Tag Archives: North India

Christmas preparations: cards

Phew, over fifty Christmas cards on their way to friends and family mainly in Finland, France, the US and India.

As I was searching our closets for cards and envelopes (I keep a stock) I stumbled upon these cards that I had bought in Calcutta during our last trip to India. I was going to choose some to be sent away but fascinated by their beauty, I then changed my mind. What exquisite tiny pieces of art they are! I want to keep them! I photographed them and took time to admire the handicraft while wondering who had made them and what the stories behind are. I felt that these cards are like carpets: their ornaments tell a story; a story the person who made them wants to tell. Happiness, sorrow, hope, dreams –what else?

IMG_5895.JPG

Flowers and the person behind the flowers. 

Maybe after all I will frame and hang them on the baby room’s wall.

I am not quite sure which one I prefer. Maybe the holy, lime-green hand of hamsa. What about you?

IMG_5894

Aren’t these cards absolutely splendid? Only in incredible India!

Note: Cards made and sold by Calcutta Rescue (www.calcuttarescue.org). If you are in Calcutta, do not miss them at the Fairlawn Hotel every Thursday between 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm. They take orders too!

 

Adventurous Arrival in Varanasi

If you read  you may remember that our departure from Delhi was a bit adventurous, to say the least. Instead of Khajuraho we decided to fly to Varanasi and this was decided two hours before the flight’s take off. We do regret skipping Khajuraho, the site of famous erotic temples, but will certainly do it next time.

Flying toward Varanasi, the holy Hindu city along the Ganger River made me a bit nervous. I tried to get a glimpse of the sacred river from the airplane, but it got dark too soon. Seeing the Ganges River would have in some strange way assured me (of what?).SpiceJet from Delhi to VaranasiUpon landing we got talking to a young Indian man, living in the US, who had brought his grandmother to Varanasi. He started making phone calls to different hotels (we all agreed that the point of staying in Varanasi is to be located by the river). We got two rooms at Scindia Guest House, recommended by Eyewitness India Guidebook, and jumped into a taxi. Varanasi, here we come!

The ride to the guest house was long and polluted. It reminded me of Hyderabad –a fantastic city in many ways but oh so bad in pollution! We must have driven for more than an hour and the Ganges was still hiding from me. Suddenly the car stopped and the driver pointed “walk that way”. We were puzzled and asked which way exactly…. After some negotiation he agreed to show us the way, and we begun a 30-minute walk.Cows in VaranasiI don’t know how you say cow shit in a polite way, so excuse my language, but as we were walking and pulling our luggage, I did wonder if local laundry service would accept to clean our by-now-very-colorful-luggage. Don’t we all just love cows? But what would India be without them?

Eventually, after turning about 500 times left and right (we would have NEVER found the guest house alone) we arrived. Scindia Guest House stood there, right in front of the Ganges River, as Eyewitness had promised. It looked very run down, but we had no choice. It was very dark and very late. My husband and I got a river-side room and ordered two rice plates. Scindia Guest HouseWe were told to be careful when opening the balcony door because apparently “the monkeys like to come inside if you leave the door open”. Wow. Imagine waking up next to a monkey! Or two! I was still feeling a bit sick but the idea of monkeys excited me. Little I knew that upon our arrival the monkeys had already been watching me from all over.

After a well-rested night I visited the balcony but the monkeys were nowhere. All I could see was the majestic Ganges River. Varanasi, the Ganges RiverMeanwhile my husband went to the reception. This is when I started hearing screaming noises. Is someone being killed was my first thought. I opened the front door and I saw them: monkeys and more monkeys! There was a metal fence between me and them, which was good because they were big and did not look happy. Some of them were in the middle of their beauty treatments.Monkeys in VaranasiI joined my husband at the reception and had a chat with one of the hotel workers. I thought that his features were very different from other “Indian” features that I had seen before. Mentality wise he felt different, too, and somehow I felt closer to Calcutta. I was definitely visiting a new region, witnessing once again the diversity of India. Man in VaranasiThe moment I tried to go outside of the hotel, this elderly gentleman warned me “please be very careful of the monkeys”. Scared but curious I took a careful look outside and everywhere I looked (left, right, straight, down, above) there were monkeys. Not only entire monkeys but also monkey arms and legs hanging above the door etc.

For several reasons (monkeys, lack of a proper restaurant and customers, run-down building, etc.) we decided to move to another hotel. After negotiating a water taxi we said good bye to Scindia Guest House and moved to Alka Hotel, also located by the river. Later on we were told that Scindia Guest House had illegally built more rooms (and a terrace for the restaurant), and that the local authorities had torn a large part of the construction down. This explained the sad look. Scindia Guest HouseAfter a rough start we learned to love Varanasi. We spent a total of five nights there, exploring Hinduism and Buddhism. We loved the old town –one of the most charming old towns I have ever seen, and felt that Varanasi is indeed inhabited by many old souls.

