Jaipur Travel Diary: Learning hand blockprinting

I traveled to India for the month of August 2013, on the National Artist Teacher Fellowship, to study hand-wood block printing from the master artisans in the village of Bagru. I was so pleased to find Savista as a base to call home for my several weeks abroad. I’m an experienced printer who specializes in textile design and works as a design educator in New York City. I’ve been trained in all forms of printing, but I wanted to work with the craftspeople in a region where the art form has thrived for generations. That is how I found master printer Vijendra Chhipa and the remarkable Bagru Textiles.

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Vijendra and I in his studio after printing some yardage.

Between working at Bagru Textiles and staying at Savista Retreat,
I gained an extraordinary perspective on the people, crafts, and spirit of India. The best way for me to communicate my experiences is through visuals.

Here are some of my favorites moments at Bagru:

Observing the block carvers create my designs.

Printing with all natural inks

I learned Dabu, or mud resist, printing from Hemlata.

Indigo dying with Vijendra.

Watching the bangle makers! (and obviously buying a few dozen)

 

Drying finished products on the rooftops and taking a much needed breather.

Vijendra and his family, including Eric who is working there to help grow the Bagru Textile company and community

And here are my favorite Savista Retreat moments:

The Savista wildflowers!

Getting home from a long day of printing, climbing up to the Haveli’s roof and watching the sunset or a monsoon storm roll in.

Beautiful breakfast outside every morning…

                                                                                …then a ride with Gajendra through the rural fields to the printing village of Bagru.

One of the best parts about staying at Savista Retreat is getting to know the owners. I learned more about Indian culture from dinner and chai tea breaks with Radhika and Bhanwar than from any museum I visited. I learned everything from how I could eat the neem tree leaves on the property after a meal for digestion to why an statue or picture of the Hindu God Ganesh hangs over everyone’s doorways. They made sure I was completely taken care of as if I was their own daughter. They truly are the reason why Savista Retreat is so extraordinary!

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It was Julie Zenobi’s first trip to India. And her mission – learning hand blockprinting using traditional techniques, from master artisans of Bagru.

What a place to arrive at, straight from New York…A village in the middle of northern India!  It had all the ingredients of a massive culture shock!

But Julie settled quickly and smoothly into her life at Savista and her daily blockprinting trips to Bagru. It helped that as a textile designer and artist, she was able to see beauty in everything around her and delight in the simple pleasures of nature. As an educator, she was curious about everything, and receptive to new learnings. And being warm, affectionate and trusting by nature, she was soon best friends with everybody in her new environment. Above all, it was Julie’s work ethic which made her special.  In the evenings after her return to Savista and on her days off from printing lessons, she would be in the Savista library working on her notes and designs towards the Fellowship report that she was required to present at a public event after her return.

Julie not only learnt snippets of Indian history during her stay in India, she also shared with us snippets of history that we had not known of before. Upon learning that her family name Zenobi resonated with an Indian name of Persian origin - Zenobia – found among girls of the Parsi community, Julie told us a most interesting story (the Parsis of India are a community of Zoroastrians whose ancestors fled Persia centuries ago to escape conversion to Islam; they accidentally arrived in India, and have made it their home ever since).

Zenobia was the queen of the kingdom of Palmyra (in modern day Syria) in the third century.  A beautiful woman,  fearless warrior, and ambitious monarch who adopted the title of “Empress of the East”,   Zenobia dared to challenge the might of Imperial Rome, but was defeated in battle. The Romans did not kill the proud queen, but shackled her in chains and brought her to Rome, there to be publicly paraded in her silks while still in chains.  Some of her loyal warriors secretly made the journey to Italy in
the hope of freeing their queen and helping her return to claim back her rightful kingdom. But it was never to be. Zenobia died a prisoner in Rome. And the “Zenobis” – the followers of Zenobia – lost heart and melted into the local population, settling in Umbria. Julie’s parents migrated from Italy to the U.S., where their Asian association lives on in the name that they continue to carry.

