had a good sleep for the next 2 hours. Later we talked to the manager and luckily there was this one room available, with a lake view.  It was love at first sight.

It was spacious and beautiful with an ornate window, opening directly to the lake giving a great view of the Gangaur Ghat. The window area had a cozy cushion seating and an awesome view of the lake. The ambiance was accentuated by the tunes of traditional folk music from the opposite ghat. While tourists came from far and wide, to visit the ghat and enjoy boat rides, we could enjoy the beauty of the lake 24*7 for free.
This turned out to be my favourite spot for the days to come.

We had skipped breakfast, so we decided to have lunch in the open rooftop dining area of the building. Almost all the eateries around the ghat are rooftop ones, to take maximum advantage of the lake view. The food was delicious and filling.

The best thing about this hotel was every major attraction is at a walkable distance and we didn’t spend anything on transportation.

The most beautiful aspect of Udaipur (through my eyes), is that it is beaming with art and music in every nook and corner.

Apart from the streets with every shop displaying miniature art and colorful embroidered fabrics, every common house has beautiful doors and windows of the bygones and the street walls are decorated with detailed paintings.

Now let me list down some places we visited over the course of our stay. On many days, we spent most of the evenings in the Ghat or just at the hotel, relaxing and taking in the beautiful view of boats in lake Pichola.

Bagore ki haveli:

This is a must visit place. It is located on the banks lake Pichola in Gangaur Ghat, which is just at a 10min walk from our hotel.

This restored haveli museum holds rooms that displays settings of the rooms of royalties. One room is full of puppets in colorful silk traditional clothes, in a courtroom setting.

Another one displays the entertainment room of kids with the real board games made of wood and ivory. The doors are adorned by stunning colored glass work.

Dharohar Dance Show:

Apart from the museum, what I enjoyed most is the cultural show at Bagore ki haveli, late in the evening. It was amazing, better than any performance we saw at Chokhi Dhani(read here) . The show is from 7pm to 8pm everyday and the ticket is just a nominal 60Rs for Indians.

You should reach the place early to get the ticket, as there is going to be a long queue. We were directed to a courtyard of the haveli, known as the Neem Chowk. There is a big Neem tree in the center of the courtyard and hence the name. This small open terrace was lit with terracotta diyas and had benches and cushion seating on the floor  on all three sides, so that the audience gets a very close view of the performance. You need to take a separate pass for filming or taking photos.

The show started with an introduction given by a beautiful lady, in both Hindi and English. This was followed by drum beats and instrumental folk music. Then one dance followed the next with puppet shows and a folk drama in between. The dancers were clad in very festive traditional ghagras ornate with embroidery and mirror work. The reflection of the diya lights against the golden laces and ornaments added to the ambiance. The traditional folk dances included:

> Gavri Dance, which was more of a dance drama. It depicted a fight between Goddess Amba and Demon Bhiamwal

> Terah Taal Dance, where dancers played a musical instrument tied to their feet and hands.

> Ghumar Dance, where dancers performed in circles.

And the highlight of the show and the show stopper was the Bhavai Dance. The dancer was over 70 years of age and she came in gracefully, carrying a clay pot on her head. On regular intervals, she would move towards a corner where a member of their team would add consequently smaller clay pots on top of the existing one. And as the dance progressed, the number of clay pots reached around 10 and the lady danced beautifully, while balancing all these pots effortlessly and handsfree. Towards the climax, she started dancing on the edge of a metal plate and later on a bed of sharp glass pieces. The audience sat breathlessly and applauded wildly once the performance was over.

This show under a moonlit sky, is the perfect way to imbibe the colorful culture of Rajasthan.

We didnot take the camera pass here, so I don’t have any pics of the performance.

City Palace:

We walked to the palace around 10 in the morning, before it started getting too crowded. It was just 10min walk from the haveli. We hired a guide here and he explained the history of Udaipur and the stories of various royals of the place.

The palace displays all the precious artifacts of the royal family and the palace grounds are great for a walk, after.


Ravanahatha player of Gangaur Ghat :

The lake front opposite to Thamla Haveli, is called Gangaur Ghat. In the evenings, the Ghat is a popular spot for tourists as well as the young crowd, as it provides a picturesque view of the lake, colored by orange waves. We sat on the steps leading to the lake, feeding pigeons and listening to the alluring folk music from the Ravanahatha.

Ravanahatha is an ancient stringed instrument and you can find men in traditional Rajasthani attire, playing this in popular tourist spots. He was playing the same tune over and over again, and it blended in with the whole serene setting. The man was also selling CDs of his songs. You will also find locals selling handmade beaded jewelry and other curios here.

Sunset point at Karni Mata Temple:

Another great spot for getting a panoramic view of the city, is to visit the Karni Mata Temple at Machla Hills. There is a rope way leading to the hill and since the temple is at its highest point, we could enjoy the beauty of lake Pichola and the city soaked in the evening light.

The construction work was going on in the temple. So we didn’t go in. We just spent the evening there till the moon came up and changed shades of the city.

