Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Passage to India with Lisa Fine

November 11th, 2017

Julia goes to Durham, I go to Delhi. That sounded so perfect last spring  when I was dreading my youngest child’s departure for college.The email from elite New York travel company Indagare announcing an exclusive Insider’s trip to Rajasthan in the autumn felt like a gift from Lord Shiva himself. The week long October trip was being led by textile designer Lisa Fine. I’d never heard of Fine,

but my eldest daughter Kate, an interior designer in Manhattan,  assured me Fine was good.

Cool, I thought, I like fabrics.

Like a lamb to the slaughter.

I guess my first clue that this trip wasn’t pure sightseeing with a pashmina tossed in here or there was when I met the 19-strong group, almost all of whom  hailed from Houston, Dallas,San Antonio and Fort Worth, plus Louisville, Kentucky which is pretty much the same thing. I was a tad confused – had I unwittingly joined some Texan Delegation? Was Delhi Dallas’ twin city or something? Fine print has never been my strong suit.

But Indian prints, here we come.

I soon learned that these women and one charming husband- – all very chic and groomed with trunks of equally chic luggage to my single carry-on (which drew simultaneous gasps of admiration and horror) –  had signed up for the trip, not because their youngest was deserting the mother ship, but because of their devotion to  the dynamic and fun Mississippi-native Lisa Fine who sources many of her designs from India, a country she adores and knows inside out.

While Fine may live between Dallas and New York with a past stint in Paris, she still sounds like she could be sipping Mint Juleps on her Hattiesburg porch.

Listen y’all…, purrs Fine, and we do happily.

Fine at work…

and at play with best friend Cici…

Fine led this group of interior designers, architects, general shop-til-you-drop Texans and one clueless outsider to her  favorite haunts in Rajasthan, especially shopping mecca Jaipur. The group never tired of a chance to see one more print, one more rug, bedspread, napkin, patterned tea cosy.

Houston designer Ann Wolf – the cat who got the cream…

Louisville lovely Kelly Cohen got the gem

Mari McAlister from Santa Barbara got the earrings

And New York designer Charlotte Moss got the country…

On the final heavenly night in Jaipur after elephants, camels, fireworks and trumpets, not to mention a festive dinner with touching  toasts when I thought everyone was finally ready for bed, I spied a diehard group in the extraordinary Rambagh Palace Hotel Book Shop with the spirited Moss offering words of wisdom:

Never go anywhere without a credit card.

Below is most of our group plus our two fabulously knowledgeable, patient and well-dressed guides, Girish and Sanjeev.

While shopping was the backdrop, India was the star attraction. The country, of which I only got a tiny taste,  overwhelms, seduces, delights and shocks even the hardiest of travelers.

What will endure for me are the photos, said Moss, that will transport me back to the finely carved marble of the JianTemple at Ranakpur, the celebration of Diwali given by the Majarajah of Jodphur at the Umaid Bhawan Palace, the Taj Mahal at sundown and sunrise, the canopied boats gliding through early morning mist over Lake Pichola in Udaipur and the craftsmanship on display in every temple, palace, and fort. The deeply lined brown faces of the people, the sounds of market chatter, tuk-tuks beeping at no one in particular, animals foraging in the street, the smells of spices interwoven with smoke and the colors…..the colors…my photos will take me there.

Below are some photos to take you there.

Manhattan-based designer Katie Ridder taking in the stunning grandeur of Jodhpur ….

India by day…

by night…

the squalor…

the sacred

the colors…

the warmth

the surprises

the streetlife

the nightlife

Take me back to this magical place …

From the moment we arrived in polo-loving Jodhpur, the blue city, I was dazzled.

We stayed at the Umaid Bhawan Palace, the second largest inhabited palace after Buckingham Palace. We arrived the day of Diwali, India’s festival of lights ceremony …

Don’t miss the Mehrangarh Fort, which Rudyard Kipling called “the work of giants”.

We then drove several visually exhilarating hours to “the Venice of the East” Udaipur, which is surrounded by lakes and mountains. There we stayed at the Taj Lake Palace which is divine with pools so long that one lap is plenty.

Glass peacock wall art at the City Palace

Our group went wild at Ganesh Handicraft Emporium, a three-story house packed with wares so intoxicating that I bought some white filmy patterned  curtains for windows I don’t own.

But where we really went to town was in Jaipur, Fine’s soul city. There we loved Anokhi for its hand-blocked fabrics and vast selection of goodies from sarongs to pajamas, plus lunch next door.

I never go to Jaipur without dinner at Peshawar and lunch at Anokhi where I have caramelized onion and Gorgonzola pizza, orange cake and fresh pomegranate juice, said Fine

Wolf’s favorite purchase was this onyx bowl from Jaipur’s unmissable Gem Palace

The colors will remind me of the colors of India-even on the dullest winter day, writes Wolf. And I’ll forever have this as a reminder of those palaces and forts and ordinary buildings painted peaches to pinks. It’s hard to pick a highlight from the trip as we saw so many exceptional things…but the one I’ll never forget is the Hall of Mirrors at the Amer Fort.

If only I was Samantha Stephens in Bewitched, I would crinkle my nose and say,

Take me back to India now.

I am still reeling from the saffron, indigo, pale pinks, wandering elephants, swinging monkeys, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, stones I’d never heard of, scrambled eggs with tumeric, cumin and coriander, begging children, smiles, red dots, marigold flowers, trumpets, turbans, marble, and of course, the wonderful people I met on the trip.

As Boston architect Heather Wells emailed us in her group farewell,

Until we meet again ….. Namaste

November, 2017

Note: I want to thank the group for sharing their photographs with me. Several of the above are not my own. And I want to thank Lisa Fine, Indagare, Lucy at Banyan Tours, and of course, India, for giving me the trip of a lifetime.