Thursday 26 February 2015

Indian Colour In The Black Country

 You wouldn't have spotted this chiffon & lamé number peeping out of my improved wardrobe as it's been on the mending pile for the past 12 months. The last time I wore it I heard a sickening rip and, on further inspection, realised I'd badly torn the sleeve. I blame my bulging biceps I've developed from my thirty minute a day workout on the Wii Fit.

I don't know why I'd put off the repair for so long, a length of hemming tape, a damp tea towel and a hot iron and it was sorted in no time. Its not perfect but with fabric this fancy who's going to notice?

The dress might turn heads in the Black Country* but in India I'd fit in a treat.

On the train from Mangalore, sharing a bag of chilli banana chips with a stranger, she remarked, I'm very happy to finally meet someone from your country who doesn't dress plainly, I thought all Westerners did.

Diane Vreeland once said that Pink is the navy blue of India. Unlike in our "developed world," you won't see the masses here clad in grey & black.

Heat & noise aside, the main thing I notice when I'm back in the UK is the absence of vibrant colour on our streets.

In India everyone embraces colour, regardless of age or gender.

As children we love colour but then we grow up and get scared. We try to blend in, imprisoning ourselves within the boundaries of fashion and perceived good taste.

I say stuff grown-up dressing, embrace colour and everybody will be too dazzled by your clothes to notice the wrinkles. It works for me.

I hope shoe-horning a few gratuitous travel photos in the blog pleased those of you sweet enough to ask for more (as if I need any encouragement).

Vintage Victor Costa maxi (Courtesy of Jo), Pakistani tote bag (25, jumble sale, years ago), 70s felt hat (my friend, Zoe), Massive vintage pendant (dearest Em), Stack heeled leather boots (£1.50, Charity shop, 2011)
We're outside on Saturday, trading at Nottingham's Fayre in the Square, come and see us if you can. We'll be dressed like polar explorers (brightly dressed ones!)

Updated to link to Judith's Hat Attack #20.

See you soon.

* The Black Country, the part of the Midlands where we live, was named during the Industrial Revolution because of the black soot in the air from the heavy industry that dominated the area. 

Tuesday 24 February 2015

I Can See Clearly Now

After a month of living out a backpack and dressing in whatever smelled the freshest, its most perplexing to suddenly be confronted with two wardrobes stuffed with clothes. Do I go for mini, midi, maxi; a skirt, a dress, a catsuit; the boots or shoes; a coat, a jacket or a cape? By the time I'm ready to leave the house the bedroom looks like psychedelic nuclear explosion.

Sometimes I get so perplexed by the choice in front of me that I give up altogether and "borrow" something from the Kinky Melon stockroom. Like I did on Sunday, wearing this early '70s David Silverman dress to work at Moseley vintage fair. 

Every year after living with so little in India, I end up having a massive clear out and donating heaps to charity. The fashion bloggers call it an "edit" which conjures up images of a smartly dressed woman in spectacles and a pencil skirt taking stock and making notes, a world of difference from me in my knickers clutching a can of beer, blasting out Royal Blood and tossing maxi dresses, laddered tights, knackered boots and free festival tote bags across the bedroom.

This is the end result. (The eagle-eyed amongst you might spot that the David Silverman maxi is a keeper).

As Grandma used to say, I can now see the wood for the trees. Maxis with sleeves in one place, separates, mini dresses and sleeveless maxis/catsuits in another. The stockroom is full to bursting and there's two industrial sized bin bags and a laundry basket in the van, ready to be dropped off at one of my favourite charity shops in the morning.

..this is why its a favourite. Last week I bought this Indian table parasol for 50p! (I bet I won't leave empty-handed tomorrow, either.)

I rediscovered my patchwork maxi, Liz crocheted for me last year, which had slipped down the back of the wardrobe and was making sweet music with a Glastonbury Festival programme from 2010, a turquoise wig, a long-forgotten shoulder bag, a box of business cards, my school Prefect badge and an energy saving light bulb.

I was fairly restrained on my travels. The Lamani coin belt is a new addition, the rest I've had for ages. 

Crochet maxi skirt, worn with velvet and marabou-trim opera coat (£15 vintage shop, Birmingham), nylon leotard & vintage leather overnight bag (both pence from jumble sales), 1980s Finnish-made purple suede boots.
Thank you so much for indulging the frustrated travel writer in me. I'm so glad I didn't bore you too much with my endless photos last week.

