|Frescoes at the Sati Devi Temple in Jhunjhunu|
As most people do at some point in their lives, I had an aha moment earlier this year. A realization that I had spent the majority of my adult life, well, being an adult. From university onto some demanding roles in demanding organisations, from being single and foot loose and fancy free to becoming a wife and a mother and needing to be responsible, there just didn't seem to be a respite. So, when the lovely Ange and Nade from toursndetours floated the idea of a girls trip to Rajasthan - for 10 days, I just jumped at the chance. Ecstatic that the universe was offering me a chance to relive my 20s before I turn 4-0 (oh my! there, I have said it) next April. Without a second thought, I signed up for the tour; only to later have to face the reality of wholesome employment and all the scheduling mundaness that goes with it. I sorted it out, and began this trip with 15 other women (most of them strangers, none of whom I had met before!) on Nov 2. The tour that I termed my own Eat, Pray, Love (sorry, Elizabeth Gilbert!)
I must admit that I had some butterflies in my tummy - being back in India after ages, doing something that I have never done before, but the moment I stepped off in Delhi and was met at the airport by Sheesh with his disarming smile and a garland of marigolds, I knew this trip would leave an indelible mark and leave me with a renewed belief in that the universe conspires to give you what you are seeking, when you are least expecting it.
|Visions of Rajasthan floating around in my head. PC: Sheesh Moondh, HTOI|
The tour started in Delhi with meeting the other ladies on the tour - each of them remarkably talented and artistic in their own ways. After a night at the Lemon Tree Premier, that Ange and Nade had carefully chosen for their inclusiveness in staffing, we set off on our roadtrip of Rajasthan. Our first stop in the Shekawati region was the delightful Perimal haveli, for a spot of masala chai (what else?!) and some pakodas. The Perimal haveli is a heritage hotel, a converted mansion/haveli lovingly restored and maintained by its caretakers. The abundance of delightful frescoes sets the stage for what will later be a treat for the senses when you are in the heart of Shekawati.
A mural depicting Krishna and his Gopikas
|A mural depicting a scene from Ramayana|
|Long, winding passageways of the Piramal Haveli|
After bellyfulls of pakodas and chai, our next stop before our own magnificient haveli was the Sati devi temple in Jhunjhunu. Jhunjhunu is a district in Rajasthan that has dedicated a temple to Sati Devi. Sati, for the uninitiated, is the now banned practice of widows self immolating themselves on the pyre of their deceased husbands.
A lot has changed in India with regards to how women are viewed and treated, most of it for the better, since the time of the ancient practice of Sati. While you may wonder why we would decide to detour to something so morbid, I'd urge you to consider the possibility of what happens when we pretend that history (in all its glory and grotesqueness) is forgotten? What if, a few hundred years from now - the practice of Sati is reinitiated having forgotten the trauma and morbidity of years past. By confronting demons is the only way we can ensure that we don't repeat the mistakes of generations before us. The Sati Devi temple, ironically enough, is now almost a monument to the feminine - a far cry from the very sex the practice of Sati was so unforgiving towards. If you can, this detour is a highly recommended one. I love this click by Sheesh below - he has kindly allowed me to use it for this post. I feel, the perspective in this photo shows the long history behind Sati and I love to think of the symbolism of the bell and the sunlight streaming through as heralding a brighter future for the fairer sex in the sub continent.
|Sati Devi Temple, Jhunjhunu.. (c): Sheesh Moondh, HTOI|
Motoring on, we arrived in Shekawati at the EPIC Vivanaa Culture Hotel. For those that really know me, I can be a bit of a hotel snob; it comes from years of having honed that trait (!) as a travelling management consultant. I am VERY picky about the hotels I spend my nights in when travelling. But, this hotel blew me away COMPLETELY. You have to see the images for yourself to believe it. From their very traditionally aangan/courtyard to the antiques dotted around the property to some, ahem, very interesting (;-)) frescoes, this haveli made me feel like I had died and gone to haveli heaven.
|The traditionally preserved aangan|
We were assigned rooms (and mine had the naughtiest frescoes EVER - I could not even post it onto this blog :-); message me if you would like to see them for yourself) and met up for a drink in the bar before we were treated to a jaw dropping performance of Kathak by Kalpana Subbarao. In the library surrounded by rows of tealights, Kalpana serenaded our group with her finesse in Kathak - a dance very typical of the northern states of India. Kalpana, is an artist and an extremely talented proponent of the art form. Her love and devotion to her art is apparent in the way she danced and left us all mesmerized and wanting more than the generous half hour that she had already performed for us. Watching her perform her chosen art form with so much love and devotion, in a setting that was a contemporary library in a restored haveli - left me with goodebumps!
|The absolutely stunning, gorgeous Kal|
After a sumptuous dinner that night (for which I wore this custom made saree in parrot green and ajrakh borders), that Neelima from SilkLane made for me (I don't have any pictures of me wearing it, unfortunately - to be able to showcase Neelima's craftsmanship), we called it a night with the option of an early morning village walk with Sheesh the next day or wait for it!! a fashion shoot with the magician who is Gursharon Bird, of the fusion label Gursharon Bird Designs.
