Posts Tagged ‘minhazz majumdar’

Getting into the Spirit and Attire of India

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Minhazz Majumdar is a writer and curator of Indian art and co-founder of the Earth & Grass Workshop, an organization that promotes arts and crafts as livelihood. She serves as Study Leader on our popular Mystical India tour. Click hereto learn more about Minhazz and traveling with her and here to read her other blog posts.

Mystical India! Colorful India! The two walk together, like two best friends. A group of women stand by the roadside attired in rainbow hued saris. Parrot green and bright pink, mustard yellow and navy blue, fiery reds and oranges – a visual cornucopia of colors in combinations never seen before.  Our Smithsonian Journeys bus passes them by, the guests reaching for their cameras and vying for window space to get that one great shot. Colorful India – captured forever, on camera or in the mind’s eye.

Colorful Indian fashions outside the Taj Mahal

Colorful Indian fashions outside the Taj Mahal

Since time immemorial, India has been known as a treasure house for richly embellished, fine textiles. This rich diversity is reflected in the myriad costumes worn by both men and women across the country. In fact, very often in the absence of any common language, a person’s costume serves as an identity marker, hinting at place, religion, and even marital status.

For guests coming to India on the Mystical India trip, seeing the different clothing worn by men and women as we travel across North India is a fascinating way of exploring the culture and people of this ancient land. Starting from Delhi where one sees a plethora of Indian and Western wear, as we move deeper into the countryside, there are marked differences in dressing styles as people prefer traditional costumes in the rural areas where change is slow.

In Delhi, women wear sarees, salwar-kameez (loose pants with a tunic), churidar-kurta(pants that are gathered at the bottom with a tunic) as well as Western jeans, trousers, skirts, shorts, etc. As we move to Rajasthan, women wear the traditional skirt-tunic called the ghagra-choliwith beautiful diaphanous veils. From Rajasthan as we traverse to the land of the Taj Mahal, the state of Uttar Pradesh and further on to Madhya Pradesh, women are attired in saris while young girls prefer the salwar-kameez. In some villages and towns, young girls can even be seen in jeans. When it comes to men, sadly most Indian men in cities have eschewed the traditional kurta-pyjama (loose tunic and trousers) and the dhoti–achkan (unstitched wrapped garment) and prefer to wear Western style shirts and trousers popularly known as pant- shirt.

One great thing about the Mystical India itinerary is that it explores regions with special textile traditions – Jaipur, famous for its cotton hand-block prints and tie and dye fabrics, Ranthambore with its exotic tribal embroideries, and Agra’s zardozi textiles, while Varanasi boasts of an ancient silk brocade tradition. In addition to such wonderful fabrics, practically everywhere there are good tailors who can sew up a storm in a few moments.

Such is the allure of Indian textiles that inevitably Smithsonian travelers get Indian outfits tailored for themselves. Usually women prefer the salwar-kurta or churidar-kurta over the saree which is a little tricky to wear. Male guests usually get kurta-pyjama over the dhoti. We have great fun at the textile stores as we match and mix to come up with unique combinations – if anyone has ever shopped in India for fabrics, they know how bewildering ( and sometimes overwhelming!) it can be to choose from the wide array of textiles available.   And for those who are not getting outfits, there are thousands of scarves and stoles to choose from.

At our Farewell dinners as we gather to say goodbye and give thanks for a great trip, often the guests appear in their colorful and elegant Indian outfits or dress up their western outfits with lovely Indian scarves and stoles. Another round of photographs please! One thing is guaranteed – once the guests get custom tailored Indian outfits, they discover the biggest secret to Indian clothing – how comfortable and forgiving these garments are, and always flattering! The magic of India accompanies Smithsonian travelers home in their suitcases, bringing color and fond memories every time they are worn!

Now is a great time to discover India. Click here to learn more about traveling to India with us.

We love to shop for clothing while we travel – what’s the coolest thing you’ve picked up on the road?

On the Tiger Trail in India’s Ranthambore National Park

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Minhazz Majumdar is a writer and curator of Indian art and co-founder of the Earth & Grass Workshop, an organization that promotes arts and crafts as livelihood. She serves as Study Leader on our popular Mystical India tour. Click here to learn more about Minhazz and traveling with her.

