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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

Art on the Plate - Styling Traditional Punjabi Food

Bollywood Posters - Jerry Pinto

Calamity and Courage - Belinda Morse

Culinary Jottings for Madras - Wyvern (A.R. Kenney-Herbert)

Feeding the Gods - Chitrita Banerji

Gardens of Delight – Indian Gardens Through the Ages - Rahoul B. Singh

India – Footprint - Annie Dare and David Stott

India – One Man’s Personal Journey Round the Subcontinent - Sanjeev Bhaskar

India – The Ultimate Sights, Places, and Experiences - Christopher Pillitz et al

India Color – Spirit, Tradition, and Style - Mitchell Crites and Amita Nanji

Made in India - Kalim Winata, Reed Darmon

Maharaja – The Spectacular Heritage of Princely India - Andrew Robinson

Raghu Rai’s Delhi - Raghu Rai

Rajasthan – Lonely Planet - Lindsay Brown and Amelia Thomas

The Sari - Mukulika Banerjee, Daniel Miller

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Travel Reviews
- India

On this page:

Art on the Plate - Styling Traditional Punjabi Food

Bollywood Posters - Jerry Pinto

Calamity and Courage - Belinda Morse

Culinary Jottings for Madras - Wyvern (A.R. Kenney-Herbert)

Feeding the Gods - Chitrita Banerji

Gardens of Delight – Indian Gardens Through the Ages - Rahoul B. Singh

India – Footprint - Annie Dare and David Stott

India – One Man’s Personal Journey Round the Subcontinent - Sanjeev Bhaskar

India – The Ultimate Sights, Places, and Experiences - Christopher Pillitz et al

India Color – Spirit, Tradition, and Style - Mitchell Crites and Amita Nanji

Made in India - Kalim Winata, Reed Darmon

Maharaja – The Spectacular Heritage of Princely India - Andrew Robinson

Raghu Rai’s Delhi - Raghu Rai

Rajasthan – Lonely Planet - Lindsay Brown and Amelia Thomas

The Sari - Mukulika Banerjee, Daniel Miller


Calamity and Courage

Calamity and Courage – A Heroine of the Raj is another in my collection of fascinating books about India and all things Indian that I love so much. It also gave me a surprise as the setting for the aforementioned heroism is in fact the very part of India that my father knew so well – a remote area near the border with Burma.

Calamity and courage The author Belinda Morse is the great-granddaughter of the Victorian artist John Hanson Walker, who exhibited the portrait of Ethel Grimwood at the Royal Academy, and the search for that portrait is in itself an interesting journey.

Calamity and Courage is the story of Ethel Grimwood and Manipur and it’s a tragic tale of Government mismanagement and unnecessary loss of life. It’s the kind of story that would make a romantic adventure film, a cross between The Life of Florence Nightingale and The Far Pavilions.

There was a lot of family in-fighting around the court of the Maharaja of Manipur which necessitated the resignation of one Maharaja and the placement of another. The manipulation of events by the Indian Government (British Government in India) seemed to have rocked lots of boats, which led eventually to a massacre in 1891.

Ethel was marooned in the residence with a small force of armed men and an increasing number of injured. It became evident that they would all lose their lives if they stayed put so it was decided to start out under fire to seek help, not only for themselves but for those officers and men who were by that time held captive at the Maharaja’s palace.

After many days of hardship they were rescued by friendly forces and conducted to safety. It was, however, many weeks till Ethel discovered the fate of her husband and the other captives. The uprising against the British was big news and Ethel was given recognition for her service to the injured men. She was even invited to meet Queen Victoria (who took a great interest in events in India) to be awarded the Red Cross medal.

It seems that Ethel and her husband had a good relationship with the Indian Princes who had treated them not only with polite courtesy but with warm friendship and generosity. They seem to have been unwitting victims of political infighting and both suffered for the prejudices of those in authority.

Calamity and Courage is a book filled with Victorian attitudes but it presents Ethel as a young woman with a bit of grit and loyalty to the princes who were once so kind to her. An amazing read.

Calamity and Courage
Author: Belinda Morse
Published by: Book Guild Publishing
Price: £16.99
ISBN 978-1-84624-215-1
India - culture, history and travel

Culinary Jottings for Madras

Culinary Jottings for Madras “I should recommend anyone with a taste for Victorian gastronomic literature to snap him up...His recipes are so meticulous and clear, that the absolute beginner could follow them, yet at the same time he has much to teach the experienced cook.” That’s from the great Elizabeth David.

Culinary Jottings for Madras was written by WYVERN who was really Colonel Arthur Robert Kenney-Herbert. He had a military career in India from 1858 till his retirement in 1892 and this book is an icon of the time and the place.

He served as Deputy Assistant Quartermaster-General for part of his military service and that experience evidently gave him the confidence to attempt to transform the domestic kitchens of the Europeans in India.

