I’m in a long workroom with plain painted white walls. Metal shelves at one end are scattered with a variety of wooden blocks, each with a simple geometric pattern carved into the hard wood.
There are two long tables stretching almost the entire length of the room, and a long blot of fabric is pinned to the table behind me.
Beside me is a small tray on wheels with dark ink inside it. There is an astringent smell of ink in the air.
I have already printed a parade of elephants, a garden of flowers and swirls of paisley. I am putting the finishing touches to the geometric patterned border on my small piece of fabric. I tap my block in ink, line it up carefully and tap it with the side of my hand.
I am learning how to do hand block printing in India’s Pink City, Jaipur.
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Hand Block Printing Workshop, Jaipur
What is block printing in textiles?
Block printing is a way of creating colored designs on fabric using wooden blocks. The hand block printing process involves block printing craftsmen or women using wooden or sometimes metal blocks that each have a particular pattern carved on them to stamp on plain fabrics. Sometimes several layers of patterns in different colors are printed over each other to create multi-colored designs.
Block printing has been used in India since the 12th century and India is now one of the largest manufacturers and exporters of block printed fabric in the world. Jaipuri block prints are famous throughout India and most hand block printed fabric from Jaipur is actually printed in Sanganer. We love taking classes in order to engage more deeply with the local culture, such as learning tie and dye.
Since Sanganeri hand block printing is so famous, this seemed the most logical place to learn how to do it ourselves and we were happy to discover that this was indeed one of the best places to take printing courses in India. It made a nice balance to our other Indian adventures such as ziplining in our next stop, Jodhpur and taking a Jaisalmer desert safari.
Getting to the block printing workshop
We took a tuk tuk river with Ali, which we arranged through our hotel, the Bissau Palace Hotel. Ali drove us to Sanganer, which used to be a village near Jaipur, but is now a suburb of Jaipur near the airport.
Sanganer is historically famous for its handicrafts and Sanganeri blue pottery and Sanganer block printing and paper-making are well-known throughout the world.
Upon arrival at the address we’d been given, we went down into the basement of Sakshi, an exporter of Jaipur block print fabric as it turned out, where there were piles of block-printed fabrics scattered around and an “office” with a desk and some threadbare chairs.
We sat there a while, looking at each other and thinking “What the hell? Is this the right place? What’s going on?”
We were then gestured to follow a guy back upstairs and down the street into a building nearby. It was a single room with whitewashed concrete walls, two long padded tables and three men smoking and printing on one long bolt of cloth.
The other table had a blank bolt stretched and pinned, but after we were introduced to the “master”, they unpinned it so we could have our lesson there.
The master didn’t speak much English, but enough with gestures to teach/ show us what to do. The inks (black, brown, dark blue, lighter blue and green) were already set up in trays on wheeled stands with layers of porous fabric to form gigantic ink pads.
We started by pinning large sheets of newspapers to the padded table. He gave us blocks to use and showed us how to double tap them on the ink pad, then place the block carefully on the fabric, lining it up, then bang the wooden block stamp with the side of our hands so it printed evenly.
We started with the outline of large elephants and simple floral designs and progressed to a second layer of ink of a different color that filled in some of the details. Following that, we did the borders of the newspaper page, which required more careful alignment of the blocks.
After about an hour, we progressed to actual fabric, working on different designs. We printed two pieces of fabric – a small square and a large rectangle. The designs included several different blocks and included borders around the edges.
Jaipur hand block print typically involves more than one color, so we eventually progressed to the next level, which involved using more than one color to create a more intricate design. It was especially important (and tricky) to line the blocks up correctly, so that the second color filled in gaps in the design made by the first color.
I made a few mistakes, with a couple of blotches and some patterns that were not lined up properly, but overall, I didn’t do too badly.
We finished at 1:00pm, but the fabric still needed to dry, so the master hung up our hand block printing. Sanganer, Jaipur doesn’t have a lot of restaurants, so Ali asked around and drove us to a restaurant that had plastic chairs and no people in it, but the food was good and cheap.
After lunch, he drove us back into Sanganer to get our fabrics, and visit a paper-making factory.
The verdict: Learning how to block print fabric in Jaipur
This Sanganer blocking printing workshop was actually one of Kevin’s all-time favorite travel experiences, and is way up there for me too.
When you see Rajasthani print fabrics all your life and then not only see them being made, but to also learn how to hand block print on fabric yourself, in a very authentic environment, it really feels like a very special cultural experience.
This was not a school – it was a working “workshop” where most of the time is spent printing fabrics for export, but where they also teach travelers who want the experience. It felt very authentic.
The guys didn’t speak much English at all, but they had learned enough to communicate what we needed to know. The lesson was also well-scaffolded.
The one down-side – and the reason that I’m glad we didn’t book a full-day lesson – constantly hitting the block with the side of my hand eventually started to hurt my hand. It did, however, give me a greater appreciation of the work that goes into all of those fabrics! They were true craftsmen who made it look much easier than it was.
