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: 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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GUEST STORIES: A Journalist’s Reflections on Savista

When we asked veteran British journalist Richard Horsman to send us a contribution to our blog, we had no doubt that we would be rewarded with a thoughtful and sensitive piece. What has pleasantly surprised us is the vividness of his memories of his stay with us.  Through the last five years of Savista’s existence, Richard has remained a friend and supporter of the idea of Savista.  It is people like him who make it worthwhile for us to keep Savista open to cultural explorers arriving on the sands of Rajasthan drawn, like travelers through the ages, to this amazingly diverse, often disturbing, yet ever fascinating  and overwhelming country.

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Reflections on Savista

Our family trip to India came at a very special time. For me, a significant birthday. For my wife and I, the realisation that our two boys would soon be going their separate ways. Our elder son Alex was poised to start university, the younger boy Daniel about to embark on the exams that would shape his future.

I’ve been a journalist, and more recently a trainer of journalists, for thirty years. Most of my front line experience was in West Yorkshire, mainly in Bradford, one of the most fascinating and diverse cities in the UK. Much of that diversity comes from a large and dynamic South Asian community. Originally these migrants were attracted to Bradford by the lure of jobs in the woollen industry. Their descendants are now taking the lead in business, politics, education and cultural activities.

The city offered a young journalist in the 1980s fascinating glimpses of another world.

I would be invited to cover Diwali and Eid celebrations in makeshift temples and mosques often hidden away in dreary back streets – but once inside I was welcomed into a world of colour and spice and fragrance a million miles from my northern English experience.

As the communities grew in confidence the Bradford Mela was established, at its height the biggest celebration of South Asian culture in Europe. Restaurants would compete to create tempting and delicious treats for the event, often served in extravagant surroundings – one restaurant built a ‘Maharaja’s palace’ on the Victorian boating lake in Lister Park. Another commissioned a life-size sculpture of an elephant to lead the Mela parade through Yorkshire cast iron gates surmounted with fibreglass tigers.

And yet I knew what I saw was a pale reflection of the real India and Pakistan.

Watching the dancers in the park sheltering under umbrellas to keep the September rain off their costumes. Gazing at the Sunday promenade of women and girls heading for the Mela in fabulous brightly-coloured saris … but with sensible shoes in place of dainty sandals to cope with the mud, the whole ensemble topped off with a Marks and Spencer’s cardigan to keep the Yorkshire winds at bay.

It wasn’t .. quite .. right.

I began to dream of seeing the real India. Things got in the way. Life, mainly. Setting up our first home, getting a car, preparing for children, sorting out their education, getting on at work. Something was always a greater priority for our money, our time, our attention. Suddenly I was middle aged and I’d never been to India. So I decided to do something about it.

We’d been warned over and over but it’s true. Visiting India for the first time isn’t a holiday, it’s an experience. Nothing can prepare for the three-dimensional reality of the hustle and bustle, the noise, the smells, the strangeness, the wealth and poverty side by side. Above all the throng of people, people everywhere doing stuff westerners would expect to be done by a machine. We tried to combine the touristy and the authentic. It was hectic.

Our trip started in Delhi and followed the ‘golden triangle’ route. We’d chosen a guest house in Delhi for our first stop. I’ll always remember the ride in the beaten up taxi, the willing hands to carry the luggage and the houseboy sitting in his kitchen, not a yard from us behind a curtain, in case we wanted anything. I wasn’t ready for the plumbing or the power cuts.

Agra, and we faced the opposite extreme. A five-star tourist hotel with every opulence money could buy. It felt like a Disney set. The plumbing was perfect, the lights stayed on, but it felt so false, looking around the dining room, to see Europeans, Americans and Japanese being waited on by Indians without a single Indian guest. The cooking was rich, the service faultless, the experience a sham. Worth it for the Taj Mahal, but not a part of my dream.

That began to be realised when we arrived at Savista. Our driver didn’t know where it was. Most tourists staying in Jaipur headed for hotels which were clones of the one we’d seen in Agra. Most tourists didn’t stay in one place for six nights. He was a bit bemused, and I began to worry I’d made a mistake.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

From the moment we drove through the gate, welcomed by a turbaned doorman, we began to relax.