Shopping:

All the lanes near Gangaur Ghat has rows of small shops selling miniature paintings, hand painted jewelry, colorful clothes and home decor items. But two major shopping places nearby are ‘Hathi Pol’ and ‘Bada Bazaar’. These are located at a walkable distance from our stay and you will find traditional rajasthani clothes, leheriya and bandhini fabrics, Juttis, bags etc.

One of the wholesale shops here, Leheriya Bandhej, sells lehengas, traditional bandhani dupattas, and chanderi kurti materials at steal away prices.  Another store next to this is Apsara (if I remember correctly) which has much more options.They only sell these in sets of three and hence makes great gifting option.

On our way back from hathipol, I came across an old shop called Ashok Delights, displaying a variety of colorful window hangings. I just walked in to take a look at them and found them very old and dusty. But to my surprise, the shop turned out to be a treasure trove of wooden curios, some even antique. The owner of the shop was very friendly and interactive.

From small tricky puzzle boxes to intricately painted miniature hanging gods to even cute wooden carved earrings and wooden flats called methiyadi; this shop reminded me of the wizard shops in diagon alley from Harry potter. You could spend a whole day exploring the items that are loosely stacked till the roof of this old family owned shop.

The next great find was a small shop displaying handpainted meenakari earrings and miniature paintings. The owner of the shop is a famous miniature artist and he takes painting classes to interested tourists. He will give you a sketch of the miniature painting of your choice, on a silk cloth and will teach you how to do the painting using natural plant based colors and tiny handmade brushes.

We also bought camel leather bound diaries made of handmade paper. These comes in many colors and embossed patterns.

Cafes and eateries:

Unlike Jaipur, every lane in Udaipur has atleast one cafe or eatery. It’s all mostly small family run businesses and mostly serves pizzas, sandwiches and beverages.

We opted Cafe Satori for dinner. This is a small cozy cafe run by a lady and her son. We ordered coffee and pizza. The food took quite a while to be served, and we spent the time reading books available here. The cafes around the ghat are not cheap but the food tastes homemade. The owner lady was interactive and friendly. After dinner we all sat together and chit-chatted for sometime.

I had my eyes on Cafe Edelweiss right from the time I read rave reviews on this German eatery, in Zomato. So the next day’s breakfast had to be here. This is also a bakery and had some chocolate brownies and pastries on display. We tried tea and pancakes from here. The crowd is mostly foreigners and the food was alright.

For a light dinner we opted for  smoothies from Cafe Greenwood.  Owned by a young couple, the place is small but nice.

Our best and most affordable find was Lotus cafe. Hidden in a quaint corner, this is an eatery with no frills. The service is great and the food is very tasty. And the best part is that this is the most pocket friendly restaurant, we came across here.

We left Udaipur with colorful memories and I hope I could share some of them with you. Do comment below if you liked the post and follow us on Instagram and Facebook for more content.

You might also be interested in:

Day 1 : The grandeur of The Pink City
Day2 : A walk through the art, architecture and history
Day3 : The Majestic Taj

All natural and safe home care products

These days more and more consumers are shifting towards home grown or organic produce in food and chemical free skin care products. Ironically the organic skincare products claim to have better quality and purity of natural ingredients than the ones we consume. Anyway its a good thing that people are getting themselves informed of the importance of reading ingredient list of products and avoiding the toxic ones.

But how many of us do the same for our home care products, the ones that you are most exposed to than even your skin care products.
For eg, many of us ends up with dry parched skin after cleaning the utensils with dishwash gels and soaps. Some may even face allergies, redness and peeling of skin. Similarly we end up seeing soap residues in machine washed clothes, but tend to scrape it off or just ignore it. We don’t really care that these come in contact with our skin. Afterall the better they smell, the more we like them.

What about the fragrant floor cleaners that promises to kill 99.9% harmful microbes? Ever wondered if your baby who crawls over and often licks this floor, is safe? Are we atleast aware of the unimaginable harm we are doing to the soil, water bodies and thereby the organisms living in them, by using these chemical laden products?

Why are chemical home care products bad:

The commonly available home care products in our market are a mix of strong acids, petroleum by products, ammonia,foaming agents, Chlorine, bleach, surfactants, synthetic colorants and fragrance. These chemicals are very strong as they have to dissolve and break down the fats and oils in the surface being cleaned. For eg, many of these products will have labels that reads toxic, inflammable, keep away from children, visit doctor if it comes in contact with eyes etc. When we are using them on a daily basis over a period of time, our body is being constantly exposed to the fumes and residues left by these cleaning agents, which inturn can cause issues like irritation, headaches, allergies to even hormonal imbalance and cancer. It is said that even if you clean the plates in hot water after cleaning them with these chemical gels, you can’t get rid of the residue and there by you are constantly ingesting it. These toxins also gets absorbed via our skin, and thereby they directly enter the bloodstream without getting filtered out in liver.

So when you have alternative products that are completely natural, safe and bio degradable; why would you continue to use these chemicals. Let me introduce you to few such brands and products.

