Decay and Delight on and Around the Walls of Rajasthan

Door within a Door

Door within a Door

The state of Rajasthan is one of India’s most popular tourist destinations for many reasons. It is central, filled with a romantic history, complete with endless forts and palaces and home to a full range of comfortable accommodation to satisfy every visitor’s needs. But what draws me back to Rajasthan, year after year, is its aesthetic; something you probably don’t realize that is in your daily life no matter where you call home.

One striking place to find this aesthetic is on the outside of homes, doorways, gateways, walls and buildings all over Rajasthan. The region of Shekhawati is especially celebrated for the intricate paintings that adorn the exteriors of the old merchant mansions of days gone by.

The above photograph is an example though not in the best condition. If you look closely, you can see detailed painting around the arches. Another feature of old havelis or mansions are the little doors carved into the larger door. The massive doors are heavy and require great strength to open.  It’s easier to just step in and out of the little door and keep the large one shut, safer too.

Painted Courtyard, Shekhawati

Painted Courtyard, Shekhawati

Here, you can see a more elaborate collection of paintings, gracing nearly every inch of wall space. Sadly, it is in a state of serious deterioration with little regard for its intrinsic artistic merit.

Painted Home, Udaipur

Painted Doorway, Udaipur

The painted homes of Udaipur stand in direct contrast to those of Shekhawati. The designs are simpler and less unified and each one stands out independently, not concerned with creating an overall theme, other than one of welcome or protection. More importantly, however, is that this is a living, continuous tradition. Though the craftsmanship of the painted Shekhawati havelis is exquisite, it is essentially a dead art form. The former merchants have long left the region, the mansions are crumbling and no one is carrying on the traditional painting any longer. In Udaipur, painting is very much alive and thriving, whether it is on the exterior of buildings or in a more refined form of the miniatures that the region is famous for. This is one of the many attractions that Udaipur holds for visitors.

Artist at Work

Artist at Work, Udaipur

Painted Wall

Painted Wall

No matter where you are in Rajasthan, you will pass paintings on walls. Eventually they become so common-place that you hardly notice them.

Detail from House Exterior

Detail from House Exterior

It is utterly delightful to witness paintings of beautiful maidens and brave warriors on mighty elephants adorning the facades of homes all over Rajasthan. In New York City, where I live when I am not traveling the globe, I am not allowed to put even a small decorative sticker on my apt. door.  Such is modern life and why I keep returning to India.

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India’s Feminine Mystique Tour – January 2016

Women of the Family

Women of the Family

This January 3 – 24, 2016, I will be offering a most unusual tour to India that will emphasize India’s women: what womanhood is in ever-changing India today. Although women will be the perspective, men who find this point of view interesting and who wish to understand all women better will find this tour fascinating as well. Together we will unravel the many mysteries of India’s feminine mystique and participate in that mystique too. Starting with India’s emphasis on marriage and all the myriad rituals that surround this important entrance into womanhood, to the beauty treatments that are uniquely Indian, to the age-old traditions of shopping, bargaining and cooking and dining,  to the changing aesthetic of how Indian women dress today, will be just some areas of our exploration, interwoven with India’s many different faiths and philosophies.

Our tour will start in the tropical South of Cochin, Kerala and end up in the north in Delhi, making many interesting stops in between.

Shopping

Shopping

All women love to shop and we will visit many tempting bazaars so leave lots of room in your bag!

Flower Arrangement

Flower Arrangement

While in the South, let loose and adorn yourself with nature’s gifts: flowers.

Work Force

Work Force

Experience first hand the strength of India’s humble construction workers and assorted self-employed vendors.

Woman with a Load

Woman with a Load

Although we will look at all the humble and upscale sides of life for Indian women today, we will enjoy staying in the comfort of special and memorable hotels all over India where your pampering will be my first priority. You will have massage options, henna/mehendi options, make-up and facial treatments and be generally fussed over that is truly India’s hallmark. Men can expect to enjoy royal treatment too.