In fact, Varanasi left such an impression on me that I will definitely write more about it. When the time is right.

Other posts about Varanasi:

Second part of the trip begins in Varanasi

 

Problem of Travelling

I think the problem of travelling is easily explained: the more you travel, the more you want. And the more you experience, the more you realize that the list of places to visit is endless. Furthermore, you want to experience new destinations, but eventually you also want to return to places you already know because your experience piles up and you want to see how you would now feel about an X place. See what I mean?

Yesterday I was emptying some of my memory cards and saw the photos I took in Varanasi. Even if the place is so obscure to say the least, I would like to return there. After all, I am not much wiser today than I was when I wrote Purpose of Varanasi, and to me this alone is a sign of “unfinished business, an urgency to go back to figure something out”. Places with a soul tend to have that effect…

Today I was on a more cheerful mood so I started missing Southern France. Avignon where the Popes lived for a short period, gypsy town Saintes-Maries de la Mer, world-famous Saint Tropez and charming Menton. I have done these places several times and what a road trip that is! South of France, NiceIt is likely that I will travel next week, so in overall, I am not doing so badly. But I would not say no to hopping on a TGV train tomorrow for a weekend trip either!

What about you? Toward the end of each trip, do you start to have that itching feeling of rushing home, or do you secretly (or openly) wish you could continue forever?

 

Neemrana Fort-Palace: Architectural Pearl

If you recall the India travel series I wrote earlier this year, you may remember that  is one of my favorite hotels in the world. If I renewed my wedding vows, I would probably do it at the Neemrana Fort-Palace hotel. Right in the middle of history, charm, elegance and Rajasthani hospitality!

During my last trip to India in April this year I had a chance to return to Neemrana Fort-Palace for one night. It was a wonderful visit and we were pleased to realize that in spite of the extension works (there are now two swimming pools and 65 rooms) the hotel still feels very intimate. Just look at these labyrinths, verandas, patios and towers all over the property!Neemrana Fort-PalaceNeemrana Fort-PalaceAt the time of our stay the hotel was occupied mainly by Indian families (most foreigners stop visiting Rajasthan by April as it gets too hot) so we had the upper pool to ourselves. In fact the original pool (at the lower level) can accommodate children, whereas the newer, upper pool, is reserved for adults. Neemrana Fort-PalaceNeemrana Fort-PalaceOnce the sun started to set, we descended to the lower levels of the hotel complex. The view toward the valley was spectacular, and with a little bit of imagination we could have imagined a camel (or elephant?) caravan travelling in the horizon.Neemrana Fort-PalaceNeemrana Fort-PalaceBefore heading to our lovely, comfortable beds in our Aman Vilas room we enjoyed an excellent buffet dinner with Indian Sula wine (red). It was my parents’ last night in India and I don’t think their stay could have ended in a more royal way.

Neemrana Fort-Palace, hope to see you soon again!

***

Should you want to read more about the Neemrana Fort-Palace history, go here: http://fort-palace.neemranahotels.com/history and http://fort-palace.neemranahotels.com/philosophy

For a virtual visit of wonderfully decorated rooms, go here: http://fort-palace.neemranahotels.com/rooms

Lastly, for a memorable stay, reservations are made here: http://fort-palace.neemranahotels.com/contact-us

 

 

 

Skull Decoration

Cleaning and arranging are not my most favorite past-time activities but I have to admit they bring benefits… like rediscovering things that you forgot existed and coming up with new decoration ideas with these newly-found objects!

We bought these four marble skulls in Varanasi, from the same man who sold us the Nandi (Home Sweet Home). Yesterday while cleaning I placed the skulls on this bowl (that I think comes from Zanzibar) because they were on my way, but once I took a second look I realized they actually look quite stylish. Especially with those red communist farmers in the background (an old Communist propaganda poster from Kyrgyzstan). skull decorationSkulls are very fashionable these days. My husband is dreaming of a tiny golden skull necklace. Skulls have a lot of symbolic values and not only among different religious groups. A skull is actually beautiful –even that black, burnt skull I saw at the burning ghat in Varanasi. Skulls fascinate and scare us.

What do you think? Would you have them at home as a decoration item? What do they symbolize to you?

 

Are your parents farmers?

Do you still remember our friend from the Red Fort in Delhi? The charming character in the Religion Talks at Lal Qila post? The fine young man from Jharkhand region. at the Red Fort DelhiWell, I have to admit that I have been thinking about him. Not because of our religious exchange but because I am a tiny bit ashamed of myself. This may be hard to explain but I will try.

