Havelis – Old Merchant Mansions of Shekhawati

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Can I share a secret? I have new obsession… On my last trip to India I discovered a world of beautiful crumbling mansions and faded frescoes. The only problem is they are hours away from the closest airport and a harrowing drive across the Rajasthan desert.

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The grand havelis of Shekhawati were owned by the merchant princes of Rajasthan (who are now some of the most successful business families in India). Located in Jaipur state, Shekhawati mansions are found in the districts of Jhunjhunu, Chur and Sikar. Many of these buildings have been left abandoned to the harsh desert climate by familes who have migrated to the modern commercial hubs of India.

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The word haveli comes from Iran, and means “enclosed space”. In Mughal India it was known as a home for the wealthy and powerful.

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Built by the business-minded Marwari, these mansions are a testament to past business successes and remain beautiful examples of Indian artistry from the early 1800s to the beginning of the 20th century.

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Haveli architecture exemplifies Rajput and Islamic building forms, as well as occasional European influences. The richly painted frescoes reflect both the religious and folk art of Rajasthan, combined with the colonial influence of “Company School” style painting.

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As in most of India, havelis housed extended familes. Havelis often consist of two courtyards – a semi public meeting place for the men called a “mardana” and a private “zenana” for women (who stayed out of public view).

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Havelis were built inward facing which functioned as both a mechanism of privacy as well as protection from the desert and invaders. The traditional Indian courtyard home is built on the principles of Vastu Shastra, which state that all spaces emerge from the center of the house. All activities revolve around the center, which has a divine power and energy associated with it. 

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Ornate haveli doors were built to reflect the family’s status and wealth. Covered in wood carvings,hammered metal and elaborate murals, these grand entrances only suggested the splendors inside.

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We had the opportunity to tour two beautiful restored havelis in the Shekhawati region. First stop was French artist Nadine Le Prince’s gorgeous old haveli in Fatehpur.

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She has been lovingly restoring it over the past 15 years and has maintained it’s original artwork and features. A labor of love and definitely worth a stop if you’re in the area. For more info on tours and hotel reservations, go here.

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Further down the road we stopped in Ramgarh, Shekhawati where we spent a wonderful night at Ramgarh Fresco. It is owned by Raghvendra & Priya Rathore, who are from a prominent Rajasthani family.

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We were woken early by the sounds of traditional village life – cows mooing and the local Hindu temple bells clanging.

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If you get a chance to visit Rajasthan, it’s well worth a trip off the tourist triangle to visit these elaborate desert mansions. One can only hope that some day this region will be recognized as a World Heritage Site and given the restoration and attention it deserves.

Travel Diary: Gotta Goa Beach Vacation

Goa Path BeachOn a buying trip to India in March, we finally got to Goa. (Sorry – the puns are hard to resist.) Long a stopover on the hippie trail of the ’70s, Goa continues to be a hot spot for jet set travelers, Bollywood stars and honeymooning couples.

IMG_2045I’ve long been under the misconception that Goa was a city. It is actually India’s smallest state, but with over 75 miles of coastline, there’s a lot to see and do.

IMG_2047The toughest part is picking your beach…

IMG_2202We flew into Dabolim Airport and drove an hour and half to Ashvem Beach in North Goa. Ashvem and Morjim beaches are both relatively quiet and draw a hip, artistic crowd.

IMG_2027We decided to go “glamping” – opting for tented luxury over a large resort environment. Amarya Shamiyana has four beach tents which are air-conditioned, complete with sitting room, two sinks and a shower.

IMG_2032IMG_2075Breakfast is served upon request, and you’re a mere 100 feet away from the Arabian Sea. I definitely was living out my Arabian Nights fantasies at this lovely hotel.IMG_2105We spent the third night at Paros, Amarya’s property down the beach.

IMG_2174IMG_2170The tents weren’t as large or glam, but the eating area has gorgeous ocean views. IMG_2183The food is delicious and we had access to a totally deserted beach. If I had to pick, it would be difficult to choose a favorite.

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I also spent one of the days browsing the funky boho-chic boutiques on Ashvem Beach. Full of eclectic Goa-wear, there are a lot fun things to shop. IMG_2052Jade Jagger has a hot pink shop here and I couldn’t resist picking up a dress and ruby ring. IMG_2061 IMG_2059I also got a sneak peak of her super cool compound (located nearby) when the credit card machine didn’t work. She has it decorated with Tibetan god/goddess pictures, rattan and a lot of hot pink. Very chic.IMG_2057

Another good stop down the beach is the chic French beach cafe – La Plage. It’s the heart of the Ashvem beach scene and serves up some yummy French and international cuisine. IMG_2043IMG_2072We had a lovely time in our brief Goa sojourn and are plotting a way back to sink our toes into the beach sand. If you get a chance, you must Goa too!

