India has a way of casting a spell, enchanting you and making you fall head over heels in love with all it has to offer. It’s the diversity of culture and architecture, festivals and celebrations, tastes, flavours, cuisines, culture and works of art make the good memories always outweigh the bad.
You have to remember, the country is enormous, a continent in itself with incredible landscapes, deserts, deserted beaches, snow capped mountains and breathtaking architecture and scenery. Around every corner there is something to test your patience or challenge your courage. Every day sends you on a quest, to question what is normal and expect the unexpected. You can be guaranteed you will never experience the same day twice. The diversity, immensity and curiosity will leave you with memories that tickle your mind and imagination.
The north of India offers snow capped mountains, bright yellow rapeseed fields and the old wooden farming villages of Manali. Further northwest you have the alpine reaches of Dharmasala where the Dalai Lama has made his home and where every year millions throng its narrow streets to listen to and witness his Buddhist teachings. Rishikesh, north of Delhi, is the birthplace of yoga and you can join one of the many ashrams that flank the beautiful river Ganges. The water here is a mouth watering turquoise blue, unbelievably crystal clear, clean and unpolluted, fresh off the mountain run.
To the west of India is the Thar desert, one of the driest deserts on the planet and home to many intriguing cities brimming with royal mansions, towering forts, sprawling gardens, massive lakes, vivid colours beyond your imagination and vibrant festivals to take your breadth away. The romantic city of Udaipur, the city of lakes, known for its lavish royal residences. The fort at Jodhpur that sits towering above a labyrinth of buildings, where the village is painted the city’s iconic shade of blue and the majestical sandstone forts at Jaisalmer that rise up from the parched sands and huddled ramshackle villages below.
The south offers a very different, much more relaxed pace of life. You can soak up the beautiful waterways of Keralas backwaters through narrow overgrown canals, amble through market bazaars and fishing villages of Cochin, relax on the exquisite palm fringed beaches of Goa or hike the tea plantations of Munar. This country has so much to offer you would never see all there is to see in one lifetime, but I did try.
The transport system in India is life threatening but not harmful! You may spend most of your bus journey hovering above the seat as you are thrust into the air every time you even attempt to sit down. You will probably spend most of your eleven hour trip delirious with pain from the bumpy roads and lack of sleep but I suppose half the fun is watching those who didn’t even get a seat, being thrown like a ping-pong ball around the bus.
The buses are always cramped and full to the brim and just when it seems like you couldn’t possibly fit any more, the driver will shout for another fifteen people to squeeze into the inches that are left. And another Indian miracle, they always fit! Counseling and possible rehabilitation should be on offer as part of the service, to deal with the trauma, the knee capping, numb bum and cramps and on occasions punctured lungs incurred while traveling on any of the transport services. The trains are not much better, for a woman plenty of leering men and the constant whirr of old rattling fans to keep you awake. Sand and dirt blow in the windows and the long tedious journeys with intense heat, your body eventually becomes listless, zapped of any energy, rendering you gaga, and ready to succumb to the next available street hawker trying to sell you his homestay.
Lets talk a little bit about the people of India. Mostly my memories of Indian men in the Rajasthan area, are now quite stereotyped. Hunkered idly, their teeth discoloured from chewing the red beetle nut all day, they hide behind the poignant Moustache, their beady eyes peering over the top. When it comes to the Moustache, a status symbol, a sign of manhood and wealth, the moustache comes in all shapes and sizes, well-groomed and often spiralling into enormity. Even though I was always so respectful of the culture and was covered from head to toe, men would look at me as if I were naked. The stares and piercing glares, which can be seen as mere childish curiosity, as a lone female traveller gets rather tiresome and irritating.
Indian women on the flip side, are princesses, beautiful and enchanting, shy and elegant. They glide the streets wrapped in an array of colours, entwined in silk sarees, embellished with jewels and sweetly scented flowers in their hair. Intelligent but in most cases controlled by the men they serve. With little opportunity for most to succeed or get a decent education, they expect to live a subservient life of hardship, out in the fields and raising a family with no food to feed them.
For me the most exciting and the most captivating part of India culture is its festivals. There was one in particular that sticks out in my head, the festival in Gangaur, Rajasthan. It is the festival of spring and harvest, honouring the goddess Gauri and a celebration of love and marriage and marks the beginning of the new year according to the Hindu calendar. Married women worship Gauri for the good health and longevity of their husbands. Unmarried women worship her to be blessed with a good husband. Women dress in their finest clothes and jewellery and adorn their hands and feet with mehendi (henna).The festival finale crescendos with the departure of Gauri's on the last day, where begins a colourful procession of women and young girls, who follow through the streets carrying wooden effigies of Shiva and Parvati on their heads. At Gangaur Ghat the idols are set down on the steps of Lake Pichola, the women make their various offerings immerse the effigies in the lake.
The pattern of the silk scarf Henna Hands was inspired by the Medhni henna that is traditionally painted onto the hands and feet of the Indian women during festivals and ceremonies. The pattern is achieved when I isolated the Medhni line drawing from my hands and repeated the hands around the scarf square, interlinking the slender interlaced elongated fingers and hands to create a delicately intricate repeat pattern. I have combined the pattern with the rich jewel colours found in the Indian women’ saris, traditional dress and accessories.
Travel Diary: Rajasthan, India. 9 October 2007
"I remember my travel companion and I, while backpacking around India, decided to get some Henna painted onto our hands. It looked so beautiful and I was always intrigued by the process. Medhni is an ancient form of body art that uses Henna paste made from ground Henna leaves and turmeric, to dye and decorate the skin. The henna is usually painted in symbolic representations of the sun, flora and fauna on your hands and feet, usually for ceremonies such as weddings, brides would wear the henna to symbolise fertility, joy and beauty. The pattern on this particular scarf is the henna design from my hands, retraced and repeated, to create this wonderfully intricate pattern. I have then added vibrant jewel colours inspired by precious gemstones, ruby red, pink amethyst, blue sapphires. "