See you soon!

Linking to Patti and the gang for Visible Monday (a day late!) and, prompted by the wonderful Kezzie, Maricel's Tardis Tuesday.

Saturday 21 February 2015

Viva Goa! Adventures In Goa & Beyond

The lotus lake
As a collective sigh of relief is heard throughout Blogland, after a fortnight spent exploring Karnataka, we returned to our beloved Goa for the final leg of our trip.

Main road, Benaulim. 
There's a lot of negativity towards Goa and, I'll admit, that there are places we aren't keen on, over-developed, touristy, brash & dirty; but Goa is a state, not a city, and if you do your homework you'll find a spot perfect for you. Chatting to a Canadian at Delhi airport, about to tour India for the first time, she told me that Goa was the place she was least excited about but, as visiting India was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, felt she had to experience it. Wait and see, I told her, Goa, will get under your skin, don't write it off just yet. 

Dressing up in my friend, Laxmi's traditional Lamani clothing.
After the 13.5 hour journey back up the coast we reached Margao railway station late in the evening, jumped in an auto rickshaw to nearby Benaulim and found ourselves a basic room for a night just so we could shower, dump our bags and go for dinner. Early the following morning we strolled through the village eventually finding ourselves a £5-a-night room in a private house in one of Benaulim's outlying fishing vaddos. From our balcony, village housewives cooked on open fires while their husbands chopped wood or repaired their nets. Parakeets, drongos, bee eaters, kingfishers, bubuls and, at dusk, tiny Indian owls & bats flitted between the trees whilst mongooses and squirrels shimmied up the coco palms.

Firmly on the tourist map, Benaulim is popular with Westerners and Indians alike, but still manages to retain its old-world village charm and the pace of life is relaxed and wonderfully laid back. You'll find all the familiar comforts if you need them but its possible to avoid the trappings altogether if, like us, fancy hotels, swimming pools and continental breakfasts aren't your thing.

Jon leads the way to our place, the butter-coloured house in the distance.
Our lavish balcony
Benaulim bird life - a pond egret
We walk past the shacks and the rows of sunbeds thronging the main entrance to the beach and have the powdery, white sands virtually to ourselves. With our usual picnic of samosas or sweet buns, finger bananas and juicy oranges, we'll laze around on our beach blanket until sunset, undisturbed.

A short walk away from the Kashmiri tourist emporiums, cycle hire shops, cafes & market stalls thronging the main street you'll find shady lanes dotted with exquisite Portuguese-era villas and lush gardens.

Peeping through the windows of this grand house we saw rooms untouched by time, black and white family photographs lining the walls, ornate carved doorways, dusty crystal chandeliers and fine, antique colonial furniture.

The lady owner of this gorgeous 150 year old ancestral house overheard us admiring her home and invited us in to take a look around. She told her that her passion in life was gardening. Can you tell?

That's her maid helping out with the watering.

While tourists gather in cafes to use WiFi, just yards away are acres of emerald green paddy fields, still ploughed by ox carts.

Wandering around the wonderfully tranquil lotus lake is a great way to walk off our pav bhaji breakfast.

Remember me mentioning a chance meeting in a bar in Coorg which led to us visiting a coffee plantation? Not only were they the only Westerners we'd seen in days but one of them used to date a woman from Walsall & was a regular at a pub we know well. To further add to the freaky coincidence, just after we'd taken these photos we bumped into him again, 305 miles away from where we'd first met. Although we'd swapped emails none of us and discussed where we were heading next.

And the Canadian? Walking along the beach on our last day in Benaulim, I felt a tap on my shoulder and yes, it was her. You were right, she said, I loved India especially Goa, it really is magical. I'm coming back for a month next winter, I've already booked my accommodation. I'll see you next year.

You certainly will, love!

Aboard the epic Goa-Bombay-Delhi-Birmingham flight home
That's the end of our travels for another year. Its back to business as usual, we'll be selling our wares at Moseley tomorrow and have already ransacked the Black Country chazzas...see you soon!

If you can stand it, you'll find all our Goa photos HERE.