First impressions were that the website pictures don’t do justice to the haveli itself. It’s an impressive building, a renovation project in progress, so it lacks the uncanny perfection of a film set, but every detail of the work has been carefully thought through. The arches of the original open gallery outside our room were glazed to provide a cool sitting area which would also be pleasantly warm in winter. The earthenware pitcher of water drawn from Savista’s own well was cooled naturally by evaporation, the first time I’d tasted cool, sweet, fresh water (as opposed to a chilled mineral product in a plastic bottle) for over a week. Our room was tastefully furnished with original antiques, and was air conditioned .. but we only needed a short blast of artificial cooling each evening. The fans and the architecture did the rest. Such a contrast to the hermetically sealed rooms of the tourist hotels.

It was time for dinner and a short walk through the grounds, our path lit by firepots, brought us to the dining area under a canopy. These evening meals were probably the most enjoyable part of our stay. We enjoyed the excellent home style cooking – real Indian vegetarian cuisine, not some hybrid version adapted to western tastes, and not over-rich or complicated.

Beyond normal dinner table small talk we also appreciated the many open and intelligent conversations we shared with our host Bhanwar. He’d address the usual tourist concerns, of course, but he also took the time to put out observations and experiences in context each day by helping us understand more about the Indian way of life. We began to relax more when receiving the close attention of Savista’s numerous staff as he explained how revenue generated by the resort provided vital employment which underpinned the economic structure of the surrounding villages. Even water from the swimming pool is recycled to irrigate neighbouring farmland. Savista is truly at the heart of its community.

It’s important to appreciate that Savista is so much more than just another option for an overnight stop. It’s more a destination in its own right.

Only after the first day or so could we appreciate the touches which made us feel like welcome house guests rather than paying visitors. The little things. The way the staff turned down the beds at just the time they knew we would want an afternoon siesta. On the second day our sunloungers by the pool were made ready with fresh towels in just the spot we preferred .. the shades over the courtyard had been specially adjusted to suit.  I developed a taste for sweet lime and soda, and one was always brought to me unbidden (along with a cool towel) as soon as we arrived back from sightseeing. I’m sure they never appeared on the bill. Neither was there any charge for the smiles on the faces of staff who took a real pride in doing their jobs well.

Savista is quirky, and that only adds to its charm. The numerous power cuts send staff scurrying for matches and candles and fuses and switches – but it’s only moments until calm is restored. Not everyone speaks English (but then my Hindi is appalling) so an ingenious chalk board system allows requests to be written on a slate, then taken away to be interpreted by someone who understands.

Savista also has great potential for the future. Looking out over the gardens to the rear Bhanwar told us of plans for live music and dance events, for enhancing the spa facilities and for integrating programmes of yoga and meditation into stays for those who would enjoy such a break. There was even talk of a golf course.

In summary the Savista Retreat offered us our most relaxed experience of the real India. It was the most memorable part of our Indian adventure. My only regret was we never took the opportunity (which was offered) to spend a night sleeping on the roof under the canopy of stars. That can be a dream for another day.

Richard Horsman

Richard now teaches postgraduate journalism at Leeds Trinity University in the UK. You can read his blog http://richardhorsman.com and follow him on Twitter as @leedsjourno.

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Richard and Ruth and their sons Alex and Daniel are treasured members of Savista’s extended family of guests and friends, and  guests-as-friends.  They were among our earliest guests, arriving  purely on faith.  Savista had just begun its  new life as a hotel that year, and by the time spring came along we had a mere fledgling presence on the internet.  All that the Horsman family had to base their judgement on was our website.  And a few  online reviews posted by some supportive happy guests.  As Richard’s post describes, their Indian holiday – rather, “experience” – came at the end of years of waiting and dreaming.  It was also a major family occasion, a marker of sorts. One can imagine how much they must have hoped that all their choices would turn out right.

One of the online reviews must have mentioned that the pool had not been functional on the one or two days that that particular guest had stayed.  Those were the days when we were totally dependent on the state electricity supply system, and could fill our pool only when electricity was supplied to farmers – erratic at most times – for running  irrigation pumps.   State electricity policy in India has always favoured urban/industrial needs over rural populations and farming imperatives.  A few days before they were to arrive, a worried Ruth wrote to us, referring to the review, and asking earnestly whether they would have the pool for use.  We sent her a resounding yes, and no further questions were asked or doubts expressed.

The family that arrived proved to be just the kind of travelers that Savista loves to welcome.  Intellectually curious and extremely well informed, culturally sensitive and eager for enquiry and conversation.    They did all the city sights and explored the rural location that they had chosen, with equal enthusiasm.  And since returning home, they have kept in touch through the years by email and on Facebook.