We thought the story beautiful enough to share with the readers of our
blog, as a reminder of how closely connected we all are as citizens of this planet, whichever part of the world we may think we belong to.

 

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Guest Stories: “Another View of Savista “

Even while Ellie was clicking Savista in exhuberant colour and composing her collages (see previous post titled “WinterSavista”), Christopher Edwards  was amusing himself with creating yet “another view of Savista” as he called it.

Christopher and Mona Edwards were at Savista for an extended vacation over Christmas and the new year.  Apart from a couple of short excursions into the city, they seemed content to spend their time in and around the property – reading, watching films, going for walks, napping on the rooftop, visiting blockprinters in Bagru… Very quickly they settled into being  a gentle and comfortable presence in our midst.

Being French  but of Tunisian origin, Mona – a scientist who works in the Geography Laboratory at Oxford University – confessed to feeling totally at home in the semi desert ambience of Rajasthan, and perhaps even experiencing a twinge of nostalgia for the land of her childhood. Christopher took many many pictures of Savista, and being  an IT wizard proceeded to experiment with different softwares  to create the most amazing effects on them.   We are grateful to him for giving us a totally new and exciting visual feel of Savista through a selection of effects – such as etchings on parchment, marble effects,old Victorian postcards, and mysterious colour effects.  We present below a small selection from his unique “creations” in the form of collages put together very kindly by Ellie.

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When Christopher is not doing his day job in IT, he plays the trumpet, and also teaches and performs across the Oxford and Berkshire region under the banner of Trumpet Voluntary.  He comes from a family of British brass and military band players that goes back several generations.  He is presently training the fourth generation in this musical tradition. Trumpet Voluntary’s services include  Jazz, Classical and Popular; Solo and Support ; Theatre, Orchestra, Sacred and Marching; and it performs in the U.K., France and  Canada.  Christopher can be contacted at:

Website:  www.trumpetvoluntary.com
Email:  Admin@trumpetvoluntary.com
Tel. :  +44 – 01235 – 814901

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Guest Stories: A Working Holiday at Savista

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When Ling Choo Tan wrote to us from China to say that she wished to be at Savista for ten days to do block printing, and that she would prefer to drive straight here from Delhi international airport and drive straight back for her flight back to China at the end of her stay, we were impressed.

We expected to see a hard-nosed businessperson totally obsessed about getting bales of fabric printed with a view to her next sales. Was Indian block printed fabric so big in China, we wondered? Or would it be for re-exporting stitched garments, given that China was famously flooding world markets with manufactured goods?

Soon, Ling was sending us sketches of her own designs and sounding anxious about whether she would be able to see those designs realised on fabric before the end of her mere ten day stay. So we offered to get her blocks hand-carved in advance of her arrival to help her meet her target. It was sounding more and more like a business trip.

The persons who arrived – Ling and her good friend Ellie – turned out to be two very young, very charming, and totally non-business travellers. Although suffering from sleep deficit – they had checked in in the wee hours of the morning after a long drive from Delhi through the winter fog – they were up for breakfast bright eyed and bushy tailed, exploring
the grounds, asking about the trees and shrubs, and exclaiming over the birds. Breaking into irrepressible laughter every few minutes, they told us that they were actually here to pilot a new resolve: to make every vacation a new cultural experience, with some practical learning and exploration as its core. In this case, it was to learn Jaipur block printing, while living in a rural environment. The aesthetic at Savista had attracted them, as also the prospect of being in a pure natural environment, eating Indian vegetarian food, and digging deep into their micro-Indian encounter.

Although this was their first trip to India, India itself was not new to them. As Malaysian citizens of Chinese origin they had grown up in an ethnically diverse environment, and were familiar with things Indian. Besides, both were widely travelled. But how essentially – and laudably – Chinese they were, became evident very quickly as, over the next ten days, we witnessed the famous Chinese work ethic at work.

