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Himachali Dhaam: Elaborate table spreads & divine communion

Urvashi Singh Khimsar

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After spending the better part of the lockdown dreaming of the hills, my impending journey to my Himalayan home brought me a huge sigh of relief. It was time to pay my annual homage to my most beloved place on this earth, and even though the hoteliers’ world had suffered a washout, adapting to the new normal seems like the only way out. With more masks and sanitization kits than my personal luggage, I was all set to interrupt the humdrum that Covid-19 had wrapped around Manali. No sooner had I set foot into my tiny little sanctuary, I executed some arduous safety protocols against the ensuing pandemic.

 Three days later, the alpine smell wafts out of the deodars and spring water brooks bustle amidst apple orchards. Misty mountains peak through every once in a while, revealing their velvety grass. Like every year, Manali prepares to shed its viridescent lustre by reaching the pinnacle of foliage. Just when you think green can’t get any greener, it does, and I find myself falling with the hills all over again, one season at a time.

But unlike the rest of the world, the yellowing of leaves doesn’t brace the Himalayan populace for a gloomy fall. Quite the contrary actually! Here, autumn summons festivity in Himachal’s most coveted occasion of Dussehra. Ram’s triumph over Ravan, and more importantly, our own triumphs against our inner demons, are greeted by pomp and indulgence. One of the most symbolic expressions of joyous celebrations such as these is the ‘Pahaari Dhaam’, or the great Himalayan communal feast.

Nearly 1,300 years ago, a king in Himachal Pradesh was so enamoured by the Kashmiri Wazwan that he ordered his cooks to prepare a vegetarian variant of their own. The botis — a Brahmin community that served as the royal chefs, gradually devised a ‘saatvik’ menu (devoid of any onions or garlic), that relied entirely on locally-available ingredients such as lentils, pulses, dairy, mustard and ground spices. This gamut of delicacies came to be collectively known as the Dhaam and came to be served exclusively in temples as ‘prasaad’ (divine offerings enjoyed by the devotees).

The sheer simplicity and precision that went into preparing the various Dhaam recipes required expertise in skill as well as their cooking equipment that catered uniquely to the climatic conditions and nutritional requirements implied therein. Although such culinary wisdom is a known feature in ancient Indian culture, traditional Dhaam preparations stand distinguished in two particular ways. One, they include no vegetables or meat. Two, each recipe is prepared in a narrowmouthed pot made of copper alloy, the ergonomics of which were ideal in maximizing the heat efficiency in cold Himalayan climates.

Over time, the popularity of the Dhaam surged across the state of Himachal Pradesh, deriving local adaptations and symbolic mentions in occasions such as wedding ceremonies, family gatherings as well as religious events. The more recent evolutions of the Pahaari Dhaam include a diverse range of ingredients that span well beyond the conventional restrictions of meat and vegetables. Today, the Himachali Dhaam stands as a notable cuisine in itself, bearing popular local variants from Chamba, Mandi, Kangra, Lahaul and Kullu, amongst others.

As a young debutant in Manali’s hospitality sector, I noticed the acute absence of Pahaari Dhaam cultures across its hotels and eating joints. Was this cultural shyness and hesitation, or did the long preparation time and exotic list of dhaam ingredients deter the cuisine’s feasibility? I continue to jostle with these musings without sighting a clear exit route. Nevertheless, I was sure about one thing, that a homage to the Himalayas would be incomplete without due credit to its culinary traditions. Thus, I incorporated a modern-day rendition of the Himachali Dhaam into my hotel’s dining as the Pahaari Dhaam at Urvashi’s Retreat.

In an elaborate, made to order menu, I have curated my personal favourites from a vast array of local delicacies. By integrating classical cooking techniques with modern-day technologically, my very own curation of the Dhaam experience can be customised as per vegetarian, non-vegetarian, omnivorous as well as Jain meal preferences. Moreover, its dynamic span makes it readily available to serve intimate gatherings as well as larger banquets or ceremonies.

