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Jaipur Literature Festival 2015

February 19th, 2015 10 comments

Jaipur Literature  Festival

This was my second visit to Jaipur’s vibrant festival of literature. What brought me back a second time? In short, its colorful outdoor venue and upbeat vibe. It actually feels like a festival! Also, the fest’s big-name authors are another draw for me.

At last year’s event, I was thrilled to see Jumpha Lahiri, as well as Jonathon Frazen, Cheryl Strayed, and Reza Aslan. This year I saw Paul Theroux and William Dalrymple. V.P. Naipul was also there, but sadly, Elizabeth Gilbert cancelled due to health reasons.

Both this year and last, I traveled with my Dubai-based book club for the event. Last year we were six women and this year we were ten! It’s a wonderful thing to travel with a group of friends who share a common interest—in this case, a love of books.

Jaipur Literature  Festival - Book Club

About the Jaipur Lit Fest

Considered the “Pink City” and the gateway to Rajasthan, the flamboyant city of Jaipur hosts the fest. The mostly-outdoor event is set in the Diggi Palace Hotel. With greenery, colorful tents, intricate interiors, and structures draped with bunting, the event has a truly festive feel. With an ambiance like that, people are chatty and it’s a great place to interact with fellow readers.

Jaipur Literature  Festival

Jaipur Literature Festival

The largest free literary festival in the world, the Jaipur Lit Festival features both international and South Asian writers, including Booker and Pulitzer Prize winners and many celebrated Indian authors. The program includes talks, discussions, panels, debates, and music.

With a diverse showcase of writers, this year’s festival was a celebration of freedom of expression, religious tolerance, and diversity of thought—and occurring at a time when India faces various cultural and religious challenges.

I attended a variety of panels including “Writing Resistance: Of Battles and Skirmishes,” presented by UN Women as part of the Women Uninterrupted series (below).

Jaipur Literature Festival

I also attended the panel, “Matters of Faith,” which reflected the religious diversity of India (below).

Jaipur Literature Festival

Wanderlust and the Art of Travel Writing

However, my favorite panel was “Wanderlust and the Art of Travel Writing.” Reading from their travel memoirs, the writers included Charles Glass, Paul Theroux, William Dalrymple, Brigid Keenan, Sam Miller and Samanth Subramanian (below).

Jaipur Literature  Festival - Wanderlust Panel

What a delight to see Paul Theroux! After reading so many of his travel memoirs and novels over the years, I was excited to see him on various panels, including this one where he read from his upcoming memoir about traveling stateside (below).

Jaipur Literature  Festival - Paul Theroux

At the time of the lit fest, our book club was reading White Mughals by the India-based historian William Dalrymple, so it was a lot of fun seeing him, too. Along with Namita Gokhale, Dalrymple is one of the directors and founders of the festival. A prolific writer, Dalrymple was an animated reader as he read from his travel memoir From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East (below).

Jaipur Literature  Festival - William Dalrymple

Of course, there were books to buy. This year the festival book store was sponsored by Amazon India, which meant (sadly) that there were fewer books for sale and more devices. I hope next year they bring back more actual books to the fest—as books are the soul of any literary event.

Jaipur Literature  Festival - reader

Jaipur Literature  Festival - Book Store

The event also had food outlets, stalls for shopping, including those wonderful Jaipur textiles, and my favorite—the tea wallahs selling masala chai in little clay cups.

Jaipur Literature  Festival - tea sellers

To find out more about this event, see the Lit Fest webpage or read my post from last year. I’m looking forward to next year’s festival, and I hope to be there for the full four days and I hope Elizabeth Gilbert makes it next time!

Question: What are your favorite literature festivals around the world? 

Reflections of India

January 20th, 2015 4 comments

Taj Mahal Reflections

As I prepare for a second trip to India, I’m reflecting back on memories from my last trip when five friends and I toured the “golden triangle”: Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. We visited palaces, forts, tombs, markets mosques, and temples.

Here are a few of my favorite photos—which unfortunately can’t quite capture the awe I felt.

2 Jaipur

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and known as the “Pink City” of India. Above is the iconic Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds.

Jaipur Festival of Literature 2014

The Jaipur Festival of Literature was our primary purpose in Jaipur. We were six women from a Dubai-based book club, ready see Jhumpa Lahira, Reza Aslan, Cheryl Strayed and more. Here is my post on the Jaipur Lit Fest 2014.

 Jaipur Amber Fort

Jaipur offered much to see, including the gorgeous Amber fort.

Jaipur Elephant Ride Amber Fort

The ideal way to visit the Amber Fort is by elephant.

Agra Taj Mahal Archway

Next we drove overland to Agra to see the Taj Mahal—without a doubt, the most beautiful building in the world.

Agra ~ Oberoi Hotel, Room with a View

We stayed at the Oberi Hotel, which is possibly the most exquisite hotel I’ll ever stay in. This was the view from my balcony. Yes, that’s the Taj Mahal.

Agra Taj Mahal ~ Diana's Seat

I took hundreds of photos. Here’s one of me sitting on the so-called “Diana Seat” where Lady Diana famously posed. I’m trying to channel Lady Di. Is it working?

Delhi ~ Old Delhi

Delhi is the capital of India, where we experienced the bustle and color of Old Delhi, pictured above, as well as stately New Delhi.