Every morning, the two young women would be out like a shot, spend the whole day at the print workshop and return only by day’s end. By the end of their stay, they had not only printed out fabric to their hearts’ content, they had also participated in the dyeing and washing of their own fabric, helped in dyeing and drying other orders that the printer was working on, and got all their output stitched and ready for use.

At our urging, they graciously even put up an exhibition of their work at Savista on the morning before their departure! Ling’s post “Blockprinting on Holiday” is a wonderful account of their working holiday, along with some pictures of her work. They limited sightseeing and shopping in Jaipur to the two half days that the master printer had declared as free days (because he had other business to attend to).   And even on those two days they could not resist returning to their “workplace” in the evenings, just to gaze at their unfinished work and say hello to their work colleagues!

Although Ellie had hopped on to the trip late in its planning stage and had not arrived with her own designs, she proved just as productive as Ling, using the readymade blocks available with the printer. When she left for home, it was with beautiful accessories for her bedroom (pictured here). As a skilled photographer, she created beautiful visuals of their work, the workshop environment, the printing and dyeing processes, and the interiors of Savista, making them up into exquisite collages, some of which she has contributed to
the Savista blog in her post “WinterSavista”  (see previous two posts) .
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GUEST STORIES: Block Printing on Holiday

TLC-2TLC-1TLC-3One of the most memorable holiday trips. A 10-day trip that focused on printing patterns on fabric using traditional printing technique i.e. hand-block printing, and turning them into cushion covers. The prints were inspired by travels through Middle East, the love for Islamic motifs, patterns and and basic colors. 4 patterns: 1) ‘Hamsa’ the palm (protection from the evil eye), 2) ‘Umayyad’ for geometric print, 3) ‘Isfahan’ for vessel cutouts found in the Ali Qapu music room in Iran and 4) ‘Maroc’ for the elegant blue white porcelain plate from Morocco. At the brilliant suggestion of Savista, wooden blocks were carved ahead of time which enabled me to print the cushions using the custom blocks.

Like a true amateur, I underestimated the complexity of the printing process at the beginning. As I delved deeper, anxiety and mild stress began building up. How do you achieve perfection in an entirely hand-made/ nature-driven traditional printing process? Achieving that precise turquoise color, the desired shade of sky blue that depends on hand-dye, was impossible. The delay in the delivery of custom wooden block. A couple of cloudy days that disabled almost the entire printing process that relies on sunlight and dry air. Those moments/ days were rather agonising but they quickly gave way to understanding and appreciation of a traditional craft and a cottage industry challenged by modern-day factories.

What’s more, spending most of our time in the workshop (more like small factory, not the corporate workshop as we understand) alongside the printers and its owners, we began to bond with them… at the beginning over cookies, muruku snacks, chai, Fuji instax sessions, candies. Then we started tasting their on-site cooked lunch, learning to wear the saris that they were making, visiting their home and mingling with the women and children at home and taking rides on their bikes as we shuttled between the workshop and the stitcher’s workshop. Ellie even remembered the way to the workshop from our retreat 30 mins away, located in the middle of a village/ farm with no street signs, after only 4 days! We missed the workshop!

It is an experience and memory that would stay for a long long time, made possible by gracious hosts Bhanwar and Radhika’s help. This trip will inspire me to make more activity-based holidays.

 

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GUEST STORIES: WinterSavista 2013

Beautiful memories inserted into the new Chapter of my guide book. Savista always in Winter, 2013: Jaipur – Rajasthan, India. A special edition in the collection that lies forever; the biggest discoveries uncovered during my stay.

All priceless…

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Starting a new chapter in 2014 with friendship and love

 

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Early morning discovery of secret beauty of mustard flower in winter

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From the color combination to the placement, each item in the haveli catches your eye

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Plants and flowers bring the joy of nature into the haveli

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Elegance of white throughout the haveli

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Collection of books in the library

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GUEST STORIES: Designing for a More Harmonious World

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Carol Miltimore is one of the many designers travelling through India whom we have had the pleasure to host.   She works with natural fibres, natural dyes, and traditional craftspersons to create beautiful clothes that satisfy, both, the urge for fashion and the yearning for harmony with nature and ordinary people.