Why should you switch to natural cleaners:

1. Let me state the obvious reason first, it is safe. Natural cleaners are made of natural ingredients which are 100% safe.
2. There are no added synthetic colorants or fragrance that can cause irritation, skin dryness or allergies. Also the natural essential oils and ingredients impart a very refreshing natural fragrance.
3. They are bio-degradable and therefore environmental friendly. The left over grey water after cleaning, can be even used to water the plants as these are completely natural. It will not pollute the ground water or harm the organisms.
4. They have no synthetic fillers or foaming agents. Hence they foam less, clean more and thereby uses only less amount of water for washing clothes and utensils.
5. They don’t leave any harmful synthetic residue in clothes, floor or utensils.
6. Many of these products comes in recycled paper packaging, which inturn helps in reducing plastic pollution.
7. Many of the natural brands works with women self help groups that aims to employee and empower women across the country. Buying from such brands helps to contribute to a greater cause.
8. Cruelty free and Vegan
9. Naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal.

What are some of the natural home care products available in the market:

If you do a little bit of research (or simply search in google) you will be able to find organic stores in most of the places. They will stock up many varieties of cleaning products from different brands. Also most of these are available in online stores in Amazon and Big basket.

Indian Natural Home Care Brands and Products:

Natural dish wash products comes in a variety of forms like gel, powder, soap bar etc.

1. Common oxen

I bought this dish wash gel from my local store, but you can also find it online here. What I love about this one is that, it smells amazing. The natural fragrance of orange and lime essential oils in this gel makes you want to keep smelling it(I am not exaggerating).

Ingredients: Saponified Oils of Coconut, Palm and Rice Bran. Essential Oils of Orange and Lime. Baking Soda and Jaggery

Another products from this brand is Swish Wash laundry powder. It is a white powder that can be used for both machine and handwash.

In addition to mentioning what is in it, this brand has taken it a step further by what is not in it.

Reminds me of the Ancient Ayurveda wood ash soap’s label which was similar.

2. Wild Ideas:

I bought this dish wash soap from the brand Wild Ideas. They also have many other products which you can find in sites like Amazon

Ingredients:
Soap Berries, Sikakai, Citrus, Tamarind, Bitter Albizia, and Wood Ash.

The product is produced by women self help groups.

I have also tried laundry powder from this brand. You can make out the soap berry pieces in the mix, which is the natural foaming agent.

It comes with a cotton cloth pouch with a string attached to it’s mouth. The powder has to be put in the pouch and tied. This can be left in washing machines or a bucket of water along with the clothes and washed normally.

Krya:

Krya is one of the most authentic ayurveda based skin and haircare brand in market. You can read my product reviews from this brand, here. In addition to these, they also has home care products. I have tried their detergent powder for clothes which is similar to the one by Wild Ideas. Just that, I found this powder much finer.

These powders smells like areetha and shikakai but it is not noticeable in clothes after wash. Also these are much gentler on the fabrics than strong chemical detergents.

BON Organics:

This is a certified organic Indian brand that has a wide variety of skin care, bath, pet care and home care products. I love their orange cinnamon hand wash liquid, which has a sweet and warm natural fragrance. This is the empty bottle that I plan to reuse by filling in liquid soap.

Here is the impressive ingredient list of this hand wash, which will make you think why you wash your hands with cheap, toxic chemicals.

Ingredients: Ingredients: Saponified Almond oil, Jojoba oil, Organic corn oil, Organic Caster oil, Organic Coconut oil, Organic Neem oil Vitamin E, Glycerine, Shea butter, Essential oil of orange, cinnamon, mint, organic Lemon oil , Aloe Vera gel, & Demineralised water.

Another product I have tried from them is the liquid laundry that comes in a white can. It was very gentle but effective on clothes.

Here is a pic of my BON Organics haul from their site.

Other brands that I know of (but not tried), that sells natural home care products are Rustic Art and Mittise

Herbal Strategi Naturedrop:

This is one brand that I recently started seeing in all super markets. It comes in a green plastic bottle, and claims to be 100% natural. I have used this but Iam not very sure if this is completely natural, as the brand has not mentioned the ingredient list anywhere in the label or online.

It just says : This liquid dish wash contains several herbal ingredients, including non-ionic cocoa, water, coconut-based surfactants, soap nut and lemon oils.

I don’t recommend this as I don’t have full information on the product.

So I hope this post was useful to you and that you will make a conscious decision, next time you buy home care products.

Do SUBSCRIBE to the blog and follow us on facebook and instagram for much more content.

Day3 : The Majestic Taj

Blue and white

I took you through the colorful palaces and history of Jaipur in the last two travelogues. I am sure many of you would have already planned your Jaipur trip. And incase you would like to include visiting one of the Seven Wonders Of The World in your schedule, this post is for you.

Agra is about 238km from Jaipur, and having come this far, we couldn’t just leave without visiting the Taj Mahal. We asked our hotel owner to arrange a cab with a driver, for a one day trip to Agra and back.

We started at around 6am from Hotel Vimal Heritage on Monday. The morning was cool and pleasant. Our cab driver reached on time and we started our journey, excited to visit this grand structure.

There were barely any vehicles on the road, since it was early morning and the road mostly had farmlands on either side. We got passing glimpses of peacocks on the fences of the farms. The driver stopped at a road side restaurant, Motel Gangaur, for breakfast. It is the only building in the area and is brick red in colour). A part of the building is turned into a curio shop. If you see this hotel and you are extremely hungry, KEEP GOING. The prices are over the roof and the service is bad(Rs100 for a bowl of curd that comes with single paratha of Rs 150). We realized that car drivers usually stop at hotels that offers them commission or free meals if they bring them customers.

