Wednesday, May 30, 2012

a passage through india

I'm hoping you'll indulge an enthusiastic traveller just one (or maybe two) more posts 
about my recent trip to India.
I feel nervous asking, but at the same time, some lovely readers have asked for more, 
so, encouraged by this, here we go ...

These are a few of my (random) thoughts & impressions, illustrated by some quieter images. 
Yes, India is all about vibrancy and colour and busy-ness and mayhem.
But, it's also all about these things...

Some numbers - 1.2 billion people live in India.
The combined wealth of the one hundred richest Indians 
equals nearly a quarter of the country's GDP,
and conversely 60% of the population live on next to nothing.
The contrasts are huge. The reality stark. The poverty unavoidable.
It is hard to look the other way when a tiny child braves the traffic to appear at the side of your tuk-tuk, begging for money & food.
Hard not to notice a little family setting up their stall for the day - nothing more than a cloth with a few bracelets laid out for sale on the footpath. That evening we walked past them again. The stall was packed up, & the two children were eating a simple meal of dhal & naan.
Later that night, on our way home, and that same cloth had become a bed for the children. They lay sleeping on the footpath, while their parents sat alongside.
And yet, there is pride in selling, rather than begging. 
Desperately poor, but not necessarily impoverished.
The strength of character, the kindness, the humility, the sheer hard work, and an appreciation & acceptance for the way things are, pride in a job well done, no matter what that job, the friendliness - these are the things that impressed & affected me the most. 
The people are amazing. 
And I loved talking with them and learning about their lives, hopes & dreams.

Flowers appear throughout India, and are an important part of daily life. 
The fragrance of roses, jasmine & tuberose, the gorgeous colour of chrysanthemums and marigolds.
Mostly sold as flower heads or petals, and used as gifts to the gods or to decorate temples & shrines.

Some flower sellers have a cart laden with blooms, others a simple rattan tray on the ground, & they are outside every temple, & on every corner is the most beautiful display of colour & fragrance.

I learnt much about wisdom & karma & the spirit of giving.
There is so much to be appreciated for living life in this simple, grateful way.
This is Ganesh, the god of good luck, prosperity & wisdom.
He is always portrayed with a mouse to show strength in 
overcoming your fears, and avoiding obstacles and hurdles.
Ganesh is present over every doorway, in every home, he is celebrated in every business 
with flowers, incense & a shrine, 
and he rides in every taxi, tuk-tuk, truck & car.

You know how I love a little chipped paint, a lovely old door, fret-work screens, chalky, faded plaster.
India can't help but be a vintage-lovers paradise.
Picture perfect, just like the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
But paradise tinged with a dose of reality.
These buildings may be vintage. Once grand, they may now be shabby by our standards.
But these are still fully (in every sense of the word) occupied homes.

I learnt that many crafts & occupations in India are generational.
If your grandfather's father's father was a block carver or a weaver or a printer
or a perfumer, then chances are that this will become your path in life also.
And so, the perfumer who showed me his beautifully fragrant oils, attars, 
incense & floral waters, was especially proud of the fact that his family had been making and selling these scented treasures for almost 300 years.
The fragrances were beautiful, and I especially loved the way all the pure essential oils were displayed and sold from these cut-glass flacons.

Throughout India you see leftovers from the British Empire.
Mixed in amongst the mughal & muslim architecture, you suddenly see a building that 
is straight from Victorian England.
But my favourite imperial mementoes, other than the classic old Ambassador cars (which are taxis), would have to be all the old group photos, such as this one, which document India in a different age.
Several of our hotels had these photos lining the halls & walls.
Men with turbans & magnificent moustaches, wearing the most beautiful & elegant clothes.
The stories these photos must be able to tell.