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Amarya Shamiyana – Ashvem Beach, (Next to La Plage Restaurant), Mandrem, Goa-403527, INDIA

Paros by Amarya – Turtle Beach, Temba Vaddo, Morjim, Goa – 403527, INDIA

A Fairy Tale Hindu Wedding in Jaipur

IMG_0276Indian weddings are always intriguing to the Western imagination – they supposedly last for days, include elephants, loads of jewelry and music and a riot of colors. An exaggeration, right? I am happy to report that the wedding my husband and I attended in November lived up to our imagination and then some…

The handsome groom Lalit with his young nephew.
The handsome groom Lalit with his young nephew.

We’ve known the groom Lalit for 5 years or more. We buy furniture from his family in Jodhpur. When he informed us it was his turn to get married, we jumped at the chance to celebrate it.

The beautiful bride Shipra.
The beautiful bride Shipra whose family is from Udaipur.

His bride Shipra was introduced to him about 3 months before the wedding. She hails from the lovely city of Udaipur. 90% of all weddings in India are arranged. These arrangements are based on the couples religion, caste, profession and appearance.

IMG_0109 The day we arrived in Jaipur we joined the family at their home and participated in traditional henna painting. Usually the women of the family get their hands painted, as well as the bride and groom.IMG_0112 Traditionally the initials of the bride are painted into the groom’s hands and the bride must find them (or risk bad luck). IMG_0132Local village women chanted outside the groom’s room as he was treated with a face masque. They chanted all night long.IMG_0201The painting itself took about half an hour, and about 5 hours to dry. By the end of the evening we were impatient and started picking the dried henna off rather than wait until the morning. Fortunately the henna dye took.

IMG_0474 (2)The next evening we joined the family for a huge song and dance performance. There were about a 1000 (yes!) guests. Professional singers alternated with family Bollywood performances.  And the family was good! They had been practicing for weeks. It was fun to see how much they got into it.IMG_0333Less fun was when we were asked to get up on the stage and dance (I quickly demurred – not being up on the latest Bollywood dance moves). Let’s just say it’s been a while since I’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire.IMG_0515Pyrotechnics lit up the stage (this guys was wiring together the electricity below the stage). We didn’t stand too close…IMG_0366Long rows of tables were loaded with local vegetarian delicacies and we eagerly filled up our plates with these delicious dishes.IMG_0398Fresh baked rotis and chapati were baked in clay ovens and over coals, while warm spiced Masala chai was served in clay cups. IMG_0420 (2)We were introduced to a new drink – Kashmiri tea – which is flavored with slivered almonds and spices – a real treat on a cool fall evening.

IMG_0231And finally… the actual wedding night! We were running late because my sari top (called a “choli”) wasn’t finished on time and we had to fight Jaipur traffic back to our hotel. We quickly located the wedding planner who expertly wrapped and pinned me into my sari – no small task!IMG_0253We arrived at the wedding venue at 7:30 only to find we were among the first to arrive. Indian time tends to be a little on the delayed side, so we assumed we were early. Fine, except for the fact we didn’t recognize anyone. Concerned we had been dropped at the wrong wedding, we asked around and confirmed the venue was indeed correct. But where was the groom’s family? IMG_0255Suddenly out of the unfamiliar crowd a man appeared with a cell phone. We were told by the groom’s brother we needed to join the groom’s entourage – quick! We got into the stranger’s car and were driven a few blocks to a huge wedding procession…

IMG_0307We saw Lalit riding on a decorated white horse (with pony tails!) wearing $2 million dollars in nugget sized green emeralds and dressed in a glittering white wedding suit. Now this is how to enter a wedding!IMG_0319Accompanying Lalit were hundreds of women in colorful saris loaded with serious jewelry, men wearing saffron turbans pushing beaded white lamps on wheels, men dancing on stilts, and a live band with professional dancers. What a scene!IMG_0314 IMG_0336IMG_0317

We followed this colorful, joyous crowd back into the wedding venue, passing a painted elephant along the way….IMG_0342When we arrived at the wedding venue, we were serenaded by a red turbaned Punjabi bagpipe band whose set included throwing drums into the air and clicking their heels. IMG_0246And soon the bride arrived on a palanquin carried by eight men, proceeded by dancing women…IMG_0420Her family procession followed behind. Shipra wore a beautiful red sari embroidered with $50,000 in diamonds and a quarter of a million dollars in wedding jewelry – mostly necklaces. (!!!)

