Italy

 

I’ve always been biased towards Europe…. the fact that this delicious pie is made up of so many parts, each slice with its own delightful and distinct spirit…the fact that the old and the new coexist within the same geographical boundaries with such ease … the fact that history romances modernity is near perfect proportions… and the reality that one can literally hire a car and drive from one experience to another on the most scenic routes known to man are perhaps amongst the few ingredients that enrich my penchant for Europe. And yet, there is much I have to see there… there is much to be absorbed…much to be shared… and these are the journeys I much look forward to.

Italy! A country I have visited several times and yet, it fascinates me more each and every time. I do however believe, that I still have to take in the true soul of this country… yet, i must admit that it remains one of my most favourite destinations in the world… for within (and besides) the usual suspects i.e. its Architecture, Art, Style and History lie several of its hidden secrets. You need to simply walk in its cobblestoned alleys, manoeuvre its mysterious canals, drive through its usually gratifying countryside and feast on the multitude of all that satisfies one’s senses, (and never in the garb of a tourist.)

Much more to be said and shared when i actually visit Italy next and soak myself in its magic once again, but till then, thought of sharing a few images made in Florence (Firenze) and Milan (Milano).

Have a Pizza today ! Celebrare!!

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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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Sky ~ II

Take away the colours of the Sky (and its inhabitants) and the monochromes heave a collective and triumphant sigh before proceeding to create grayscale magic in Whites and Greys albeit with an occasional dalliance with Noir.

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 Sky below us…

 

Whenever I fly (not metaphorically), one of the most difficult choices I’m faced with each and every time is deciding between the window seat or the aisle seat. The aisle seat enjoys the advantage of easier (and quicker) access to the loo and to frequent walks on long hauls (hate jumping over someone napping in the adjoining flatbed!)…the window seat on the other hand offers an uninterrupted view of a forever evolving canvas through the small rectangular transparent gap right beside it. I eventually take the decision based on how full the flight is, praying silently that its not, so that I can enjoy what I call “Glimpses of God” for at least the duration of the flight.

The sky above, as we see it every single day, is a fairly mundane experience when compared to the dramatic vistas one is treated to if one were to peek into the sky from above. That, my friends, is sheer poetry in motion… it is God’s domain, and man’s opportunity to actually experience what it must feel like if the “Gods were actually looking down upon us”. The sheer volume of it, the colours, the textures, the rays of the sun and several other elements come together to create the perfect awe-inspiring visual; one only needs to look, and take in the wonders that lie before us, to imbibe the magic of nature and feel deep gratitude to be able to behold an intense canvas that no artist in the world can ever create!

I thought I’d share some of the images that I have made from this vantage point; though spread across a few flights, do remember that these images are a mere mortal’s attempt to capture momentary, yet privileged flashes of God’s magic. For when has it ever been possible to cage a spirit?… and specially one that incubates life itself.

PS* Please excuse any marks/scratches on the images as the images are made through the double glass of the aircraft using a smartphone. I have also added a grain to the images to bind them into a cohesive story.

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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Jaypore

Whilst my erratic and ever changing schedule has bestowed upon me a degree of remorse for not being able to accept the generous invitation from Samir Andrea Kasliwal for his birthday celebrations and also the royal one from the Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh of Jaipur for Holi festivities at the palace, I am left with no option but to try and create peace within by reminiscing some sweet moments from the past.

From one of my recent trips to Jaipur (or Jaypore as it was known in British India), and before this memory gently ambles into the mind’s recesses, I thought it wise to share my joy on my very brief visit to Bar Palladio. This lovely space (not surprisingly run by a European), besides being an aesthete’s delight, was quite the gastronomic discovery, especially since one did not expect Jaipur to throw up anything like it. Much recommended to anyone visiting the Pink City… Go and enjoy the exotic embrace of the perfect shades of Turquoise, Teal and Indigo whilst sipping on a fine aperitif and savouring delectable Hors d’oeuvre. (Which I delightfully indulged in, courtesy the company and conversation of my dear friend and restaurateur extraordinaire, AD Singh).

Personally, I’ve always loved that wonderful twist that happens to the expected when expats set up something in India… the synergy of an alien mind fuses magically with the environment that only India can offer and, more often than not, throws up some wonderful hybrid experiences. The reverse also holds true, and unlike the past, where every immigrant fom Bangladesh and Nepal invariably opened a very sad, aesthetically deprived, agarbati smelling “authentic” Indian restaurant, today, one can find fine gastronomical experiences in various parts of the world run and owned by Indians.

I’ve always looked forward to such instances of osmosis…of food, of music, of soul… of love… to me, the coming together of beings, of cultures is extremely exciting and the byproducts of all such mating are generally exotic in nature. More of this spirit is required in the world today … the oneness of humanity, above race or religion has never been more relevant before.

Finally, a very Happy Holi to all of you ( for those of you who’re not aware, it’s the festival of colours in India and Nepal which signifies the triumph of good over evil and also heralds the onset of spring)… so bring in as much colour as you can in your life as well as in others lives. It really is a beautiful world full of beautiful souls… just look at all with different eyes and you’ll be amazed at the magic that you’ll be able to witness.

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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