Welcome to my Blog. I will be writing about all the things I love and that inspire me, share images and interesting articles and keep you informed on all things happening at our online store - Raja and Rani.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Let Them Eat Cake!

There’s no escaping the wedding fever that’s hit London this week. Are you excited, fed up or just bored with it all?

The wedding has given me one excuse though, (not that I need one!) to check out one of my favourite bakeries in London – The Hummingbird Bakery.

Celebrate the Royal Wedding with a selection of their famous hand decorated vanilla cupcakes from one of their bakeries in Notting Hill, Soho or South Kensington, available between 26th April - 1st May, all decorated in limited edition vintage inspired pastel hues, crowns, union jacks and flowers.  Enjoy!

PS The Hummingbird Bakery has just released a follow up to their bestselling, hugely popular cookbook. With a wonderful new collection of easy and delicious cupcakes, layer cakes, pies and cookies, I know it will be on my shopping list just for the glorious photographs and fabulous new recipes. Red Velvet is still my favourite though…..what’s yours?

Images are from http://hummingbirdbakery.com/ and  http://www.waterstones.com/

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

India Inspiration Trip - Day 9

Udaipur to Mumbai
Today we fly to Mumbai to visit our respective families. From here on in it will be family visits, family meals and generally quite an emotional time as we’ll say a quick hello and goodbye to our loved ones.
Agra and Rajasthan have been awesome. This is the start of a new and exciting venture for me, so I can’t wait to fly back to the UK and start planning. Thanks for reading about my time in India and watch this space (or the website www.rajaandrani.co.uk) for the launch of my new and exciting products!

Monday, 25 April 2011

India Inspiration Trip - Day 8

After a huge and lovely breakfast overlooking the lake, we set off for our half day city tour. We started off at the Jagdish Temple which is in the main town. This Hindu temple was heaving with worshippers, tourists and generally, everybody! It was built in 1651 by Maharana Jagat Singh, who ruled Udaipur during 1628-1653 and is a fine example of Indo-Aryan architecture.

This three-storied temple comprises of beautifully carved pillars, decorated ceilings and grand halls. After a quick look inside and a wander around the outside of the temple to look at the intricate carvings, we headed out, as there were far too many people around!

Just a short walk away is the grand City Palace which towers over the serene Lake Pichola. Made up of balconies, cupolas and towers, this awesome palace built on a hill is Rajasthan’s largest with a façade 244m long and 30.4m high.

The palace has many chambers and large rooms, all superbly decadent in a fusion Rajasthani and Mughal architectural styles. The rooms have names such as Manak Mahal (Ruby Palace) which is all decked out in mirror and glass-work.  The Moti Mahal also has superb mirror-work and the Mor Chowk (Peacock Square) has gorgeous mosaics of peacocks in a sea of blue and green shimmering in the sunlight. I was amazed at the intricacy and beauty of all this work and it made me wonder– 'was there no end to the opulence of these maharajas’?

Manak Mahal

Many parts of the palace offer superb panoramic views of Udaipur and Lake Pichola so we stopped for a while and peered through the scalloped arches to see the milky white Lake Palace sitting serenely on the lake. 

After our tour of City Palace, we headed to the north of the city to the picturesque Saheliyon-ki-Bari (Garden of the Maids of Honour). This small ornamental garden, built in 1710, was a welcome haven from the rest of the city and this morning’s sightseeing. There were stunning fountains, marble elephants and even a lotus pool, all in lush green surroundings. The sound of the sprinkling water was instantly calming.

The garden was built by Sangram Singh II for the enjoyment of 48 female attendants which were part of the princess’s dowry and provided a place for them to enjoy and relax, away for the palace. We just strolled through the shaded walkways and enjoyed the serenity! 
By 5pm we had made our way to the jetty to board our sunset cruise of Lake Pichola. Firstly we went across the lake to a small island called Jag Mandir to see the palace which was built in 1620 by Maharaja Karan Singh. As we stepped off the boat there was a row of enormous stone elephants lining our path and as we headed to the rooftop to admire the view, I was amazed at how gorgeous everything looked from up here! I could see the Taj Lake Palace and the City Palace all bathed in a golden light as the sun was starting to set.  So romantic.