The family has crossed significant goalposts since they visited us. Ruth,  a computer analyst who specialises in managing databases,  completed her degree in Psychology from the  Open University as a mature student in the year that the family visited Savista. Ruth also has a deep passion for reading which inspired the boys to love books.   As the family’s India holiday planner, she made sure that they all arrived remarkably well read on the country.  Alex  graduated in computer science from Cambridge this year; he has opted for an academic career, and has just been appointed to a research assistantship at his department in Cambridge.  Daniel will join Bradford University this Fall to embark on a degree in civil engineering.  One of the things that the course will offer him is the option of a year abroad; and Daniel is seriously considering spending that year working in India (a fallout of his visit to India, his parents believe).  If this happens,  he can be assured of having Savista as a second home, for holidays or even just simple R and R.   It would be a pleasure to host a younger generation Horsman  ‘Friend of Savista’ and, incidentally, also have him see that things at Savista have moved beyond the days of uncertain power supply that Richard  amusingly – and indulgently – describes!

In the interim years, Savista has commissioned its own private electricity sub-station and now has 24 hour electricity with the back up of inverters and two diesel operated generators.  We still have matchboxes and candles, but now use them to light up the courtyard in the evenings so we can enjoy the starlit sky without the interference of bright electric lights.   Retreats around special interests and block printing workshops have been integrated into the cultural offerings.  And there is much else besides, such as high speed internet (we can now offer our guests free wifi), a re-designed pool and restaurant, etc.  The slates and chalk are still in place to facilitate communication, even though there is an intercom system!  Our staff now speak a little English… enough to delight our guests with warm greetings.

But we still remain the “quirky” place that Richard found.  Very much a place where travelers can expect to experience India, “differently”.

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GUEST STORIES:Shutterbugging With Little Lamas

One of the things that adds vivacity to life at Savista is that a large proportion of our guests come from the creative professions – artists, theatre people, designers of all kinds, photographers of all kinds… It is equally a fact that many of our guests are professionals in the field of science and medicine, including neuroscience and mental health. So what does that have to say about us? Simply, that we are lucky that a diverse range of intense and sensitive people come to this little neck of the woods, there to put down roots for a few days and, when they leave, they spin out a thread of connection that endures – a thread that is as gossamer fine as  it is  strong.  Like a spider’s filament.

Julie Wilhite is a young portrait and wedding photographer by profession. What makes her unique among travellers in general (and our guests in particular), is that she chose to make her first visit to India in a volunteer role. Prior to her holiday with us (along with her cousin Ann), Julie spent three weeks teaching in a Tibetan refugee settlement, working with what she affectionately calls “little lamas”. We asked her if she would send us some photos from her collection for our blog.  What she chose to send was some straight-from-the-heart thoughts on the experience of volunteering as a way of travel to new cultures, and what her interactions taught her.  There are also a few lovely shots of her happy little lamas.

“Life’s a funny thing. You chug along, creating “to do” lists, occasionally checking things off, and wake up one day realizing that months have passed. That happens to me, so I decided I had to do something about it. As a wedding photographer, I am thankful for a flexible schedule and chose the month of February to visit a country that has been calling my name for some time: India. It is a slow time of year for weddings, and I love to travel. As a photographer, I have traveled in years past by choosing an interesting location, taking a week or two off, and making a list of things I want to photograph on the journey. I decided I wanted to have a different experience in India. I wanted to experience India and its people (the true magic of India) on a deeper level. Volunteering seemed like the perfect idea. I had no grandiose ideas of changing the world, but if I could make a small difference and experience something new, my mission would be accomplished.

After talking to different people and lots of internet research, I settled on an organization called International Volunteer HQ – http://www.volunteerhq.org. I was drawn to IVHQ because it partners with established organizations in different countries (to hopefully create more impact) and because of their economical pricing. As many of you may know, volunteering abroad can be quite pricey. IVHQ creates an economical alternative.

So, I paid my dues, bought a ticket and was on my way. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous – ok, A LOT nervous. But what I can say now, is all those nerves were worth it. I did a one week orientation in Delhi which was a great way for me to get settled, made some new friends and got used to being in an environment that is so drastically different than what I am used to. After the orientation, I made the long bus journey to a small town called Bir to volunteer.

Near the Himalayan Mountains and known for the many Tibetan refugees that live in the area, Bir is a peaceful respite from what people typically think of as India. I worked with incredible little monks at a nearby monastery ranging in age from 5 to 13. A fellow volunteer lovingly called them “little lamas.” We were teaching them English, going over simple things such as the words for the face and body and also allowed them to be kids – drawing beautiful pictures, going through the different items you can find at the market, and playing in the nearby landing strip for paragliders. As we ran around one day in the field, some of the boys held their scarves high above their heads and watched with glee as it ballooned in the wind. One little boy shouted “Superman!” and I had to laugh; no matter where you are in the world all little boys are the same. They may look different, they may study different things, but their hearts, their joy for life, their laughter – they are
all the same, all absolutely precious.