Delhi ~ The Imperial Hotel

We stayed at the Imperial Hotel, which had a colonial, art deco, Raj-era vibe—basically amazing.

Delhi Jama Masjid

We toured the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India

Delhi ~ Jama Masjid

The Jama Masjid holds 25,000 worshipers for Friday Prayer and towers over Old Delhi.

Delhi ~ Gandhi Memorial

The Mahatma Gandhi Memorial was simple but poignant.

Delhi ~ Qutub Manar Archway

The Qutb Minar is the tallest brick minaret in the world. (You have to see it to fully appreciate it.) The complex where it stands dates from the onset of Islamic rule in India.

Delhi - Detail First Mosque

Above is a detail from the first mosque in India.

Delhi ~ Street rickshaws

Admittedly ours was a pampered tour of India. However, we did visit Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi where we shopped and rode rickshaws.

India

During this trip we traveled by bus from Jaipur to Agra and from Agra to Delhi. We saw sights of countryside, people, little towns and shops like this.Jaipur Amber Fort ~ The End

Question: What were your favorite sights of India?

Visit to Bahrain

December 10th, 2014 1 comment

Bahrain Manama

Why Bahrain? Apparently people from Bahrain visit Dubai—not the other way around. Still, we wanted a change of scenery and to visit a few of my husband’s relatives. Meanwhile, I have always been curious about this little island.

Bahrain

Its name means “two seas.” Bahrain is an island in the Persian Gulf off the coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It has a population of more than one million, with more than half expatriate workers. The island of Bahrain is famously connected to Saudi Arabia with the King Fahd Causeway.

Bahrain Map

Bahrain Gulf Map

I couldn’t help but compare Bahrain to the UAE. At first glance, the two Gulf countries do seem similar. Many told me Bahrain is like “Dubai twenty years ago.” I can totally see that. In fact, parts of Manama (the capital city) reminded me of Deira and Bur Dubai—Gulf charm without the glitz.

The first thing I noticed was the air in Bahrain is so much fresher. Then I noticed it’s a lot cooler. The weather in December dips down to 55° F. Chilly for me!

Of course, Bahrain has issues of its own. With a majority Shiite population and a Sunni ruling family, Bahrain has been shaken by unrest for the past four years. The day we traveled to Bahrain, this article appeared in the New York Times, which gives a glimpse of what’s going on.

Bab al-Bahrain Souk Bab al-Bahrain

This souk came highly recommended. With its winding alleyways and authentic shops, it didn’t disappoint. Bab al-Bahrain means “Gateway to Bahrain” and is considered the heart of Manama. Lucky for me, I got a personal tour from a friend who’s a long-time expat living in Bahrain. Her goal was to show me unknown aspects of the souk, places only the locals know.

Bahrain food shop

First, she took me to sample alou basheer in this little hole-in-the-wall eatery, apparently famous among the Bahrainis.

Bahrain street food

Alou basheer is a dish of fried potatoes with a spicy chickpea stew poured over top.  Bahrain sweet shop

Next, my friend took me to this little sweet shop where I sampled Bahraini haluwa, shown in the large tins in the window. This is a variation of the Omani haluwa, a rich sticky dessert made with nuts, saffron and nutmeg.

Bahrain dress shop

Next, my guide pointed out some items common in Bahrain. First, I saw clothing typical of what Bahraini women wear on Eid—so colorful and festive.

Bahrain gold

Here is some standard Bahraini wedding gold.

Bahrain souk shopkeeper

The souk was filled with lots of little grocery spice shops like this one. Bahrain grocery & spices

In fact, the Bahrain Souk had many more barrels of spices than the Spice Souk of Dubai.

Bahrain window

The souk area had some interesting architectural features, including this skinny little house with pretty lattice in the window.

Bahrain mosque

This Iranian-style mosque was right in the middle of the souk, which is a Shiite area. While the indigenous Bahrainis are Arab, many have at least partial Persian ancestry.

Bahrain coffee shop

Finally, we ended our tour back at the entrance to the souk, Bab al-Bahrain, where my friend took me to Café Naseef, which I loved and I found the menu terrifically authentic. Bahrain coffee

We drank karak chai and sampled mahyawa, a kind of anchovy flatbread sandwich, as well as balaleet, an Indian-influenced dish of eggs over sweetened vermicelli with cardamom. I finished it off with Bahraini-style Arabic coffee—my favorite!

Where We Stayed

We stayed at the Ritz Carlton, which according to Lonely Planet is the best hotel in Manama. By Dubai standards we found it modest and understated. Still, I appreciated its colonial vibe with a Trader Vic’s and cigar lounge, as well as its private beach cove and mini-island. Too bad it was so cold!

Bahrain View

In the lobby we were greeted by a cheery Christmas tree. In keeping with the traditions of the region, there was no shortage of holiday decorations, including a life-size gingerbread house in the lobby.

Bahrain Ritz Carlton

The daughter of the ruler (“His Excellency”) was getting married that weekend, and there was a bit of a buzz in the hotel over this event. Each time we sat down in the lobby lounge, we were offered a piece of wedding cake in celebration. I took this as a welcome example of Bahraini hospitality.

Question: What do you appreciate about Bahrain?