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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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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