When she arrived at Savista, she quickly won everybody over by speaking in Hindi and  smilingly namaste-ing everybody by way of greeting accompanied by her tinkling laughter, and amazed – and endeared herself to – the kitchen staff by asking for rotis with her breakfast egg instead of toast!

But beneath that lightness of being, one could discern a tremendous clarity of focus, steely work ethic, and relentless search for richness of meaning.  Every day she would return from her day’s work in Bagru, tired but happy, hands deeply coloured and hair filled with the grime of the day’s printing labours.   At the communal dinners, she was always ready for serious conversation, always asking questions, always seeking to engage…

On the last day of her stay when she showed us the results of her experiments that she had systematically documented, we extracted a promise from her that she would write something for Savista’s blog about this watershed trip, which marks a bend in the river of her life…a transition from being a designer for a large studio to being a designer with her own label…a promise that she gave willingly.

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Carol Miltimore

December 15, 2013

Savista Retreat, Bagru, and India

Since my years in college, something in me always had an urge to travel to India and more specifically work with artisans there. Something drew me to the culture as well as to the long history and trade of textiles. For years I made some small attempts, but honestly it remained but a dream for I was equally as scared of the journey.  Finally, I decided that enough was enough. I left my job and bought a one-way ticket. Though I in no way find that to be an original start to a journey to India. It seems that it is one of those countries where, if the undefined pull exists in someone, it inspires a ticket there for an undetermined amount of time.

I ended up in India for three months on my first trip, where I participated in a month long artist residency, met with some artisans, and traveled a great deal. I still got equally challenged as well as inspired along the way. In the end, after a car accident, infection of my intestines and stomach, and a traumatic motorcycle accident that resulted in a trip to the government- run hospital, I ended my journey earlier than originally planned, yet still sad to leave all the same.

One might think that after all of that I wouldn’t want to journey back, at least for some time. Yet I knew I had to go back. By the time I returned about a year later, I was on my way to starting my own business working with various artisans, in particular the block printers of Bagru, thus this is what brought me to Savista Retreat.

Staying at Savista Retreat while working in Bagru felt incredibly special and was an experience unlike any I had had in India thus far.  What first stands out to me are the people who took me in so warmly.  In the evenings we would walk down to dinner past jasmine and hydrangea bushes and throughout the meal I’d always learn something new about the history of India, textiles, Savista, or any number of topics.  It’s true for most places and experiences that it is the people that last the longest as part of the fond memories. People and places that touch you have a way of becoming a part of you and you in turn take a piece of them with you.

India is such a place of extremes; wealth and poverty, beauty and garbage, insanity and serenity, noise and quiet. While there are always going to be people to be wary of, one thing that instills such love of India for me is the people. For, when you meet the right ones, their warmth and kindness exceeds all else as they make you feel a part of their family. This is true for several people I’ve come to know in India, including the community at Savista.

A particular experience that felt unique to any other I had yet in India was being able to go for a walk before sunset into the surrounding countryside of Savista. Along the way, passing an old goat herder and then happening upon a village that felt removed from anything else going in the world, though I’m sure they probably all still had cell phones. The people were indifferent to the presence of my friend and me, not particularly caring about us wondering into their space, hanging out, taking pictures as well as talking and laughing with the children. We became mesmerized by how adorable the baby goats were trying out their legs with jumping and the children became equally as mesmerized by us taking pictures of what seemed like everyday life to them. The hazy sun was glowing red on the parched land and our nostrils were filled with the smoky and spicy Rajasthan air. In no way did we idealize the harshness of life in the village but their smiles were magical and we left feeling deeply touched by them.