It’s hard to imagine those times of huge dinner parties in sweltering heat with menus that were little changed from those of a country house in England in mid-winter. The British were for the most part unwilling to change their culinary habits and must have suffered for it.

The chapter headings well illustrate the order of things. Three chapters on Sauces, A Few Nice Pies, Our Curries, and that’s just in Part 1. Part 2 consists of Thirty Menus – Worked Out In Detail, all those menus being for four or six people. He continues with For a Little Home Dinner, comprising for example, soup, fish with a sauce, lamb, mash, aubergine, blancmange, cheese, dessert and coffee. A nice quiet night in!

WYVERN saves the best till last with a whole chapter devoted to Our Kitchens in India. He instructs on everything from the kitchen building to staff management. His description of the common state of kitchens indicates the reason why so many Europeans died young!

This is a recognised classic and I can understand why. It offers a look at a totally different era with attitudes that are long gone (thank goodness). WYVERN writes well in a style that is Victorian and charming. It isn’t a book whose recipes you are likely to follow, but you won’t buy this book to use the recipes. You’ll enjoy the experience of the Raj at its height and understand why it couldn’t last!

Culinary Jottings for Madras
Author: WYVERN
Published by: Prospect Books
Price: £15.00
ISBN 978-1-903018-53-8
India - culture, history and travel

Gardens of Delight – Indian Gardens Through the Ages

We British tend to think that we invented gardens and the concept of those spaces as areas of leisure. English gardens are mimicked the world over and even in countries whose climates are unsuitable for even the notion of a cottagey, green and lush space.

Gardens of Delight – Indian Gardens Through the Ages In horticultural terms India would be the head gardener and Europe would be either the apprentice lad or the pot washer, depending on which particular European gardening nation we are considering. India has been gardening for longer and on a grander scale than probably any other country, but its gardens are so often overlooked in favour of those more stereotypical examples from England, Italy and the classic ones of France.

It’s not just that Indian gardens are beautiful but there is another element and one which is missing from most western gardens. So many plants and trees have a religious or mystical association that adds another dimension to an already exotic environment. Tulsi (sacred basil) is revered by Hindus for both its medical and spiritual qualities. This shrub is unique in that it emits oxygen at night and was therefore planted in courtyards where people would sleep to avoid the oppressive heat of summer.

Sandalwood is also known as Chandana in Sanskrit and ancient texts tell us that the scent of the tree filled the Gardens of Paradise, and it is still used in Hindu religious ceremonies. In 1792, the Sultan of Mysore declared sandalwood to be a royal tree and now every such tree has government protection to prevent illegal smuggling of this prized wood.

The Lotus is the national flower of India and sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. It represents Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune and prosperity, and the flower symbolizes spiritual enlightenment, divinity, fertility, wealth and knowledge.

Banyan represents the gods Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma and is symbolic of life and fertility. The tree can grow to an amazing size and the Great Banyan in Howrah in the Indian Botanic Gardens is among the largest in the world.

Gardens of Delight – Indian Gardens Through the Ages charts the changes reflecting the tide of varied influences of culture and religion. Ancient paintings depict scenes of formal gardens with couches and fountains, exotic trees and flowers. These gardens were considered extensions to the inside living areas and often had pavilions and tents to provide shade and privacy.

Garden design does not remain static and this book has some stunning examples of modern Indian gardens. The swimming pool of the Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel in Agra owes much to Moghal architecture but has crisp terracing that reminds one of classic European gardens in Italy. The Baha’i Temple in New Delhi is modelled on a lotus flower. It’s a veritable Asian Sydney Opera House floating on a sea of green. The podium gardens at the Kalpataru Horizon in Mumbai blends contemporary architecture with Indian trees and shrubs. Striking.

Gardens of Delight – Indian Gardens Through the Ages is a sumptuous book and a joy to leaf through. It’s filled with ideas for those of us who want to create our own Gardens of Delight. It’s a perfect gift for gardeners and travellers and those who love India.

Asian book review: Gardens of Delight – Indian Gardens Through the Ages
Author: Rahoul B. Singh
Published by: Pavilion – Anova
Price: £25.00
ISBN 978-1-86205-836-1
India - culture, history and travel

Maharaja – The Spectacular Heritage of Princely India

book review maharaja Thames and Hudson are famed for their high-quality books and this is another fine example of the style of book we have come to expect. It’s large format, full colour and stunning but more than that, it’s an archive of a disappearing world.

India is a confident country with high expectations. It is growing and finally taking its rightful place in the world arena. It has international respect for its advances in technology and the sciences but it also takes pride in its history and culture. Its colourful past continues to fascinate the rest of the world but much of that past is still living, active and well regarded.

Maharajas no longer exist in name but they still exist in fact. They continue to be amazingly wealthy and enjoy lifestyles that the majority of the world can only wonder at. They might not any longer have exotic titles but the opulence of old lingers on.

