Content by Bruce McLaren
Rug Buying In Agra
This blog is meant to give you a bit of an insight into the rug buying side of the business....
A lot of our work takes place in India. Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 the Persian Carpet market took a big hit. India and China were quick to jump in and fill the vacuum. To a lesser extent, Turkey and Pakistan have done the same thing. But India is the largest producer and that is where we do a lot of our buying and manufacturing.
At first, hand-woven rugs from India were not of a particularly high standard. India does not have a long tradition of rug making so the industry had to start pretty much from scratch. But with time you gain experience and with trial and error you make a better product. Today, hand-woven rugs coming out of India are generally of a very high standard. Some of the rugs being made now even employ the use of vegetable dyes and are a very good product.
Apart from rug making ability, India is a great country in which to do business. If you want something to happen then India can make it happen. Invariably, the response to any request is:
Certainly it can be done!
Is it possible for you to procure me a green Lamborghini, a baguette made fresh in Paris this morning, an edelweiss from the Austrian Alps, and a doughnut from Krispy Kreme, by 2 pm this afternoon?
Certainly it can be done!'
India is like that. Anything can be done, but in terms of rugs it may take a little more time and experimentation.
Anyhoo, the long and the short of it is that we do a lot of business in India. Here is how it works:
Twice a year we fly to Delhi. There we meet our agent, and then fly down the Ganges to Varanasi - the holy city of India. Varanasi is situated on the middle reaches of the Ganges on what is generally known as the Gangetic Plain. This is a vast, extremely fertile region, and is the center of rug and textile production in India. It is the surrounding districts around Varanasi that produce most of the rugs in India.
The Gangetic Plain
Once in Varanasi we hop in a truck and head on out into the wild blue yonder. You need an agent for a whole range of reasons in India, first and foremost because without an agent you would never be able to find the rug producers. Out in these rural areas there aren't many street signs, the roads are of dirt, and some of the potholes are literally so big that the truck actually does go down into them - like driving through a bomb crater. On these roads it takes a long time to go short distances. Let's face the facts - although India is growing fast there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly when it comes to basic infrastructure - like roads.
Location Of Varanasi
The big rug producers are set up in large compounds. There is rarely a sign to tell you that you have arrived. A large steel door opens and the truck enters and you are in. These manufacturers are wholesale producers and only do business with companies that want to place substantial orders. They don't cater to the occasional tourist - of whom, I assure you, none ever pass through these districts.
Varanasi On The Ganges
These compounds vary in size but most of them tend to be very large. By that I mean that one compound may house hundreds of wooden looms and employ a thousand or more men.
I would like to emphasize a few things up front. Many Westerners have a lot of misconceptions about how rug making is done in India. First, there is a general assumption that child-labor is employed. This is absolutely untrue. Each manufacturer only employs male adults. The reason for this is two-fold. First, the Indian government has made it illegal to use child-labor. Second, in a country with the population of India, the first available jobs always go to the adult male in the family. There is no room for Western notions about gender roles here - in India, the male needs to be the provider.
I think there is also a misconception that manufacturers take advantage of laborers. It is true that laborers in India get paid a fraction of what a Westerner would earn, but this is proportionate in relation to inflation. The important point here is that the manufacturing of hand-woven rugs provides employment for thousands of men who would otherwise be unemployed, and a livelihood for thousands of families who would otherwise not have one.
Furthermore, conditions are good. Food and water is provided and the environment is clean. All in all, only a good thing.
But back to the buying....
Rug Buying Near Myrzapur
Here are some videos from Bhadoi and Myrzapur, two of the major rug making districts. Inside the compound the buyers ask to see rugs of a chosen style and size. In an instant about 100 men turn the place into a hive of activity, bringing out and unrolling hundreds of rugs. The buyers then inspect the rugs, choose the ones they want, and the agent marks down all of the details. These videos give you an idea of what it looks like during this process....
A smaller, though important area of rug production is at Agra, to the south of Delhi. Here it is on a map:
Location Of Agra In Relation To Delhi
Agra is most famous, of course, for the Taj Mahal, which is always a good reason to go there. The modern city of Agra, however, is a rambling affair that is home to a few million people and is generally not visited by tourists. Yet there is a considerable amount of high-quality rug production in Agra, with manufacturers specializing in antique reproductions that make good use of vegetable dyes.
Agra. What Tourists See
Agra. What Tourists Don't See
Here, the buying operation is as elsewhere. You visit a manufacturer with your agent, select your rugs, and arrange to have them shipped to the United States. Some call it work, but I call it pretty interesting.