jai ho ho ho

No one goes to India just for Christmas. Germany maybe, for the gingerbread houses or Canada for the cosy winter days, snowy window ledges and warm cups of milk chocolate. But India loves a festival and Christmas here is as spirited as anywhere else. The open roadside markets with handmade prayer offerings waving in the breeze hang alongside gilded Santa costumes and stringy tinsel. And why wouldn’t India embrace the traditions of Christmas. After all, it’s a culture that lives through family and loves through food.

It’s Diwali that’s always been the heart of India’s festive season, but with stacks of plastic Santa masks weaving for sale through the traffic, Christmas is not far behind. December is also wedding season in India so the roads, markets and houses are full. For us, this Christmas ushered in family visiting from overseas and a houseful of happiness. As a season, it’s as jolly and full of spirit as Christmas anywhere, with elf caps and foam snowflakes sold by the dozen at traffic lights across the city. 

On the streets though, Christmas looks a little out of place. Standing next to toy bikes, pet pigeons and paratha stalls, the assemble of all things Christmas makes quite a spectacle. Naked sadhus and meandering cows, not quite so much. It’s not that there’s not a vast Christian or expat community living in Delhi, just that you’d be forgiven for thinking that when the British left they’d have taken Christmas with them. On the contrary, there are thin Santas roaming malls everywhere. 

In a country where such diversity is everywhere, people celebrate everything. Christmas Eve, we were on the sightseeing trail, visiting Hindu temples, following their stories of how Ganesha came to have the head of a small elephant and wandering through the ruins of tombs from the Mughal Empire. By morning the stash of presents beneath the well-trimmed tree was like a miracle on 34th street. We didn’t know whether to lay out milk and cookies for the reindeers or the roadside cows. It’s as irreverent, beguiling and heartfelt as only India can be!


Discover Melbourne

Melbourne cityscape

Melbourne is the kind of city that could be plonked anywhere in the world. Not characterised by an open blue harbour or a canopy of tropical skies,  Melbourne has done pretty well at creating itself as the best that a city can be; interesting, historical, creative and a little bit whimsical. It’s just the right size, is jam-packed with urban personality and is full to the brim of interesting things to do. Here are our four favourite ways to discover Melbourne city.

1. An eye for art

Being the art capital of Australia has become Melbourne’s tagline. It’s certainly become known as one of the best street art cities in the world. What started off as graffiti, has fast become the signature for Melbourne’s art scene. Expressive, creative and compelling, street walls have become a vibrant canvas of energy and freedom. Here are some of our favourite places to experience Melbourne’s famous street murals and art.

    • AC/DC Lane and Duckboard Place
    • Hosier and Rutledge lanes
    • Union Lane
    • Centre Place
    • Stevenson and Tattersalls lanes
    • Drewery and Sniders lanes
    • Finlay Lane
    • Blender Lane

2. Discover Degraves

For the curious traveller, the twists and turns of Melbourne’s alleyways and narrow streets lead to endless discoveries. With their stone walkways, street lanterns and handwritten signs, the backstreets, laneways, arcades and even the gaps between buildings are full of interesting stores and eateries that leave you wanting to poke your head through every doorway.

To catch Melbourne’s Euro-inspired heritage, ornate architecture and upscale shopping try Block Arcade, equally famous for the delectable and ornate high tea served at the Hopetoun tea rooms. If it’s the “hole in the wall restaurant” street you’re looking for, visit Centre Place, with its street side seats and great afternoon coffee spots.

Just off Centre Place and connecting Flinders Street and Flinders Lane is the cities’ Parisian influenced Degraves Street, where it’s as easy to get a glass of red as an espresso. On the corner of Flinders Lane and Swanston Street is the charming Cathedral Arcade, with its central dome harking back to 1925. If it’s an afternoon of leafy street side dining you’re looking for, Hardware Lane is a must for authentic Euro cuisine and atmosphere.

3. Market mooching in Melbourne City

Tourist guides will tell you Queen Vic Market (QVM) as one of Melbourne’s most historic landmark markets and the largest in the Southern Hemisphere is a must-do. We won’t because for us the best sightseeing in Melbourne city is an afternoon treasure troving around the cities markets. The trick is finding out the best ones to explore, so we’ve picked our 3 favourites:

St Kilda’s Arts and Crafts Market has a long history and even longer line of artisans along the esplanade. In summer, markets run till twilight where you’ll find over 130 stalls of handcrafted and homemade goods and services, delicious food and the ambience of one of Melbourne’s most iconic suburbs.  

