Then, as it always happens in my life, I got on a roller coaster of synchronicity. In June an unexpected meeting in Mykonos. A suggestion from an Indian Royal of the Singh warrior clan, a businessman living in Dubai who suggested I visit Jaipur where his family owned a heritage hotel because I mentioned that I would be travelling via Delhi five hours away to visit someone from my past professional life as an antique collectables dealer. 'Come before the 15th January', said he as he would be there. He explained that Rani meant Queen in Hindi. From that moment on I replaced the Turkish Sultana Jilliana, Moroccan Malika I had become with The royal title of Rani Jilliana Ji.
Next in the line of events a month later at Mykonos airport in Greece. There was absolutely nowhere to sit while waiting in the crowded departure lounge for the return flight to Gatwick. Suddenly a smartly dressed Indian woman smiled and low and behold there was magically a seat next to her. This Fashionista was en route to the Miami fashion show via London so we travelled together and hit it off. She told me she had a high end fashion shop in Singapore. When I mentioned my Indian itinerary, she asked me if I was going to the Jaipur Literary Festival as I explained I was a writer and broadcaster. Yes, of course I said, not wanting her to know I was ignorant of a major world literary event for writers! Back in Brighton I excitedly googled the event and saw how important it was for serious 'real' writers. But no date had been announced for 2016. So the plan went on the back burner until I got to Paris in September.
An apero social evening got cancelled for another cultural soirée and so I was invited to a philosophic discussion that did not interest me instead but nevertheless went to as I knew there would be dinner included. The delicious food turned out to be Indian cooked by an English woman living in Paris with her charming French husband. After the intellectual debate, which was way above my head, I went to the kitchen to introduce myself to the cook and compliment her on her cooking. To my amazement she turned out to be a prolific novelist and had met her husband in romantic India. Thinking I would impress her I said I was going to the Jaipur Literary Festival. 'Me too' she said! Immediately like a magician pulling a rabbit out of his hat, her husband told me the dates which had just been released the day before!
I was on my way and found out the festival was at The Diggi Palace Hotel. Of course it was fully booked. Where to stay? By now I had discovered Heritage Hotels in India, former palaces and mansions called Havelis. My style as I only stay and live in 'living museums' having been 30 years in the antique collectables business. I had to find a palace or mansion without fail as the city would be inundated for the well established festival. The visiting card. The family hotel in Jaipur. I whatsapped Dubai. A suite was immediately arranged at the family heritage hotel Chirmi Palace at a special rate for a Rani. Well I was half a Rani my surname being Ranicar. I am often called the Queen as it fits my personality. Goa can wait.
I had been invited, while in Antalya, Turkey last winter, to a Muslim wedding in Meknes in November. I went and had a fascinating two weeks in the Imperial cities of Meknes and Fes. One evening in Fes, having dinner in a romantic Riad garden owned by an Englishman, I overheard a young English couple talking. Being a friendly soul and alone, I began a conversation. First we spoke, of course, about Morocco but then they mentioned their Indian furniture and furnishings at their home near Bath. This led to the shop where they bought their beautiful things called Artiques at Tetbury explaining that George Bristow, the owner, had a guest house in the 'blue' city of Jodhpur. I made a note at once as I listen carefully to peoples' stories and experiences. I believe in sharing knowledge and information.
Blue. My favourite colour. That Royal Indian and Arab electric blue. How I longed to go to the 'blue' city of Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains of northern Morocco. Blue attracts me like a magnet so I had to add that city to my Moroccan and Indian adventures. Then the couple told me about yet another magical destination five hours away from Jodhpur where the famous polo riding trousers come from. Jaisalmer like 1001 Arabian nights I was told. I googled the images. Yes, another must destination. Goa can wait.
I arrived at the Chirmi Palace in Jaipur. My traditional suite had, 16 years earlier, been the owner's bedroom but I could not really relax there even though the Royal Singh family were kind and helpful even inviting me to a Rajput Royal Tika ceremony complete with Royals dripping in gold, diamonds and emeralds. I ran around photographing men like peacocks sporting their stunning colourful turbans known as safas. However the guests were very snobbish and politely cool to me unlike a very friendly local wedding I had attended in Udaipur where everyone welcomed and smiled at me wanted to know my name and where I came from.
The 'Jaipur Modern' restaurant with a front lawn close-by had mouth watering inventive well presented multicultural food. I was to become a regular in a creative ambience frequented by international designers. I even met a family who were personal friends of the Singhs of Chirmi in a city of four million people!
While waiting for Godot, I journeyed by the horrific exhausting overnight train to Udaipur. The train arrived two hours late and I had to sit waiting and watching on a government black metal box while other Indian passengers either lay down or slept on the ground covering themselves with old blankets. I shared my four berth compartment with a disgruntled Indian and a Greek Cypriot young man. We both had a sleepless night due to the train not having stabilisers and people banging on the ceiling mysteriously all night. The Indian must have considered the journey normal and slept soundly throughout.
At my beautiful Jag Niwas Heritage Hotel on arrival in Udaipur breakfast was the first order of the day on the romantic second floor terrace overlooking the enchanting Pichola lake with its shimmering waters. An interesting mature blonde creative looking woman entered wearing orange Indian belly dancing clothes, sat down and gave me a knowing smile. I just knew she was an international nomad like myself. It takes one to know one. As I walked past, she said with an obvious Australian accent, she wanted to have tea with me and talk. Her name was Linda E and she had written a successful book in Australia for Dummies in the Corporate World. Her life story was like a book in itself which eventually she will pen. All I did was ask the normal question of what had brought her to India. After all most non tourists have a story to tell and Linda E was no exception.
From the corporate world being a top high powered CEO to a near death experience with Dengue Fever in Vietnam. She experienced the peace of death as she lay too weak to move in her hospital bed having been told by her doctors that there was no hope. Then she 'met' her dearly departed mother wearing her favourite expensive pearl necklace who gave her hope but who told her it was not yet the time to meet. Every night she saw an old man seated by her bed who gave her liquid through a straw. Miraculously she survived and one fine day knew she had the renewed energy to leave her bed. She asked about the old man wanting to thank him but found out there was no such person! Back home she knew she could no longer live in the competitive cruel materialistic corporate world and handed in her notice to go on her quest in India.
Her life totally changed. She took up yoga and recovered from a lifetime painful arthritic condition. Today she spends the winters in Fort Cochin and has become a yogi combining Reiki with yoga with an international following in India. I photographed her interesting features exuding beauty from within. We took a selfie together as well in memory of our meeting. We both know our paths will cross again. People come and go in my life. Linda E is a remarkable Being I will never forget. Her parting words repeat in my mind. 'You will not choose India, India will choose you!'
She thought about life and had many questions to put to the Dalai Lama but was informed she could not have a personal audience with him. Not taking no for an answer, she however flew to India from Australia to the Dalai Lamas's temple/residence in McLeod Ganj and received answers to her questions whilst attending his two day teaching to Singaporean Buddhists. The following week Linda stumbled in on an 'Art of Living' course at their Ashram in Bangalore where more of her questions were answered by another revered spiritual guide Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
End of part one. Written in Jaipur and Jodhpur January 2016.