Thursday 19 February 2015

On A Shoestring To Coorg - Adventures In Goa & Beyond

As the bus began its ascent through the Western Ghats, the humidity which had lain heavily on our skin like a blanket since we boarded in Mangalore hours earlier vanished and the air felt cool and refreshing. If it wasn't for the monkeys squatting by the roadside & the heady aromas of coffee blossom and cardamom permeating the breeze, our surroundings were so green and lush that we could have been in rural Wales.

In the cardamom forest
This is Coorg, India's smallest state, a remote mountain paradise home to a warrior race widely believed to have descended from Alexander The Great and immortalised in Dervla Murphy's classic, On a Shoestring to Coorg. After reading the book over a decade ago, Murphy's tales of travelling through Southern India with her five year old daughter, staying at no-star hotels and in fisherman's huts, taking peasant buses and boats along the way captivated me, in particular her adventures amongst the coffee plantations of Coorg, where they stayed for months.

It was a bit of a risk, I suppose. A seven-hour journey on a packed passenger train followed by a bumpy four-hour bus ride five thousand feet above sea level just to visit somewhere I'd read about in a forty year-old book. Even the usually helpful Rough Guide only considered Coorg worthy of a single page. 

Wild orchids, coffee beans, pineapples....a tropical paradise
Still, the worst case scenario was a night in a grotty hotel and the next bus out of there.

Raja's Seat - the place to be at sunset.
We needn't have worried. Whilst Coorg isn't on the radar of many Westerners, its a favourite destination for Indian honeymooners who stay in swanky home stays on coffee plantations and in boutique hotels, attracted by the slogan, The Scotland of India. After picking up a map from the tourist information kiosk at the bus station we jumped in an auto rickshaw and, after visiting numerous establishments, finally secured a room in a 1930s hotel in the centre of Madikeri.

Our £5 a night hotel 

For a state capital, Madikeri is tiny and transport is super cheap. We hopped in and out of auto rickshaws all day long and visited most of the highlights on the city map.

The Rough Guide are clearly mad, there's so much to see in Coorg we could easily have spent a fortnight doing something different every day.

We loved exploring the splendidly imposing tombs of the Rajas, built in 1815.

This is Vira Rajendra Wodeyar and his wife who escaped imprisonment in 1788, joining forces with the British and successfully managing to drive out the tyrannical conqueror, Tipu Sultan, from Coorg.

Their daughter, Victoria, was sent to England for an education. She became Queen Victoria's god-daughter, married a British officer and was buried in London after her death at the tender age of 23.

Other than an Indian pop group taking promo shots in gangsta-style poses, we had the grounds to ourselves, there wasn't an admission fee or even a lock on the main entrance.

Just look at the gold-domed roof and the intricate carvings.

After a chance meeting in a bar with a couple of British eco-volunteers, we wangled ourselves lunch and a guided tour around an organic coffee plantation.

Pomelos, cinnamon bark, vanilla pods and a goose employed as a security guard to stop any prospective vanilla thieves!

We trekked through a cardamom forest.

I knew it was a good idea to travel with a pair of boots.

We visited the Omkareshwara Temple, built by in the Indo-Saracenic style by Lingararejendra II in 1820. Legend has it that the king put to death a Brahmin in order to fulfil his political ambitions. After being haunted by guilt he built the temple to appease the gods.

We drank plenty of the local brew, Coorg coffee.

Saw some beautiful people.

And found interesting things on every corner.

This posh planters' club is still going strong but sadly was strictly members only.

We were rendered speechless by the sunset.

We caught the late night showing of the latest Tamil blockbuster "i" (no subtitles!) at the tiny cinema next door to our hotel. We took rum and coke in with us and there was even an interval halfway through the three and a quarter hour show.

And possibly my most favourite thing. Every night, just after sunset, for a mere 5 rupees (5p) the public are treated to a fantastically kitsch water and light show set to Bollywood music.

Coorg was everything we wanted and more, fascinating, diverse and incredibly beautiful but, on a shoestring? Most definitely. We averaged a total spend of £20 a day which included all transport, accommodation in a city centre hotel, admission & entry fees, cinema tickets, breakfast, lunches, coffee stops, beers and dinner in some seriously fancy restaurants.

All too soon it was again time to pack and make the epic 13.5 hour journey to Goa for the final instalment of our month away.

See you soon!

PS For the full set of photos click right HERE.