The South Melbourne Market in Coventry Street sounds as quaint as when it first started in 1867. Today it’s an enticing blend of European delicatessens, authentic handicraft stalls and popular everyday wear. Right on the corner is a fresh produce stall overflowing with colours and flavours and is a favourite location for locals and tourists alike. Take in the aroma of African coffee, spicy gooey dumplings and fluffy hot gozleme. Yum!

Ever been enchanted by those movie scene’s where book lovers spend a lazy Saturday afternoon browsing through a book market, casually flipping the well-worn pages of a favourite novel? Federation Square’s Saturday book market is stacked to the brim with titles on travel, history, art, cuisine and children’s classics and runs from 11 am – 5 pm each Saturday.

4. Let them eat cake and everything else 

Within the walls of Melbourne’s meandering alleys and festive restaurant streets, the food choices are plentiful. You couldn’t possibly sample them all, but here’s a handful of recommendations to zing your taste buds, after all, there’s a reason it’s home to Australia’s Masterchef.

Let’s start with Time Out’s Restaurant of the year, the Carlton Wine Room, an upmarket yet highly inviting blend of top-shelf wine with a delicious, fresh uncomplicated menu. Melbourne’s Asian food scene is about street spice and fusion flavours; enter Red Spice Road. This funky CBD eatery is a food journey from Thailand, Malaysia, China and Vietnam.

For a totally different food experience, try the expansive beer garden and rotating food trucks at Thornbury in Northcote. What used to be the old Morris Minor factory (very cool) is now home to the tastiest street food trucks (super cool) from Brazilian Bites, Mr Burger, Korean Fried Chicken, Vietnamese, Thai and Greek quick bites. If ethical eating is your thing, Melbourne’s favourite vegan Italian restaurant, Smith and Daughters in Fitzroy serves up delectable lashings of traditional meat inspired Italian dishes without a grain of guilt.

Let’s finish off with a little dessert; from tangy gelato, creamy macaroon’s or indulgent chocolate, dessert bars have popped up all over Melbourne. Brunetti’s in Lygon Street is alive with the ambient buzz of outside buskers, animated guests and an “I want more than one” cake menu. It’s a little bit of the buzz of Melbourne’s Italian heart with a dollop of sugar on top.

Want to read more about Australia’s best-loved cities? Read The Insiders Guide to Exploring Sydney here.

New look job hunting

New look job hunting

I remember the days when we all put our address on our resumes when we were job hunting. And our birthdates. Now I’m showing my age. I love that inclusion means that we no longer require information that really has nothing to do with our ability to do the job. Particularly our hairstyles. Yes, you can come to the interview with green tips or a purple fringe and like all good recruiters out there, I won’t give it a second thought, except if it’s matching a shirt, in which case, kudos for the coordinating tones. We just don’t need to see it in a ¾ page spread on the front page of your resume though. Yup, photos are out too. Phone numbers, however, are very much in; I guess the other reason we don’t need addresses any more is that no one’s sending mail, but it’s super helpful to include your contact number on your resume, not just your job board profile.

It’s hard to keep up with the changing pace of finding a job. No one’s wearing a power suit anymore, FaceTime is a meetup and good talent now interviews the boss. It’s no wonder baristas are applying for marketing and comms roles, they’re probably brand influencers between lattes, whipping up a storm on social media and blogging for food mags while no-one’s sipping. When did it become the norm for a corporate supernova to cameo as an out of work artist, wearing converse to an interview and making us shift in our seats with their awe-inspiring talent?

You don’t need your marital status on your resume either. But you do need to answer your phone. There’s such a thing as a little too laid back. I’ve watched recruitment (now there’s an old word), slip and slide as the market balances in and out of the candidate favour. We used to value propriety but the millennials changed all that, we used to view stability as the hallmark of success, now we simply see the success, we used to applaud big-ticket corporate names on resumes, now we value small pieces of work that change the world. The work you do and the influence you have outweighs job titles, company logos and in some cases salary packages.