Maharaja – The Spectacular Heritage of Princely India is a sumptuous volume which looks at the descendants of the maharajas. They lost their states in 1947 and had their titles abolished in 1971 but in many ways it’s business as usual. They live in stunning palaces with amazing treasures and employ legions of servants. I can hear socialist teeth grinding at the vision, but just consider awhile. India is not a welfare state. People need jobs. India’s craftsmen are celebrated for their skill and artistry and their very existence today in modern India is in no small measure due to the patronage of the previous maharajas and the present almost-maharajas.

Sumio Uchiyama is best known in Japan as a portrait photographer of movie stars. This Maharaja project has allowed him to travel the length of India searching for the remains of the famed princes who still follow their traditional way of life. Whilst this book contains much more than just portraits it’s evident that the photographer has an amazingly good eye for that genre.

The author, Andrew Robinson, has penned more than fifteen books including a biography of Satyajit Ray, the Indian filmmaker responsible for Pather Panchali, a film which won numerous awards at film festivals world-wide, and of Rabindranath Tagore, a poet, novelist, musician, and playwright who won the 1913 Nobel Prize for Literature. Maharaja – The Spectacular Heritage of Princely India has allowed him to put context to the subject.

This is another from the Thames and Hudson stable which will be sought after by those of us who love India in all her colourful and exotic guises. The images are beautiful, thoughtful and evocative. Would that TV documentary-makers consider taking such a reasoned and positive view of this magnificent country.

Book review: Maharaja – The Spectacular Heritage of Princely India
Author: Andrew Robinson
Published by: Thames and Hudson
Price: £14.95
ISBN 978-0-500-28822-1

India - culture, history and travel

Art on the Plate - Styling Traditional Punjabi Food

Punjabi food I am, at first sight, overwhelmingly English. Yes, well, no, not quite. I have a family connection to India which is distant yet strong. That little bit of sub-continental exotica manifests itself in the guise of a passion for Indian food.

One might assume that I have spent endless time in Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai. Actually my time in India has been scant so my association with Indian food has been confined to restaurants in London, and cookbooks which have mostly been written with the European in mind.
 
Food craft institute Hoshiarpur in association with Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board organized the unique Culinary Challenge, Art on the Plate “Styling Traditional Punjabi Food”. The Punjab is a long way from London but, in a way, this exciting initiative is as much about us, lovers of fine food in Europe, as about the originators of vibrant recipes.

Art on the Plate follows the success of the Star Chef Punjab competition, supported by Mrs. Raji P. Shrivastava, IAS, Secretary, Tourism & Cultural Affairs of the Government of Punjab. This new Challenge promotes forgotten recipes and encourages the inclusion of those on restaurant menus, and elevates those dishes that are in danger of being lost.

Photographs of dishes were requested from student chefs and professional chefs from catering colleges and restaurants as well as hotels, across the Punjab. The participating chefs were short-listed after consideration of the authenticity of their recipes as well as the style of presentation. That authenticity, for me at least, is the remarkable element of this challenge.

Let’s consider for a moment, why authenticity might be worth celebrating and preserving. There are two continental considerations here. Firstly for India: It has one of the world’s classic cuisines. It’s popular worldwide and Indian chefs do travel, so the preservation and exportation of that worthy culinary heritage should surely be the mission of any serious Indian chef. If it disappears, it disappears forever and it’s a treasure that is too valuable to squander.

Punjabi food But what of the other aforementioned continent? Well, in truth it’s all other continents and their cities that have grown to love Indian food …or is it Indian food? We love our ‘curry houses’ in the UK and we assume that we have been enjoying Indian food. The truth is that they are mostly run by Bangladeshis who have been offering us often delicious and moreish dishes that have been developed for what is assumed to be the European palate. There are many high-end Indian restaurants that have galaxies of Michelin Stars and other accolades, and all well-deserved, but is their food authentic or just spicy and beautifully presented?

Art on the Plate “Styling Traditional Punjabi Food” and other similar initiatives are and will be crucial to the continuity of real Indian dishes in India, and the introduction or popularizing of authentic recipes beyond its shores. We are often ridiculed in Britain for having such non-authentic menu items as Chicken Tikka Masala as one of our national dishes. But it was, I believe, presented to us in an ‘authentic’ Indian restaurant. I am sure, if we only knew, there are many familiar dishes that we assume to be made from the recipe of the chef’s Grandmother, but that are in fact especially designed for this as-yet ill-educated audience. Art on the Plate “Styling Traditional Punjabi Food” endeavors to instill pride in Indian chefs for their own prized gastronomy, whilst perhaps persuading them that there are others overseas who would dearly like to taste the real thing.