Altering the dining format in order to ensure safety and sanitization in a post-pandemic world was easier than I expected. Since traditional dhaams are served over disposable ‘pattals’ to a seated audience by a designated fleet of hosts, all I had to do was increase the seating distance between my diners. In precarious times, a leisure-seeker finds much solace in their sensory indulgences and gastronomical comforts. Creamy siddus, pungent mustard and date gravies, crisp flatbreads and apple crumble panjeeris come to our existentialist rescue. In a world where the concepts of leisurely meal preparations and communal feasting undergo a steady decline, our Himachali Dhaam celebrates the simple pleasures of an unhurried life that are best realised on elaborate table spreads and divine communion.

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Royally Speaking

THE FRENCH MONARCHY’S SWEET TOOTH

Desserts have always been patronised by the French monarchy, which nurtured many legendary chefs.

Anshu Khanna

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Last Saturday when famed French cafe Laduree launched in Gurugram, I got totally floored by their light as air macarons. A version of which is said to have been introduced in France during the decorative Renaissance era It was the French queen Catherine de’ Medici who brought her Italian pastry chef to her palace after marrying Henry II of France. A maestro at patisserie art, he introduced this meringue-based cookie to France in 1533. A sweet meringue-based confection, French macarons are made with egg white, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond meal, and food colouring.

Sitting at the stunning Laduree Cafe Du The and biting into a splendid macaron, I was intrigued to trace the origin of macarons in France and how the French monarchy as well as the monastery played such an important role in making them an iconic dish. Another history nugget traces the macaron to two Carmelite nuns who sought asylum in Nancy during the French Revolution. They baked and sold the macaron cookies to pay for their housing. These nuns became known as the “Macaron Sisters”.

The art of French pastries started with the desire to have a sweet treat following a meal. Fruits and cheese were originally served after dinner, but to quench people’s lingering sweet cravings after a meal, the doors to the art of French pastries and confectioneries were opened. Thus the delectable, delicious, and dreamy world of cakes, pastries, candies, and classic French desserts was born. It was in the 1830s that macarons as we know them today came alive as two crisply whipped macarons sandwiched by jams, liqueurs, ganache, and spices. Originally called the “Gerbet” or the “Paris macaron,” this exotic version of the macaron was created by the legendary chef Pierre Desfontaines of the French patisserie Laduree.

It was not only in the 1930s that macarons began to be served two-by-two with the addition of jams, liqueurs, and spices. The macaron as it is known today, composed of two almond meringue discs filled with a layer of buttercream, jam, or ganache filling, was originally called the “Gerbet” or the “Paris macaron.” Pierre Desfontaines, of the French patisserie Laduree, has sometimes been credited with its creation in the early part of the 20th century, but another baker, Claude Gerbet, also claims to have invented it.

World-famous 159-year-old French confectionary brand Laduree, which was created in 1862, is synonymous with macarons globally, being one of the world’s best-known sellers of the double-decker macaron, of which 15,000 are said to be sold every day. Laduree was brought to India by the young, dynamic luxury entrepreneur Chandni Nath Israni. She says, “Indian food connoisseurs just can’t get enough of our macarons that are made from 100% natural ingredients.” Hence at every fancy party hosted by the Jindals, Ambanis, etc. a tower of macarons by Laduree is a must. Desserts have always been patronised by the French monarchy, which nurtured many legendary chefs like Marie-Antoine Careme, born in 1784, five years before the Revolution. He spent his younger years working at a patisserie until he was discovered by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord and cooked for Napoleon Bonaparte.

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Royally Speaking

DIGVIJAY SINGH ART WEAR, BBG ROYALS MARK STORE OPENING WITH FASHION SHOW

Anshu Khanna

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An event organised by Digvijay Singh Artwear and BBG Royals at the Royal Fables Ahmedabad edition.

His mother was the beautiful princess of Awagarh in Uttar Pradesh. A family is known for their stunning fort in Agra and the iconic Belvedare Hotel in Nainital that the family runs even today. She is a true Blue Hill person, born and bred in Nainital. Interestingly, these two school buddies studied together in distant Baroda at the School of Art years back, falling hopelessly in love with each other.

