“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float; to gain all while you give; to roam the roads of lands remote; to travel is to live.” ― Hans Christian Andersen
Craft is just not about handcrafted products, but makes for memorable off-the-beaten-track travel experiences that make the traveller a happier soul and the world a better place. In our many journeys, trying to explore the rich indigenous craft sector of India, we have met inspiring people, heard stories that were astute and have discovered traditional and beautiful craftsmanship. Chanderi is one place that has exhibited it all, and it is not just us who say it, but many other voices that agree with us.
Historically, Chanderi goes back to the 11th century. From an important military outpost Chanderi it became the center of economic and cultural activity, attributed by the rule of strong dynasties including the Mughals, Malwas and the Scindias. Most of us know Chanderi for its brocades and muslins and the handwoven Chanderi sarees. Creation of dazzling weaves distinguished by beautiful borders, by master weavers, has made this place synonymous to textiles. As Lakshmi, a travel enthusiast puts it, “I discovered Chanderi many years ago courtesy my love for handloom sarees. Further exploration via the Internet and print media highlighted the history & archaeology of the place. I wished to interact with the local artisans and source handmade jewelry, textiles and figurines which I did.”
Chanderi weaving in process
In 2004, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of Tourism of the Government of India joined with NGOs and District Administrations across 36 villages in India to initiate the Endogenous Tourism Project (ETP). It has since been renamed the Explore Rural India campaign (www.exploreruralindia.org). They selected villages that were rich in craft so that the travelers would have something to do in the village and for the craft itself to be popularized adding to the livelihoods of the craftspersons. Out of the 36 villages, 15 were highlighted in the website cited above. Ten years later it is only a couple of villages that still continue with the tourism venture. Pranpur is one of them, 3 KM from Chanderi.
Located in Pranpur is the Amraee Rural Heritage Resort, a rustic spell drape this heritage resort constructed in the vernacular tradition with polychromatic sandstones. The idea behind the project was to enhance livelihoods of local craftspersons. As Gouthami (CEO, Travel Another India) puts it, “The younger weavers in Pranpur have come together to form a co-operative and the UNDP supported project gave them the opportunity to travel to different parts of India as well as abroad to sell their fabric. This has boosted their confidence to interact with the market directly, adapt to newer designs and united them firmly.”
Soaking in at Pranpur village
Any village in India has sufficient history and natural heritage to attract tourists – it is a question of highlighting and packaging it right to bring it to the attention of travelers interested in exploring India, which is what Amraee does.
The innate hospitality present in most rural Indian communities is also one of the draws for an urban traveler to explore the rural domains. What can then be apprehensions of setting up a guest house like Amraee in a place like Pranpur? “One initial apprehension was that the village community, especially youth, would get “corrupted” by this exposure, as has been seen globally in tourism hot spots. However, since this was anticipated, we worked with the youth to create awareness about the richness of their own heritage which is what attracts tourists from around the world to come to their tiny village.”
The pleasant surprise is how well the village community handles guests – in spite of having very limited facilities including basics like electricity and water, guests usually leave quite happy with the experience and most attribute it to the genuine hospitality shown by these communities. As Anusha, another travel enthusiast puts it, “The evenings listening to Babu Ram ji singing folk tales over a blazing fire in cold, cold December and the amazing chutneys cooked using guava, lingers as a memory from Chanderi”
While Anusha is more specific Lakshmi is happy to take it all back “Everything about Chanderi stayed with me. Amraee, it’s people, the hospitality, the simple yet tasty food, the art and craft of the region.”
For the city addicts who are drowned in the mall culture, visiting a craft rich cluster might not be as appealing as just getting a Chanderi saree at a boutique (for five times the price). However, there are many other things that you won’t find in a boutique “What we highlight are the hospitality, the food, the weavers, potters, the typical village that Pranpur is, the birding, the fresh air, the clear night skies – everything that you simply cannot get in a city! It also helps that phone connectivity is still iffy at the Amraee Guest House, which gives you some peaceful time” says Gouthami.
Anusha says “I have since recommended several people to visit Pranpur for the warmth of people, the lovely experience, the beautiful stay at Amraee and of course the ruins of Chanderi… there was so much that I couldn’t finish seeing in the week I was there. Also, the experience of staying at Pranpur was so different from living in a hotel.”
However, every traveler has a unique experience to recount. Lakshmi says “Only to like-minded people, as Chanderi is not for those who want to party and create a ruckus, Chanderi/Pranpur is highly recommended to anyone who is interested in history, archaeology, textiles, photography, local food, ecological tourism.”
With so much to do in Chanderi, and so much to take back, one really needs time in hand to explore the beauty of the craft and the people around it. We wish for you to travel and bring back a unique experience of Chanderi and we hope for you to come back enriched and enlightened.
So now go on, enjoy Chanderi!
Buy Chanderi and other handcrafts on Direct Create!