G designs delightful contemporary wear out of her studio in the UK. She very kindly allowed me to piggyback her fashion shoot with jewelery from my brand, Shubella. Kal agreed to model for us in the early morning - and G unleashed her artistic talent by making Kal over to look like a stunning Rajput princess. Kal wore a bespoke turquoise blue Anarkali that G had designed for her and a piece that I had duplicated using garnets and a painted picture of a Mughal princess, that I had named Jodha. Set against the lush backdrop of Vivaana, Kal's natural poses under G's artistic direction made the whole experience extremely surreal.
|Kal, the Rajput princess!|
We then headed into town to gawk at the open air abandoned havelis with murals and frescoes so grand and rich with history that you had to but pause, close your eyes and open your mind's eye to imagine the grandeur of eras past. Of large joint families calling to each other across open angaans (courtyards), of seths (businessmen) twirling their moustaches, adjusting their pagdis (turbans), drinking khullads of masala chai and finally conducting business deals; of kids swirling, twirling and playing with their siblings and cousins. Of anklets tinkling, of bangles clinking, of the swishing of pallus....can you see it? can you hear it? can you feel the magic of a bygone past?
|Look closely at the frescoes here (!)|
|Stunning frescoes in Mandawa|
We tore ourselves away from this and much much more and went back to the oasis that is the Vivaana for a spot of lunch. While some ladies chose to avail of the extremely hardy (!) masseuses, G and I along with a few more brave volunteers conducted another fashion shoot with G's brilliant contemporary fusion wear and pieces from Shubella. Check out how stunning the ladies look below!
|The stunning Pat in beautiful delicate trousers from Gursharon Bird Designs and jewellery by Shubella|
|Gorgeous Joanne with jewel coloured brocade trousers from Gursharon Bird Designs and jewellery by Shubella|
|Beautiful Neha with loungewear by Gursharon Bird Designs and jewelry by Shubella|
|Glamorous Caro in a chiffon dress by Gursharon Bird Designs and jewelry by Shubella|
With the full day that we had had, we enjoyed the delicious buffet that the hotel put out for dinner, and then some of us decided to while away the night on the rooftop under twinkling stars in the company of friends (old and new) with bottles of Prosecco and rosé to keep us company and the most mesmerising songs sung by a certain someone (who wants to remain on the DL:-)). When I look back at this part of the trip, the sound of that voice on that cloudy night with the moon playing hide and seek with the clouds will forever be a memory that I can conjure up - and for that, I am eternally grateful!
The night was just so magical - that I am pretty sure I fell asleep with a smile. The next morning was an early start on to Jaipur, after a personal yoga session with the talented Pat Morrison. To be able to do connect with yourself in a setting as magical as the roof top terrace at the Vivaana was as close to yoga bliss as I am getting for a while!
|Post yoga bliss!|
This part of the tour - was my idea of LOVE. And it is all in thank to this gentle soul below, the door man at the haveli. Everyone was taking a picture with him, and I ran to be part of the group - and what he said melted my heart. He said "Ye lo, aa gayi meri bitiya" which means "Here comes my darling daughter. With the most generous of blessings for us, he bid us adieu and off we went to Jaipur (a follow on post) - where we unleashed 16 women onto the bazaars of Jaipur.
"Love is when all the glitter falls off and you still see the person sparkle" ~ Sneha Pal.
Shekawati had no glitz, no outward glam, no razzle dazzle - just a raw, rustic, untouched beauty about it, that seeps into your soul and becomes one with it!
Come back for Jaipur, wont you?
Ange and Nadine, what a fabulous homerun you ladies hit with the first stop of ToursnDetours maiden tour! Anyone can create an itinerary with the must do and can't miss list of places - but you ladies sprinkled it with your pixie dust and wove in all the experiences that made this part of the tour truly lovely! In the words of the lovely Gina Costa, Brava!