Falling in Love with India

Australian-born Fiona Caulfield had lived all over the world, but it wasn’t until she first visited India there her “eyes, ears and heart opened,” she says. With a background in marketing and an interest in consulting, she recalls, “part of me knew that India was where the future was. It is impossible not to feel the optimism and sheer energy of the country as it gains momentum and economic power.” Her soulful—and beautiful—travel guides LOVE India cover five regions and are very current; the third edition of LOVE Rajasthan-Jaipur recently saw the addition of about 30 new entries, the expansion of the Jodhpur and Udaipur sections and has a chapter on Nagaur, which is 2 ½ hours outside of Jodhpur.

The books’ concept is to encourage readers to discover how to fall in love with places by highlighting the distinct and classic aspects and experiences. Caulfield talked to Indagare about her series, what it is about India that enthralls her and future travel and writing plans.

When writing the latest edition of LOVE Jaipur, what were some of your most interesting new finds?

When I update the books I work with a team who do a round of fact-checking to confirm current entries and identify potential additions. However, the real magic happens when I spend time in Jaipur with friends there and discover treasures, not all of which are new. For example, I recently had dinner with a friend at the Dragon House in Jaipur. We started chatting about the restaurant’s wonderful murals, which had been done by a man named Shan. My friend suggested I meet him and his mother, Benu, who runs a fantastic fashion boutique from home. I did, and loved their work (unsurprisingly, Michelle Obama is a fan of her clothes). By spending more time in Jaipur, more locals have started to trust me and provide suggestions—which leads to more readers trusting me.

What is a favorite Rajasthan experience? The Maharajah of Jodhpur hosts the World Sufi Festival of Indian music every February at the splendid Ahichattragarh Fort. I love to stay within the walls of the 18th-century fort at the charming Ranvas Hotel, which is a collection of ten heritage havelis originally built for Maharaja Bakht Singh’s ten wives.

India is such an overwhelming and culturally rich country; visitors typically spend much of their first visit attempting to wrap their minds around it. What kind of itinerary would you recommend for someone’s second—or third—trip? By the time people visit India for the second time, their confidence and sense of adventure has increased, and travelers tend to take more time to focus on a certain area. For example, I love when people drive through Rajasthan instead of flying between the cities in the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra and Jaipur). This way visitors become more creative and stay in interesting places like small villages or a lakeside hunting lodge.

A second visit also affords a chance to properly explore one region. India’s states could be different countries for how varied they are. Dialects differ, cuisine adapts, clothing customs change—people even laugh at different things! Trying to “see” India in two weeks would be like “doing” Europe in two weeks. I always say that Kerala and Rajasthan are as varied as Spain and Norway.

How do you see the difference between traveling and tourism? I ban the word “sightseeing” from my books. To me, traveling is all about experiences. The shopping sections focus on meeting the people who are creating amazing products, and sometimes even visiting their homes. I include a jeweler in Jodhpur who makes the bangles for the region’s royal family, but his shop is quite literally a hole in the wall. It is such a lovely experience to slow down and meander through the back lanes of the market. On second visits to India people are more comfortable and more likely to explore things thoroughly. Return trips also offer the chance to create itineraries based on passion. Visitors can curate their visit through their interests, be it textiles, cooking, photography, dance, antiques or yoga.

How has India changed since you first visited? When I first came to India 20-plus years ago, I knew absolutely nothing about the country and was merely stopping for a week’s vacation between London and Sydney. When I returned in 2001, the emerging strength of India was palpable then—and it is even stronger now. The country’s confidence level has completely changed over the last twenty years from being slightly apologetic to quite advanced today. Airports used to be miserable but are now really efficient and clean. India used to aspire to have “world-class” facilities. Now the colloquialism is starting to change to “best in world.”

But there are still many challenges in a country with a population more than a billion with issues surrounding poverty and rapid urbanization. But people ask me “How could you have left New York to live in India?” and my response is always, “How could I not?” Everywhere else feels like someone has turned the volume down and turned a switch from color to black and white.

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