Author Archives: Nisha

Banarasi Brocade, Mirzapur Carpets, Fantastic Samosas and some Soul-searching (Part II)

Revival of Old Saree Pattern

I like Banaras. Busy streets that are impossible to cross with beautiful old architecture mixed with 1960s utilitarian buildings and bustling. This is an ancient trading and tourist driven city and so has the good and bad that comes with it. I visited the by-lanes of the town and several surrounding villages that have clusters of weavers of the beautiful brocade you get in Banaras. Conservative heartland so loose fitted churidar kurta with dupatta recommended. The by-lanes were incredibly interesting and I so wanted to pick up some of the ancient bricks lying in broken structures but had to behave myself! Unfortunately many of the families have moved away from traditional hand looms to running the more lucrative power looms and the whole area reverberates with the noise.

One national award winning family in particular who work on revival of old patterns with Taj Khazana had the most beautiful hand-woven saree in the …

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Banarasi Brocade, Mirzapur Carpets, Fantastic Samosas and some Soul-searching (Part I)

Mirzapur Tufting Centre

Back from Mumbai and off to Varanasi (also known as Banaras and Kashi). I do love my job, well some parts of it. Dealing with octroi, (still waiting for the February refund) breakages and insurance has to be my least favourite part and so I left the mess TCI Express made of my return shipment to Binaifer and off I went. The main reason was the Indian Carpet Expo in Varanasi. There were over 300 Indian carpet vendors showing off their wares and I thought it was time to do a deep dive into the carpet industry in India. To understand the entire supply chain better, I went off to Mirzapur which, along with Bhadohi, is one of the main weaving centres in this part of India. What I found was both enlightening and disturbing.

My understanding of what I see is that Indian and Pakistani handmade carpet manufacturers have …

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Kaivalam to Iran: Antique Suzanis and Other Hand-crafted Treasures

Carpets & Suzanis

Mumbai drew us back and gosh what a response – wasteful bandhs and economic slowdowns not withstanding. I loved every bit of it although I did have to part with some of my favourite pieces and my feet hurt for three days afterwards! I am already thinking how we can better this one and that thinking is leading me to venture to unknown lands – another journey and culmination with another exhibition. How exciting! Now to cross borders without anything untoward happening!

In the meantime, I am off to Chennai (if I can manage to wrangle a pass) for the World Crafts Council Summit, then to Varanasi for the India Carpet Expo and a sojourn with my artisans in and around Delhi. So many ideas, people to meet and so little time. The temptation to do a quick trip to Bodhgaya from Varanasi is great, however my current challenge is getting the …

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Pragati for Arastan

Pragati for Arastan

OMG Pragati! My reaction at seeing the first few pieces of the collection she has done for us. Of course I want to keep several but have to behave myself! Here is a bit about this lovely lady and the amazing collection she has created for us.

Pragati (Toshniwal ne Mathur) hails from Bundi in Rajasthan. She studied Textile Technology and Art from Sophia in Bombay and started weaving after graduating. One loom became ten over the years and she became  known for her sarees and upholstery. She says she always knew she wanted to be an artist and an archaeologist. Her inspiration coming from traditional architecture, textile and  jewellery, all available in plentiful in the havelis she grew up in Rajasthan. Her strength is clearly in using contemporary ways of using hand worked textile.

The limited edition items she has designed for Arastan are functional while retaining their origin …

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Next Stop Burma (Myanmar)

Beautiful Uzbek Ikat

We are a bit like Aladdin’s Cave at the moment – Uzbek ikat, an eclectic mix of Indian tribal and ethnic silver jewellery (very different to the Rajasthani pendants) and Ajanta ceramic tiles have all arrived in the last two days.

I have wanted to travel to Burma/Myanmar for as long as I can remember and it is hard to believe I will be there in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately too much going on to add Southern China so that may have to wait. Alternatively, I could do a quick reconnaissance to tempt all those who may want to visit. 🙂  The Chinese ethnic tribes produce the most gorgeous craft as those of you who bought the batik and embroidered baby carrier pieces from us well know. How can I resist?!

Oh and yes, some great press coverage for Arastan and lots of responses to the Content Writer post we are looking to …

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Zaakpay, Angels (the investor kind) and Rogues!

