New Delhi, Agra and the ‘Monument to Love’

New Delhi is the capital of India and one of Delhi city’s 11 districts. It is a massive metropolitan area in the country’s north. In Old Delhi, a neighborhood dating to the 1600s stands the imposing Mughal-era Red Fort, a symbol of India, and the sprawling Jama Masjid mosque, whose courtyard accommodates 25,000 people. Nearby is Chandni Chowk, a vibrant bazaar filled with food carts, sweets shops and endless spice stalls. Delhi was ruled by some of the most powerful emperors in Indian history, and has been a witness to the political turmoil for over five centuries.
The purpose of our trip was to find some local manufacturing companies and villagers who could produce some interesting handmade and unique crafts for us.

We started our exploration by attending the Delhi Trade Fare, which went on for 4 days. Pragati Maidan hosts the ‘Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts’ and is a venue that has more than 625,000 square meters of exhibition space. It took us 3 days to explore (most) of the producers and products. We were however very disappointed by what we found available here, it was mainly lighting and products that just didn’t grab us.

We did find one producer of Indian Crafts, and they were actually called Indian Crafts. They export all Asha Handicrafts, which is a not-for-profit making body, based in Mumbai. They demonstrated their aluminium jewelery boxes to us. silver elephant jewelery Box Each had beautifully intricate designs on them ranging from Buddha’s to Elephants.

They are produced by transferring a reverse image on to brass blocks and then pressing them to make them smooth. Finally the aluminium sheets are attached to wooden skeletons to make these beautiful and popular pieces. We bought a number of different designs to trial, totaling 180. These items will be in our stores before Christmas 2017.

Not only was our intention of this trip to attend the Trade Fare, we had also set up a meeting prior to our visit with Mr. Vashey, Salman, Himanshu and Ravi, who have involvement with exporting goods to the USA and United Arab Emirates. They also have a lot of connections with artisans from across India, and only work with 100% handmade. We are delighted to have been so warmly welcomed into their family and we are very proud to be able to distribute their 3,000 product lines throughout the UK. We are working hard at the moment to arrange production of a number of new product lines to hit our stores soon.

One of my favorite products was the carved soapstone elephants, each with a carved elephant inside its belly. You can just admire by looking at them the craftsmanship involved, and can appreciate the amount of time that was spent in creating each individual elephant. You will have to wait to see what other exciting hand crafted products are to hit the stores from next year.

Despite all that we hear about Delhi, it is actually a fairly safe place to visit. It’s a huge city with a population of over 19 million, and naturally crime occurs in highly populated places. There are just a few things to avoid such as wearing any expensive jewelery, carrying large amounts of cash or causing a scene. Doing any of these is just asking for trouble! Get used to paying more for things if you are a tourist. We visited a local spice market and the sign and ticket said ‘Foreigner Entry 200 Rupees’. For locals it was just 30 Rupees (about 35p).

One thing you can’t avoid out there is so called ‘Delhi Belly!’ Within 2 days of being there, I fell ill with it. I won’t go into much detail but it went on for the duration of the trip. Food poisoning can be common for travellers to India, and some recommend avoiding eating meat altogether. It is always safer to drink bottled water than that running from a tap. Foreign women need to take particular precautions when travelling in New Delhi and India in general, and wear appropriate clothing to prevent unwanted attention from local men!

The heat was quite relentless, at 35 degrees every day. And we had no swimming pool to cool off in. We did however have cold showers every single morning much to my horror. The strange thing was however, that despite the heat, there was not much sunlight getting through. The dust and smog was just so bad. The World Health Organization has ranked New Delhi as the world’s worst polluted city in 2014, and in 2016, the ‘United States Environmental Protection Agency’ listed New Delhi as the most polluted city on Earth.

Having said this, you cannot go to India without travelling to see the Taj Mahal. We spent around 9 hours that day stuck in traffic with our hired driver, ‘Babu’, listening to Indian Sitar music on repeat, and the constant sound of horns as cars change ‘lanes’ without notice, or try to squeeze in to the tightest of spaces amongst the cows. We later arrived in Agra some 200km away. Nothing in India, not even riding a rickety old Tuk Tuk through Delhi’s busy markets and traffic, or fighting my way off an overloaded train on the metro came close to preparing me for the magic of the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal, an immense mausoleum of white marble, built between 1631 and 1648 by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife. It is known as the monument of love. As our guide led us towards the Southern gate of the Taj’s complex, he suddenly stopped, turned, and walked underneath the shade of a nearby tree. I followed suit, enjoying the respite from the hot Indian sun. As I settledinto a comfortable position, he began to tell us the love story behind the building. Maharajah Shah Jahan spotted Mumtaz Mahal at the marketplace in his royal complex. It was love at first sight and he quickly made her his third wife. Mumtaz traveled with Shah Jahan throughout India as his chief companion and beloved advisor. After bearing him 14 children, Mumtaz died whilst giving birth, leaving the Maharajah devastated. He then decided to build her an everlasting memorial and resting place.

Despite the heat, poverty, pollution, traffic and the lack of swimming pools; this is a wonderful place to come to, there are plently of beautiful sights to visit and lots to learn. One of the best things that I am taking home with me is the appretiation of my own life back home here in Bournemouth, and all those things that we take for granted. Just to have hot showers, clean clothes, money to buy food, let alone a solid roof over my head.

Whatever religion or beliefs you have, just be thankful for what you have been given in life. It’s clear that there is a large issue with poverty in our world, and the imbalance seems to be getting worse. We must do all that we can to raise awareness about these huge wealth and health injustices on this beautiful planet of ours. So on that end, we promise to put people before profits. To do business with a view to transform lives. To ensure producers gets a fair share of the retail value of their product and to ensure no child labour is involved in the production process.

Chris Kettle
Joint Managing Director

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