After about half an hour we headed back to our boat and cruised around the lake just taking in the sights and feeling so lucky to have experienced such a romantic end to our time in Udaipur. Once back at the hotel, we headed to the lobby bar to see a traditional Rajasthani dance troupe preparing for a show. Fabulous! We settled down in two front row seats, ordered cocktails and waited for the show to start. This girl could really dance! Canapés turned up without us even ordering them so after the show we stayed for a while to sip another cocktail before dinner.

We got back to my room to find rose petals in a bowl near the huge bathtub and a note to say someone can come and run my bath when I’m ready. It was way too late, I was way too tired and we had an early flight back, so what did I do? I got up at 5am the next morning, filled the bath, scattered the rose petals and enjoyed my last few hours in this truly magical place – most definitely the jewel of Rajasthan!  

Sunday, 24 April 2011

India Inspiration Trip - Day 7

After a very early breakfast (6am) at our heritage guest house, we said our goodbyes and headed out for the long drive to Udaipur. Udaipur was exactly how I read it would be – the most romantic city in India. Across the water from the huge lakeside City Palace, sits the world famous bright white Lake Palace, almost floating in the middle of the shimmering blue Lake Pichola. Simply stunning! How can you not fall in love with this place?

We spent the afternoon just wandering through the narrow and winding lanes of the main market, looking at the miniature paintings, jewellery, wood carvings, textiles and puppets, all hung out to tempt the tourists.

We were both really tired after the long drive this morning and all the walking around this afternoon so we decided to spend the evening at the hotel having dinner and just admiring the stunning views over Lake Pichola.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

India Inspiration Trip - Day 6

After arriving in Jodhpur very late last night, today we had a lie in and then headed out to explore the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort. The fort sits perched on top of a rocky ridge overlooking the brilliant blue city and is still run by the present Maharaja of Jodhpur. The fort is definitely one of Rajastan’s finest - huge, imposing walls and winding paths, all chiselled from the rock the fort stands on. 

The fort has seven gates and as you enter the first, you can still see where the walls were scarred by cannon ball hits. Another gate to the fort was built at the top of a slope, after a sharp turn, its aim was to stop the onslaught of elephants by an enemy. Clever thinking! 

Once inside, the fort is a network of stone latticed courtyards and palaces, all fine examples of Rajput architecture. 

Within the fort complex there are several small palaces all beautifully decorated. Rooms such as the Phool Mahal (Flower Palace) are adorned with delicate gold leaf design using over 80kg of goldplate! With the sun shining into the room through the brightly coloured stained glass, you can just imagine how this room would have looked during the Maharaja’s reign.

After wandering around the fort for a few hours, we had a Rajasthani thali lunch at the lovely Café Mehran and then headed to nearby Jaswant Thada. This is a memorial to Maharaja Jaswant Singh II and has superb views across to the fort. The brilliant white marble structure looks stunning in the sunlight and has intricately carved wooden doors and lattice work on the windows. 


The sun had started to set on the glorious fort as we made our way down from the dizzying heights of the hill. I looked back from the rickshaw and smiled, reminding myself of being fortunate to have experienced yet another day so full of history and grand opulence.

Friday, 22 April 2011

India Inspiration Trip - Day 5

Today was another exciting day! I was off to see more potential suppliers. I am really interested in block work textiles so I headed out to see some block printers at work.

I met some lovely people in a workshop so that I could see the process and how much effort goes into each unique piece. They were block printing a bedspread. It’s quite unbelievable just how long it takes to block print just one of these. The skill and accuracy involved is really interesting to watch. I went back to the workshop later on to see how far they had got, and I was amazed at how colourful the design had gone from just a plain blue motif to a vibrant red floral pattered bedspread! 

The man I had gone to see at the workshop also took me to see the numerous workshops where the wooden blocks used in the block printing process are meticulously carved by hand. This is seriously skilled work – the intricacy of some of the floral designs takes weeks to complete. Real craftsmen at work! 

I managed to zip around and see a few more people in the afternoon. It was so great to see how the Indian textiles I have always loved start their life. Each piece seems to have a unique and personal story to it. A fabulous and very educational day.