Tigers have been venerated in India since ancient times. Photo: India Tourism Board

Tigers have been venerated in India since ancient times. Photo: India Tourism Board

To look into the eyes of a tigress is a wonderful, truly mystical experience. For that instant, the elemental beast and you are one in soul and spirit, the tawny eyes staring deep into your very being. You are enraptured, unable to break your gaze, so totally in the moment. You are intensely aware of even a blade of grass moving, of the leaves falling around you, of the wild bird’s call. Yet, she has you enthralled; she is the only focus of your being. Such is the magic of a tigress sighting in the Ranthambore National Park, which is a major highlight of the Smithsonian Journeys Mystical India trip.

The tiger is India’s national animal and the pride and joy of all Indians.  Tigers have been venerated in India since ancient times. The great warrior goddess Durga Devi has the mighty tiger as her vahana (vehicle). The all powerful Lord Shiva is always shown seated on a tiger skin. For the Warli tribespeople in western India, Vaghdeva or the tiger deity is an important deity to whom a part of the harvest is always offered. In West Bengal, the Sufi saint Gazi Pir is always depicted riding a tiger—he is venerated as one who can control even the fierce tiger.

Sadly, the status of tigers in India is dismal today. Despite the fact that India holds over half the world’s tiger population, there are fewer than 1500 tigers left in the wild in the country.  Man-animal conflicts over land use, decreasing forest cover and extensive poaching have resulted in dwindling tiger numbers, a fact that is of great concern worldwide. Nature preserves across India like the Ranthambore National Park are some of the safe havens for India’s declining tiger population and offer a chance to see the tiger in the wild.

Visiting the Ranthambore National Park is a magical experience—it is one of the most picturesque wildlife sanctuaries not only for its beautiful grasslands, crystal clear lakes and dry deciduous forests but also because of its setting against a magnificent thousand year old fort.  Scattered throughout the wildlife sanctuary are evocative ruins of old temples, hunting lodges and pleasure palaces. Seeing a tiger or tigress moving gracefully through the old ruins is a surreal experience—a poignant reminder that humans once ruled where now Nature reigns supreme.

Earlier the private hunting preserve of the rulers of Jaipur, Ranthambore was declared by the Indian government as a wildlife sanctuary in 1957. In 1974, the park was included in the government’s tiger conservation programme, “Project Tiger” and was designated as a National Park in 1981.

Getting to the Ranthambore tiger preserve is an experience in itself. After the busy city streets and markets of Delhi and Jaipur, a ride through vibrant yellow mustard fields brought us to the small town of Sawai Madhopur where we were to spend the night in the former hunting lodge of the Jaipur royal family, now a luxury hotel. Here, we boarded an open canter bus and set off for the National Park. The first view of the Ranthambore Fort in the distance is breathtaking – perched high up on the edge of the tall cliffs, the ancient walls have withstood the test of time. We pass through an ancient gateway, surrounded by huge trees where langur monkeys lounge. Gigantic stone boulders festooned with the aerial roots of banyan trees give a very Indiana Jones kind of feel to the place, and the possibility of sighting a tiger any minute adds to the excitement.

Tigers are elusive creatures … and not ones to appear on command. There have been trips where we have seen as many as five tigers and others where we have seen none. Sometimes, one turns a bend and a tiger is right there on the road. At other times, the tiger/tigress has been partially hidden in the foliage or in the lake. In India, like with many other aspects of life, we believe tiger sightings are dependent on whether you are fated to see one. I tell guests that the more good karma one has, the stronger is the possibility of seeing a tiger. Needless to say, if we spot a tiger, everyone is happy. We have both good karma and have seen the magnificent beast.  When we do not spot tigers, it can be a bit disappointing. But in the spirit of mystical India, there is nothing to worry about. There are many life-times still left, more good karma to accumulate and of course, a reason to come back to India!

Click here to learn more about traveling to India with Minhazz and here to learn about our Independent Journeys to India, which we’ll customize according to your schedule, budget, and interests.