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!

Hitting the markets and menus of Delhi

Thank you to Travel Talk Magazine for publishing our guide on just some of the delicious delights of Delhi, waiting to be discovered through the cities markets and menus. To a first-time traveller, Delhi may not appear the obvious choice for opulent dining and extravagant shopping, but then again, Delhi is nothing if not one surprising find after another!

Hitting the markets and menus of Delhi

You might also like our guide Walking Old Delhi to discover the street life of Delhi on foot.

 

 

Barrenjoey lighthouse

 

 

Barrenjoey lighthouse

On the northernmost tip of Sydney’s northern beaches is one of the city’s most spectacular coastal lookouts. It also happens to be accessible only through a steep bushland climb and as it’s a good 1.5-hour drive out of the city, Barrenjoey Headland doesn’t make it to the list of everyday tourist spots. Fortunately though, as you embark on the uneven incline, each step rewards you with an increasingly sublime view of the Palm Beach peninsula. It’s precisely these features that make Barrenjoey Lighthouse Sydney’s best sunset lookout. 

1. Beachside village

Palm Beach is a familiar and well-loved name around the world. Add into that, its unique position as the most northerly aspect of Sydney and the lookout jumps in popularity. The broad stretch of orange sand and open sea is set against an affluent cafe and shopping scene. Once you reach Avalon on Sydney’s northern beaches the single lane road bends and twists along the coastline. There are stunning homes perched into the undulating cliff, boldly placed to get the best view of the never-ending ocean. The roadside is thick with leafy overgrown flowering shrubs and all of a sudden, you’ve left the city behind.

Palm beach

2. Room with a view

Standing at 113 metres above sea level, Barrenjoey Lighthouse looks serenely across the Pacific Ocean as it has done for over 130 years. Bult from local sandstone, it’s the pinnacle of the peninsula and by far the best aspect to view Broken Bay, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and the sweeping views of the ocean. Each Sunday between 11.00am and 3.00pm you can join the 30-minute guided tours of the Lighthouse, though the grounds of the Lighthouse are open 24 hours. This makes it a perfect spot for a coastal walk, picnic or Sydney’s best sunset lookout.

Sydney's best sunset lookout

3. Bush trails and tales

There are two walking tracks that go all the way up to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse and they join as a circuit if you take one up and choose the other for the way down. Either way, you’ll experience one of the most picturesque harbour bushwalks.

The Smugglers Track

It may be shorter, but at the hint of the name, you know that The Smugglers Track is not the easy route. It’s the steeper of the two trails and is 400m climb directly to the top of the hill. The walk is considered Grade 3 so carry plenty of water, wear the right bushwalking shoes and maybe make this your descent back down the hill. As the story goes, The Smugglers Track acquired it’s convict sounding name from customs officers using the pathway to monitor smugglers who were bringing contraband into Broken Bay.

Access Trail

As the name suggests, here is the walking track for the nature lover seeking a gentler, meandering walk and who has more time to embrace the surrounding beauty. The Access Trail is Grade 2 on the scale of walking treks and follows a narrow, though somewhat easier road to the reach the Lighthouse.

Sydney's best sunset lookout

4. A road for all seasons

Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is a popular park all year around. Summertime peaks naturally on Palm Beach and the sun blazing on the bay provides a sparkling view. Shallow water jetties and sleek yachts lulling in the bays, fill the long summer days with tourists. In the cooler season, from May to October, the peninsula is a magical spot to catch sight of the humpback whale migration as they follow the warmer waters north. Springtime is ablaze with sprigs of wildflowers and even under the steely winter skies, the cooler days make for more pleasant bush walks. But for all of the daylight views, sunset on the peninsula is truly magical.

5. End of a perfect day

To catch a glimpse of the sun setting is a great thing to add to your travel wish list. There’s a huge choice of striking sunset lookouts around Sydney basin, but for all the iconic silhouettes of the city, something about the peninsula makes Barrenjoey Lighthouse Sydney’s best sunset lookout. Its tapered headland is one of those rare formations that a good sunset makes worth the climb. There are regular photographic tours you can join or after the walking trails, take some time out to absorb nature’s most gentle time of the day.

You might also like to find out about other sunsets spots at our favourite secluded beaches in Sydney.

Sydney's best sunset lookout

 

Architecture of Sydney

 

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Queen Victoria Building

When you have a camera in your hand, everything is a work of art. Along the everyday blur of city streets and the rising hum of suburbia, the angles of train tracks and fence lines become the imprint of a beautiful moment. I especially love the way the light plays in dappled shadows on the road and indented stone walls. Through a lens, buildings, walkways and rooftops become shapes and shadows. I see their curves blend and the edges disappear and the grey light mask their imperfections. Capturing the architecture of Sydney casts its history in a blaze of whimsical animation and takes me on a curious walk through the chronicles of the city.

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Town Hall

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Curzon Hall

The architecture of a city is its historical footprint, telling stories of its victories and losses, it’s fractures and structure. Mostly, the buildings and bridges that bring a city together, join the people and cultures in an ever-changing holding of hands. When I walk through the streets of Sydney, even the street names reflect their London heritage; Queen Victoria Building, State Government offices and The Strand Arcade tell of the early chapters of colonialism.

The rooftop balconies of the Erskineville pub scene retain their 1950’s charm and you can almost see the women crossing their legs nearly at the original bar stools against the retro forest green tiles. Crouched on the opera house steps, with my camera tilted skywards, even the ivory sails soar into a 1960’s full of freedom and promise.

