Painting a picture of India
There are about 4,000 fatal car crashes each year in Jaipur, India.
As one might imagine, driving there isn’t for the faint of heart.
Bermuda resident Melanie Francis is one of those who understands the region’s “crazy” system.
She regularly drives four hours from New Delhi to Jaipur and insists she’s not fazed by the hectic roads.
She’s been travelling on them since birth. Her father ran a construction company in Mumbai and she was born there.
The 64-year-old was introduced to Bermuda by her late husband, American journalist Robert Beers. The pair married here in 1978.
She now splits her time between the Island and India.
“The traffic is quite crazy,” she said. “I am used to it though, as I grew up in India.”
The art of the region is a big draw for her. She’s studying ancient Indian techniques under master craftsmen she found there.
“Jaipur is a big arts and crafts centre,” Ms Francis said. “There is lots of wood block printing, fabric dying, painting and other work with artisan fabrics, like indigo dying. For me it is very exciting.”
She highly recommended the area to anyone interested in art travel.
Ms Francis spends several months of the year in Jaipur learning from a master miniaturist — someone who specialises in extra small paintings.
“From him, the greatest lesson I have learned is probably patience,” she said. “I go to his studio and do whatever he tells me to do. One day he may ask me to mix paint, and that is what we do all day.
“I always want to rush ahead and show him what I have done. He says, ‘Oh, Melanie, Melanie why don’t you wait? Everything is a process and a procedure and there is a certain way to do things’. There is a kind of fatalism in it. What will be will be. I always want to push the agenda and say ‘Let’s get going’, but that doesn’t work out here.”
She said there are many artisans in Jaipur willing to teach and work with art travellers.
Jaipur is also a huge gem-cutting centre. Travel down an unassuming alley and you’re likely to find shops selling every kind of gem imaginable.
The Johri Bazaar is also a great place to find gems.
“There’s lots of art to buy in the region, but it isn’t necessarily sold through galleries the way it is in the western world,” said Ms Francis. “The City Palace in Jaipur has artists’ paintings on the premises and selling their works. Artists also sell their work through department stores.”
Jaipur is a walled city known for its beautiful palaces, forts and gardens. She said the surrounding region of Rajasthan, the largest state in India, has kept a lot of its traditions.
“It is a very proud state,” she said. “Instead of selling up these beautiful havelis [mansions] and turning them into hotels as they’ve done in other regions, a lot of families have kept and maintained them.
“If you are a foreigner, there is lots to see in terms of architecture.”
However, Jaipur is currently planning a new underpass system, and Ms Francis is a bit concerned about what it will mean for the walled city.
She recommended that anyone visiting northern India do a triangle circuit between Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.
“This is a fabulous triangle of antiquities,” she said. “It is a really exciting part of the world. “
She warned that the climate takes some getting used to. Ms Francis is used to constantly feeling like she has a sore throat because of the dry air.
At this time of year the temperature varies by ten degrees within 24 hours — around 50F at night and in the 60s during the day. Buildings usually have no heat, so people put on layers of coats and sweaters to stay warm. It can be very hot in the summer with temperatures going up to 115F. Ms Francis said she has always found the region to be very safe. “The people are extremely friendly,” she said. “I travel a lot in Rajasthan and been up north to the Pakistan border which is a lot more risky.”
Visit www.melaniefrancis.com to see Ms Francis’ work.
How to get there
Ms Francis usually takes a British Airways flight to the United Kingdom and then to Delhi. She then rents a car and drives four hours south to Jaipur, however the roads are quite dangerous. There are airline flights between New Delhi and Jaipur, as well as buses and trains.
Where to Stay
If you are looking for a high-end hotel, try the Rambagh Palace. This 79-room property with its unmistakable sense of history, has often been patronised by royalty. The rooms have rich textures and opulent furnishings. Rooms start at about $130. If you are looking for something a little cheaper, there are several chain hotels including the Hilton, Ibis and Lemon Tree. Even cheaper, there are many bed and breakfast hotels and homestays available. Ms Francis prefers the Art Inn. Rooms start at $39. This is a family-owned bed and breakfast catering to writers and artists. Ms Francis said the cooking is good and trustworthy and the staff friendly.
Look out for
You may want to rent a guide for Jaipur, but be aware that many of them take kickbacks from hotels and attractions, and may pressure you in a direction that benefits them.
Don’t miss the gorgeous mural at the City Palace. This huge complex of courtyards, gardens, and buildings blend both Rajasthani and Mughal architecture. The Peacock Gate, with an alluring display of detailed workmanship featuring bright peacocks, is another draw at this attraction. The royal family of Jaipur lives in the Moon Palace that borders the courtyard. The City Palace includes a museum, art gallery, and interesting displays of royal costumes and old Indian weapons. Amber Fort is another must-see. It is a 30-minute drive from the city centre, and looks like something out of a fairy tale. It is set on a hilltop overlooking Maota Lake. It was the original home of Rajput royalty until Jaipur city was constructed, and contains a number of breathtaking palaces, halls, gardens, and temples.
Also, see the Jantar Mantar Observatory which is a series of buildings with many astrological systems on display. There are different kinds of early telescopes and huge hanging astrological plates.
You need a visa to get into India. You should also check with your doctor about vaccinations. See wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/india for more information. For information about art in Jaipur see www.artindia-jaipur.com/