Pa Pa Yah!

One of the perks of being “socially relevant” is that you end up knowing most of the other “socially relevant” in the city, country or planet, depending, but obviously, on the degree of  illustriousness that you have acquired. I am in no way blowing my own trumpet (though it sneakily may seem so), but am merely acknowledging my good fortune of having access to some the finest creators and their art in a slightly more direct way as opposed to, say, my access to them had I become an accountant (and a miserable one to top it all) if destiny had not played her hand in my life 30 years back.

Anyway, one such artist at work in India, and certainly one who’s painting a great montage on the culinary canvas of India is my friend, Zorawar Kalra. Now Zorawar is an interesting guy…I used to know his father, Jiggs Kalra, rather well years back, as we were the two turbaned guys who got featured in newspapers and television quite often; him, as the seasoned maestro of Indian cuisine and me, as the new kid of Indian fashion. I recall often seeing a young shy Zorawar in a ‘patka’ (an alternate headgear worn by members of the Sikh faith) with Jiggs then. Years later, with both of us having ditched our respective headgears, I bumped into him again recently as a strapping young man who had chosen to use his legacy and take it to a completely different level! His company today runs several restaurants, the best known amongst them being Farzi Cafe, Masala Library and Pa Pa Ya amongst others, and needless to say, they run them exceptionally well. (Trivia: incidentally, he could easily dub for Farhan Akhtar; its uncanny how similar they sound)

A few weeks back, my friends and I enjoyed an intimate evening of bonding and revelry in Pa Pa Ya in New Delhi; we were elated by the quality of the food (obviously the first pre-requisite for any good restaurant) as also by the energy abound in the space. A couple of days back, I visited Pa Pa Ya again, with family this time, and was delighted with the consistency that I experienced in both, the food and the service all over again (huge credit here also to Karanbir Singh Gulati, the GM)… the same flavours, the same warmth…to me, these two are the backbone of any good restaurant, and all those who’ve managed to maintain these well are bound only to succeed. The other thing that surprised me were the number of people in the restaurant (besides the ones waiting for a table); it is my belief that a fine dining restaurant that achieves this kind of patronage has a sure fire winner on its hands (though i wish they had some private dining areas for some of us who like a bit of privacy; the last time, we created one of our own in their sumptuous wine cellar). Pa Pa Ya also boasts of an architectural edge, one that only it enjoys, that of having the highest ceiling in India for a restaurant, and that sense of vertical scale indeed does add a unique dimension to the overall experience. Also, pay heed to the unique serving dishes and the presentation itself.

Finally, to me, what really matters most and in this case, certainly does manage to blow me away each time is the food! Its fresh, the flavours are exquisite and the fusion is unique without trying too hard.

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I would highly recommend a visit to all those who have already not sampled Pa Pa Ya, and since I’m not a ‘paid to sing paeans’ blog, I’m going to leave it to you to decide whether all that I’ve said holds true or not.

Zorawar, my dear friend, kudos to you for living the dream…both your father’s and your own… and do enjoy the ride, its only just started!

Copyright: JJ Valaya/ All rights reserved. All images are the sole property of JJ Valaya. No part of this post/publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of JJ Valaya. This applies to all acts of use, in particular such as the reproduction of pictures and text, their performance and demonstration, translation, filming, microfilming, broadcasting, storage and processing in electronic media

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Leela Raas

If you happen to travel to Udaipur, chances are you’ll be staying in or around the Pichola Lake (which is really the key reason you’d be there in the first place). There are several hotels, ranging from authentic Royal fare to India Modern. And then there’s the Leela.

