Walking down the narrow streets of Udaipur, I was happily distracted by the colourful murals seen on the walls — bold images of beloved Hindu gods and goddesses, the first steps to my discovery of the artistic personality of Udaipur.
Well-known for artisan creations in marble, silver, and terracotta, the city is also known for its distinctive miniature paintings. After a morning exploring the City Palace of Udaipur, our guide, Abhi, led us away from the shopping lures of the main street, towards a three-storey house. My group took off our shoes after we entered, passing by an older man happily watching an Indian soap opera, and we were welcomed into the studio, with Mughal-style miniature paintings all around us.
The studio is a co-operative, and the who artists welcomed us were eager to show us their techniques. Watching each artist use tiny brush strokes to start creating an image seems so simple, but we knew that their years of experience make it seem easy. The artists there work together on this traditional art form, and to maintain a high-quality product so visitors can see the difference between their handicrafts and mass-produced prints.
We were in awe — but my group wasn't as inquisitive as usual. The extreme heat and humidity made us quiet, and we relished in the cool of the art studio. Abhi prompted us to ask questions, but we were mostly silent, smiling at the artists as we wander edthe studio.
As some of us considered a purchase, one of the artists also noted that he does mehndi. This ancient form of body art uses as paste made from the leaves of henna, temporarily dying the skin a dark reddish brown. It's popular for Indian women to get their hands and feet painted for family celebrations like weddings. The artist offered to do designs on our hands or feet, and I quickly agreed.
As I relaxed with a cup of chai, the rest of the group was undecided — should they go shopping? Head somewhere for lunch? Wander the streets? Go to the famous lake for a boat ride? The heat and humidity made decisions impossible.
After I finished my chai, the artist grabbed a tube of henna; within minutes, he began creating a pattern on my hand — pretty swirls and flourishes on my brown skin.
A few members of my group wandered over, and became distracted by my henna application. Two of them joined me for henna applications of their own.
After the artist finished with me and started on one of my travel mates, chai was being shared, plans were being made, and the chatter was endless. The artists and the group chatted about shopping, history, and then about our evening plan to see a cultural performance at Bagore-ki-Haveli. Tips on what to buy and which shop to visit next were swapped and noted, as the ladies showed off our henna patterns — and encouraged the guys to consider a flourish, too.
Abhi had to coax us to leave the studio, which, although none of us actually said it, had quickly become our clubhouse.
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