Architecture of Sydney

Space defines us. The pop of candy coloured frontages of Newtown’s second storey line up like a box of crayons. The graffiti and crowd below are just as free. Sydney is full of these creative villages weaving through 1930’s hotels and terraces and the imposing rise of corporate CBD.

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The Strand Arcade

With each new approach to how we use space, fresh designs of architecture emerge and add layers to the city’s photo album. Some preserved, some broken, some waiting for playful new buildings to keep adding to the fluid aspects of Sydney’s character.

Things to do in Jervis Bay

They say if you want to know the best place to enjoy a good meal while travelling, eat where the locals go. The same could be said for picking and choosing your sightseeing and adventure activities. Especially with just a weekend to discover an expansive coastline and the many little towns perched along Sydney’s south-coast seaside drive. We’ve made it easy to pack in the many things to do in Jervis Bay.

A little about Jervis Bay

Shoalhaven stretches from Nowra to Ulladulla with a stunning shoreline between. At the heart is the little township of Huskisson, as well known for the heritage pub on the corner peering out across the sea, as for the marina where the seasonal whale watching cruises depart. The main street is full of eateries and café options, sprinkled with new age and local market stores. There are plenty of tourism outlets and eco-cruise options to explore. 

The Local’s guide to the top 5 things to do in Jervis Bay

To appreciate Shoalhaven’s sun-drenched escarpment, squeaky white sands and water the colour of translucent opals, we asked the locals their favourite weekend picks. With their help, here’s our guide to the top 5 things to do on your Jervis Bay weekend getaway.

1. Follow nature’s trail 

There are two national parks within Shoalhaven; Jervis Bay National Park and Booderee National Park. Both have impressive walking treks but only one has Murray’s Beach. It’s the surprising burst of blue that’s a welcome reprieve on the way to the cliff top view at Governors Head. It takes only about 10 minutes to reach the lookout and from the edge, you can see across to Bowen Island.

At the entrance to the Park, the Ranger shared such insightful information about the area and it’s meaning to the local indigenous community, it felt really special to know the history and significance of the land we were walking on. That’s the other beautiful feature of Booderee National Park; that it is jointly cared for by the local aboriginal community of Wreck Bay in partnership with Government. Booderee translates in the local language to the “bay of plenty” and is an easy 15 minutes from Vincentia.

2. Play on the world’s whitest sand

Hyams Beach is one of Australia’s most visited places and Shoalhaven’s biggest drawcard. Its picturesque backdrop of pastel coloured cottages and pretty bushland open out to a stretch of stark white sand that you literally have to squint to see. Against the azure stripe of the ocean, Hyam’s Beach is truly one of the calmest and most appealing beaches to splash around on. A day spent on Hyam’s Beach is one of the most popular things to do in Jervis Bay.

Things to do in Jervis Bay

With a tiny population of just 112 people, the village swells on the weekends with holidaymakers from all over NSW. Hyam’s is bordered by Chinamans Beach to the North and Sailors Beach to the south but the pure quartz of the fine sand make Hyam’s Beach stand out and sparkle. It’s peppermint walled cafe of the same name is the best local place to pick up a healthy organic salad or coffee.

3. Visit the seal colony

Jervis Bay has long been a popular part of Australia’s east coast to catch a glimpse of the magnificent humpback whale migration from May to October each year. The soft waves and clear waters are also home to the bottlenose dolphins which can be spotted coasting alongside boats.

Add into that, Jervis Bay has two seal colonies, one to the north with up to 40 seals, whilst the colony to the south is slightly smaller with approximately 30 seals. Interestingly, it was explained to us that the colonies are only accessible to view by sea as they are traditional indigenous male sites where women can’t go by land. Jervis Bay wilderness eco-tours offer 2-hour cruises out to the Bowen Island seal colonies where along the way you’ll take in soaring cliffs, jagged inlets and rock formations that are millions of years old.

4. Explore the lighthouses

As you look out across the bay to the rocky headland, a tall pale lighthouse is the only sign of life on the horizon. Point Perpendicular Lighthouse marks the northern entrance to Jervis Bay and sits about 45km from its centre. Though it’s a little tricky to access, the drive through low scrubland and wildflowers makes it well worth the trek and one of the most interesting things to do in Jervis Bay.

Its story is tied to the other lighthouse in Shoalhaven at Cape St George in Booderee National Park located on the southern side of the bay, a somewhat misplaced location. The original Cape St George Lighthouse is now a haunted remnant of its former glory but the original 1860’s sandstone blocks remain. It’s a beautiful walk through the sandy incline and although a recent bushfire has swept through the native trees, their charred black branches create a stunning abstract approach. 

5. Find your photo op

As travellers, we’re always on the lookout for the best spots to capture the perfect picture. While the options for a seaside selfie are plenty, there are a few spots that help you take in the most magnificent views. Catch sunrise at Plantation Point in Vincentia and Hyam’s Beach or sunset at Sanctuary Point on the western side of Jervis Bay.

Within Booderee National Park there’s Greenpatch and the Marina Waters for secluded views of the bush and the sea. The parkland at the end of Owen Street in Huskisson makes for a sweeping view of the broader bay.

Wrapping it up

Jervis Bay is one of Australia’s best-loved summer getaways and because of its longer than usual whale watching season, is busy almost all year round. June is peak season for following the humpback migration and from September to the end of summer in March, Shoalhaven is packed with sun-lovers. You’ll need at least a weekend to explore all of the adventurous things to do in Jervis Bay or a midweek stay will give you more access to the region’s abounding natural beauty.

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