In the textile world, the most beautiful handcrafts come from India, where the skills and knowledge are passed down from generation to generation.
So many textiles and types of textiles that we still use today originated here, and the history has always fascinated me.
Rajasthan, and Jaipur in particular, specializes in block printing, and the embroidered textiles from Jodhpur are so beautiful.
What I especially learnt, and appreciated however, is that much of this craft work is done from home.
The fabric is dropped off, the villagers embellish & embroider it at home, and then it is collected again, and taken to the next artisan in the craft chain.
I came home feeling really good about the fabrics, cushions and bedlinen we sell that are made in India, knowing that the craftsmanship was beyond comparison, there is no 'sweat-shop', and that the villagers are paid a fair price for their skill & nimble fingers. This work also allows a largely illiterate & otherwise uneducated sector to contribute and earn, while keeping an age-old practice alive. 
These are creative communities.

At the end of each day, being able to return to the sanctuary of a lovely hotel was, indeed, a privilege.
Especially when you appreciated what you had, and what so many - most - have not.
I sound ungrateful & incredibly spoilt even saying this, but the heat and the chaos and the constant barrage of locals wanting to chat and sell you something or take you somewhere is hard work. 
Indians are unlikely to ever say 'no' - they would rather tell you a lie than upset you or disagree with you. This can result in a lot of going around in circles if you're trying to go somewhere or negotiate something, or even ask directions. Similarly, a direct 'no' from us is considered harsh. 
Finding the in-between isn't always easy!
Escaping to a sanctuary gave time to recharge the batteries & face the barrage again.
It also allowed you a wee moment to imagine life as a Maharani, 
especially here at the Samode Haveli in Jaipur.

Back to reality then.

Amanda xx
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Friday, May 25, 2012

small things

'a multitude of small delights
constitutes happiness'
c baudelaire

                                          I'm clock watching. Surely it's wine time?

(As opposed to whine time!)
My star netball centre (Eva) is asleep on the sofa.
A vomiting bug threatens to prevent her playing tomorrow, and she's
frankly not having a bar of it.
The opportunity to play her favourite position doesn't come often enough when you
have to rotate positions each week, and she's determined to take
to the court. I'm not sure that this week is her week.
It has been a long night & day for both of us.
She's certainly not as chirpy today as when she chalked up her self portrait above!
But stubborn and determined are her middle names, and we shall see.

My other 'small things' moments this week have revolved mostly around flowers & food.
Brunnel arrived home with the Indian treasures that wouldn't fit into
my bag, crammed in to his.
I wondered if he might choose to 'lose' one or two, but good boy that he is, chose instead to remember his Indian mantra -
'happy wife, happy life'.
(Brunnel & our driver Prem thought this was hilarious. I get the distinct feeling they were laughing at me!)
But the odd shapes and heavy things arrived safely.
Now I can play and display to my hearts content.

Happy weekend!
Amanda xx
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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

on the road

Before we start, there are a few salient facts that one should know
about driving in India.
The first, the type of statistic not divulged to one's mother before setting off.
Upwards of 25 people perish on India's roads every hour.
No, that's not a typo.
Secondly, there are no rules.
Three lanes is secret code for nine, & no-one sticks to them anyway, driving down the middle of the dotted line is de rigeur - it hedges your bets either way,
no-one indicates, you do whatever it
takes to pass, be that inside lane, outside lane, middle lane,
median, curb, against the traffic is fine too. Why not?
And thirdly, try not to dwell on the fact that your life is, quite literally, flashing before your eyes, and enjoy the ride!

For that ride, is without doubt, amazing, with a few thrills thrown in for good measure.
And the best way to see so much of daily Indian life, because it is all right there in front of you, just outside your window, as you pass through villages, past markets and stalls, past hard-working farmers and country folk, past truck stops & shanty towns.
And the traffic is crazy.
But compelling all the same.
Trucks & cars of course. And motorbikes.
But these motorbikes have at least 3 or 4 people onboard. One helmet is required, so the driver will usually have this on. Behind him will be his family - his wife, side-saddle with her glorious sari, and sandwiched in between, one or two children.
Add the auto-rickshaws, or tuk-tuks into the mix, crammed with 8-12 people often.
And the tractors pulling carts, and the camels pulling carts, and the bicycles, with or without carts.
And the donkeys laden with heavy saddle-bags.
An elephant or two.
Cows of course, roam free, everywhere.
And all this, in a snapshot.