If you read my blog, you know that Indian food is part of my passion and we will savor India’s exquisite cuisine together and even learn how to prepare some of her favorite dishes!

Get ready for the adventure of a life time! You will leave India with new-found insight to an amazing culture and be refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to face the 21st century with a more positive perspective. How many tours can make this claim? Come with an open heart ready to receive and be prepared for the unexpected.

For more information please email me: travelwithnina@gmail.com

Simple Rangoli

Simple Rangoli

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An Indian Shave

Pavement Shave

Pavement Shave

All around you in India, you can witness men’s grooming. Though ubiquitous, one hardly notices as so much takes place on the street. Often, these little set-ups are nothing more than a barber and his minimal equipment on a plastic drop cloth. In the photograph above, this barber doesn’t even have a chair.

Shaving Day Shaving Day

Shaving Day

The Masque

The Masque

Men take their grooming very seriously in India and men’s hair “saloons” are a common sight. Men enjoy the relaxing ministrations of a facial with a peel off masque. The rise of men’s shaving stalls and salons may have to do with many homes not having a reliable source of water, especially hot and even a mirror. It’s often easier and more practical to get a street shave.

The Shave

The Shave

Usually a shave accompanies  a facial massage. The customer above is definitely under the spell of the barber.

On my tours to India, I usually bring my clients to a beauty salon for a uniquely Indian experience. Some warm to the experience immediately and others are hesitant but not for long! There’s nothing like the touch of India to stimulate the senses.

 

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Kumkum in India

KumKum  Man

KumKum Man

This man is a living advertisement for the product that he plies not far from the entrance to a Hindu temple. He sells kumkum powder. Hindus apply a dot of kumkum on foreheads when they visit a temple or attend a religious ceremony and other special occasions like a wedding. Married women apply it in the part of their hair and call it sindor.

Although it looks toxic because of its brightness, most kumkum comes from ground turmeric and by adding lime juice , it turns varying shades of red.

Sindor in the MIddle

Sindor in the MIddle

The woman in the center of this photograph has sindor in the part of her hair.

Sindor Sticker

Sindor Sticker

This woman has applied a sticker meant to replicate the kumkum powder. Maybe she prefers its ease of application.

 woman with Sindor


Woman with Sindor on the right

After some time, these customs that at first are exotic, become part of every day life in India. The kumkum man, however, continues to stands out but he takes no notice.

 

 

 

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Golden Triangles

Stuffing the Triangle

Stuffing the Triangle

I’ve always loved samosas, those deep-fried pastry triangles stuffed with spicy potatoes. I have to ration my intake as they aren’t in the “light” category but when I smell that luscious, sizzling aroma of the dough and the potato mixture wafting up into my nostrils, I can barely contain myself. Over the years, I’ve also developed a deep attachment to the tamarind chutney/sauce that is often served with them. And my resistance melts. I give in to that yearning to savor their crispy exterior and the delightful contrast of the soft yet seasoned to perfection potato mixture contained  inside.

So when I bumped into the large corner stall, Shahi’s in downtown Jodhpur, Rajasthan, I stopped in my tracks. My heart started to race and my pulse quickened. I don’t give in to just any fried street snack. I can’t afford to. If I over eat (and that is my inclination) I blow up immediately and regret it for far too long. So I narrowed in on this corner and had a serious look around, trying to determine if this place was worth the indulgence.

Everywhere I looked people were eating and clearly enjoying themselves. Satisfaction rang out, unsung in the air, loudly and to my ears (and stomach) clearly.

But this was nothing more than a stall. There were no tables and just a few rickety benches to accommodate the customers. And they didn’t even serve the samosas on  plates. Squares of old torn off newspaper function as plates for the triangles. My signals were busy. The wheels in my brain were turning. My taste buds were salivating. Yes! I must have one of these samosas. I went up to the counter and ordered one. When I wasn’t given any chutney, I asked for it. The counter man looked at me, deeply insulted. “No chutney, madam. Not necessary.” Oh, I thought to myself. Well, I will just have to see if I agree. Off I went to find out. I was, as often is the case, the only foreigner there. And although a few people looked my way with curiosity, most were too busy enjoying their own tiffin to pay me much mind.