IMG_0424The wedding venue was huge – over two football fields long – and held approximately 3500 guests. I’d never seen so many colorful, bejeweled saris.IMG_0386And then there was the food… There were about twice as many tables as the night before. All sorts of amazing Indian delights.

IMG_0263 IMG_0384 (2) There were spicy curries, rich dals, warm rotis dripping with ghee, barbecued vegetables and tandoori cheese, Italian pizza, kulfi, ice cream, traditional Indian desserts including gulab jamun, and wedding cakes covered with candied silver and pomegranates. Divine…

IMG_0422 IMG_0456 The bride and groom participated in several choreographed performances (more dancing!) and then spent a good portion of the evening patiently posing for pictures with wedding guests. Their stamina was admirable!IMG_0476We finally left at 1am but party hearty guests, family and the wedding couple stayed until 7am the next morning performing Saptapadi (Hindu fire rituals) which sanctified the marriage union.

IMG_0383We left  the wedding with full stomachs, warm hearts and memories for a lifetime.

Fashion Diary: Wearing a Sari for an Indian Wedding

IMG_0482In November I attended an Indian wedding in Jaipur, India. And of course I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to wear a sari! A friend in Jaipur recommended the store Zari, so I headed over there to check out their selection. IMG_0142IMG_0098I’m always out of my element in India because black isn’t a color choice. Bright pinks, fluorescent greens and yellows – all fight for attention – and none look so fabulous on a blond with pale skin. I had to dig deep to find some colors that would work for me.IMG_0101IMG_0100When I made my selections, the salesmen unfurled the saris so I could get a better look. My first choice was a deep red sari with beautiful gold beading.IMG_0088It was lovely but I also spotted a beautiful green sari I tried next. I asked one of the salesman to demonstrate how a sari is folded.

I can guarantee this takes some expertise! I thought it was interesting that the sales people were men rather than women. In such a conservative society it was a surprise to be dressed by a man.

At the end of the sari there is extra beaded fabric that is used to make the cropped top you see below. The top was tailored to fit.IMG_0221The lady shown in the picture was called in last minute to help me get dressed before the wedding. She expertly pinned and draped the sari – saving me from certain sari disaster!IMG_0224

Earlier in the day I shopped for some lac bangle bling to go with my sari.IMG_0167 IMG_0166 On the recommendation of my “Love Jaipur” guidebook I went to the old Tripolia Bazaar, and visited a lac bangle shop called Naaz Bangles. It’s been in the same family for many years. IMG_0184 The sizes were a bit small for my hands, but they stretched them on the spot. There were so many gorgeous bracelets to choose from! Prices start at about $1 per bangle. The more you buy, the better the deal! IMG_0201On my way out of the bazaar, I ran into a cow and a holy man. Just another day shopping in Jaipur…IMG_0191 IMG_0155 So here’s the final look – I have to say I felt like an Indian princess. It’s not often you get to wear something so lovely…IMG_0486 IMG_0492To buy your own sari go to:

ZARI 10/11, Narayan Singh Cicle, Opposite City Pulse Mall, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302004, India
PH: +91 141 511 2276

Travel Diary: Doris Duke’s Islamic Art Inspired Shangri La Home

Doris Duke's pool at Shangri La.
Doris Duke’s pool at Shangri La.

It’s been a crazy couple months and I’ve been remiss in posting. So let’s do some catching up! At the end of August my husband and I spent a week in Oahu. I finally got a chance to visit Doris Duke’s mythical Shangri La home. A regular feature on design blogs like Style Court Doris Duke’s house seamlessly blends architectural traditions from India, Iran, Morocco and Syria as wells as 1930’s modernist architecture. And oh what a beauty it is!

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When Duke died she left almost a billion dollars. Her will stipulated the funding of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art which owns and manages the site. Our tour guide was super informative and taught us a great deal about Turkish and Persian tile work, and pointed out recurring motifs in Islamic artwork.