Our plan for the day was to go to Fatehpur Sikri first, then visit Taj and the Agra Fort. But our driver suggested that we will stop at Fatehpur Sikri on our way back and that it is better to stop at Agra Fort first.

Agra Fort:

We continued the journey and reached Agra Fort at around 11am. We hired a guide here and from him we came to know that only 25% of the fort is opened to public. The rest of the Fort is occupied by the Indian Army. Agra Fort is a UNESCO world heritage and is made of red sandstone.

I chose to wear this extremely light, cotton, hand block printed indigo dress with pockets.

Parts of the fort are made of marble with gem stone inlay work. But the sad part is that most of these has been looted and we only get to see the empty designs, which were once adorned by gold and semi precious stones. The fort is not as well maintained as the palaces and forts we visited in Jaipur.

You can make out the semi precious stones and the empty designs from which the stones were taken off.

The garden, The Anguri Bagh, is similar to the one in Amer fort with geometrically arranged patterns. Also this was once the venue for the famous Meena bazaar, the private markets organized for the queens and maids.

The ceiling in this picture looks very ornate right. But the sad part is that this is the empty designs left after the gold inlay work has been melted and looted off by British armies.

This fort also has a Sheesh Mahal or Mirror palace like the one we visited in Jaipur, but not open to the public.

At the top of the fort, we have the Musamman Burj, which is an octagonal tower with a courtyard facing the Taj Mahal. You can make out the domes of the Taj in the fog.

In the meeting area,there are two benches : one made of white marble for Shah Jahan and another made of black marble (onyx) for his son Aurangzeb.

Story Time:
Shah Jahan was kept on house arrest in this tower by Aurangzeb(not a bad deal considering how beautiful his chamber is, with an awesome view of Taj Mahal), and later he died here. One story is that, Auragzeb assassinated all his siblings for his greed for the throne. Shah Jahan wished to get another Taj constructed in black marble for himself, next to the white one and this posed a threat to the already deprecating wealth of the empire. Hence his son kept him under house arrest.

And according to another story (which according to our guide, is the true story), Aurangzeb kept Shajhan imprisoned, so that he will not have any more offsprings from his other wives and thereby pose a threat to his throne.



Here is something interesting
: In this arch you can see stars, that depict Christianity; lotus, that depicts Hinduism and the typical Mughal motif.

Taj Mahal

We got down at the parking lot available for Taj visitors. There were many electric autos waiting to take people to Taj. You will be surrounded by people claiming as guides offering to help you. They were quoting steep charges, so we decided to not hire any. We got into an electric auto and came to know that Taj is closed to public till around 1.30pm. So we were dropped off at the Khadi emporium in the premise. The products made and sold here includes mosquito repellent bed sheets made of natural bamboo fiber and banana fiber saris. We didn’t have plans to buy any of these and resumed towards Taj. On the way another guide approached us who quoted a reasonable price(I think it was 200 or 250 Rs), so we hired him.

We were baffled to see the humongous crowd and the long queue for the entry, even on a Monday. Our guide, took us to another entry gate at the back side of the Taj where the crowd was less. But the waiting time for security check was too long and it was another hour before we entered the compound. Now what can I say, I have never noticed the tiny humans in any of the online pictures of Taj and therefore never contemplated that the structure is so colossal. And let me tell you, hiring a guide is a good idea because we wouldn’t have known about this view and taken this video otherwise.

You have to leave your slippers outside in a counter and enter barefooted or wear the socks sold here to enter the tomb. We decided to go barefooted. It was sunny but not very hot. We followed the queue while taking in the beauty of the garden and the mausoleum. Apart from the floral motifs with precious stone inlay work, what showcases the craftsman ship at that era, are the verses of Quran framing each arch.

Eventhough it looks like painted calligraphy, each letter is carved out of black marble, and inlaid in white marble, even the smallest dot. The perfection of the craftsmanship is mind blowing. Also the size of the letters are bigger towards the top and what looks like parallel lines, are actually extending outwards. So when a person looks at it from the bottom, it gives the illusion of the letters being the same size as at the top as in the bottom, framed by parallel lines.

Laid inside the chamber, are the false coffins of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. The original coffins are at a lower level and is not open to public.

There was an old man inside the chamber who showed us the reflections from the precious stone inlay work, using a pen torch. He also called out our names loudly, to demonstrate the echo. The lattice work in single marble slabs are intricate and exquisite.

By the time we got out of the Taj premises, we were starving. But our guide wanted to take us to the famous Agra petha shop, before letting us go. So once you are walking out, you will see many small shops with people calling out to you for buying mini Taj replicas and Agra pethas. They sell the pethas for as less as 100Rs per box. But our guide said that these are not authentic and are made from bottle gourds/cucumber.

He took us to this very small shop in a corner where the shop keeper seemed quite uninterested in us. A boy in the shop started cutting out small pieces of the different flavored pethas from plain ones to mango, rose, butterscotch and even paan flavored ones for us to taste. The owner claimed that these were authentic and organic made from ash gourd and was priced at around 300-450 Rs per box depending on the flavor. We took a box of plain pethas which had rose water syrup.
Unlike the pethas I have tried in South India, which is too sweet with crusty sugar coating, these were mildly sweet and drenched in slightly sticky syrup.