I have immense faith in the momentum of Art on the Plate. It is initiated, conducted and supported by some of my friends who are amongst the most eminent food-smiths, not only in India but across the globe. The final round for the event was held on 22nd September 2014 and Manjit Singh Gill, President IFCA, Sudhir Sibal, Ambassador, World Chefs without Borders, Sanjiv Verma, Pashtun Chandigarh, judged the food presentations. That in itself is a culinary lineup over which to wonder.

Celebrity Master Chef Vikas Khanna was the Guest of Honour and was also a part of the Jury, and awarded the coveted prizes to the winners. During the event Master Chef Vikas launched his latest book, appropriately called AMRITSAR - Flavours of the Golden City. Mr. Manoj Aggarwal, Head of Operations - CSJ L& T Realty Limited, and Mr. Gurvinder Singh Juneja, Hon. Secretrary, HRANI, were also present at the event.

Mr.Vikrant S Parihar and Ashish Nikhanj were awarded 1st and 2nd places respectively in the Professional Category.  Aditi Sood and Abhishek Sharma were winners of the 1st and 2nd places respectively in the Student Category.

Punjabi food During the event Mr. Kashish Mittal, IAS, Director of Tourism, Chandigarh, and Mr. Razit Bhandari, Senior Marketing Manager, Punjab Heritage & Tourism Promotion Board,  released a Tourist Map of Punjab which is entitled Food Trail in Amritsar and is endorsed by Chef Vikas Khanna. During his address to the assembled group, Chef Khanna remembered “Punjabi Cuisine is very close to my heart and soul. I learnt how to roll breads in the busiest kitchen, that is the Golden Temple, and also learnt the true spirit of service and devotion.” He recognised the efforts of the institute and PHTPB in promoting the cuisine of this great region by conducting such competitions.

Chef Manjit Singh Gill is a famous and respected figure worldwide and he congratulated everyone on the successful presentation of the event, and he also assured continued support from the Indian Federation of Culinary Associations in future such events. Support from event sponsors Elante Mall-Venue Partners, Sindhi Sweets-Hospitality Partners, and ICF Punjab and Chandigarh Chapter - Education Partners was recognised with gratitude.

I must confess that this is not an article written by an independent journalist. I am committed to this project and others like it. I have lent my humble name to it and will continue to encourage chefs of every culinary hue to respect their grandmothers and authenticity. Innovation is valuable and exciting, but how do we know where we are going if we don’t know from whence we came?


Feature Indian Culture

Bollywood Posters

Bollywood Posters Over the years, Sheena Sippy has shot ad campaigns for Johnson’s Baby Soap and others. She has also immortalised celebrities such as Zakir Husain, international model Naomi Campbell and politician and ex-cricketer Imran Khan. Sheena also undertakes freelance assignments for fashion magazines like Verve and Elle.

She was probably destined to do great things. She comes from one of India’s best-known film families. Sheena is the eldest daughter of director Ramesh Sippy, best known for directing the popular and critically acclaimed film Sholay (Embers). Sheena’s grandfather, G.P. Sippy, is known for several popular Bollywood hits such as Seeta Aur Geeta, Saagar and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman.

The text for this amazing posterama is written by Jerry Pinto. He has had an long career which started at the tender age of 16. He wasn’t a trainee journalist or a “best boy” for Bollywood movies, he was a maths tutor! He has had a wealth of experience in the world of writing. He has penned poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and in 2006 he wrote Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb, an affectionate portrayal of the dancing legend who had survived in the heady Mumbai film industry for 30 years.

Bollywood Posters is a glossy, large-format volume that will be sought after by Bollywood film enthusiasts, lovers of all things Indian and those who are fascinated by popular art. It contains  over 200 posters covering all styles of film. Posters of original films are contrasted with the remakes illustrating the change in taste and printing techniques.

This magnificent book charts the history of these posters from the beautifully hand-painted examples of the first posters to the digitally-perfect productions of the modern era. Perfect with regard to crispness of image, perhaps, but there was indeed something magical about the works of art of those long-gone days when the swish of a large-scale brush could draw the viewer into another world. This genre must be considered the archetypal Popular Art, as India has a huge population of film-goers who have even been rumoured to sell their own blood to buy a ticket to the movies.

It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of these film posters, not only to the Mumbai film industry but to the film-going public. Vibrant colour and scenes of gods, villains, beautiful women and an array of weaponry have graced the streets of Indian cities for generations. They advertise films of courage, comedy, drama and despair but the posters are now, quite reasonably, adored for themselves. They tell the story of Indian film and Indian society. Fabulous!.

Bollywood Posters
Author: Jerry Pinto
Photographer: Sheena Sippy
Published by: Thames and Hudson
Price: £19.95
ISBN 978-0-500-28776-7

India - culture, history and travel

Feeding the Gods

Feeding the GodsYou know by now that I have a love of all things subcontinental so it’s no surprise that I read and enjoyed Feeding the Gods (Memories of Food and Culture in Bengal). Chitrita Banerji has written a charming and very personal reflection on her life and the spiritual part that food has played in it.