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The setting is stunning – right on the beach near Diamond Head overlooking Oahu’s rocky coastline on the Pacific Ocean. For over 60 years, Duke commissioned new pieces and continued to add to her artwork collection. A total of 3,500 art pieces are on display.

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The only child of a tobacco magnet, Doris Duke inherited a great deal of wealth upon her father’s death when she was only 12 years old. Duke’s love of Islamic art began on her honeymoon in 1935 when she traveled to Egypt, India, Indonesia, China and Japan. The trip ended in Honolulu. The marriage didn’t last, but her passion for Islamic art was ignited.

Doris Duke and then-husband James Cromwell at Shangri La, 1935 (photograph by Martin Munkacsi)
Doris Duke and then-husband James Cromwell at Shangri La, 1935          (photograph by Martin Munkacsi)

Duke’s collection includes a wide variety of pieces including Persian and Turkish (from Iznik) luster pottery and tiles, Spanish lusterware, Syrian inlaid wood furniture, Syrian pierced brass lamps, and colored glass bottles from Iran. Interestingly enough, she left very little in the form of memoir regarding her collection choices but her commitment to Islamic art is evident in the mission statement of her foundation: “promote the study and understanding of Middle Eastern art and culture”.

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The master bathroom at Shangri La. David Franzen 1999. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2012.) Damascus Room East wall of the Damascus Room. On display in the historic wall vitrine are examples of Syrian, European, Iranian and Turkish works of art from the DDFIA collection. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2012.) General view of the ceiling. The four hanging lamps were purchased with the room from Asfar & Sarkis. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2012.) Detail of the Damascus Room's 'ajami surfaces. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: Philipp Scholz Rittermann, 2005.) Detail of the Damascus Room's 'ajami surfaces. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: Philipp Scholz Rittermann, 2005.) Detail of the Damascus Room's ceiling. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: Philipp Scholz Rittermann, 2005.) Detail of the Damascus Room's ceiling. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: Philipp Scholz Rittermann, 2005.) Detail of the Damascus Room's 'ajami surfaces. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: Philipp Scholz Rittermann, 2005.) Detail of the Damascus Room's 'ajami surfaces. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: Philipp Scholz Rittermann, 2005.) Detail of the Damascus Room's 'ajami surfaces. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: Philipp Scholz Rittermann, 2005.)   Historical Images of This Area The Damascus Room was originally built as a guest room, July 31, 1937. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Because of its Moorish-European—especially Spanish—furnishings, the guest room was sometimes referred to as the Spanish Room. July–August 1946. Doris Duke Photograph Collection, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Photograph taken in Damascus in c. August 1954 of Georges Asfar seated in the retrofitted interior purchased by Doris Duke in 1952-53. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Photograph taken in Damascus in c. August 1954 of the retrofitted interior. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. The east (Koko Head) wall of the Damascus Room during Duke’s lifetime, no earlier than 1962. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Damascus Room, 1999. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 1999.)    Damascus Room, 1999. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 1999.)
Damascus Room – Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.     (Photo: David Franzen, 2012.)

During the tour we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside so I’ve included some images I found online. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed into Duke’s Mughal Suite which was inspired by the Taj Mahal. Duke commissioned inlaid marble works from Agra, using the finest pure white Makrana marble. Her outdoor Mughal Garden is also an homage to the garden and water works in front of the Taj Mahal.

Mughal Garden at Shangri La.
Mughal Garden at Shangri La.

When you walk through Duke’s home and gardens you can’t help but appreciate her love of beauty and art. I highly recommend this book: “Doris Duke’s Shangri La A House in Paradise”. The tour has inspired my own further study into Islamic art motifs which I’ve seen on our trips to India and want to delve into further.

DorisDukeShangriLa_cover_FINALTours must be book in advance with the Honolulu Art Museum. For more info check out the website here. If you’re coming for vacation, book before your leave because the tours sell out quickly.

Travel Diary: Celebrating Holi in Rajasthan

We just got back from a buying trip to India where we have been sourcing unique reclaimed Indian furniture. The trip marvelously coincided with a holiday in India called “Holi”.

David getting some local color.

Holi is an ancient Hindu celebration of Spring, which is known as the “Festival of Colors”. It is observed on the last full moon of the lunar month.


Participants traditionally throw bright, vibrant paint powders at friends and strangers to celebrate the arrival of spring.  It also commemorates the Hindu god Krishna’s pranks, and allows people to drop their inhibitions and simply play and dance.