TC ‘experiential travel’ score: Block Printing Workshop, Jaipur
|Authenticity of experience||20|
|Quality of interaction with culture/ environment||19|
|Difficulty to arrange||17|
|TOTAL TC SCORE||93|
PRACTICAL TIPS: Hand block printing workshop, Jaipur
The Experience: Hand block printing workshop, Jaipur
The fabric and ink were all included, and we took the fabrics we printed home, as well as the newspapers that we had started practicing on. We actually framed the newspapers, as they make a cool souvenir.
You can book a block printing workshop here (this is not the one I did, but is easy to arrange than booking through email, which I did).
A couple of tourists came through the workshop when we were there and were shown the Rajasthan block printing by a guide, so if you just wanted to visit a Sanganeri block printing factory to see the printing without participating, that is also possible. Book the Sanganer tour here.
A combination tour and workshop is also available here.
Other things to do in Jaipur
There are a lot of other awesome experiences you can have in Jaipur. Check out a full range of things to do in Jaipur here.
Where is Jaipur and what is the currency?
Jaipur and Sanganer are in Rajasthan, in the north west of India. The currency is the rupee. Check the current exchange rate here.
Best time to visit Jaipur, India
What is the best time of year to visit Jaipur? The weather is best during the months of November to February/March. I was there in February and it was very pleasant. This area gets very hot in summer.
- The (very) hot season is March/ April to November. May is the hottest month.
- The rainy season is July and August. July is the wettest month.
- There are two dry seasons: January to May and October to December. March is the driest month.
- The coolest month is January.
- The average annual maximum temperature is 31.0°C (87.8°F)
- The average annual minimum temperature is 18.5°C (65.3°F)
Getting to Jaipur, India
How to get to Delhi
The main international airport in India is the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, and chances are you will fly into Delhi. Book a flight to Delhi here.
From Delhi, you can take a domestic flight to Jaipur airport, which is what we did. There are three terminals at the Delhi airport. Terminal 3 for all international flights and many domestic flights. Terminal 1 is used for low cost domestic carriers GoAir, IndiGo and SpiceJet. Currently Terminal 1 is closed for renovations and Terminal 2 is being used for the low-cost carriers. Check prices of flights to Jaipur here.
We arrived late at night into Delhi and had an early morning flight the next day to Jaipur. We decided to stay at the airport hotel that is inside Terminal 3 because we didn’t want to deal with the hassle of getting a taxi to a nearby hotel as soon as we arrived, when we tired. It was a great decision.
We were emailed directions on how find the airport hotel within the terminal and the instructions seemed kind of confusing, but they actually sent someone to meet us at the gate, and he took us to the hotel. It couldn’t have been easier.
How to get from Delhi to Jaipur
Delhi to Jaipur by plane
Our Jet Airways flight from Delhi to Jaipur took about 40 minutes, was on time, cheap, easy and comfortable (though delayed or cancelled flights in India are reputably common).
Delhi to Jaipur by train
Jaipur has plenty of train connections, and this is the cheapest option. Trains to Jaipur Junction (JP) leave from New Delhi Railway Station (NDLS) as well as some leaving from Old Delhi Railway Station (DLI) and Delhi Sarai Rohilla Railway Station (DEE) in north Delhi. You can buy tickets at the International Tourist Bureau at New Delhi Railway Station (ignore anyone who tries to tell you it is closed – this is a common scam).
The trip takes about 5-8 hours. The fastest is the 12015 Ajmer Shatabdi Express leaving from New Delhi Railway Station at 6:05am and arriving into Jaipur at 10:40am. It originates in Delhi, so has a good chance of at least leaving on time. Trains are notoriously unreliable in India, but are a great way to meet people and see the country.
We didn’t take this train to Jaipur, but did take the train for several legs of our trip around Rajasthan and only had very positive experiences (though if you are sensitive to things running on time, this option is not for you!).
Delhi to Jaipur by bus
Buses to Jaipur leave from Delhi’s Kashmiri Gate Terminal ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminal). There are several companies including Rajasthan Roadway, Haryana Roadways and VOLVO buses. It takes about 6-8 hours.
Delhi to Jaipur by car
Jaipur is about 150 miles/ 250 km from Delhi and there is a good road. It takes 5-6 hours, but traffic can be congested getting out of Delhi. I do NOT recommend renting a car in India, as the traffic is chaotic, but we hired a car and driver for several parts of our trip and had very positive experiences with this. The easiest way to arrange this is to book your transfer from Delhi to Jaipur here.
If you are going to Agra after Jaipur, book your transfer from Jaipur to Agra here.
If you are going to Jodhpur after Jaipur, book your transfer from Jaipur to Jodhpur here.
How to get to/ from Jaipur Airport
We were met outside the Jaipur Airport by a driver sent by the hotel. We arranged this directly with the hotel via email and it couldn’t have been easier. It is also possible to get a taxi at the airport, of course, but always check they are either using a meter or you agree on a price before you leave.
Getting around Jaipur
Traffic everywhere in India is pure insanity to the uninitiated. The streets are a kaleidoscopic mix of cows, camels, goats, sheep, elephants, sleeping dogs, white wedding horses, buses, tuk tuks, cycle rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, cars, carts, and pedestrians – all sharing the narrow roads and all blithely ignoring any road rules you know. Somehow it works, and there are ways of behavior that we don’t know about, which is why I do NOT recommend driving.