It is fair to say that this book is a woman’s book but it is as far removed from “chick lit” as you can get. It deals with serious issues of religious conflict and prejudice in a non-judgemental fashion and allows us to understand a little of the complexities of Bengali society. There was so much that I didn’t know and so many surprises.

Chitrita marvellously contrasts festivals in her homeland with her first Christmas in the US... “As with eating, celebration too is marked [in Bengal] not by restraint, but by boundless enthusiasm. The autumn festivities are about inclusion and community participation.”  But in the US “I anticipated the same kind of energy, laughter, and fragrance that festivals had always meant to me. Instead I found myself inhabiting a ghost town ...Christmas was a very private event behind closed doors ...merrymaking and eating were off-limits to all but the inner circle.”

The saddest but, in some ways, the most fascinating part of the book is the chapter called What Bengali Widows Cannot Eat. These ladies suffer not only bereavement but also a change of wardrobe and diet.  They can no longer eat meat and fish, and may only wear white. We can find similar traditions (with regard to attire) with the black-clad elderly ladies of southern Spain, Greece and Italy. Same sentiment, different colour.

Chitrita has obviously had a warm and loving family who have taught her how to pay respects to her Gods in the time-honoured way. Her writing is poetic and her words evoke rituals, colour and tastes of Bengal. Feeding the Gods gives a unique insight into the part played by food in spirituality. Our different ethnic origins don’t preclude us from understanding her sense of tradition and heritage. We might think that Chitrita Banerji is writing about food, but she is writing about continuity, ties and humanity. And that’s all of us!

Feeding the Gods
Author: Chitrita Banerji
Published by: Berg
Price: £14.99
ISBN 190542210-5

India - culture, history and travel

India Color – Spirit, Tradition, and Style

India Colour – Spirit, Tradition, and StyleCan there be a land that has given more to style than India? I admit I have a bias but it is evident that we in the West and particularly in Britain have long embraced all things Indian.

Melba Levick is the photographer for India Color. She has several other books under her belt... well, almost 50! She specialises in travel, architecture, gardens and design and all of those are featured in this volume to good effect. Melba has the practised eye of one able to get that shot that tells the whole story, that second of expression or movement that conveys so much. The text by Mitchell Crites and Amita Nanji gives context to Melba’s marvellous photographs and elevates this book from a coffee table curio to a sumptuous travelogue.

This isn’t a 21st century phenomenon. This is a love affair that has endured for centuries. Victorian ladies spent chilly evenings swathed in Indian shawls. Indian fabrics were a mainstay at the celebrated Liberty’s store in London, and Indian paintings have adorned many a European wall. It’s that combination of design and colour that has remained traditional and uniquely contemporary.

India Color is a marvellous showcase for those elements that are familiar yet still exotic. A shop selling nothing but bright bangles carefully arranged by colour giving the impression of shelves stocked with glinting rainbows. Trays of silver armlets which need no precious stones to create a sense of continuity and cultural identity, each piece being of traditional and regional design.

India Color touches on so many aspects of Indian life and all of them are overlaid with brilliance. Toys, mirrors, musical instruments, ceramics, carved stone and wood are all are here in abundance but so are turbans and saris, and the people themselves - they are the most vibrant.

Not many countries decorate the livestock as well as does India. An elephant presents a nice big canvas and looks spectacular with painted ears, head and trunk, and what could be more evocative of the real India. A country successfully reaching for modernity whilst maintaining a grip on all that is amazing from the past. Long may it continue. India Color is just a glimpse of the tapestry and a lovely glimpse at that.

India Color – Spirit, Tradition, and Style
Authors: Mitchell Crites and Amita Nanji
Photography by: Melba Levick
Published by: Chronicle Books
Price: £ 17.99
ISBN 978-0-8118-5316-3

India - culture, history and travel

Made in India

Made in India My passion for Indian art started in the 1960s when UK shops were filled with all manner of Asian textiles, pictures and ornaments. These were the years of pop art, Hari Krishna and tie-dye. Made in India reflects “real” popular Indian art, that is to say the art available to the masses via advertising hoardings, boxes of matches, calendars etc. It ranges from primitive to elegant but always evocative.

The authors are evidently enamoured with this art form as they have produced similar volumes for Made in China and Made in Japan. Kalim Winata is a computer animation artist and an expert on Asian art. Reed Darmon has designed numerous books and gift products published by Chronicle Books.

Made in India is a chunky, compact volume that offers hundreds of images of everyday Indian graphic design from past centuries. They include folk art, religious prints, and black and white postcards from the time of the Raj, and artwork for children’s books. It’s a book to linger over.

Film has had a big impact on popular art. Made in India has a section devoted to that genre. Not the glitzy posters of Bollywood but marvellous romantic portraits of Ashok Kumar, for example, who was the king of the movies between the 30s and the 60s.