Digvijay Singh, whose mother hailed from the princely state of Awagarh and whose father belonged to a landed farming family from Kiccha, Uttar Pradesh, is a fine artist, chef, designer, and hotelier. His wife, the petite and pretty Nidhi Sah, from a hotelier background, is a book designer who has worked with both Indian and globally acclaimed publishers.

Great design enthusiasts from Uttarakhand who grew up as schoolmates, travelled to distant Gujarat to study art and design, and then vowed to live a life together, The one thing that binds them together is art and its various forms of expression. While following their own paths in life, they have created a unique brand—BBG Royals, which has a sense of vintage iconography given the generous use of wildlife, flora, and fauna, as well as architectural motifs as its main design bastion. A BBG Royal is sure to be found in every royal’s wardrobe. BBG Royals creates limited-edition printed chiffon saris, featuring floral and animal prints with true royal splendor. The artworks are meticulously hand-painted and then reproduced on sarees, making each piece unique and heirloom-worthy. Animal print designs (tigers, lions, leopards, and horses) have always been popular.

Taking their quest for design to a permanent address, they recently launched their flagship store under the label Digvijay Singh Artwear at the Royal Fables Ahmedabad edition, held at the Hyatt Vastrapur. Digvijay, meanwhile, also holds forth with his men’s wear label under his own signature. A Lakme Gen Next Designer in 2007 and a finalist for the “young entrepreneur of the year” by the British Council and Elle magazine, he was nominated for the best costume designer for the movie “Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster” at the Producer’s Guild Apsara Awards. He dresses various A-list and Bollywood celebrities like Anil Kapoor, Jimmy Shergill, etc.

Calling their show Buransh, the Hindi name for the sumptuously beautiful flower Rhododendron that grows in abundance in the Uttrakhand hills, the show had royals like Rani Jaykirti Singh, Princess Nandini Singh of Jhabua, Aditi Singh, and Namrata Singh walk the ramp in hand-picked printed saris from BBG. Digvijay, meanwhile, dressed in royals, including Kunwar Yaduveer Singh Bera in his signature achkans. while Deeksha Mishra, a celebrated mommy blogger from Delhi, did full justice to their bridal wear. A show divided into four distinct sequences, it went from a striking collection of bridal wear to splendidly printed saris to an interesting array of dresses with floral prints and minimalist embroidery. The who’s who of the city walked the runway for the fashion walk with the royals.with 7th Avenue and Sujhal adding to the jewellery story.

A show divided into four distinct sequences, it went from a striking collection of bridal wear to splendidly printed saris to an interesting array of dresses with floral prints and minimalist embroidery.

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Royally Speaking

THE SHOEMAKER’S STITCH: MOCHI EMBROIDERIES OF GUJARAT IN TAPI COLLECTION

Some superb pieces of the 17th and 18th centuries, both for the Mughal court and for export to the West, do survive, and these are testament to the astonishing skill and adaptability of the embroiderers of the time.

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Chain-stitch embroidery from Kutch in Gujarat has been prized for centuries as one of India’s finest textile types. Worked in dense chain stitch in lustrous twisted silk thread, it has lent itself to all types of design from the floral arabesques of the Mughal period and the hybrid chinoiserie of the western export market to the stylised flowers, parrots and female figures found in the colourful garments and hangings made for local patrons in the 19th century. This type of embroidery is traditionally associated with the Mochi or shoe-maker community of Kutch. The origins of the Mochis’ craft lie outside Gujarat and outside the borders of modern-day India. Some members of the Mochi community believe that their ancestors came from Sindh, today in Pakistan, in the 14th century, settling in Halvad, in Surendranagar District in Gujarat, midway between Bhuj and Ahmedabad before migrating to Kutch. They learnt the art of embroidering in silk thread on leather in Sindh. Other sources state that the Mochis are originally from Gujarat and that the art of embroidering on leather was taught to them in Gujarat by a Sindhi. Yet another version tells of Kutchi embroiderers secretly learning the art by spying on visiting Sindhi craftsmen only in the 18th century. In all of these scenarios, the origins of the craft in Sindh are undisputed.