The easiest way to get around, other than walking for short distances, is to take a tuk tuk.
We had read horror stories of people getting ripped off by tuk tuk drivers, but if you ALWAYS confirm the price in advance (and what is included in the price – if you have luggage with you, confirm that the luggage is not extra, and confirm that the price is not per person), you should be OK. We arranged a tuk tuk for a day or half day through our hotel the night before, and felt very safe doing this.
The main tuk tuk driver who took us out the first day and then arranged for someone else to take us the following day was Tuveer, and he was very reliable. You can book directly with him Tuveer Singh Trust Taxi Tours M+91-9829153189 (or through your hotel). A half-day and full-day price includes waiting while you visit places. It gives great piece of mind.
Map of Jaipur
Where to stay in Jaipur
There are plenty of places to stay in Jaipur. Accommodation in India is fairly cheap, and we loved staying in heritage hotels, as they have character and really add to the experience. Rajasthan has many old palaces and havelis (merchant’s houses) that have been converted into hotels. To help in choosing the best hotel for you, read my hotel guide.
Luxury Hotel in Jaipur
Every major city in Rajasthan has one heritage hotel that sets the standards for all the others – a lavish former place that makes for an incredible experience. In Jaipur, for a splurge, stay at the Rambagh Palace. This is a member of the Raj group of hotels, all of which are five-star luxury done with character and taste. Highly recommended. Book the Taj Rambagh Palace hotel here.
Mid-Range Hotel in Jaipur
We chose the Bissau Palace Hotel, which isn’t high end, but is a heritage hotel ever-so-slightly shabby around the edges, but beautiful. There is only WiFi in the lobby, which was fine with us.
Some rooms are better than others. We stayed in room 204, which was incredible. It had two queen beds with hand block printed covers, arches, and a separate day bed and desk seating area.
The hotel is near the meat market, which can be off putting to some, and nearby people were busy plucking and butchering chickens, and there were lots of pedestrians, tuk tuks and dogs.
However, although the area was crowded, there were not the fly-covered carcasses that I was expecting and I actually liked staying in such a lively area. And inside the gates of the hotel were gardens, a beautiful lobby and it was an oasis of quiet and calm. Book the Bissau Palace Hotel here.
Budget Hotel in Jaipur
Another option where we had dinner and it looked really nice is the Pearl Palace Heritage hotel, which has beautifully decorated rooms. Book the Pearl Palace Heritage hotel here.
Planning and packing for Jaipur, India
I hope my blog is useful resource for you, but for supplementary information, a guide book is also helpful. I always use the Lonely Planet. Buy the India Lonely Planet here. Also use my Trip Planner for a step-by-step breakdown of the planning and preparation process before your trip.
Another book that I can’t recommend enough is “India – Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture”. We had heard so many stories about how overwhelming India was, and how difficult it was to deal with, and how different the culture was, that Kevin ordered this book in order to understand more about Indian culture before we left.
In the end, we were so prepared that we never felt at all overwhelmed while we were there. In fact, we felt very taken care of throughout India, but understanding the culture helped a lot. Buy India – Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture here.
When you are ready for your trip, check out my Essential Packing List.
Not on this list, but something I always have, is a travel diary. I love this leather-bound journal, as it really evokes the fantasy of travel for me. You can also consider buying a sketch book to record your memories in a different way than just photos. This sketch pad looks great and is easy to carry. Although I can’t draw to save my life, I actually did quite a few sketches in India and it was a fun way to help capture the experience.
Safety in India
India is crowded and chaotic and can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Knowing what to expect makes a big difference. It can also be safe. Most people in the tourist trade have a vested interest in making sure that travelers have a good time.
However, there are some people who may try to rip you off. See my advice above for tuk tuk and taxi drivers. The other thing that is very helpful is to be aware of common scams so you recognize them when people try them and you can avoid falling victim to them. Read about common travel scams here. Also check out my post of 13 things not to do while travelling (and learn from my mistakes!)
Additional consideration: Travel Insurance
My aim is to give you the practical information and resources you need to have meaningful travel experiences. To that end, in addition to accommodation, planning and flights, you should always have travel insurance, just in case. Read all about travel insurance and what to look for here. Of course, you always hope to never need to use it but you should get it just in case you do!
A great insurance option is World Nomads. You can book it here. Or get a qet a quote for your trip right now:
Do you have any stories of India? I’d love to hear them. Comment below.
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Read about other fantastic experiences in Rajasthan, India:
- Tie and dye workshop in Nawalgarh
- Ziplining over Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur
- Camel safari in the Thar Desert near Jaislamer
James Ian has traveled to 82 countries and all 7 continents. He is passionate about experiential travel, i.e. meaningful travel that actively engages with the environment and culture. He helps people have similar experiences that involve active participation in activities and festivals; engaging with the local food and handicrafts through lessons and food tours; and interacting positively with environment by hiking, riding, rowing, diving and low/no impact animal encounters.
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