Not far from Savista is the community of Bagru, which is famous for it’s block printers who have been doing work there for over 350 years. There’s an area there where nearly every house has some sort of block printing facility or table so it really is ingrained within their way of life. I work with a group of artisans who go by Bagru Textiles, the head of which is Vijendra.  Vijendra, his wife Santosh and his two children, Yash and Chehika, are another family who make me feel incredibly welcomed.

When I went last time, the block carvers in town had carved my designs out of wood so that when I arrived I could immediately start printing. I was taught about the process and technique but really spent the bulk of my time experimenting with the different outcomes of natural dyes.  While chemical dyes are most common in this day in age, the truth is they are toxic and pollute the water and land.  Natural dyes limit you in color range as well as to results of color placement on prints yet it all began with these dyes made from various roots, flowers, and metals so it feels more authentic.  In addition, it causes much less harm to the environment and the people handling them.  Like India, they never cease to challenge you, but in that the results feel more rewarding.

My background is that of a painter and for the last 10 years a fashion designer in New York City. I feel happier, more alive and more inspired by being in a place like Bagru where I am accepted into homes and peoples lives with numerous cups of chai, am challenged, learn something new in the process, and get to utilize crafts that date back for many generations which are embedded into a culture and world. Thus I’m beginning to create a line that collaborates with artisans to produce goods for the western market in a way that brings transparency and consideration to the process, community and people involved.

I never know how a day will unfold in India or what results will yield from a natural dye batch. Nothing ever seems to go according to plan and in that space there is room created for the unexpected.  It’s not easy but if it was it would never be nearly as fulfilling or expanding.  It is the people, the unexpected of every day, the textiles, the color, sights, sounds, and textures and the rawness of being which continues to draw me to India. Through all of that, it becomes even more of a blessing to stay at a place such as Savista Retreat.

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GUEST STORIES: Hiking Trails Around Savista: Art Work by a Young Cartographer

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Eleven year old Francesca’s contribution to the Savista blog takes the form
of a map of one of the hiking trails around Savista.

The big day of the England-India cricket match (described by Francesca’s brother
Cameron in the previous post) began for the two cricket captains and their
parents with a cross country walk in the environs of Savista.

They walked through green fields of young wheat, garden peas and mustard. As they wandered through the countryside in the bright winter sunshine, they also got to see buffaloes, goats and haystacks, and had the chance to exchange greetings with passing
villagers.

Francesca drew a map of the hiking trail that they followed. The young
cartographer chose to embellish it with illustrations and commentary.
Future guests at Savista would no doubt enjoy planning their hikes with the
help of her sketch.

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GUEST STORIES: India-England Cricket Match at Savista Hotel

 

It was England and India playing cricket at Savista!

Savista’s brand new cricket pitch – the latest addition to its many features – was inaugurated by a T-10 match played by two mixed India-England teams captained by two of Savista’s guests,  Francesca (11) and her brother Cameron (12).  Francesca is an under-12 player for Hampshire County, and  Cameron also plays in his County’s under-13 team. They were joined by the village team of Savista’s village Sanjharia, by some of Savista’s staff,  and Stuart, Francesca and Cameron’s father.

The final incentive for Savista’s new initiative of creating a cricket pitch – long under consideration, but never ever actually implemented until this winter – came from Stuart, who had written to ask if his children, who were “nuts about cricket”, would get opportunities to play during the family’s stay at Savista. We decided to activate the village cricket team that one of Savista’s owners had been invited to inaugurate a year earlier. And low and behold! On the appointed day, at the appointed hour, the village team arrived, and after the introductions and some practice play, the match began.

Cameron (12 yrs), when invited to contribute to the Savista blog, sent us the photos published here and the following commentary:

“Cameron’s team won the toss and chose to bowl first. The opening batsmen were Tony and Raju, Raju scored a superb 26 and with Vimal scoring 27, the team went onto score 89 bowled out in the last.