The Leela Group is India’s creator of modern royal experiences in hospitality, and though, this aspect of India is celebrated in different forms ranging from elegant to trying-too-hard by a few of the other leading hotel chains of India, none has managed to present the grandeur, detail and luxury levels that the Leela has achieved. Interestingly enough though, I’ve often heard two opinions about the Leela properties, some consider it a bit nouveau and loud…and others swear by its exquisite detailing and the luxurious  experiences. Personally, I believe that the Leela lays it out like none other… and my stay there was a joyous testimony to all that I’ve believed in about the ethos of the brand. Sure it can seem overwhelming to some, but were not our palaces the most intimidating of all? It may also seem busy to some, but we must not forget that India is intrinsically a land of maximalists: Look at everything around us…Our food; Complex flavours and a multitude of spices….Our temples: years spent in carving the toughest rocks into masterpieces… Our miniatures: Painstakingly worked on with even the finest detail not escaping the artist’s fine brush…. Our festivals: veering between loud and colourful and celebrated with a manic frenzy… Our clothes: exotic weaves, rich embroideries and lush silks!… I could go on and on… What part of India is minimalist? I feel that what the Leela essentially (and very generously) manages is do is celebrate the real India, albeit in a new, modern  and unapologetic way, whilst also respectfully honouring its craftspersons, its artists, its colours and its very spirit (you won’t find cheap knock-offs of any Indian craft here!).

A visit to all their properties is highly recomended, and the Leela Udaipur, whilst being another wonderful example of the levels of luxury one can dare to venture into amidst the minimalist (pun intended) laments of the modern times we live in, is also a veritable tribute to a great city and its mystical & rich past.

I do hope you enjoy the images that I have made and someday, the property itself.

Indulge!

Copyright: JJ Valaya/ All rights reserved. All images are the sole property of JJ Valaya. No part of this post/publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of JJ Valaya. This applies to all acts of use, in particular such as the reproduction of pictures and text, their performance and demonstration, translation, filming, microfilming, broadcasting, storage and processing in electronic media

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The Vilas on the Lake

Yes, it has been a hiatus of sorts… 2 weeks actually. And its not because i ceased to find beauty in the world or was not inspired enough by anything; it was simply because i was partially lazy and somewhat also busy in travel and other matters. Excuses aside, on a recent visit to magical Udaipur in Rajasthan, I happened to encounter two jewels… the first, The Leela Hotel where i stayed and the second, The Oberoi Udaivilas which I visited. Both are modern poetry in motion… both reflect a new Indian luxury… yet both are different. I’m going to start with sharing my visual journey of the latter, the beautiful Udaivilas and keep my next post reserved for the Leela.

Before I begin, I’d like to get something out of the way. All my travel photography is generally the end result of what i call ‘Phoneography’, broadly implying that the images were made on a smartphone. For my fine art Shows, I use a high end DSLR, so between the two mediums, I pretty much find my angst of creating images ably addressed. On seeing my smartphone imagery, I’ve almost always been asked by everyone about which ‘App’ i use. So time to set the record straight…’Apps’ don’t make images…. individuals do! If a large number of people were made to stand in a group and asked to look at something together from the same spot, they would all obviously see exactly the same view, and if they all then took a photo, they could all well be, not surprisingly and deceptively similar, with some exceptions. Therefore, creating images is not about what is seen at all, it’s about what is assimilated … it’s about what is absorbed…it’s about shunning the seen to be able to discover the unseen, its about having what is commonly known as ‘having an eye’, and herein lies the core difference. A good camera is a boon…A good App is a tool,  but both are not absolute essentials for great images. To create enduring images, we must learn to look beyond the obvious and allow the spirit, not the eyes, to sense the extraordinary. And then, eventually, it all comes down to composing that perfect frame. And yes, ‘Apps’ are modern photography aids that are meant to be used to make pictures come alive… they are the garnish that is often required to give that perfect recipe that one extra flourish… but always be aware that there is a thin line that divides effective imagery and gimmickry. Personally, for my smartphone photography (and as some of you know, I publish travel books based on such photography), I make and edit the images on the phone itself; they are then moved to a computer for layout and packed off straight to the printer for immortalisation in the guise of books.