Embroidered Bed-cover

Embroidered Palampore

The region had been renowned for its embroidered leather sleeping mats at least since the 13th century, when Marco Polo had admired them. These embroidered mats, as well as other leather items, such as hawking gloves, continued to be made until the 19th century. An adapted cobbler’s awl (aari), with its thick wooden handle originally intended to help the user push the hooked metal embroidery spike through leather, continued to be used for embroidery on cloth in Sindh at least until the end of the 19th century, as illustrated in an article by B.A. Gupte in the Journal of Indian Art and Industry in 1888. Travellers such as the Portuguese Duarte Barbosa in 1518 and the Dutch Jan Huyghen van Linschoten in 1585 admired the fine embroideries of Gujarat, especially Cambay, where the embroiderers had at some stage started embroidering on cloth as well as leather. Soon after the foundation of the East India Company in 1600, the English trading company was asking for ‘quilts made about Cambay’ to be sent, and by 1641 they start to appear in the Company’s London auctions. Gujarati embroideries continued to be popular with British buyers into the 18th century; Alexander Hamilton’s travel journal ‘A New Account of the East Indies’ published in 1725 states that ‘[the people of Cambay] embroider the best of any people in India, and perhaps in the world.’ While no examples of chain-stitch embroidery remain from as early as the 16th century, some superb pieces made in the 17th and 18th centuries both for the Mughal court and for export to the West do survive, and these are testament to the astonishing skill and adaptability of the embroiderers of the time. It has long been assumed that the fine chain stitch embroideries made for the Mughal court in the 17th century, and for export to Europe in the late 17th and 18th centuries were made by Mochi embroiderers working to commission. But a technical examination of these embroideries reveals some surprising information. While the 19th- and 20th-century examples for the domestic market appear to have been embroidered using the distinctive hooked awl (aari) after which this type of embroidery is often named (aari bharat), the earlier Mughal and export pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries have all been embroidered u s i n g a straight needle. This only becomes clear when the reverse of the embroidery is examined: the stitches made with the aari are all interlinked in one continuous chain with no gaps between the stitches, while those done with a needle are seen as individual stitches, often at haphazard angles and with tiny gaps between them. This seems anomalous given the traditional history of Mochi embroidery, in which the use of the hooked awl is central to the story of the transition from leather-working to embroidery on cloth. It might well be the case that the earlier pieces were made by embroiderers working in royal karkhanas or Company workshops who were emulating the effect of the Mochis’ chainstitch embroidery but we r e n o t themselves of that community. They would therefore not be familiar with the hooked aari and would work instead with a straight needle. The garments and hangings made by Mochi embroiderers for Kutchi patrons working with the hooked aari show a level of skill equal to that of the earlier courtly and export pieces. The flamboyant dado panels in the Aina Mahal in Bhuj and the glorious floral tent from the royal family of Dhrangadhra are masterpieces of the later period of Mochi embroidery, along with other virtuoso pieces such as the animal cover (jhool) and pichhwai in the TAPI collection. The superbly embroidered dado panels on the walls of the Aina Mahal in the royal palace at Bhuj, built around 1750, are certainly the product of local Mochi embroiderers. Their designs are an amalgam of Mughal-style tent panels (qanat), with flowering trees shown beneath a cusped arch, separated and bordered by floral meander patterns and embroideries made for export to Europe for use as wall- and bedhangings, which frequently show an exotic flowering tree rising from a rocky mound. The larger, squarer panels are in a more Mughal style, while the dado panels of narrower joined niches are closer to an adapted export style. Both decorative types would have already been familiar to the Mochi embroiderers. The British historian L.F. Rushbrook Williams evidently saw them in the first half of the 20th century as he describes the Hira Mahal as ‘panelled high’ with ‘exquisite Kutchi silk embroidery.’ The panels were covered in plastic and installed as a permanent part of the Aina Mahal display when the building was converted into a museum trust in about 1971. Prior to that, they were displayed and brought out only on special days (e.g. three days of Diwali) when members of the royal family performed a puja of the ‘dholiya’ (Maharao Lakhpatji’s bed) in Hira Mahal. 