Next we walked around looking for the restaurants we had short listed with the help of Zomato. But as it turns out most of these were closed by now and we had to settle for the first veg restaurant we saw around.

Buland Darwaza :

After our late lunch, we were not too sure that we can make it to the famous Fatehpur Sikri and Bhuland Darwaza on our way back to Jaipur. We reached the parking lot available in Fatehpur Sikri, at around 4.30pm and we knew that the ticket counter closes at 5pm. The autowalas around started quoting steep fares for just 1km and so we avoided them and started walking towards the place. Now when you do that, we prepared to have the guides and auto drivers follow and stalk you throughout negotiating for prices. Finally we caved and got into one auto that quoted the least and already 2 men claiming to be guides were sitting with the driver in front. One of the guys, who was a local with red betal covered mouth, offered to show us around. We asked him about the tickets and he said he will take care of it.

The auto took us till the steps of Buland Darwaza and left. There was no ticket counter around and we followed this guy inside through the gigantic gateway. Buland Darwaza is the highest gateway(42 steps leading to this 40m structure) in the world and is the main entrance to the palace. Passing the gateway we came to a courtyard with the tomb of Salim Chisti at its center, made of white marble.

Behind this, there is a courtyard full of tombstones.

The ‘so called’ guide took us to a silk shawl seller sitting next to the tomb, who wanted us to buy the shawls to place over the tomb so that our wishes comes true. We courteously dismissed the offer as these plain clothes were priced at Rs 1500 and above. People also tie strings at the latticed walls of the tomb for their wishes to come true. We did not go inside the tomb chambers. Instead we sat on the steps and listened to the beautiful sufi songs sung by a group of musicians, in the courtyard colored by the setting sun.

As it was getting late, we expressed our concern to the guide in getting tickets to visit the palace areas, but he again assured that he will take care of it and took us next to a house near the entrance of the gate where his family sold curios made of marble. We just looked around and didn’t buy anything. When we came out, he said that’s all there is to see and asked for his fee. Since we had already done our research on the area, we argued that he didn’t take us to the palace areas and other structures around. He then apologetically admitted that the ticket counter is already closed and we realized that he was trying to fool us by just taking us here and calling it a day. We payed him just half of what we had agreed on and returned back to the parking lot in an auto. So if you are planning to visit Fatehpur Sikri, reach here before 4 and visit the palace grounds first and then come to Buland Darwaza. Don’t let these fake guides fool you.

We started our journey back, tired but happy to have visited the Taj. The last thing on our check list was to try the famous Laal Maas from Jaipur. We had shortlisted two restaurants and finalized ‘The Spice Court’, as per the suggestion of our driver. He dropped us in front of this courtyard garden restaurant and we were lucky to get seats without having prior reservation.

The Laal Maas or the spicy red lamb curry was worth the wait. The lamb was cooked to perfection, that it almost melted in the mouth. The gravy was red but not too spicy and was the perfect accompaniment for hot rotis.

By the time we finished the dinner it was around 10.30pm and we had to wait for another 1 hour before we got an Ola Auto. All the autos we booked were beig canceled by the drivers after 15-20min. But finally we got one and reached back at the hotel nearing midnight. We crashed in the bed, hoping to wake up completely rested the next day.

Things to remember:

1. Incase you go with your hotel to make travel arrangements for you(Jaipur to Agra), make sure you directly approach the head of staff or in our case the owner herself. Because incase you ask a receptionist to arrange a cab(as we did at first), they will usually hire someone who will give them commission and the driver will quote a higher amount to cover this.
2. There are a lot of dhabas on the way to Agra. So ask your driver to stop at one of these, rather than going with his suggestion of restaurant.
3. Always stick to the plan and don’t let your drive decide where to stop first.
4. Don’t hire a guide at Fatehpur Sikri.
5. Do bargain with the auto walas before hiring any as they will come around for nominal rate if you stick to your price.
6. Don’t buy Agra pethas from the street vendors. Buy only from authentic shops.
7. Don’t hire a guide whose rate is more than 250Rs. They quote from Rs 1000 and will try to fool you. But will come around if you just walk away.
8. Travel light and always carry skincare wipes and water for quick refreshment.
9. Don’t forget sunscreen.
10. Have an itinerary planned out after reading travel blogs and videos. Having a preplanned list of things to do and restaurants to try always helps.

You might also be interested in:

Day 1 : The grandeur of The Pink City
Day2 : A walk through the art, architecture and history

Ancient Ayurveda Woodash Soaps

The man of the house has been demanding bath soap for a couple of days now (as I use herb powder from Krya currently, I don’t keep a tab of the soap stock). I had come across the Ancient Ayurveda brand in Amazon once and decided to give the soaps from this brand, a try.

What the brand calims:

Organic Soaps & Herbal Soaps Are Usually Filled With Colorants Which Are Created With Various Toxic Based Sub Ingredients That Is Hidden In There Description.Our Soaps On The Other Hand, Is Absolutely Free From All Synthetic Coloring Agents And Micas. Our In House Distilled Absolutes Ranges From Volatile Floral Oils All The Way Up To Steam Distilled Herbal Undiluted Extracts.