We have been busy! Remember the vendor induced shingles… well they (the vendors!) are being replaced on a war footing! These were not artisans but service providers who are just not up to the mark and consume vast amounts of our management time. First on the list is our payment gateway. We went with the biggest but have found them to have a shockingly poor interface and unresponsive to feedback. Our international clients have confirmed that they find the design (which we can’t change) confusing. Well they won’t anymore. The new payment gateway, Zaakpay, is much easier to navigate and should be live in a few days. Started by a young lady who clearly saw the opportunity to do it better and different. Kudos to her. Also we have just partnered with another young company, Gharpay, who are redefining cash payments in India – they certainly won’t be making the …

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Our first Photo Shoot and The Bactrian Hoard

Arastan Studio Photoshoot

We had our first photo shoot today and it was quite an experience. My neighbour, Sudhir Ramchandran, offered to do it for us. I was excited and terrified. Sudhir is a bit of a legend and also a perfectionist. You don’t waste the opportunity and you certainly do not waste his time! A call to a friend who is a stylist (we were so much easier than her other project which was to recreate rural North Indian milkmen and tomato vendors in a Bangalore studio with no less than 20 cans of milk and 800kgs of tomatoes) who worked with our now invaluable visual merchandiser, Prabhu, to plan the shoot. Thankfully it all went well. The honest truth is travelling to remote places without speaking the language or being able to read the script, eating ‘interesting’ food, negotiating with hand gestures and calculators doesn’t scare me but I do find make …

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You Wouldn’t Want to be Nisha Right Now!

Samarkand Ganch-Stucco

I made a quick trip to Mumbai where I attended what promised to be a deadly boring ‘Import Procedures and Documentation workshop’ but was anything but (I should learn to leave my prejudices at home!), then on to Delhi where I selected some gorgeous vintage carpets including Khotan’s that are one of my favourite groups. I managed to squeeze in a trip to Jaipur between the two where I bought a lovely collection of old Rajasthani pendants, ordered some Ajanta mural ceramic tiles and saw the rather spectacular Jenny Jones Collection just launched by Jaipur.  Announced the opening of the store and the online store which judging by the feedback has achieved the clean and stylish look and feel we wanted. Those are all the fun bits. The not so fun bits and the reason you wouldn’t want to be me is having to deal with badly laid red oxide …

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Fergana Valley: Ceramic, Ikat and Shavla

Rustam Usmanov and his wife

I travelled to Rishtan to see the ceramists who did the platters for me last year. It was bitterly cold and Rustam and his wife were very gracious, kept us warm (don’t miss their gorgeous home slippers!) and well fed while we worked on my order. The shavla – porridge version of plov – we had for lunch was delicious and Zahid and I tucked in. We couldn’t say no when Alisher invited us to lunch later so had to eat again! Tough job this!! I am amazed by how much time and effort Rustam and Alisher make for me. They are world renowned ceramists who earn very well doing exhibitions in the US, Europe and Japan and my orders pale in comparison.

The discussion at lunch moved to the size of the Indian market and the buying power of the middle class, all quite surprising to them and Alisher in …

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Happy Women and Mortifying Men

Happy Women's Day!

Happy Holi in India and Happy Women’s Day in Uzbekistan. Since yesterday, men have been greeting women everywhere for Women’s Day which is a national holiday here. Men wish their wives, mothers and daughters, buy them flowers and take them out for a meal or bring a cake home. It is a real celebration of womanhood and so nice to see. One of the good things left behind by the Communist state. Oh, and they do celebrate ‘Men’s Day’ or ‘Army Day’ but not to the same degree.

There are many tour groups coming from India to Uzbekistan. Unfortunately the majority are hordes of 45-50 young and middle-aged men being given a freebie as a dealer incentive by mostly pharmaceutical and cement companies. Their behaviour is the talk of the town as they come with a single-minded purpose – to drink and to womanise. From the airport they tell the …

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  • Welcome to Arastan

    Arastan was an online store that curated rare and handpicked treasures from exotic bazaars along the ancient silk route. Unfortunately we ceased trading in early 2014.

    You can read about the reasons for closure.

    You can still browse some of the products we used to have via the category links above, although none of these are available for purchase.

    Relive our travels and stories by browsing our articles and archives from the menus below.

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