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MOTORCYCLE DIARIES: HOMECOMING

Urvashi Singh

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I strolled past the neighbouring stupas before alighting on the Baby Tiger for the most legendary leg of our Spiti expedition. I gave the valley and its people my deepest thanks for hosting me and nursing me back to health. Even though I was still running at a moderate temperature, today’s window was the only clear one we had to make a rain-free journey to monsoon-ridden Manali. And so, with a paracetamol and a half-eaten Yoghurt bar in my pocket, off I rode. The full moon slowly hid behind the Trans-Himalayan range to make way for the sun, and in Rangrik, I got to witness the spectacular sunrise from behind stark mountain peaks. Golden beams of light peeked through and illuminated the valley’s green fields, and as far as my eyes could see, Spiti was divided into fast-moving contrasts of the newly sunlit areas versus the others that were patiently waiting. Before attempting our passage via Kunzum, we halted for breakfast in Rangrik while basking in the morning sun. Mamma enjoyed her maggi noodles with less masala as I savoured a steaming cup of black tea. I needed all the energy there was to make it to Manali on the Baby Tiger, with or without my predestined falls. After all, I didn’t want to be that rider who loads her bike into the pickup at the slightest hint of inconvenience. I had come this far to ride with cautious abandon, and there was no way that I was backing down now.

The black tea and paracetamol worked wonders, and I had forgotten all about the flu by the time the ascent to Kunzum began. The gorgeous rivulets crisscrossed across meadows being grazed by horses and sheep. A few mountain goats and a large herd of cattle intercepted me and generously made way for the baby tiger. By now, the tarmac had bid my convoy farewell, and I had my traction control turned off. May the force be with me. Even though I had driven past Kunzum some five times already, the experience of riding into its prayer flag-paved entrance on a motorcycle felt overwhelming at a different level altogether. I had tears of joy inside my helmet-clad face, and long after I had stopped, I remained dazed in wonder. My mother insisted that I pose for a few pictures, and it took me a couple of minutes to get back to the ground. I was flying a flight of joyous euphoria, and the boy had never looked so glorious.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have enjoyed climbing trees. My heart would feel full with every ascending branch until I had reached the top. Then came bewilderment, because I had no idea how to come back down. Similar anguish confounded me as I grew conscious of the fact that the journey thus far had been a joyride compared to what awaited me. The descent from Kunzum had some sharp hairpin bends with a good amount of rubble, but I managed with slowed speed and confidence.

I felt some respite upon reaching Bathal, where I drank another cup of sweetened black tea and munched the remaining half of my snack bar. Onwards was the roughest patch there was, until Chhatru. I mentally prepared myself for a few falls. But through every water crossing, slush puddle, and rubble, Baby Tiger defied gravitational physics. I was beginning to yee-haw when I got carried away and rode over an island of sand and water, slightly off course from the main road. My accompanying drivers helped me steer back towards the Endeavour, and onward we went. This patch mostly required me to semi-stand on my bike, such that the intense bobbing of the rear wheel didn’t suspend my riding judgment. Plus, it felt easier on the rear section as well. My father’s batchmate from school had arranged a hot meal of rajma chawal in his picturesque farmhouse in Chhatru. Just when we thought we had ticked off a reasonable number of ‘world’s highest’ boards, we found another one, which said ‘world’s highest farm house’. I sure took some photos of Baby Tiger as he posed on the lawns of that estate.

Our last leg lay in Post-Chhatru, and right before the tarmac began, Gramphu’s rocky waterways compensated for the forthcoming road finesse. I kept halting every now and then to soak in the last of the Kunzum-sided landscape. A pang of nostalgia hit me when I realised that with every acceleration, I was drifting farther and farther away from Spiti. The excitement of journeying towards a cherished destination seldom matches up to the nostalgia of parting with it.

But for what it was worth, the sight of my two four-legged children waiting for me helped me rev up my engine and glide through the familiar Atal tunnel.

By the time we entered the gates of Urvashi’s Retreat, the apple trees were sun-kissed and the skies held up their azure hues. I patted my bike with as much affection and gratitude as my exhausted senses could muster, and even gave it an enduring hug. Cleo and Tsarina were elated to have us all back, and I had barely been back an hour before I connected my GoPro to the television.