Impressive facts:
Unlike all the soap brands that prints only the ingredients used in making the soap (that too not always the complete list), they have printed a paragraph of chemical and harmful ingredients that they have not used in making these soaps.

Ancient Ayurveda Oleoresin Soap are absolutely Child Labour Free. These are not tested on animals and is handcrafted, hand-wrapped and hand-packed with 100% recycled paper.

I don’t think it gets anymore ethical this this.

Eventhough there are many combos available, I bought a set of these four soaps : Saffron Goatsmilk , Ashwagandha , Sheabutter Vco & Gotukola Woodash Soap and also the Indian red sandal soap separately.

Shop from : Amazon.in. This is also available in amazon.com.

Price: Since there was an introductory offer when I purchased this, I got them for a total of 525Rs for the combo and Rs281 for the sandalwood soap.

My Review:

The brand is so natural that, they use soy ink and recycled paper for packaging. The products are vegan and pure and is rich in ayurvedic oils (tailas) and herbs.
They have a herbal smell which is very mild and not overpowering at all. The red sandalwood soap has a beige color and is a perfect sphere, unlike the other soaps that are rectangular/oval in shape.

The soaps appear smooth at first but once I started using one, I found that one side of the soap has a layer scrubby herb particles. So infact one side of the soap can be used as a cleanser and the other side as a body scrub, which is very convenient.

The soap doesn’t lather heavily which is expected in the absence of lathering agents like sulphates. Eventhough you keep the soap in a dry dish, you will notice that a wet layer is formed on it. This is the seeping of the ingredient oils to the surface of the soap.

The best way to utilize this is to swipe off this oil layer from the surface of the soap with your hand, and massage it directly on the skin. This will help break down the dirt, sebum and any light makeup. You can then lather the soap with water and cleanse your face again, which will help to remove all the residues from your face.

The soap doesn’t dry out the skin and is great as a winter skincare product.

Also the most impressive part is that the brand works in association with Prajwala, the largest anti-human-sex-trafficking-shelter based in India.

How to increase the longevity of the soap:

This being a completely natural and oil rich soap, the chances of it melting are high. This makes it not very travel friendly, unless you cover it with a plastic wrap. You have to refrigerate the soaps that are not currently being used. I initially kept them in my shelf which is dark and cool. Yet the soaps melted a bit and the oils seeped out of the paper wrap. Also you can cut the soap into halves and use one part at a time.

Incase you buy the red sandalwood soap, don’t expect the sandalwood fragrance from it (which was a bit disappointing). It has a very mild fragrance compared to the other soaps and the fragrance doesn’t last on your skin after bath.

Overall this is a great soap for kids and adults.

You may also be interested in:

A divine chocolate soap you will fall in love with
Sultana of soaps
Butter Cream Whipped Soaps
Juicy Chemistry Hazelnut & Vanilla Latte Soap
Spicy Apple Pie anyone???
Skin Rehab Soap
Cape of Good Soap : Rosewood and Mint soap
Teas Please from Cape of Good soap
Bubbles and Squeak Soaps Review
CGH Pepper soap review and a little surprise

A Hundred Hands : Bangalore Edition

The 8th edition of the Annual Handmade Collective, A Hundred Hands is here in Bangalore. It is a colourful and fun bazaar, where you get to see and buy handmade products from artisans across India.

A Hundred Hands is a nonprofit trust whose mission is to help those directly involved in the creation of handmade art, crafts, and homemade foods, earn a fair and sustainable livelihood from their work.

Sisters Dr Sonia Dhawan and Mala Dhawan started this initiative from their home around 2008, to encourage local artisans and to provide a platform to sell their products directly to customers. Now this has grown to be so popular that it happens in different cities across India every year, showcasing the work of currently a hundred member artisans and NGOs.

Where in Bangalore : At the United Theological College in Miller’s Road.
When : 29th-3rd Dec
Next stops : 7th to 10th Dec in Fort Cochin, 15th to 17th Dec in Coimbatore.
Entry Fee : Rs 50/person

What to carry : Carry a cloth or paper bag to carry home all the goodies you buy from here. No need to carry cash as most of the stalls accepts card. Parking is available if you are an early bird.

A glimpse of the expo :

Incase you have been to Sunday Soul Sante, let me tell you this is a much bigger and pocket friendly bazaar, where you get to see amazing art. Also you get to interact with these artists and know first hand on the process and effort it takes to make these unique art works.

For example, this piece of art took 3 years to get completed.

These small sparrows perching on the branch, is made from banyan tree leaf.

Kantha work meets modern cuts, in this smart jacket.

Bought a fruit basket with lid from this stall. They also have air tight casseroles that keeps the food warm.

Thangka paintings.

A stall from Varnam Craft Collective, showcasing the Channapatna toy craft

Colourful and cute patch worked quilts and cushion covers.

Rajasthani juttis

Clay pottery

Yards and yards of beautiful Pochampalli, Ikkat and Ajrakh prints on silk, is heaven for designers and cloth lovers. Also there are crop tops, pallazoes and dresses for modern woman made from cotton and khadi with natural dyed block prints from brands like Funky Fusion

This beautiful stole is from the Gurunanak Phulkari House, all the way from Punjab.