One bite was all I needed. This was a heaven-sent samosa. The flavors were so perfect yet so complex. They were spicy, tangy, peppery and sweet, all at the same time. And tossed in were cashew halves! When the samosa disappeared from my oily newspaper square, I almost wanted to cry. I sat a moment but not for very long before I was back at the counter ordering another, and they were a good size. After my palate danced with pleasure, I pulled out my camera. I wanted to record this. It sure is difficult to capture the deliciousness of a samosa in a photograph but here is my attempt.

Golden Triangles

Golden Triangles

Deep Frying

Deep Frying

Stuffing with Cashews

Stuffing with Cashews

And I agree, the samosas are utterly delicious without chutney!

 

Smiling Samosa Chef

Smiling Samosa Chefyumm

 

The Crowds Enjoy Samosas

 The Crowds Enjoy Samosas

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India’s Devout Glow in Orange

Book Buying

Book Buying

In India, the color orange and other warm tones like saffron and turmeric symbolize the quest for knowledge. Orange is associated with fire which has the power to burn away the darkness and thus brings light or knowledge.

All over India, Hindu’s holy men and ascetics wear orange and its variations. It is the color of purity. Though the purity of many of India’s holy men and ascetics may be dubious, their appearance certainly is arresting and each and everyone manages to have his own style.

Orange Glow

Orange Glow

Although he is dressed in orange, stylistically, for India at least, he is dressed in an ordinary manner. It is his face that attracts my interest.

In Meditation

In Meditation

This sadhu’s attire is lighter in color. Maybe his clothing was washed so often that it has faded into a pastel hue or maybe he prefers a paler palette. I doubt if he gives it a lot of consideration. A sadhu has given up all material concerns for a life of an ascetic. Typically, he lives off the benevolence of others who contribute to his pursuit of a spiritual existence by providing him with food and other necessities in exchange for his blessings. Their few possessions usually consist of a begging bowl and a blanket.

Mala Man

Mala Man

This sadhu has a collection of sacred prayer beads, known as malas, strung around his neck and wrist. They offer him protection and in a left-handed manner, make a fashion statement. With his spear-like walking stick and lime- yellow turban, he instantly grabbed my attention. I pointed to my camera. He nodded, smiled and stopped.

Faithful

Faithful

Devotee

Devotee

The mark on this woman’s forehead indicates that she is a follower of Vishnu. In this particular case, Lord Jagganath. She covers her head with a saffron-colored prayer shawl as part of her devotion.

India’s faithful display their devotion in many ways; each form catches our eye and for me, inspires awe. Awe for the passion and enthusiasm that one sees in every far-flung corner of this enormous land. In the West, we almost associate this kind of intense devotion with madness. To feel this joy and love and to show it so openly is a pleasure to witness and of course, a huge part of India’s great appeal.

 

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Sunset at the Beach in India

The Crowd Gathers

The Crowd Gathers

 

There is something mesmerizing, magical and mystical about watching the sun sink into the horizon at the ocean’s edge as the day turns into night. In India, it is no less alluring. Locals and visitors gather to watch this daily miracle. Some prepare for the event with prayers.

Puja at Sunet

Puja at Sunset

Young girls sit patiently in a line to witness the event.

Girls Watch in a Line

Girls Watch in a Line

The boys celebrate with exuberance.

Boys Jump for Joy

Boys Jump for Joy

Women Wade at the Shore

Women Wade at the Shore

Day Is Done

Day Is Done

No matter how one celebrates this spectacle, it leaves everyone in awe of the power of Mother Nature. We give thanks that we are here to witness this moment.

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