Back to Udaipur and Udaivilas. I’m convinced that Udaipur, as a city, is Rajasthan’s finest destination. Pichola lake is the jewel in the crown and most of Udaipur’s luxuries are found either in this lake or around it. Add that to the basic topography of the city itself with its undulating hills and several ‘jheels’ and we have a sumptuous city retreat to scamper off to.

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Udaivilas, from what I could gather from my few hours there, is your typical Oberoi fare which essentially means that it is brilliant. The Oberoi chain has undoubtedly set several benchmarks of stylish perfection in the hospitality industry in India (and overseas) and this hotel seemed no different. I suppose, I’ll have more to write about this when and if i do stay there in the near future, but till then, i hope you get a sampler of that elegance from the images that I have posted above.

PS* If anyone from the Oberoi is reading this: Can anyone please explain the rationale behind the ‘NO PORCH’ approach being adopted across your hotels since the last few years? I somewhat understand the charm of a liveried gentleman escorting a guest to the lobby holding an umbrella over him/her, but i suspect that India’s climatic conditions (Heat, Dust, Rain) and your posh guest’s rather immodest expectations of a pampered reception may not essentially be in sync.

Just saying…

Copyright: JJ Valaya/ All rights reserved. All images are the sole property of JJ Valaya. No part of this post/publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of JJ Valaya. This applies to all acts of use, in particular such as the reproduction of pictures and text, their performance and demonstration, translation, filming, microfilming, broadcasting, storage and processing in electronic media

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Transported!

It happens often… that one keeps seeking treasures elsewhere even whilst they exist right under our noses OR more commonly, the ironical belief that if something is in the vicinity of your home, city or even in your country, it’s simply not as special as something which is hard to reach, often even impossible. Its human psychology; we covet what is distant and seemingly hard to get and in turn don’t even realise what we’re missing in the easily accessible.

Last weekend was a testimony to this reality for me.

For some years, my dear friend, Hotelier Tarun Thakral, had been insisting that i come by and see what he’s done with his collection of vintage cars. Partially due my schedule but mostly out of sheer laziness, I kept my visit pending but finally succumbed to the guilt of not supporting a friend’s initiative and more importantly, not celebrating his dream with him. It just had to be done! After a short drive with my family (40 minutes out of Delhi on the road to Jaipur), I finally arrive at a large modern building, but nothing quite prepared me for what lay inside. Never had I seen such an amazing private effort made for the good of many….. never had i imagined that one individual could create such a beautiful space for his passion and then throw it open for others to savour. Curiosity and the passion to collect homogenous objects, the search for the rare, unique and often elusive is what impassions all collectors. Over two decades of research about the evolution of the modes of transportation forms the plinth of the collection in possession of the Trust run by Tarun, making the Heritage Transport Museum India’s first comprehensive transport museum.

The museum showcases the evolution of transportation in India and sets a benchmark in interpretation, exhibition and in communication and also houses Art and Art Objects inspired by Automobiles. As the first private museum of its scale in India, it is conceived as a didactive space that engages visitor participation in learning while remaining a family experience. A built up area of over 90,000 square feet of air conditioned space spread over four floors houses the exhibition galleries, library and reference centre, conference rooms, mini auditorium, the museum shop, and a restaurant facility.

Facts aside, whilst the museum enjoys a significant patronage of many, I can assure you that most in Delhi and India would still not be aware of this incredible space and the passionate spirit that resonates in its every square foot. My photographs could express my sentiments more accurately, but a strong word of advise, don’t lose any more time to transport yourself to this beautiful labour of love. And if you plan weekends, you’ll meet the man himself there and his lovely wife Mandeep, who will (literally) have you eating out of her hands!

Copyright: JJ Valaya/ All rights reserved. All images are the sole property of JJ Valaya. No part of this post/publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of JJ Valaya. This applies to all acts of use, in particular such as the reproduction of pictures and text, their performance and demonstration, translation, filming, microfilming, broadcasting, storage and processing in electronic media

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A Spirit Boundless

Like most progressive fashion houses globally, we have always had a desire to extend our DNA into the realm of luxury Lifestyles. Like most progressive fashion houses, we did so by introducing a line of fine furniture, signature tapestries and cushions a couple of years back, making us the first Indian fashion house ever to create a dedicated and comprehensive experience for home with a space of its own. Like most progressive fashion houses, we vehemently celebrated our country through this expression. But, unlike most others, we also celebrate craft in its entirety in the JJ VALAYA Home collection.

