Channapatna, our very own Toy Land
Hurtling down the highway flanked by rows upon rows of shops sporting colorful wooden toys, briefly halting there to pick up a few of the objects that greatly tempt with their brightly colored presence and then speeding off again to the eventual destination … this used to be my story and also probably that of many others who have frequented the Bangalore Mysore highway.
Not once did I manage to make the time or create the opportunity to check out the actual Toy Story behind these delightful articles which are iconic to the town of Channapatna in the district of Ramanagara, Karnataka, India.
Well there is a right moment for every event and finally I got my chance to delve deep and explore this fascinating and age old craft of wooden toy making, when I was invited on a wonderfully educative tour organised by India Tourism Bengaluru in order to raise awareness and promote these crafts.
And like Alice in Wonderland, Caroline in Toyland traipsed through the little villages and factories of Channapatna, bobbing in and out of artisan’s homes watching their deft fingers shape bobble headed dolls and other such playthings.
About Channapatna –
Channapatna is a town in the Ramanagara district of Karnataka. Its claim to fame are the wooden toys that have been manufactured here for several years. Being situated along the Bangalore Mysore highway, this place is easily accessible to travellers along this route.
History of these iconic toys –
While the exact history might be buried with time, it is said that the origin of these toys goes back nearly 300 years and they actually gained prominence around 250 years ago when Tipu Sultan came across them and was enamoured to the extent that he brought in Persian craftsmen to help the locals hone their skills at this craft.
Channapatna’s famous wooden toys –
Channapatna is the hub of wooden toy production in Karnataka with a cluster of around 3000 artisans who are engaged full time in manufacturing these iconic items.
It is also called Gombegala Ooru of Karnataka which translates to Toy Town.
Famed for their signature wooden toys that are produced by local artisans, this craft has also been accorded the Geographical Indication (GI) tag.
The products are sold across the country and also exported.
The items are traditionally made from the wood of the Wrightia Tinctoria aka Ivory wood or Aale mara and while some of the artisans continue with the tradition of hand crafting, much of the production is now also mechanised to facilitate mass production since the demand for these toys has gone up in recent years.
The items make meaningful gifts and many corporates are now including them in their gift hampers.
Manufacturing these toys however, is not child’s play (the irony notwithstanding). The artisans, especially those who craft these objects mainly by hand, toil for hours over tiny hand worked lathes and also work with precision with their paints and brushes to produce near perfect objects time after time.
The government is doing its bit by giving them certain facilities and also aiding in marketing.
While some of the villages like Neelasandra still manufacture these items using hand lathes, the larger bulk production has now been mechanised and is based out of larger factories.
The Channapatna Crafts Park (CCP) is a 14 acre space which was built around 10 years ago. This was developed by the government to uplift the standards of production and give the local manufacturers a better infrastructure. Originally the production used to take place in the old town and the narrow roads and poor facilities made it difficult for prospective buyers including those from the international market. But with the establishing of the CCP, accessibility to buyers has greatly improved, thus facilitating better business for the producers.
The various plots have been bought by private factories, some of which are producing these wooden and lacquer ware items using state of the art wood working machines that have been provided in a common facility center, to facilitate mass production of these toys and other similar objects of utility.
The CCP is a registered society with representation from the Department of Industries and Commerce, Government of Karnataka, Karnataka State Small Industries Development Corporation Limited, Visveswaraya Trade Promotion Centre, Karnataka State Handicrafts Development Corporation Limited and six manufacturer exporters (this excerpt is from the website of CCP).
Channapatna toy production and factory tours –
While there are no structured or organised tours as such, some of the villages like Neelasandra where we visited, do allow the public to stroll in and interact with the artisans who produce these toys in their homes.
We visited the home of Jogaiar and his wife Roopa, a local artisan couple who have been crafting these items since 35 years and witnessed the working of the hand lathe and production of small knick-knacks like key chains, traditional dolls, spinning tops etc.
The CCP too has several private factories of which apparently the Bharath Art and Crafts company organises a factory tour for the public which also includes a DIY session where one can make their own toys. This is a productive activity for adults and children too.
The charges are Rs 100 for a guided factory tour of around 2 hours. Rs 350 is charged for the DIY activity. Sunday is the weekly holiday. Please contact them at the website mentioned above or at 9916777324/9986281007 in order to book the tour.
Where to stay –
This tour can be achieved as a day trip from Bangalore or Mysore but for those who want to spend more than a day in this region can check out some of the resorts at Ramanagara like Shilhaandara etc which are within a 25 km radius of the toy town.
What to carry –
The walk through the villages and the CCP is not a difficult one. The roads are good and the distance is not more than a couple of hundred meters. A good pair of walking shoes, a cap, sunglasses, water, umbrella during monsoons etc are some of the gear you need to be equipped with on these tours. Food and drink are available in the main town and along the highway which is just 2 – 3 km away.
Best time to visit –
The production of toys is a year round activity. You could choose to visit depending on your comfort level regarding the weather. Summers can get quite hot in the daytime. Personally I would not prefer to, during summer and monsoon.
Getting there –
Channapatna is around 60 km from Bangalore city and 80 km from Mysore city.
While cab or private car is the most convenient mode of travel, there are also plenty of buses that ply on the highway. Channapatna also has a railway station.
The nearest major airport is at Bangalore around 100 km away. Taxis are available directly from the airport.
Things of interest in the surroundings –
There are a few major places of interest in the Ramanagara district. The most prominent one which is barely 10 km from Channapatna, is the Janapada Loka which is a sprawling 14 acre open air museum that showcases various facets of ancient folk culture and customs. This is a must visit destination for lovers of culture and heritage.
The adjoining Kamat Lokaruchi restaurant is also worth a visit, with its North Karnataka rustic meals and other delectable items.
The Ramadevara betta which was made famous as the shooting location for the timeless Bollywood hit Sholay, is located around 10 km from Janapada Loka. There is is a trekking trail which leads to the peak.
Location details –
Address – Santhanur Road, Thagachegere, Channdevi Agrahara, Karnataka 562160
Phone – 91 9036661907
Please Note –
This visit was courtesy of India Tourism Bengaluru and I thank them for the experience. My narration is based on the inputs I received from various sources as well as my personal experiences.
I would really appreciate your feedback and comments in the comment box below.
For more pictures see My Facebook – Channapatna the Toy Land (coming soon)
Aug 22nd, 2023