So hope you all take home some great memories and beautiful handmade pieces by these artisans.

Day2 : A walk through the art, architecture and history

Yet another day in Jaipur and today we are walking back in history. The Hotel Vimal Heritage, provided us with a complimentary breakfast buffet by the pool side. The spread included parathas, fruits and granola. After a hearty breakfast, we booked an ola auto and headed for Amer Fort.

The auto driver was friendly and courteous (just like every other person we met in this amazing city) and on the way the he showed us the famous Raj Mandir theatre in MI Road and the JalMahal palace. Also I spotted the blue pottery center but decided to stop there when we return.

Amer Fort:

We reached the fort and at the entrance, along the road, what you see first is the Maota lake. But at this time of the year, the water level has really lowered. On our way in, a man approached us and introduced himself as a government authorized guide. We were not really sure of getting a guide, but my husband being so interested in history, thought it would be good idea to hire him. This turned out to be the best decision of the day.

You can reach the fortress in elephant back or by walk. Since it is just about 10 min walk and also they use young elephants for the ride, I would suggest you walk just like we did. He started narrating the history, as we walked up the roads leading to the fort. We didn’t even realise that 10 min flew by,while we listened to the stories of the past, about the ambitious kings who built this fortress over generations and about the wars that happened in this very ground.

We entered the palace courtyard through the Suraj Pol(Sun gate. On the opposite side of this gate is the Chand Pol(Moon Gate).

The courtyard was very crowded because the upcoming Kangana Ranaut movie, about Rani Lakshmi Bhai, was getting filmed here. So there were several men, all clad in white rajasthani costumes, roaming around with fake weapons.

From the guide, we also came to know that many many movies has been filmed in the premises of the fort, including the last year’s hit Bajirao Mastani.

When you are in the first landing of the fort, there is a small temple. Attached on top of the temple doors, is a small idol of Lord Ganesha. This idol is carved from a single piece of red coral and I don’t think a coral of this size, can be found anywhere in the world now. Trust me, you wouldn’t notice this unless you have an informed guide.

Ganesh Pol:

The entry to the palaces of the Rajas is via a huge ornate three storied gate called, The Ganesh Pol .

This structure is absolutely stunning with intricate floral paintings, with a painting of lord Ganesh at its centre.

Sheesh Mahal:

We passed another courtyard, to reach the next main attraction, Sheesh Mahal or the Mirror Palace. As you can see, entry is not allowed inside the Mahal as renovation is going on. We could see artists working on the old paintings.

The king got this palace made for the queen, when she shared her wish to sleep under the stars. Queens were not allowed to sleep in the open. So the king (he is a romantic for sure), got this mahal made for her, so that it gives the effect of sleeping under the stars. The palace walls and ceilings has mirror mosaics and intricate precious stone designs. Our guide took out his mobile phone and waved the torch light, at the ceiling. We were spellbound by the beautiful reflection, these millions of tiny mirror pieces made.

If in the daylight it looks this stunning, I can only imagine how magical it would be, when the candle lights gets reflected on these million mirror pieces at night. Also the candle light reflection was a means to keep the room warm at night, in those times.

Here is a puzzle

Identify 7 designs in this flower.

Hint : Most of these are body parts of animals.

This Magic flower is from one of the pillars in the sheesh mahal, made of marble. You can identify lotus, fish tail, snake, scorpion, elephant trunk, a cob of corn and a lion’s tail. If a single flower holds such mysteries, imagine the jewels of craftsmanship hidden in this entire palace.

Sukh Niwas:

It is a hall used by kings and queens to relax, as the name suggests. There is a garden in front of the hall, shaped like the star mosaics in the sheesh mahal. Did I mention that our guide was an amazing photographer as well?

This hall has a channel that carries cold water for natural cooling effect. Elements like these, are what astounds us about the architecture. About how well these structures mingles with the nature. The rooms are constructed based on the direction of winds or rains, there will be copper pipes with holes which transmits water and create the effect of rain in courtyards, there will be rain water harvesting techniques and way to run it through the garden and then later recycled. The ancient architects were true artists and much ahead of us in terms of technology.

Inspite of not having motor vehicles or roads, these kings have made it possible to get colored mirrors, precious stones and marbles transported from across the globe. Imagine how much sweat and blood would have taken for getting a palace made.

OK back to the present. Here is a picture of the Kesar Kyaari(Saffron Garden) in the Maota lake(the one we saw from the road). It is said that the Raja tried growing saffron in this garden but it didn’t go well because of the hot climate.

Also from the topmost courtyard, we could see the only Mira-Krishna temple in the world, among the ruins of havelis in the old amer city.

Now let us talk about the most interesting part of the day : Shopping.

There are shops inside the Palace premises that sells rajai(cotton quilts), home decor items and clothes. We bought a beautiful royal blue quilt and silk cushion covers from here.

But mind you, these are not government emporium (eventhough the shop keepers claims so). The shops are given on lease to private vendors by the government. I suggest you don’t purchase anything from the palace, because now we are heading towards an exclusive and authentic shopping place in the old city.