In a modern world which has embraced technology and minimalism to an almost disturbing level, it is perhaps only the arts and crafts that will keep mankind’s connection with its past alive and prospering. Therefore, as creators, whilst it is important for us to keep commerce and ’trends’ in mind, it is also our moral responsibility to embrace our past as unabashedly as we can and reinterpret it as much as we should to make it relevant for today. Looking around, you will notice that a commercially successful Ralph Lauren Home still highlights the American way of life to the hilt, a Versace Home celebrates Baroque Italy in all its ornate splendour whereas an Armani Casa subtly advocates its modern minimalism, a Rifat Ozbek (once a well-known fashion designer of Turkish descent, now completely focuses on Home Interiors and especially on his cushion collection Yastik) whereas an Issey Miyake indulged in a unique cultural handshake with Finnish company Iitalla to create the ‘Iittala X Issey Miyake Home Collection’ which combines Scandinavian and Asian craftsmanship with clean aesthetics to create a balanced ambiance. Essentially, wherever you look, they’ve all chosen to celebrate craft and their roots in their own unique ideologies.

Creativity is a fascinating journey and I refuse to be shackled by limitations of any kind. JJ VALAYA Home is just about warming up to create masterpieces inspired by craft and detail, interpreted of course by the Royal Nomad in me, albeit with a strong Indian spirit. Though there is a wave of minimalist cool that exists in India, we are intrinsically a country of maximalists (a cursory glance at our festivals, weddings, food, architecture, clothes etc. will only reinforce my point). Yet, we are also a modern evolving nation and what makes this so exciting for me is the ability and opportunity to create a line which evokes the very spirit of India, using the crafts and expertise that India is replete with, and simultaneously, to intriguingly appeal to a mature global audience. Overt ethnicity may be passé but Inspiration most certainly is not!

Needless to say, this is one journey I intend enjoying, and most certainly, to my heart’s content.

All images above are of products from JJ VALAYA Home.

Copyright: JJ Valaya/ All rights reserved. All images are the sole property of JJ Valaya. No part of this post/publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of JJ Valaya. This applies to all acts of use, in particular such as the reproduction of pictures and text, their performance and demonstration, translation, filming, microfilming, broadcasting, storage and processing in electronic media

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The Sixth Sense

Let’s talk about food.

Traditionally Taste is classified as one of the 5 senses, but for me personally, it takes on the mantle of the Sixth sense…The sixth sense is essentially another term for extra-sensory perception; and food for me is one of the best barometers of what to expect from the rest of the experience, be it in a restaurant, a cafe, an airline….you get the drift?

I have 3 wonderful stories to share, which perhaps will ably also elaborate my point…

Story 1: If one is to fly Business Class within India, you have 3 choices: Jet airways, Air India and Vistara. The first has been around for a while, has good connectivity but sad planes, the second is the oldest (besides being the national carrier), but unfortunately is not too good with punctuality and the third, the newest, has limited connectivity as of now (plus the uniforms suck!)… I personally refuse to fly Air India (too many comedies of error), I was a regular with Jet (still a platinum card member, I think) but have now gravitated towards Vistara. What made me switch? Proximity of the boarding gates to the baggage belts at Mumbai airport was one reason, but more importantly, and you may not believe it, the reason was…A Kulfi (an Indian ice cream) that they serve in flight! Surprisingly, on subsequent social evenings, I discovered that I was not the only one who fancied their delicacy and that indeed, this was one of the factors that many had connected with when it came to Vistara. Sometimes, no highly paid consultant will tell you about the little things that make a difference and listening to the customer can be a great alternative. Net result: I now fly only Vistara in India.