The transport posters are quite lovely and the artistic equal to any much-admired European equivalent. The luggage labels for celebrated hotels such as the Taj and the Oberoi would have adorned the cases of rich travellers of a century ago. An Air India fan of the 1960s is a snapshot of the Flower Power style of that era.

Do I have a favourite image from this lovely little book? Well, yes and it has to be of the goddess Saraswati. This representation is said to have been modelled on Bollywood star Hema Malini. It is a marvellously vibrant and charming print full of colour and religious symbolism. It remains stereotypically Asian while hinting at European Art Deco of the 1930s.

Made in India will be sought by any lover of art history, of popular art, of folk art or of all things Indian. It offers a peek into advertising graphics of the subcontinent. It’s amusing and thought-provoking.

Made in India
Authors: Kalim Winata, Reed Darmon
Published by: Chronicle Books
Price: £8.99
ISBN 13: 978-0811865029

India - culture, history and travel

Raghu Rai’s Delhi

Raghu Rai's Delhi Raghu Rai may not be a name familiar to you unless you are a photography professional. He has, however, had a career which has been so noteworthy that he was awarded the Padmashree in 1971, one of India’s highest civilian awards. Raghu’s National Geographic article “Human Management of Wildlife in India” won him high praise in 1992. He has won national and international awards, and has exhibited in Europe, Japan and Australia. His work has appeared in many of the world’s most prestigious magazines and newspapers including Time, Life, GEO, The New York Times, Sunday Times, Newsweek, The Independent, and the New Yorker.

Raghu Rai’s Delhi is an archetypal coffee table book... that is to say that it is the size of a small coffee table. I have reviewed many large-format books but this is the largest and the most impressive. This is surely going to become a classic not only of Indian photographic subject matter but of photographic work in general, not for reasons of sheer volume but for quality of composition.

This book is the third that Raghu Rai has published on Delhi and it spans 40 years of this man’s celebrated work. He has enjoyed changes in photographic technology over those years and now carries only a digital camera. He hasn’t turned his back on black and white, he assess each shot and converts colour to monochrome, and the mix of both genres adds much to this major work. The colour pictures have vibrancy and impact and the black and white show mood and texture.

You don’t have to have a passion for the subcontinent to appreciate Raghu Rai’s Delhi. It is magnificent in its representation of humanity that we can all relate to. This book dwells neither on poverty nor on opulence, it shows candid scenes from everyday life, scenes that might have gone unnoticed or considered banal by those of us with a less practised eye. Each shot captures a never-to-be-repeated moment. A story vividly painted.

Do I have favourite pictures? Perhaps. “Peeping Faces, New Shopping Complex” shows a modern, light and airy sari shop with shelves filled with precisely folded lengths of gorgeous fabric. Modern furniture gives an almost Scandinavian feel to this picture which does still manage to speak of Indian style and grace. The facing page is “Reflections at Pizza Hut” showing a scene that could be repeated all over the world, but the reflections in the window suggest an older India.

Raghu Rai’s Delhi is quite simply the seminal photographic work on this amazing city. I have pored over this book for hours. Each frame is a masterpiece in its own right. Raghu Rai deserves his praise and awards. His talent must be a gift from one of India’s many Gods.

Raghu Rai’s Delhi
Author: Raghu Rai
Published by: Thames and Hudson
Price: £49.95
ISBN 13: 978-0500543771

India - culture, history and travel

The Sari

The Sari This wasn’t, to be honest, what I expected. It has a bright and evocative picture on the front cover but this isn’t a book about colourful textiles, it’s about how the sari is worn and the place it holds in Indian society. It’s a simple length of cloth but to suggest that is all it is would be rather like saying a book is just reconstituted tree.

I have always admired women in saris. It’s not just the fabric that holds one’s attention but rather the form, the drape, the movement of the material. It’s an ancient dress but one that is by the same token timeless. It hints at exotic sexuality while simultaneously conveying an impression of modesty.

The Sari is about the wearers of saris and their relationship to it. It’s complex and varied but one that has impact. The diverse strands of feminine Indian society have a common denominator and that is the sari, with all its myriad styles and significance: it is not just an item of clothing like, for example, a western tee-shirt - a sari plays a role in much of Indian social interaction.

The Sari has a collection of personal stories from women who wear or have worn the sari on a regular basis. For some it’s reserved for smart evening wear, with western attire being the choice for the majority of the time. Others are full-time sari wearers who might even wear a sari to bed to ensure that they are covered from prying eyes at all times. The sari in many of these cases is used as an expression of religious and familial conformity.

Indian school girls don’t wear saris and the first time one is worn heralds the start of adult life. It was interesting to read that Indian women do, in fact, have sari accidents and anxieties. Yes, there have been occasions when a sari has become unwound, a careless foot causing embarrassment. I have tried a sari and I’ll not feel safe in one without the use of several 4-inch nails and a weightlifter’s belt. Sari-wearing is an art.