My granny had to see what we had just experienced. In three days, it’ll be a month since this day of homecoming. Ever since, I have gone through my Spiti photographs and video footage numerous times. I even made a short film that comprised some of my favourite GoPro recordings. My devices’ wallpapers bear the Key Monastery shot that I took on the morning of Guru Purnima.

I do know that I will never have enough of this sacred land, not in this lifetime at least, but its constant calling to me year after year makes it a pursuit that I had never dreamt of, let alone thought of living through. The only way to get over a vacation hangover is to make way for the next. No wonder I am sketching out my Ladakh itinerary for September.

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MOTORCYCLE DIARIES: PIN VALLEY

Urvashi Singh

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Every morning from 8 onwards, the monks at Key gompa congregate at the main sanctum to chant their morning prayers while ingesting a frugal breakfast of sattu and butter tea. The vibrations and visual spectacle are highly recommended experiences that I was first initiated towards by Karanbir.

Eager to see the prayer meeting for herself, my mother was ready well before time in the morning. Even though we had reached half an hour before time, we were surprised to see the gompa flooded with monks and visitors alike. Confused and scratching my head at my miscalculation, I inquired with a smiling-faced monk standing next to me. Because today was Guru Purnima, several monks from around the region had arrived to convene this special prayer, which commenced an hour before the usual timing.

Struggling to find our spot on the monastery stairs, we sat near the railings and peeked inside for a while. Then, we headed up to see the gompa’s older sections and also to the iconic vantage point for many photographs with the tripod and self-timer.

Slightly peckish and desperate for our morning cup of coffee, we made our way to our one and only food destination yet again, Deyzor. Karanbir had been raving about how beautiful the Pin Valley was at this time of year, and given that it was one place that none of us had visited before, we raised collective excitement for the day’s expedition.

Backtracking a dozen kilometres back on the Kaza-Tabo road, we crossed over an unsuspecting bridge and entered a different valley altogether. Driving past the Pin river, we saw fluorescent specs of mustard flowers and velvety meadows dotted by indulgent cows and asses. Pink and purple flowers too sprouted through the foliage, and tiny rivulets trickled in their jovial celebration of mild monsoons. Several locals worked intensively in their lush green fields, which speckled the stark Pin Valley like glowing pieces of emerald. I opted to take over the steering wheel today so that Manojji could get a break and enjoy the views. Mesmerised by the unusual geological shapes of Pin Valley. We didn’t know how our three-hour excursion passed, and we were back in Deyzor for lunch. A dove into a plate of shakshouka and a coffee to shake off my afternoon laziness, and we all concurred that a nap would be a good idea. Back in Cheecham, we lazed around and then played a few rounds of Cluedo. I was beginning to develop a dry and nagging cough, but I dismissed it as an aftereffect of the dusty roads. Mylo also developed a cough shortly after, and we just went to bed after an early dinner. Afraid of passing on the bug to my already susceptible mother, I decided to stay the night in Mylo’s room, and in hindsight, that was a necessary precaution. Breathlessness, fever-stricken, and reverberating with an elevated pulse, the night was a mean one indeed. Both Mylo and I battled with heightened fevers that we hoped would be brought down with a tablet of paracetamol. To our dismay, the following morning was a struggle, and there was absolutely no way that we were proceeding with our plan to Losar.

I could barely pack since the slowest of movements was making me breathless. It was time for Baby Tiger to be put onto his trailer, and as sad as that made me, I knew I was in no shape to drive. We headed to the government hospital in Kaza, where the health workers took our Covid test, which was thankfully negative. Manojji too suffered from the same symptoms as us, and we were then made aware of a nasty virus making its rounds in Kaza. Due to its higher prevalence among minors, Kaza’s government school had been closed for a fortnight, and many locals reported having suffered from identical symptoms as us.

Karanbir reassured us that it would get better, and arranged us the fanciest home stay that stood bang opposite the town’s Shakya monastery. Fa-Ma homestay was hosted by the gregarious hostess Uma, who nursed us back to health over two long days of endless gargles, steam inhalations, naps and countless food deliveries from Deyzor. I mostly slept through this time, and when Mylo felt better, we played Monodeal with my viral-free mother.