With this high score it would have been a hard task to win. However it came really close with Cameron scoring a great 22 runs and the team scoring a total of 60 runs. One of the highlights was Tony’s great bowling taking 2 wickets.What a game!!!!!”

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GUEST STORIES: Reflections of a Mind-Body Healing Practitioner

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Stuart Robertson runs a yoga-physiotherapy teaching-studio-cum-therapy practice in Hampshire called 1-2-1 Yogatherapy where he integrates physiotherapy and yoga in his work with children and adults.  His special passion is teaching yoga to and working with children with disabilities.  Given the toll that modern living takes on the body and mind, his Healthy Spine clinic ought also to be of special interest to lots of people.

Stuart’s story of his own professional and personal journey is fascinating.  Starting off as a qualified PE teacher and working both in England and overseas, he went on to become a chartered physiotherapist and do an M.S. in physiotherapy.  As he puts it, ” my physiotherapy path has been one of challenge and discovery. The more I knew the more I knew I didn’t know!” He went on to traverse the entire gamut –  from being a sports physiotherapist for international rugby and cricket teams, to being the clinical specialist for a chronic pain department within the NHS, and a senior paediatric physiotherapist. In between these various posts, he ran a private practice for 10 years in Somerset, and also toured the world teaching about his speciality , myofascial release.  He then went on to add the armoury of yoga to his understanding of anatomy and physiology, becoming a fully qualified yoga teacher in addition to all his previous roles. The combining of the science of yoga with the science of physiotherapy, was the culmination of his longstanding interest in eastern philosophy and in integrating ‘mind and body’ type work into a more holistic approach to his physiotherapy practice. He spells out his credo thus:

“If you want to be whole, you must first be partial. If you want to be straight, you must first be crooked. If you want to be full, first become empty. If you don’t try to be something, people will see themselves in you. If you don’t have a goal you will always succeed.”

After a day or two of soaking in the atmosphere at Savista, Stuart had this to say about the place:

“What are your expectations of coming to Savista?

Have you come for the peace and tranquility?
Have you come for tasty food?
Have you come to explore the real india free from the hustle and bustle of the city life?

Why not dig a bit deeper and explore yourself?
Savista provides the space, time and energy for just that.
The real voyage of discovery does not involve seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes.  Having run retreats in the UK some 10 years ago, I can not think of a better venue than the Savista Retreat.

What would you need to consider?
What you are aware of, you are in control of, what you are not aware of is in control of you!
Awareness holds the key to any personal insight or transformation.

But awareness of what?
Your physical body, your thoughts, your emotions, your diet, your lifestyle?
All are intertwined and interdependent.
So addressing just one of the above is unlikely to bring about lasting change that you may be hoping for.

Acceptance of this concept of how mind and body are inextricably interlinked does not sit comfortably in a society that looks for the simple quick fix. A solution to all our ills can be found in the global market place somewhere( or so we are led to believe ), rarely do we look internally for a solution to our problems, whether they be physical mental or emotional.

The idea of acceptance of the present moment and circumstance is resisted and rejected by many in the face of such perceived global resources. But transformation and change is driven from within. We have the resources, it is a question of looking with new eyes, and directing and guiding the focus of attention of these new eyes in a mindful manner.

Acceptance, letting go, development of inner strength and self control can be nurtured and understood at the deepest of levels through a mindful practice, whether that be through physical exercise in the form of yoga, or practice of stillness and insight through meditation.

I cannot think of a more inspiring place to take the first step in bringing about purposeful and meaningful change in your life than in the natural tranquil setting and surroundings of Savista!  Retreat, reflect and reply!

Stuart Robertson
Human being, at least in my time at Savista!”

