SHILPGRAM via Ranthambhore, Sawai Madhopur

A visit to Ranthambhore is mostly – if not entirely – concerned with getting a glimpse of the majestic tigers in their natural habitat. Other than the quintessential safari, there’s the fort and to some extent, the museum.

SHILPGRAM, a State Government initiative inaugurated in 2013- however, has got no takers. As a concept, it is also present in other places of tourist interest in Rajasthan. I am not sure how profitable or popular they are but the one in Ramsinghpura village, about 9 Kms from Sawai Madhopur is not doing very well for itself.

To be honest, I wouldn’t have thought much of it, had a gentleman – an official in charge of the project – not taken the liberty to speak to us voluntarily. The conversation prompted me to write a post to at least make more people aware of its existence.

After the morning safari, we had a good 4-5 hours in our hands till our scheduled departure by train. So we decided to utilize our time well. A rather forlorn but not completely inconspicuous makeshift gate of sorts, plonked on the side of what is known as Ranthambhore Road announcing Handicrafts Carnival, had caught my Mother-in-Law’s eye the previous day.

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Upon equiring at the hotel, we figured the ‘carnival’ was about 1-2 Kms further down on a narrow stretch, at the mouth of which stood the gate. A 15-minute bumpy auto-ride later, we came upon a group of white one-storied concrete huts with stunning wildlife paintings on the walls. A milestone placed on the bend which veered off towards the enclosure of the huts was emblazoned with the word ‘SHILPGRAM’ on it.

In Rajasthan, the winter sun is as fierce as the summer months during noon. But we braved it and entered the colony of huts which act as stalls for handlooms, handicrafts and even pickles from various parts of Rajasthan (and India). There hardly were any buyers – local or otherwise. Wares on display – among others – included soft toys made with indigenous material, lac bangles, block printed duppattas, leather artefacts, Madhubani art, tiger paintings, clothes with traditional prints, pickles, blue pottery, and black pottery. This last one caught our eye but the seller was out for lunch. So we decided to while some time away at the other stalls. The idea of a mela or carnival is to get handicrafts at a reasonable price. And yet, the quotes were outrageous. And the black pottery guy was still nowhere to be seen. Dejected, we decided to trace back our footsteps to the auto when the aforementioned gentleman approached us.

He asked us how did we come to know about the place. And we promptly mentioned the gate cum banner on Ranthambhore Road. He explained to us that the hotels deliberately do not mention the existence of SHILPGRAM to tourists. All hotels have shops – big or small – selling local handicrafts along with other stuff. Needless to say, the markup is high and if people start flocking to SHILPGRAM – where prices are ideally low for there are no middlemen involved – it’s obvious that hotels will lose a major chunk of their income. The reason for the obnoxious prices was the lack of sales and a general feeling of ‘making the most out of every given opportunity’.

It also transpired that SHILPGRAM was conceived as a tourist attraction to complement the National Park. It’s proximity to the museum – which some people do visit – was considered as a locational benefit. However, it doesn’t even get enough footfalls, let alone sales. Adding salt to the injury is the political angle. The project was apparently initiated by the Congress. The state is now run by BJP which probably makes funding an issue. The area is clearly still under construction.

By the time, we were done talking, the black pottery man was back and surprisingly his products were not only the most striking but also reasonably priced. He was selling his own creations. Whatever little crowd was there, was at his stall. We bought quite a few of his handiwork and a packet of pickle from another seller.

If you are reading this and ever plan to go to Ranthambore to get a glimpse of the big cat, do visit SHILPGRAM too and buy stuff from the local artists. Nobody will stop you from posing with the bear, langoor, and other impeccable depictions on the walls. But arts and crafts won’t survive if you just pose with them and write about them. Maybe, they’ll start stocking better things if the sales and footfalls increase. We can all do our bit, no?

By the way, we had no luck with the elusive Panthera Tigris. I wish you you better luck!

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