As with anything I love, I seek to capture it in photographs. Not only what it looks like, but how it feels. I challenged myself with a project while I was traveling: Daily India. I posted one image a day on Facebook, and it wasn’t always the most dramatic or impressive image, but the one that best told the story of my day.

After volunteering, I was able to spend a week being a tourist around Northern India where I discovered the jewel of Savista. At Savista, we were taken care of beyond our expectations, relaxing and enjoying the delicious meals or wine on the rooftop while taking in the sunset. It was one of our favorite parts of the trip. Savista also allowed me to finally relax and reflect on what a rewarding experience it was to volunteer in another country. And as corny as it may sound, my intention to originally help others ends up being far more rewarding for myself. I will forever remember my “little lamas” and my time spent not stressing about life, but enjoying and experiencing India. “

Julie Wilhite
Portrait & Wedding Photographer
Based out of Austin, TX
info@juliewilhite.com
www.juliewilhite.com

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GUEST STORIES: The Joys and Insights of Travel

Olivier Lacheze-Beer

A trip to Savista is a meeting, first and foremost. As a westerner and a European, it is always a privilege to experience the world differently. I have been travelling since my early age, as my father was a French diplomat, and ever since the age of 2, I have been journeying round the world. Later in my life, my work took me to places around the globe too…and it never ceases to amaze me just how incredibly diverse life on earth can be…and of course, just how much we also share in our experiences on this planet.
So coming to Savista is a privileged moment when you can encounter “the other”, or what you think is “the other”…to challenge notions of what being a human being is, what life on this earth “should” be like, or could be like and gain perspective on one’s own…well…perspective!

The most illuminating moment came for me when at Savista and I took the camel ride to the neighbouring village. When I arrived, I was greeted by all the children running towards me, with huge smiles…this was the stuff of films and documentaries…stuff you see on TV and don’t really believe at times…and here it was…then came the sharing of tea and smoking…and huge amounts of communication without even speaking 3 words of the same language…The most touching and moving moment for me was the way the community of families cared for and dealt with a mentally challenged young man who lived with them. I have rarely seen such humanity and care. They neither ignored his condition ( they made fun of him and laughed at his weird motions or mis-formed words) nor did they put him aside or outcast him…he was an integral part of the village…and was clearly very happy there…It is hard to describe the feelings it brought out in me…and I would probably be very sceptical if I was reading this and had not experienced it…but it was as if I was witnessing a lesson in meeting and being with “the other”…about how differences exist and should not be ignored AND facing those differences allows you to see what is common and therefore accept the difference… Very often, we either glorify or denigrate what is in others…and the truth is that the path to integrating differences is actually accepting them..

India is often a land of contrast…the peacock on top of the rubbish pile…the divine next to the most profane….and my trips to Savista have shown me that: there is not light without darkness, nor darkness without light…and it is not by ignoring the shadows, the “other”, that we are ever going to reach a point where we can move on…we must transcend AND include if we are ever going to have a chance of living with more love and care for each other.

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Many of our readers will find themselves resonating with Olivier’s thoughts.  Olivier is one of that wonderful breed of thinking travellers that magically find their way to Savista to become part of our extended family, and create the possibilities for multi-layered conversations about culture, nature and the human condition that continue long after the “guest” has departed from the “hotel”.  He promised to return, and did so 12 months later this year, and  our conversations resumed effortlessly.

Charmingly understated and utterly modest when it comes to talking about himself, Olivier typically does not dwell on his many talents and interests. Notable among these are his love for theatre, and his intellectual engagement with world cultures. His India connection began long before he actually visited this country, when he was immersed in his former profession as an actor on the British stage.  One the successful productions of his theatre group was a several hours-long version of the Mahabharata, staged in London, in which the four-member cast essayed  multiple roles.  As a preparation for his role(s), he familiarized himself with Sanskrit and made a close reading of the epic.

Currently, Olivier along with his colleague Fiona Bibby, runs Inchigo, a consulting firm that works with clients internationally  (www.inchigo.com).  Trainer, facilitator, coach and consultant, Olivier is a world class coach, passionate about expanding and developing human potential and inter-personal relationships in order to help individuals and teams in companies to embrace change, adapt and increase their performance.

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