The perfect resume reads like the headlines of your professional autobiography. A compelling opening, a few winning achievements and a snapshot of how you made a real difference. I heard work history once being called a “corridor of experience”, that was naff, but the Q-code in the top right-hand corner that took me to an online profile jam-packed with examples of work, was not. When companies make clever ads with emotional messaging that you identify with, they’ve made a connection. That’s what your resume needs to be. It’s your brand, your business, your perfect life in your back pocket. And it’s still your calling card to your next career move, make it count!

Photo credit: Anna Johansson

Live your authentic life

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~E.E. Cummings

I have a really clear memory of standing at the pedestrian traffic lights with my dad when I was about 15 and he asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. Tossing around a few notions like prima ballerina and TV week cover girl, I  but settled on something a little less ambitious and far more within my reach; I said I wanted to be me. As it turns out, being comfortable with who we are is perhaps one of the most hopeful things we can aim for. There’s a glow that comes from authenticity and a peace within yourself when you accept who you are.

We kick around the phrase authenticity as a hip new age term, sometimes overlooking the influence that being authentic can have. Our personalities, our reactions, our opinions all have the potential to bounce off people the wrong way, yet somehow seem to work when they come from a place of authenticity. It is when we are ambiguous that we give off a subtle air of confusion and others automatically respond with the same confusion and ambiguity.

Through all the unravelling and rebuilding, at the heart of being authentic is simply being ok with yourself. As we change, our acceptance of ourselves also needs to change. The conflict comes when we are moving in a new direction, but still hanging on to the beliefs we grew up with, or confine ourselves by a certain mind frame. If we let go of the judgments and uncertainty, chances are others will too. 

Finding that inner acceptance can be confronting. You’ll come up against yourself, questioning the mindsets that have ushered you to this point. Being authentic is about standing wholeheartedly in the present and not being afraid to define yourself at that moment. Capture the moment as if it were a bubble around you, an entirely safe place full of all the things that you believe, feel, desire and love; that’s the truth of who you are.  When we find the courage to take these simple steps, living authentically happens naturally.

Speak your truth

Even if it’s to yourself, in the safety of your own space, say it. Clarity in our thoughts, actions and words automatically creates a pathway for things to happen. If we are muddled, it’s no surprise when our life is too. Being honest is one of the most uplifting and energising ways to simplify our lives.

Forgive yourself

If you’re going to be frank enough to speak your truth, a big part of that is being honest enough to admit your mistakes, own up to your shortcomings and forgive yourself anyway. This sounds wishy-washy but it’s a pretty confronting thing to do. Look yourself in the mirror, acknowledge your imperfections and allow yourself the generosity to admit that you did the best with what you had. Oprah say’s “when you know better you do better.” It’s all a part of the learning.

Do what you love

Authenticity is about being who you really are, all of the time. Not just in the safe moments yet wearing a mask in all the others. So to truly be yourself you have to fill your time with work, people and hobbies that resonate with your soul. You have to do what you love. That doesn’t mean finding excuses to enjoy what it is you think you have to do but to be bold enough to follow your path of inspiration. Whatever sets your soul on fire, do more of that!

Be kind

Judging ourselves and others is the quickest way to build barriers. Our world today is no less full of judgements, despite social media’s mind wash to have us all behave a certain way. We can only control kindness in our little corner of the world, but that’s a good place to start. When we give out goodness we get goodness back, but more than that, being kind creates a smoother circle of happenings around us and that means less complication, less justifying, less mess.

Practice mindfulness

It’s almost impossible to find the real you without doing a little work along the way. The practice of mindfulness gives us power in the moment by simply focussing on where we are in the present. It helps us shed our past regrets or future concerns by enabling us to fully absorb and accept how we feel in this very moment.

Stop people pleasing

Coming from one of the world’s greatest people pleasers, it’s really challenging to actually put yourself first. I take this to mean that we give ourselves permission to disagree, to say no. We find it easier to demonstrate “nice” behaviour, so we often hide how we really feel. It is actually ok to feel anger, to be upset, to tell someone else that you feel angry with them. We don’t have to take on their reaction, we just need to give ourselves permission to be authentic about how we feel. Stop saying sorry. Stop pleasing everyone. Just stop.