Story 2: This one was a journey of self discovery! I love good coffee, and though I’ve had several moments of coffee coups in my life, I ended up discovering the best coffee ever, existing right in my own backyard..literally! A butler at my flagship store in Delhi somehow figured out the perfect recipe for the perfect coffee! Don’t take my word for it… just visit our space in Delhi.. don’t buy anything if you don’t want to but try the coffee! Net result: I’m visiting my own store more often now.

Story 3: The Oberoi Gurgaon is a lovely hotel and one of my favourite haunts when I need to chill a bit in ‘Gurugram’. At 361, their coffee shop, they serve a particular kind of bread called the Flaky bread which is an absolute treat. I can assure you it’s a definite contributor to the girth but its worth every millimeter that you add on! Net result: The ambience and superb service aside, this lone bread has become one of my core reasons to make the hotel one of my favourite meeting spots.

Finally, while still on the Oberoi, I must make a personal recommendation. A few nights back, I had a chance to sample visiting Michelin star Chef Mario Paecke’s seven course tasting menu and what a treat it was! I’ve always been a bit of both, a hearty Punjabi (a posh one?) and a connoisseur of fine gourmet experiences (though slightly conservative in my approach to what goes into my mouth)… I’ve oscillated between the draw of the generous calorie-laden portions of desi food and the art of the elegant droppings of fine cuisine… I’ve debated constantly within myself about the simplicity of the classic Dal-Roti vs. the complexity of mysterious sauces and garnishes. Frankly, there’s magic in both, but on this particular night, the Oberoi with its ambience, its wines and Chef Mario’s talent and his artistic presentation had a fan in me. Many thanks Amitabh Rai for the experience.

If in Delhi, do visit and give yourself a treat!

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Copyright: JJ Valaya/ All rights reserved. All images are the sole property of JJ Valaya. No part of this post/publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of JJ Valaya. This applies to all acts of use, in particular such as the reproduction of pictures and text, their performance and demonstration, translation, filming, microfilming, broadcasting, storage and processing in electronic media

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The Zen Monk

 

Spending time with artist Satish Gupta in his beautiful zen like studio is in itself a gratifying experience… to indulge oneself in such intense levels of character, culture, creativity and conversation justifies every single moment dedicated to the company of this modern day monk. Satish has always been special…he started dabbling in art at age 4, trained himself to excel in his chosen skills, has since created a large number of works spread across Canvas, Sculpture and Poetry with myriad inspirations involving portraiture, seascapes, Gods and his current passion, Buddha. Years back, his kindness and generosity gave me my very own Satish Gupta portrait, unarguably one of my favourite possessions till date…Years later, I had the chance of photographing him and presenting him with his portrait, unarguably one of the favourite portraits done by me!

Such is the magic of energies, specifically, positive energies and Satish’s work studio, ZAZEN is where his energy finds its peace (the images should support my belief). I spent a day with him yesterday, photographing my Spring-Summer fashion collection (another post coming your way soon) in this very beautiful environment and I realised that each and every time I visit him, I come back with a beautiful sense of calm and awe, emanating not respectively but together, both from the space and the man.

I deeply cherish my friendship with Satish and his wife Amita. Our many associations have only made our relationship deeper… from dressing him up for his wedding with Amita, to putting their son Ananda on the cover of my first ever book on fine art photography. Today, as he heads out to Venice to feature his work, MANDALA at the Arsenal of Venice amongst some of the best artists from across the planet, I’d like to thank him… for all the creativity that he’s brought into the world and specially, for bestowing upon me such a valuable friendship.

Create…my monk…Create! The world celebrates your gift!

Copyright: JJ Valaya/ All rights reserved. All images are the sole property of JJ Valaya. No part of this post/publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of JJ Valaya. This applies to all acts of use, in particular such as the reproduction of pictures and text, their performance and demonstration, translation, filming, microfilming, broadcasting, storage and processing in electronic media

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