Even though one hadn’t fully recovered by the night of July 15th, I reckoned that we make our journey the following day. As per most weather forecasts, 16th was the only day that offered clear skies and sunshine, a much-needed advantage for those making the arduous journey towards Manali. And so, I excitedly asked Mohanji to unload Baby Tiger from his cage and kitted up the following morning to make the most iconic journey of our trip.

Dolo 650 sufficed through the entire adventure, and even if I was still flu-stricken, I was too elated by the Trans-Himalayan vistas to pay attention to any form of illness. The beautiful road meandered through Rangrik, Losar, and Kyato as the full moon hid behind the mountains, making way for a brilliant sun that reigned over clear azure skies. It was time for homecoming.

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SATRANGI: RECOGNISING THE MANY COLOURS OF LIFE

‘Satrangi is our LGBTQI project that has close to 250 transgenders in vulnerable circumstances. They have been so far neglected by both society and the government’.

Anshu Khanna

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As the founder of Royal Fables, a writer, and a communicator, I have always reserved a place for social impact missions in my agenda. Empowerment through handcraft work is my life’s raison d’être. As well as creating an inclusive, tolerant society where each of us gets a share of the voice. Hence, I was beyond thrilled when the dynamic Maharani of Baroda, Radhika Raje Gaekwad, suggested that we present Satrangi on the ramp on the opening night of our show in Ahmadabad. A ramp walked by 15 wonderful transgender people from the 250-strong LGBTQI community that lives in Baroda and now is lovingly adopted by this caring young royal who, with her family’s trust, Maharani Chimnabai Stree Udyogalaya, is standing for all the important and relevant issues concerning the women of her city. While issues like women’s safety, employment, and confidence building have been at the core of her NGO, she also embraced this very endearing community who were in deep distress during Covid. She joined

Lakshya Trust is the community working on the health and human rights of LGBTQI community

A ramp walk by 15 wonderful transgender people from the 250-strong LGBTQI community.

Lakshya Trust is a community working on the health and human rights of LGBTQI community.

Join hands with Lakshya Trust, which is a community-based organisation working on the health and human rights of LGBTQIA communities in Gujarat, Vadodara, Surat, and Rajkot. Founded by the globally acclaimed activist Prince Manvendra Gohil of Raj Pipla, the organisation also backs Garima Greh, which is a rescue and shelter home for transgender people managed by Lakshya Trust and supported by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, which focuses on providing basic food, shelter, and livelihood opportunities through mainstreaming trans issues with different stakeholders. In striking a very active partnership with Maharani Chimnabai Stree Udhyogalaya (MCSU), which started with the distribution of food supplies during the pandemic, Lakshya collaborated actively with this Baroda-based NGO for the provision of skill-building training, admission to academic institutions, and assistance in job placements for the transgender communities, and also as one of the co-hosts of Vadodara Pride!

“Satrangi is our LGBTQIA project that has close to 250 transgenders in vulnerable circumstances.” They have been so far neglected by both society and the government. Through our trust, we intend to take care of their essential requirements, identify their core problems, groom and train them for particular vocations, and integrate them into society by helping them find employment in those chosen vocations, “shared Radhika. Taking care of their mental well-being through free and confidential virtual counseling. MSCU also provides free and confidential online counselling to all in need. On the Royal Fables’ ramp, Radhika dressed fifteen transgender persons in the L V Palace’s collection of cotton, printed saris titled Naqashi. While Jaipur-based jewelry designer Namrata Singh adorned them with her signature collection of hand-crafted jewels. Radhika herself walking the ramp in stunning cotton, dual-toned sari, and Namrata’s vintage coin-inspired, embellished choker in gold. Applauding her for this path-breaking effort, Nawab Kazim Ali Khan of Rampur complimenting the Maharani and said, “ This is the first time in modern India that a woman belonging to a royal family as respected as Baroda has taken such a bold step towards creating an inclusive society.” We salute her for her forward-thinking, courageous endeavours.

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