The Sari is a book that has introduced me to an aspect of Indian society that is seldom discussed. One looks at attractive ladies in beautiful clothes and one takes the sari at face value, but this amazing book shows a fascinating aspect of the lives of so many women of and from the subcontinent. It’s a worthwhile and compelling read and encourages one to consider the wearer rather than the worn.

Asian book review: The Sari
Authors: Mukulika Banerjee, Daniel Miller
Published by: Berg
Price: £14.98
ISBN 978-1-84788-314-8

India - culture, history and travel

India

india If you are about to go off to India then buy this book. Buy this book and read the first 80 or so pages before you pack, and then dip into relevant chapters by destination. You will be glad you did.

Why read the first 80 pages first? Well, it’s not just because they are at the beginning but because they cover important issues like packing (that’s why I said, to read this before packing), water purification, hazards of road travel and money matters (yes, it does!)

The back of the book is also, in my opinion, a “must read sooner rather than later”, it being Background and Language. The Background chapter covers history, culture, religion and geography. Language covers, well, language! It makes a good impression if you can say “thank you” in Hindi.

This is such a comprehensive book and it covers every place you would want to go and a few that you wouldn’t. Let’s look at one area and marvel at the thoroughness of this volume. Stick a pin in the map, dear reader, and I’ll tell you what the guide says about that location...

Kerala, nice choice! Pages 887 to 959. We start with a map of the subcontinent and Kerala highlighted, a list of contents for this chapter and the special Footprint Features which include items like Don’t Miss, Kerala’s Social Underbelly, Body Language, The Backwaters, and The Modern Mass Pilgrimage. Other regions have appropriate Footprint Features, one of the many elements that put these guides ahead of the others.

The smallest of towns is listed and there is advice on travel, sights, places to stay (prices indicated), eating (don’t eat the buffet), shopping and tours. I don’t think anything has been left to chance. Every detail has been well researched. In Munnar, for instance, you can visit the Tata Tea Museum, or how about the Elephant Yard in Guruvayur?

The maps are first class and there are lots of them, from regional maps to city street maps. The transport information is the best I have come across in this type of guidebook and the detail is amazing, giving bus routes and frequency, motorcycle hire websites and addresses, rickshaw and taxi rates and train information. The Footprint Guides are designed with the independent traveller in mind, and they don’t assume that you are loaded with cash.

Each area has its own Directory, a comprehensive list of handy addresses....like a chemist.  All guides tell you where to post a letter (your mum will be lucky if she gets a postcard), but you need to know where to go if you get sick or, more important, if you need to check your email! It’s all in this guide.

This is your “Big Trip” and you want to get as much out of it as possible. You only want to carry one book so let this be the one.

India
Authors: Annie Dare and David Stott
Published by: Footprint
Price: £14.99
ISBN 978 1 906098 05 6

India - culture, history and travel

India – One Man’s Personal Journey Round the Subcontinent

India – One Man’s Personal Journey Round the Subcontinent This is a unique perspective from a west London lad who takes a voyage of discovery, a voyage to discover heritage, roots, amazing differences and surprising commonality. Sanjeev Bhaskar has straddled both British and Indian societies with their many complexities and contradictions.

Sanjeev had a childhood to which so many of us can relate. Home was a maisonette above a laundrette and under the Heathrow flight path. I can still remember the distinctive aroma of the paraffin stove that was the “heater of choice” for his family and so many others in the 1960s. Not everything was cold, grey and gloomy – the fish and chip shop was just next door!

The long family holidays spent in New Delhi seemed to the young Sanjeev to be a catalogue of discomfort, with intermittent water supply and mosquitoes that had a penchant for English take-away. Telephones were rare and air conditioning wasn’t an option, but how times have changed - twenty years later India is a world leader in biotechnology and pharmaceutical research, it has the world’s largest radio telescope and is at last taking its place in the international arena in so many other areas. India still manages to hold to its traditions, a task that would seem impossible to maintain under the onslaught of technology and modernity.

Sanjeev is famed for his comedic portrayal of Indians in the UK and for hosting Delhi Belly, a food travelogue with restaurateur Reza Mahammad. You would expect him to write a light and witty book, and India is very much that. It’s also filled with honest and sometimes painful observation. There is a story of tragedy here that also speaks of strength, forgiveness and hope for the future.

On a humorous note our hero is invited to the birthday party of His Royal Highness Rajeshwar Saramad-i-Rajha-i-Hindustan Mahararjadhiraja Maharajah Shri GAJ SINGHJI II Sahib Bahadur Singh. Sanjeev wonders “Gosh, what do we sing when we get to ‘Happy Birthday dear....?’ He had no need to worry as it was “Happy Birthday dear Bapji” and the dear man even handed Sanjeev a slice of his cake.