We had a blast celebrating with one of our Indian factories and spent the afternoon throwing paint and dancing with the factory workers.

David and Julie looking very colorful.

Some of the factory workers were dressed up as women dancers, and a DJ played loud dance beats.

The paints took days to come off, but it was well worth it. A great time was had by all! We can’t wait to join in the merriment again.


Travel Diary: Attars & Incense in Chandini Chowk

Indian Attars – Gulab Singh Johri Mal, Old Delhi

We ventured forth into the dirty, narrow streets of Old Delhi on the back seat of a cycle-rickshaw. My mission – Gulab Singh Johri Mal – an attar manufacturer founded during Mughal rule.

Attar is a natural perfume oil derived from botanical sources through water or steam distillation. The oils obtained from the herbs flowers and wood are generally distilled into a wood base such as sandalwood and then aged. The aging period can last from one to ten years depending on the botanicals used and the results desired.

Oud from Cambodia and India

In the Eastern world it is an ancient tradition to offer attars to guests. The perfumes are stored in ornate tiny crystal bottles called as itardans. Some of the first lovers of attar, were the Mughals of India. In fact I read that an Indian princess’s bath was considered incomplete without incense and attars.


Established in 1816 by Gulab Singh, Gulab Singh Johri Mal is now run by the seventh generation owner – Ram Singh. We stepped inside and removed our shoes. I started by asking what were their more popular Indian attars.  Before I knew it, I was literally up to my elbows in scented oils.

In particular I liked Attar Gil – an “after the monsoon” scent made from sandalwood oil and dirt. Yes, dirt! It has an intoxicating earthy scent that captivated my imagination. I was also entranced by Attar Gulab which is made from rose and sandalwood oils. I had visions of veiled harems bathed in heavenly fragrances for their visiting Raj…

Besides traditional Indian attars, Gulab Singh Johri Mal carries essential oils – Patchouli, Ylang-Ylang, Cypress, Oud, Cardamom, Rosewood, Jasmine, Tuberose, Cedarwood and many more. They also produce perfumed incenses of many varieties – including Oud, which I particularly love. Visiting Gulab Singh Johrimal was truly a treat for the senses.

Gulab Singh Johri Mal – 320, Dariba Kalan
Chandni Chowk, Delhi – 110006, India
Ph#: 23271345 Email: info@gulabsinghjohrimal.com

Photo Diary: Delhi, India June 2012

Jama Masjid – India’s largest Muslim temple.

We took our first trip to India in June to visit one of our suppliers in Jodhpur. Our first stop was Delhi.

Thali meal – yum!

India is a riot of contradictions – beautiful colors, squalor and poverty, heady scents of incense and spices and the stench of the sewer. It has many religions and just as many opinions. It isn’t an easy country to wrap your head around, but it’s definitely one of the most interesting. And Delhi is no different.

Old fragrance bottles – Gulab Attars, Old Delhi

Here are some of the images of Delhi that captured my imagination. Enjoy!

Shish Ganj Gurudwara Sikh Temple, Old Delhi
Spice merchant – Old Delhi
Red Fort (Lal Qil’ah) – palace fortress contructed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.
Bicycle wallah transportation in Old Delhi.
Nuts and spices – Old Delhi
Need a sex specialist? Old Delhi.
Holy water – Jama Masjid
Mutton kebabs and Afghani chicken.
Red Fort
Stack of Korans – Jama Masjid
Gandhi’s final steps – Gandhi Smriti
Ambassador car.
The Embassy – Connaught Place
Birla Hindu Temple
Dressing baby Krishna.
Gandhi’s room.
Jama Masjid
Boy at entrance to Jama Masjid.
Connaught Place

New Shipment: Colorful Kantha Pillows from India

Kantha Pillow – Mumbai Style

We’re excited about our new shipment of pillows from India. These vibrant pillows feature kantha work – a centuries old tradition among rural women in India and Pakistan, typified by careful hand-stitching atop fabric. These colorful fabrics are created by using age old wood blocks dipped into natural dyes.

Kantha Pillow – Jodhpur Style

Kantha originated from the way in which Bengali housewives mended old clothes by taking out a strand of thread from the colorful border of their saris and making simple designs with them (Wikipedia).

Kantha Pillow – Delhi Style
Kantha Pillow – Goa Style
Kantha Pillow – Jodhpur Style

If you’re looking for a pop of color to brighten up your room, this is a fun way to go! To buy these items, go to Wanderloot.com