Our flight finally arrived in Jaipur in the early hours of the morning after an early start from Heathrow.
After going through more security checks we headed for the airport money exchange to change some of our Sterling. Last week the Indian government had, without warning, decided to discontinue the 500 and 1000 Rupee notes from circulation causing mayhem and money shortages throughout India, so with this in mind we headed for the airport money exchange. We were quickly told that there was no cash available and told to try an ATM. The problem here was that there is a limit of 2000 Rupees (which is about £25) per card. We were however lucky and managed to obtain our limit in cash. Little did we know that getting more cash would be a problem due to them all being empty. We finally arrived at the hotel at 4am.
We arranged for Roopesh to pick us up at 11:30. Roopesh is one of our stone suppliers in India that we have been dealing with since 2012.
Roopesh and his brother in law Guresh picked us up, and took us back to Guresh’s office to view some stone samples including paving and a mixed selection of cobbles. We were then taken to an industrial area in Jaipur to visit a cobble manufacturing yard.
After this we had a late lunch and were then dropped off in Jaipur’s Pink or walled city which is one of the oldest places in Jaipur. Here we visited the bazaar and then got a 3 wheel auto Rickshaw back to hotel, which was quite a hairy experience given the chaotic nature of the roads and drivers!
We had a quick turnaround at the hotel before we were being picked up by Roopesh and co to take us to an ancient city experience which involved Indian culture through the ages. This was finished off with a traditional Indian menu that was eaten outside in a communal dinning area. On way back Roopesh stopped at a Pan bar that is like an after dinner mouth refresh made from refreshing spices like aniseed and sugars all wrapped in a leaf, and eaten in one go.
We finally got back to the hotel at 1 o’clock in morning for an early start of sight seeing in the morning.
The day started at 9am when we where picked up by our driver and guide for the day to visit the Amer Fort, City Palace and other attractions of the City.
We were still ATM hunting! The banks didn’t have any money. Roopesh kindly phoned around and found us some cash to see us through to the end of our trip.
We finally set off to Kota which is a four hour drive. The road has improved in the last few years and it now takes half the time it originally did. We did however see a lorry facing the wrong way down the road and what looked like balancing on the edge of a fly-over bridge, imagine the ‘Italian Job’ and you will get the picture.
Kota is the central hub for most of the sandstone processors in India and we found ourselves at one of Roopesh’s working yards where we saw sandstone being calibrated and sandstone circles being hand cut.
The visit confirmed our beliefs about how the sandstone is being processed and confirmed that certain ethical standards are being adhered to.
Before we left we placed orders for full containers that will be arriving early in the new year ready for the new season. There is one particular new product that we are excited about which will be available soon in our standard Contempo sizes (600×900 600×600 600×400).
We were picked up by Rishi, one of our other suppliers in India, who took us to his processing plant and one of the quarries he deals with. Rishi’s processing plant is about 70 Kilometres outside Kota, but this is the main area where many of the sandstone quarries are.
On route we were again met by oncoming traffic! This is not unusual, like seeing the cows in the main road. We saw another lorry that had recently jack-knifed shedding its load of two huge pieces of sandstone into the road almost blocking the carriageway.
We eventually arrived safely and entered Rishi’s yard were he showed us some new products for us to view. This was followed up by a visit to one of the quarries he uses where we viewed more slabs in different colour tones. The quarries flood every rainy season and the water has to be pumped out before any work can be carried out.
After returning back to the hotel we had a late lunch and said our goodbyes to Rishi before meeting our third Indian supplier of the trip.
Rahul’s uncle picked us up and took us to their yard which is based in the main industrial area in Kota. Here we viewed the extensive display and their processing section. The processing plant included calibration machines sizing the paving to exact thickness. Also we saw how the tumbling of the slabs was done to give the paving a smoother aged finish.
The processing plant is highly advanced for stone processing in India as this supplier also has their own engineering business designing and building the machinery that is widely used within the stone industry. The plant also includes a slurry recycling unit that separates the water from the stone slurry mix, which is a by-product of this process. The water is then re-used in the process ensuring a clean supply. This means the whole process is efficient and means less downtime and cleaning for the machinery. The Indian government subsidise them for this sustainable practice.
After a quick meeting in their offices we are taken back to the hotel for another Indian meal.
Rahul picked us up in the morning and took us to two additional sites. The first site he showed us is where the large sandstone raw material is split, machine cut and then finished with either honing, shot blasting or flaming.
The second site is where they assemble the wooden crates which are produced using Eucalyptus hardwood and galvanised nails and straps.
After finalising business, Rahul dropped us at the train station were we took a train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal before flying home.
Travelling to India to visit our suppliers has been very informative, productive and enjoyable. Witnessing production practices has given us further insight into working conditions and quality control. We feel now more than ever that our own range of Indian natural stone products will continue to meet the needs of our customers and we look forward to working closely with our suppliers for the year ahead.