“Living authentically is not stagnant: it is constantly shifting and taking on new forms. If we truly believe in living an authentic life, then we must continually be learning about ourselves, challenging old beliefs, sorting through our baggage. It is about learning to face fears and doubts, to be able to reach deeply within ourselves to find out what makes our heart sing, our spirit soar. It is finding where our authentic self feels the most alive, free and unburdened — and then having the courage to live from this place.” Psych Central

The gypsies of Rajasthan

 

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All over the world, all through the ages, travellers, tribes and wanderers have been thrown together by the tailwinds of life. Settling where they can, surviving with whatever they can gather, jostling for shade and a place to sleep. On the fringes of a rural village in the northern state of Rajasthan in India, a corner plot of about 20 acres of land was recently cleared, presumably to be developed commercially. Within days though, it sprang into a bustling gypsy micro-city. It started with a herd of goats, a couple of milking cows and some charpoys. Actually, in most Indian villages that’s infrastructure.

Tents and makeshift shelters started going up, cooking fires smouldered all day and then came the dancing girls! I first noticed the women by their decorative Rajasthani style lehenga’s, long skirts swishing in the sand, ivory bracelets from wrist to shoulder, jingling anklets and heavily adorned dupatta’s worn across their heads, just enough to show the hanging silver bell-shaped earrings that sway with their tall, lithe physiques.

Passing through the village, I noticed a small band of women working on laying the new village road, labouring under a 45-degree sun sweeping the rocks and sand to make way for the bitumen. As our car slowly went past, one woman turned to look up and I saw her face. Not a traditional beauty but intense pale piercing eyes, a strong aquiline nose accented by high cheekbones and a silver studded piercing. She had a face waiting to be captured through the lens. An arresting, stark and exotic face whose look was captivating. Her stare back to me was full of inquisition, I guess to her my fairness was equally fascinating.

I remember when I first travelled through Rajasthan, seeing the colourful assemble all tumbled together in a joyous celebration was a wonderful reflection of Indian life.  Wandering through palaces, many converted into luxury hotels, we crossed courtyards, ambled down connecting narrow corridors bathed in the light from within the emerald, sapphire and silver mosaic mirrored rooms and breathed in the fresh air from the heights of the princely balconies. There’s a Regalness in the place whose name literally means Land of the Kings.

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It is in the sandy foothills of Rajasthan, that for generations the Rajputs and Hindus have staunchly fought off every invader since the Mogul warriors first crossed the Khyber Pass on horseback. Face to face with the majesty of kingdoms that would serve to inspire them in their quest for India. Still imprinted on the Palace walls ascending to the inner courtyard are yellow, red and orange faded palm prints pressed into the stone. This practice of Sati, where the recently widowed princesses immolated themselves on the King’s funeral pyre, is seen in these small delicate handprints, recorded for posterity.

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But it’s the faces of the Rajasthani women, particularly, who really imprint themselves on your memory, which is how I so easily recognised the colourful and bustling village bursting into life on a barren stretch of highway. These women are known for their charismatic beauty, the Kalbeliya and Bopa, acclaimed as the Queens of the Rajasthan Desert. Rajasthan even today is dominated by a myriad of tribes, the most prominent of whom can trace their ancestry back to the Indus Valley Civilisation, no wonder they have depth in their eyes.

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Jean-Phillipe Soule who travelled to Pushkar, says that these gypsy tribes survive “moving from place to place, sleeping beneath the stars on the outskirts of towns.” Sadly, he writes that “the Bopa and Kalbeliya share the bad reputation of gypsies the world over. Once much sought after by kings and maharajas, they were hired to provide exotic entertainment—the Bopa are talented musicians and singers and the Kalbeliya are dancers and snake charmers. However, as royal audiences disappeared, the Bopa and Kalbeliya gypsies lost much of their livelihood. Today, they subsist as semi-nomadic street performers, travelling between fairs and festivals”.

Of course, I don’t know if the gypsies in my story have their heritage and home amongst these desert tribes, but the linkages are there in their adornments, swirling skirts, drifting community and earnest eyes. For a moment I loved watching them weave an existence out of nothing. It’s a way of life that has carried them, resilient and sunny, through the generations. How long they’ll stay and entertain this little corner of the world, is anybody’s guess.

The gypsies of Rajasthan

Planning a trip to Rajasthan? Check out the best times of year to visit.

You might also like to read about Jaipur in Jai ho Jaipur!

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