The Best Place to Shop Authentic Rajasthani textiles, jewelry and everything else:

Our guide encouraged us to visit an emporium located a few minutes away from the fortress. To encourage local artisans and sell original products at very nominal rates, the government has provided free transportation to and from the emporium, which sounded great. So we got into a jeep and headed towards this emporium along with our guide.

We met an elderly man here who took us around the building. Each floor is literally a treasure trove. On the ground floor, he demonstrated the art of block printing using vegetable dyes and dyes made from semi precious stones. He showed us how the color changes from red to blue, when the dyed cloth is dipped in a salt solution. Then he took us to the jewelry section, where beautiful jewelry made of precious and semi precious stones set in silver were displayed. These jewelry comes with a gurantee and can be returned to the nearest Khadi shop in your city, and they assure a cash back.

I spend much time looking around, ogling at the huge precious stones and stunning strings of multicolored corals. Next we headed to the textile section. All the clothes sold here are dyed using natural colors and has hand block prints. From dupattas to intricate wall hangings, from saris to reversible jackets each piece is made by hand and is of high quality.

The next two floors had beautiful Rajasthani miniature paintings, camel leather footwears and a stunning display of the largest model of Taj Mahal in original marble, completely hand made. Another section showcased inlay work of semi precious stones, in small marble boxes. There is something for everyone here and this is a must visit place to enjoy the marvels, created by these gifted artisans.

We didn’t have the energy to walk anymore. So we were relieved to find a restaurant inside the same complex. We savoured on hot chole baturas and dal batti churma and was all set to explore more.

We took the free return trip, back to the fort gates. Our plan was to visit the nearby forts like Jaigarh and Nahargarh. But no Ola cabs were available and the local cabs and autos were quoting steep rates for less than 8km travel. So we waited for a while and got into a public a/c bus that was going in the direction we were heading to. The bus had a stop right at the foot of the road, leading to Jaigarh fort. But one elderly passenger suggested us to get down a little ahead near Jal Mahal, as it would be difficult to get transportation towards the fort gates from this stop. So we got down ahead as he suggested and saw him get down as well. He started following us for a while asking us to hire him as a guide. We didn’t see that coming! We ignored him and walked ahead.

We didn’t quite like the Jal Mahal area, as it was crowded with street vendors and not so nice public. We also didn’t want to go back to Jaigarh fort, unsure about getting cabs for returning to the hotel later in the evening. So we hired an auto to go to the shop I was most looking forward to visiting, The Jaipur Blue Pottery Art Center.

Jaipur Blue Pottery Art Center:

This store is easy to locate as it is the most colorful building, that stands out among the earthy hued buildings in Amer road. There are many blue pottery stores in Jaipur, but this one is the real deal.

The entrance is decorated with wall plates in various colors, but mostly blue and white. Mr Anil Doraya, a President award winner, for working towards reviving this art form and making it popular, welcomed us to his abode. He asked one of his students to give us an idea of the procedure of making these stunning pieces.

The ink blue color is imparted from cobalt oxide and the lighter blue shades, yellow, browns and greens are also derived from natural stones or plant dyes. The raw materials for the ceramic includes quartz, glass, rock salt, gum, sodium bicarbonate and fullers earth. He said that around 60-70% of the ceramic products breaks before it gets to the painting stage, which makes each piece very precious. Mr Anil Doraya has done much research and experimentation to discover more colors and shades that could be used in this art.

From small magnets to large pots and plates, from tiny buttons to soap dispensers and tea sets, this store will leave you in awe of the eye catching colours and patterns in everyday objects.

Bapu Bazar:

This is another famous shopping street near Johari bazar, where we stopped next, for a late evening walk. We were standing outside one shop and I noticed some unique block printed fabric inside. Unlike other vendors, who calls out from their shops forcing you to take a look, here there was even a board that said something like ‘only customers well informed of quality textiles are welcome’.


PC:Googleimages. A print similar to this was what I liked the most in their collection.

If you have heard of high end brands like Good Earth, Kilol and Jaypore, that sells very unique and stylish block printed attires for the modern woman, this shop is an affordable and equally good version of them. Incase you are interested, this is shop no: 106, called Jaipurwala (if I am not wrong), in one corner of the long row of shops in bapu bazar.

We promised to stop by again, another day incase we could spare some time, as the owner wanted us to take a look at their latest men’s clothing range, which would be available the next day. As stepped out of the shop, we were caught in the middle of a colorful and loud procession on the road by the Sikh community. We watched the festive displays and dancers for a while and returned back to our hotel in an Ola cab.

We got talking to the cab driver and told him about our plans to visit Agra. He quoted a much cheaper rate than the price we saw online and showed interest in taking us there. We took his number once we reached the hotel , incase we decided to accept his offer.

This was the most happening day of our travel, so far. We met some amazing people (we were so caught up talking to them about everything else, that we forgot to ask their names), had some scrumptious food and time travelled to the pages of some royal history.

PS: If you have a vehicle to travel around, you can plan to spend some time at Jaigarh and Nahargarh forts in the evening. The sunset from Nahargarh fort is highly recommended in many travel blogs.

You might also be interested in:

Day 1 : The grandeur of The Pink City