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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PALACE GARBA SET TO RETURN TO VADODARA
Once again, it is time to dance for a cause as the enterprising Maharani Radhika Raje of Baroda and her team of Maratha women invite the denizens of Vadodara to Motibaug Cricket Club, which is all set to host the third edition of Palace Garba.
Founded to support the women’s empowerment initiatives of Maharani Chimnabai Stree Udyogalaya in Vadodara the Royal Garba is organised to raise the funding required for women’s social upliftment and entrepreneurship development.
Sold out already, it was flagged off with a performance by the LGBTQ community that Radhika supports.
Garba dancers can also look forward to dancing to the music created by iconic singers Ashita Limaye and Sachin Limaye in their soulful voices.
If Garba is the flavour of the season, dance on.
THE CHEETAH MAN’s DREAM comes true
It took 74 years of dreaming, lobbying, fighting, and pleading by M. K. Ranjit Sinh Wankaner to finally see the Cheetah return to India. As a child, he dreamt of seeing the nimble-footed sprinter back on Indian soils. Cheetahs became extinct in India after Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Koriya shot the last three surviving big cats in 1947. Yet this IAS officer of the 1961 batch of Madhya Pradesh cadre and one of the masterminds of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, listed them as endangered. Ever since, he has been lobbying for their return.
It was a very pleased 84-year old activist, ex-IAS officer, and scion of the Wankaner family who stood in the aisles as our Prime Minister released eight cheetahs into the Kuno National Park. He had also worked in a sanctuary during his stint as a bureaucrat.
While drafting the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the former director of Wildlife Preservation included the cheetah as a protected species, even though it was extinct.
India’s first attempt to bring back the carnivore was in the early 70s. It was Ranjitsingh who spoke to Iran even then, but the negotiations stalled after the declaration of emergency in ‘75 and the deposition of the Shah of Iran in 1979.
Since then, Ranjitsinh and wildlife conservationist Divyabhanusinh Chavda have worked on the guidelines and policy to reintroduce cheetahs. And today, when their dream has come true, they cannot stop their smile.
A REGAL CELEBRATION FOR THE BIG FAT INDIAN WEDDING CEREMONY
It was like a meeting of like-minded people. A coming together of an industry that remains invisible yet leads to a multi-million dollar industry of big fat Indian weddings. The WeddingSutra Influencer Awards 2022, brain child of industry evangilist Parthip Thyagarajan, saw the who’s who of the wedding industry enjoy a laid-back evening as leading luminaries gave away awards.
This uber-glam event, hosted jointly by Taj Mahal Palace and WeddingSutra, saw every element of a wedding come to life. Indulgently beautiful flowers, an uber-chic bar, photo op walls that bedazzled and cuisine that was exotic to say the least. The chefs at the Taj curated a delicious world cuisine that included Georgian delights, Lebanese, Mexican, Japanese, and other specials, not to mention the best of Indian food. The high point of the evening, however, was the understated Sima Aunty of India Matchmaking fame, taking to the stage and announcing, “Hi, I am Sima Taparia from Mumbai!” In a jiffy, the hall was in splits.
As a jury and a witness to this affair, I was simply taken aback with the sheer volume of creative outpourings that goes into making this such a spectacular industry. Weddings are a major business in India. According to a report by KPMG in 2017, the Indian wedding industry is estimated to be around $40–50 billion in size. Though the Covid scare put a stop to the large format wedding, Indians discovered the pleasure of celebrating the moment with their near and dear ones. “The scale of operations remained the same, only the guest list got trimmed, shares Parthip. It is estimated that the cost of an Indian wedding ranges between 500,000 and 50 million. An Indian is likely to spend one fifth of his total lifetime wealth on a wedding.
THE FRENCH MONARCHY’S SWEET TOOTH
Desserts have always been patronised by the French monarchy, which nurtured many legendary chefs.
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.
DIGVIJAY SINGH ART WEAR, BBG ROYALS MARK STORE OPENING WITH FASHION SHOW
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.
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.
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.
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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