PS. Let’s get one thing clear – you can’t come to India without witnessing a few gravity defying stunts and bizarre scenes on the roads. Here are just a few that we snapped from the car on the way back to the hotel…..

Check out the goat on the back seat!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

India Inspiration Trip - Day 4

After an early breakfast, we headed 11kms out of Jaipur for some more sightseeing and inspiration at Amber Fort. (This trip can’t be all work you know!) This magnificent fort is more of a palace, built from red sandstone and white marble. This really is a magical place. When I saw the elephants trailing up the steep hill with tourists on their backs I instantly got transported back to the time when the maharaja’s themselves would have made this journey with their royal entourage in tow. I, however, saved the elephants from my weight and chose to walk up the hill instead!

The outer appearance of the Fort, is quite rough and craggy but inside it something completely different. The fort has a total of four sections, each of them with separate premises. The main gate of the fort is known as Surajpol and it leads to Jaleb Chowk (Main Courtyard). The chowk is the main courtyard providing the entrance to the stairway that leads to the palace.

Returning armies would display their war booty in Jaleb Chowk whilst whilst women of the royal court would view from the lattice windows. 

The stunning decoration of Amber Fort is influenced by both Hindu and Muslim style. The intricate carvings on the walls and ceilings are simply astonishing! Jai Mandir (The Hall of Victory) has a stunning ceiling comprised of mirror work and an inlaid panel.

One of the most striking parts of the fort is the Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors). Tour guides tell visitors that when the palace was occupied by royalty, the hall could be lit at night by a single candle because of all the tiny, intricate mirrors and shone brightly like stars.

The start of the afternoon was spent at the Anokhi Museum of Handprinting in the small quaint village of Amber. This heritage museum near the Amber Fort complex was opened in 2005 by the Anokhi company. Their aim was to help revive the local hand block printing industry by supporting artisans and their families in producing block printed garments and products.

The museum, which is situated in a restored 400 year old haveli, has 3 floors of well kept displays, interesting information on the preservation and interpretation of printed textiles, as well as regular exhibitions by contemporary designers.  Best of all was the block carving and printing demonstrations – I had a go myself and thoroughly enjoyed it!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

India Inspiration Trip - Day 3

Our day started with a visit to one of the most famous tourist attractions and a major landmark in Jaipur, the City Palace. This beautiful palace was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh during his reign and is a brilliant example of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture. The City Palace complex covers a huge area, which is divided into a series of gardens, courtyards and buildings. I had a wonderful morning just strolling around and admiring the intricate detail in the architecture! 

Later we headed to Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds), another distinctive landmark of Jaipur. This pink sandstone, honeycombed building is a fine example of Rajput artistry built to enable the ladies of the royal household to watch the life and processions of the city whilst obeying the custom of ‘purdah’, which keep women in seclusion and away from prying eyes. 

The afternoon was spent zipping around in our rickshaw visiting potential suppliers all over Jaipur who had a vast array of gorgeous textiles which I’m hoping to start selling. Everything has been lovingly handmade by artisans who seem to have a skill for every intricate detail in these individual pieces. Watch this space!

We arrived back at the homestay completely exhausted and overwhelmed with what Jaipur has to offer and were so happy to have a home cooked meal ready for me. Bliss! These guys really know how to lay on a sumptuous meal!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

India Inspiration Trip - Day 2

This is where the real Raja and Rani adventure begins. Jaipur is considered to be the best city for textiles and crafts in Rajasthan and is world famous for its numerous bazaars. Tripolia Bazaar, Kishanpol Bazaar, Bapu and Nehru Bazaar are the various markets of Jaipur, where brightly coloured fabrics and handicrafts will catch your eye.

Today I decided to spend the day roaming the bustling bazaars of the Old City to get some inspiration. Luckily, I set out from the hotel at 10am, which meant the traders were just opening up when I arrived and it wasn’t too hot and overcrowded. Surprisingly, the markets are actually well laid out in a grid system according to their craft, with each unit having a number above the shop, so unlike most of my experiences of finding places in India, it wasn’t to difficult to wander around and find some shops I was keen to visit.

The markets are a great place to soak up the street life. Everything is just so colourful, and the scenes are much more interesting than the shopping malls!