At one point during the visit to the Red Fort our friend stopped walking and looked at my parents who were a few steps behind us. He looked at them and asked me “are you parents farmers?”. For few seconds I didn’t say anything but then I cracked up laughing. Soon I was laughing so hard that I was crying. I translated the question to my parents whose reaction was pure astonishment. They looked at me for an explanation and the situation grew awkward. They asked me if they look like farmers and if their clothes made them look poor or something (indeed they were wearing some worn, old clothes…).

I found the situation –the question of our friend and the idea that my parents own for example cows– funny. I continued laughing but at this point my friend was overwhelmed with shame. He looked very uncomfortable and started apologizing millions of times. I am sure he would have disappeared if he could have.

Eventually I had to stop laughing and told our friend that there is no need to apologize. He kept saying “I am so very sorry” but calmed down when my parents started laughing too. In the end we were all laughing and for the rest of the journey I jokingly asked my parents about their (imaginary) cows.The Red Fort DelhiHowever, ever since this funny incident I have been feeling a bit guilty. Why did I crack up laughing? Why did I find it funny that my parents could be farmers? Why did my parents feel the same way? Were they influenced by my reaction? Why did we all feel as if being a farmer were an insult? Why do we perceive that farming is something old fashion and therefore inferior to how we “should” make our living?

Furthermore, how much of our initial reaction can be explained by our background: that Finland was an agrarian country until very recently, and that agriculture is often associated with the period before modernity (i.e. associated with the period where no one wants to return)?

Lastly, was our friend biased, too, because he comes from one of the poorest regions in India where farmers probably belong to a lower social class?

Whatever the answer, I feel bad because I behaved against my beliefs. I truly believe that agriculture is an integral, vital sector of the economy, everywhere in the world, and should be treated with respect. And respect is not what I showed when I cracked up laughing.

What is your take on this?

***

Some background: I am a principal author of a policy-handbook publication (http://www.oecd.org/investment/psd/ImprovingSkills%20(3).pdf) that aims at improving the agribusiness sector in the Kyrgyz Republic by different means, and one of the means is to market agribusiness as an attractive career option.
Marketing something begins with small steps, and one of them is to show respect and admiration to something.
Again, shame on me.

Home Sweet Home

Six weeks of globetrotting is over and every place I saw during my travels was rewarding in its own way.

India was fantastic, as always, and so rich in everything: culture, history, people, food, religion, architecture etc. This was my fourth one-month-long trip to India and I enjoyed it as much as I have enjoyed my previous trips. Definitely The Place to be in for me –I am very attached to India and miss my dear friends terribly. Will be writing a lot more about India in the weeks to come (hope everyone enjoy reading about India??)!

Unfortunately I was a bit sick in Dubai so I could not do as much as I had planned, but I did manage to squeeze in enough shopping and pool time. And super delicious Iranian kebabs, but more about that in another post.

My last destination was Finland, my country of origin. The country returned to winter last week and I saw snow, sleet and hail. All this felt almost pleasantly exotic after the tropics but unfortunately I was not prepared clothes-wise for this weather shock (from 38C in Dubai to barely 8C in Finland…). So, the weather directed me toward indoor activities and I took advantage of visiting museums and doing a food tour of Helsinki, but more about all this a bit later.

Now back to Paris. What is it like to return after six weeks? What did I do upon arriving at home?

First, I put fish in the freezer. My father is a keen fisherman so I usually bring “home-caugh” pike-perch and burbot to Paris, just like my parents do when they visit us in Paris (Bringing a little bit of Finnish Christmas to Paris).

Second, I checked upon flowers and plants on the balcony. Prior to travelling, we had spent a lot of time (and money) planting pansies and other plants so it was important to find them in a good health. And judging by the photos, I think everyone agrees that they were doing well! Parisian balcony in springParisian balcony with flowersParisian balcony with pansies

Third, I installed a little bit of India at home. The nine-kilo marble Nandi statue that we purchased in Varanasi found its place on the balcony. It is now part of our small Hindu temple where Nandi gets showered by flower petals and candles. We have been searching for a beautiful Nandi for a long time and are happy to have finally found this elegant piece. Furthermore, to ease Nandi’s homesickness, we placed it toward the East, India.Nandi statue in ParisAnother object we have been looking for a while is a brass bowl (urli). After a lot of exploration we finally found a lovely one in a rather touristic shop in Bombay. Urli is placed on our bathroom sink and looking very good. Moreover, this is a great way to have fresh flowers in the bathroom! urli in the bathroom in Paris

A lot of photos about flowers, but I guess it is a good sign: summer is almost here!!

***

What are your thoughts on these Franco-Indian decoration ideas? Do you tend to bring design objects from your travels and does mixing styles always work? Would love to see links to your homes!! Until then, have a great week!