And the one thing that they (almost) all do - blow their horns.
Constantly. Yes, ALL-THE-TIME. Everyone.
It's written on the back of every truck, and they need no encouragement.
Blow Horn - and they do.
Brunnel recorded it on his mobile. It's the sound of India!
Nice horns - almost singsongy, if that's possible.

You may guess from these photos, that I became a little
(just a little) obsessed with the trucks in particular.
They are, without doubt, the prettiest trucks in the world.
All brightly painted and decorated.
Our driver would patiently speed up or slow down, or stop, just so that
I could get yet another photo of a 'pretty truck' (and its 'blow horn' sign!)
We first came across that very 'pretty' red truck at one of the toll booths.
After several attempts to get the perfect photo I still hadn't quite nailed it.
Suddenly our driver overtakes it, and before I know it, he's waving it down, and we're both pulling in to the side of the (busy) highway for the perfect photo opportunity.
The lovely truck driver even hopped out to have his photo taken, and, if a little surprised at the crazy woman with the camera, he was too polite to show it!

With so much craziness and carnage, one needs a little luck.
A lot of luck actually.
Every vehicle has some kind of talisman.
Charms, amulets & deities.
Tassels and flowers that billow madly in the wind.
A picture or sculpture of Ganesh & Lord Shiva on the dashboard.
A garland of chillies and lemons, always fresh, tied to the bumper.

I purchased some gorgeous truck tassels to bring home from a family stall on 
the roadside outside Jodhpur. 
(They were making the tassels - wonderful fat, cotton tassels, but also had some chickens for sale too if I was interested.)
Can't quite persuade Brunnel that the tassels would look good on our car 
though, and I turned down the chickens!

Amanda xx

P.S We have our amazing driver Prem to thank for guiding us safely on our travels. 32 years of driving tourists in India, and he has a diary for every year, filled in with the tales and the journeys of all those he has met along the way. I'll be asking for him when I go back. Email me if you'd like to be put in touch.
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Thursday, May 17, 2012

inspiration 101

How easy it is to get distracted when downloading photos!
Especially when there are many many many.... but still not enough, if you know what I mean.
Then of course, being the (rather fussy, too much attention to detail, 
overly analytical, perfectionist) Virgo that I am, it has of course taken me 
some time to choose just a few to put together for this post.
Just for you of course.
But I thought that if I am to showcase my trip, and, at the same time, try not to bore you to tears, that maybe the best way would be via some kind of visual theme.
And honestly, once I thought about India, and looked at my photos again, colour and pattern was such an obvious place to start.
It just hits you in the face.

And it is so inspiring and vibrant and uplifting.

Endless painted interior and exterior walls.
Dusty, faded colours illuminated and energised with shots of turquoise
and pink and tangerine.
And I can so easily see how and why the colours and patterns and motifs inspire so much of our decorating.

Colour and pattern are everywhere. 
The exquisite saris. The flowers. The trims and bangles and beads.
The market stalls. The roadside stalls.
The trucks (Yes, the trucks! More on that to come.)
The painting. The washing lines.
Row upon row of freshly dyed fabric laid in the sun to dry.
The old doors. Fortress walls. The spices.
And so so so much more.
You cannot help but take it all in.

Amanda xx
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Thursday, May 10, 2012


Hello again!
I'm back - a little pooped, but oh my goodness, just soooo exhilarated at the same time.

I mean, just look at this photo - an everyday scene in Rajasthan, but do you think that if you tried to style something like this, with these amazing colours that you could come even close to pulling it together?
Well OK, maybe, if you tried really really really hard... but for little me, to see this kind of vibrancy wherever I looked was, as they would say in India, some kind of nirvana.

So, anyway, I will gather my thoughts, get my head together, and you know, prepare you gently for the inevitable slide show(s) - plural.
In my minds eye, all my photos look as beautiful as this one, but I am tentatively going to download everything, and then we shall see :)
I'll try to make it interesting, but if you nod off, I'll understand!
I'll chatter aimlessly anyway.
That's kind of the effect this country has had on me.
For now, all I will say is this - if India isn't on your bucket list, it should be.

It's nice to be home!
Amanda xx
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