India – One Man’s Personal Journey Round the Subcontinent is a book that will take you through the whole spectrum of emotion but it’s equally a book that will be thoroughly enjoyed by those of us who love India in all its myriad facets.

India – One Man’s Personal Journey Round the Subcontinent
Author: Sanjeev Bhaskar
Published by: HarperCollins
Price: £8.99
ISBN 978-0-00-724739-4

India - culture, history and travel

India – The Ultimate Sights, Places, and Experiences

India – The Ultimate Sights, Places, and Experiences This book is large, colourful, and sumptuous and any other superlatives you care to mention. It’s a luxurious encyclopaedia of the subcontinent and covers pretty much every aspect of life, art and culture of this marvellous country.

India – The Ultimate Sights, Places, and Experiences is a weighty tome but it’s true to say that the subject is so vast that even this book can’t cover it in depth. What it does do is portray India in a most sympathetic and unpatronising fashion. The writers and photographers have evidently done their homework and intend you to have a broad-based look the people and places that make India so memorable.

I can hardly begin to tell you how bored I am by TV documentaries about Suchandsuch’s View of The Real India. In truth these documentaries just serve to reinforce stereotypes that westerners hold so dear. We are confronted by yet another rat-filled temple (yes, they are there but there is more to worship than that) and people living on the streets (Do Indian producers come to London to film drunks on park benches?). This book looks at typical Indians who have jobs, who work hard (and a few that don’t need to), go to school and have dreams of the future.

India is both ancient and new. Modern India is a little over 60 years old but its soul and character have existed for millennia. Towns in India had well-developed sewage systems in prehistoric times. More correctly, times when the west had done nothing much to make history but times by which India was already civilised and cultured.

India – The Ultimate Sights, Places, and Experiences draws on 700 or so pictures to lead you through this vast country with all of its awe-inspiring scenery (everything from mountains to lush valleys, from desert to jungle). It also introduces you to all its major religions, its amazing architecture, its art and treasures, and its diverse population.

 India is, at last, taking its place as a world power. Its future is bright and it has young people who will make a success of this land that has so much to offer. This gem of a book gives a tantalising overview of the country and its culture. It’s not a text book but rather a volume to be enjoyed by the whole family. It’s impressive and a joy, and astounding value for money.

Asian book review: India – The Ultimate Sights, Places, and Experiences
Published by Dorling Kindersley
Authors: Christopher Pillitz, Gary Ombler, Abraham Eraly, Yasmin Khan, George Michell, Mitali Saran
Price: £25.00
ISBN 978-1-4053-2904-0

India - culture, history and travel

Rajasthan – Lonely Planet

Rajasthan This might be your first big trip and the success of that adventure might well lay in preparation and planning. You’ll want to be informed of things to avoid and others not to be missed. Rajasthan – Lonely Planet is an ideal tool to supply some travel needs. You’ll want to get the most from this colourful region of India. Rajasthan – Lonely Planet

So why would you want to go to Rajasthan? Well, why wouldn’t you? It’s a desert land of forts and palaces. Why do I say it’s colourful? The people have a love of all things vibrant to contrast the immense areas of barren land, and that land is the size of Germany!

Lonely Planet have years of experience (they have been around since 1973) and their guidebooks are some of the best. They have expert researchers who share their advice. They don’t just steer you to the most celebrated of tourist spots (although you won’t want to miss the Taj Mahal), they will point you to Sam’s Cafe for a sit down and a nice cup of chai. You’ll be confident about venturing a little way of the well-trodden trail because the man from Lonely Planet has been there before you.

Read “Getting Started” before you get started. It states the obvious but the obvious is often the first thing that is overlooked. My sister forgot her passport and had to hide under a coach seat to cross the border from France to Belgium. There is a handy tip about taking a torch with a headband, and a universal sink plug. This is essential kit even when planning a trip to Rome!

It’s a good idea to have some notion of what you want to see when you get to Rajasthan. Lonely Planet has suggested three classic routes to consider. The Golden Triangle of just over 700km which will swing you by Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Maharaja Circuit (that’s the one for me) is a loop of 2000km incorporating The Golden Triangle but then takes in forts and palaces in central Rajasthan. A Month-Long Sojourn is 2500km and allows you to delve into the spiritual heart of Rajasthan, its less well-known palaces and spectacular wild life. Truly a tip of a lifetime.

Lonely Planet has stuffed this volume with everything for the independent traveller. You’ll be able to choose restaurants and hotels to suit your budget. You’ll be able to order a meal, chat to the waiter (OK, a very short conversation), and ask for the bill, in Hindi. You’ll find your way around the extensive public transport system. Buy this guide in good time and start to plan your dream.

Rajasthan – Lonely Planet
Authors: Lindsay Brown and Amelia Thomas
Published by: Lonely Planet
Price: £14.99
ISBN 978-1-74104-690-8

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