Lifestyles



Carpets and palaces
February 27, 2009 2:00 AM
Joan Tupponce

News


When Dick Crallé treks to India to buy rugs for Farmville’s Green Front Furniture, he packs toys and candy for children who stand along the streets in Varanasi and Jaipur. “They love it,” he says. “They have nothing.”

Crallé travels to India every 18 months to meet rug manufacturers. He’s been on that schedule for 30 years. “All the manufacturers in India know me,” he says.

Crallé doesn’t mind the long journey because of the discounts he receives, up to 80 percent less than buying rugs from U.S. wholesale markets. “There are a lot of deals in India,” he says, noting that he pays for the merchandise on site. “My broker calls me the best paymaster in India.”

During each visit, Cralle visits three cities — Agra (home to the Taj Mahal), Jaipur and Varanasi. He spends most of his time in Varanasi. “There are more weavers there and they work for less money,” he explains. “The prettiest rugs come out of India. Every time I go I see prettier rugs than I saw the last time.”

Varanasi, located on the banks of River Ganges in northeastern India, is one of the oldest, continually inhabited cities in the world. “There is so much history in India,” says Crallé. “Many people come to the River Ganges to die. They believe if they die on the banks they will be released from the caste system. When you go across the river in the evening, you can see fires up and down the river where they are doing cremations.”

Varanasi, with a population of 1.3 million, is often referred to as the “city of temples” as well as the “culture capital of India” because of its large number of Hindu temples. Two of the most famous are the Kashi Vishwanath Temple (“Golden Temple”), built around 1780, and the Durga Temple (“Monkey Temple”), also built in the 18th century. The temple got its nickname from the large number of monkeys in the area.

Jaipur, known as the “Pink City,” has a population of more than 5 million. The city’s white marble and red sandstone Amber Fort dates back to 1600. Inside the fort is the Sheesh Mahal with walls and ceilings adorned with thousands of mirrored tiles.

One of the principal attractions in Jaipur is City Palace, which takes up one-seventh of the city. The building contains many courtyards and gardens as well as the Hawa Mahal (“the Palace of Winds”). It was built in 1799 in the form of the crown of Krishna, the Hindu god.

City Palace also includes the Mubarak Mahal, which houses a textile museum, and the Diwan-e-Khas, an audience hall noted in the Guinness Book of World Records for housing the two largest silver vessels in the world. The five-foot urns were used by local ruler Maharaja Madho Singh II to carry water from the Ganges to England for the coronation King Edward VII in 1902.

The cities’ economies
Varanasi is known for its woven carpets and silk. Companies headquartered in the city include Mindmaker, a software development company, and Neiss Labs Pvt. Ltd., a pharmaceutical group,
Jaipur is known as a “center for education.”  It is home to eight universities, three medical colleges and six dental colleges as well as more than 40 engineering colleges, an equal number of business management institutes, and pharmacy and hotel management institutes.

A variety of products are made in the city, including corrugated boxes, ball bearings, halogen automobile headlamps and household electrical appliances.

Where to eat
Whenever he visits India, Dick Crallé carefully considers what he eats and drinks. “You don’t want to eat salads,” he advises. “You do want your food fully cooked.” Crallé prefers to eat in restaurants located in the hotels where he stays. Other restaurants noted by visitors are the Gulab Mahal Restaurant in Jaipur’s Jai Mahal Palace, an upscale dining option that offers continental cuisine as well as Indian dishes, and the restaurant in the Hotel Rajputana Palace Sheraton.

Where to stay
Varanasi has several hotels of note such as the Hotel Radisson and Hotel Taj Ganges. Jaipur’s Hotel Jai Mahal Palace sits in the center of 18 acres of landscaped gardens. The hotel is near shopping areas and historical monuments. The Hotel Rambagh Palace in Jaipur has 47 acres of gardens. The hotel’s unusual amenities include secretarial services and an astrologer. “It’s an old palace in a historical area,” Crallé say. “Sometimes they have snake charmers on the lawn. You can also see women cutting the grass with scissors.” Jaipur’s Hotel Rajputana Palace Sheraton features folk dancing, a discotheque and a doctor on call.

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