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Stuart may be contacted at:

1 Curzon Place, Lymington, Hampshire, SO41 8DS;

Phone: 07739 548276,

Email: stuart@1-2-1yogatherapy.co.uk

Website: http://www.1-2-1yogatherapy.co.uk/

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The Robertson family – Stuart and Joanne and their children Cameron (12) and Francesca (11) – have been among our most recent guests.  Like the majority of people who choose Savista, they are not tourists, but cultural explorers.  In India for three weeks, at the end of two years of planning and dreaming, they are here to savour the country… slowly… in bite-sized doses… to simply observe…to ask questions…to listen….  Rather than rushing around to see every monument and buying every ethnic artefact, they are consciously seeking out cultural learnings, and remaining open to serendipitous interactions with people.   Obviously, it is the parents who are setting the agenda;  but it is lovely to see how the children are equal enthusiastic partners in this approach to travel and to life.

Joanne is a former ballet dancer who now works with a publishing house that publishes specialist consumer magazines, including Whisky Magazine, Scotland Magazine, and The Drinks Report.com.  Cameron and Francesca are avid cricketeers, both representing their English County of Hampshire  on the under-13 and under-12 teams, respectively. Although Cameron does yoga (like his father) and Francesca learns ballet (taking after her mother), it is cricket that is the shared family passion. They  participated enthusiastically in cricket matches held at Savista on nearly every day of their stay, playing with village youth, Savista staff, and random visitors from Jaipur.  They watched the Bollywood film Lagaan and cheered for the Indian village cricket team throughout.  And by the time they left, they had quite won the hearts of all at Savista.  We wish them well for their onward journey through western Rajasthan and a safe flight home.

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Flowering Trees of Jaipur: The Winter Flowering Siamese Cassia at Savista

Flowers of the Senna Siamea overhanging the lily pool at Savista

Flowers of the Senna Siamea overhanging the lily pool at Savista

The numerous Siamese Cassia (Senna Siamea) trees on the Savista estate have burst into full bloom with the onset of late autumn and the early signs of winter, one of the best seasons in Rajasthan. And everywhere the golden glow of the flowers is lighting up the gardens, and acting as a powerful magnet for our birds and butterflies who come for the rich nectar.

The major flowering season starts at the end of the rains and stops in
December. Since the rains ended late this year, the flowering has reached its peak in just the last few weeks. Hopefully, it will go on for longer. There is another shorter flowering season in May. For the rest of the year, the tree remains heavily clothed in rich green leaves, with the odd flower cluster peeping through but nowhere near as exhuberant as it is now.  The fruits ripen in late February.

It is a small to medium sized tree, upto 15 to 20 metres tall, with a low branching high crown. The leaves are dark green and shining and the flowers are golden yellow with brown slightly curved pods that grow in dense clusters at the end of the shoot. The tree is an evergreen and provides shade relief in the hot summer months. Being fast growing, shady and decorative, it is a good choice for planting along avenues and roadsides. At Savista, our Siamese Cassia trees stand along with Gulmohurs (which flower in extravagant clusters of red and orange through the summer)  and Neem trees (whose fragrant creamy flower clusters appear through the spring) to create a shade belt around the haveli.  We have observed, however, that unlike the Gulmohur and Neem, the heavily leaved branches of the Siamese Cassia are unable to take the fury of the Rajasthan monsoon storms, and although the tree itself stands firm, its branches break easily with strong winds.

The tree is native to south and south east Asia – India, Burma, Sri Lanka,
Indonesia , Malaysia and Thailand – although its first home is believed to be
Thailand; hence its name.  Several places in Thailand are named after it
and it is the provincial tree of the Chaiyaphum province. Its flowers, fruits and leaves are used extensively in Thai, Burmese and Sri Lankan cooking, with the waters draining out from them being removed a few times during the cooking process to get rid of the toxins. The tree is valued across the Asian region for its medicinal properties, particularly as a tranquilising and hypnotic agent. The wood – greyish in colour – is highly prized for Chinese furniture making.

The tree is also known as Blackwood Cassia, Bombay Blackwood, Thai copper pod, Thailand shower, and Kassod tree (English), Johor, Juwara (south east Asian languages), and Kassod, Seemia, Kesariya shyam (Hindi).

Botanical name: Senna Siamea Continue reading

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