Guest Stories: A Designer’s Encounter with Savista on her Journey Through Rajasthan and Varanasi
I first had the great pleasure to stay at Savista in April 2017 this year. As a London-based textile designer I was planning a trip to Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) to see the first samples of a new collection of hand knotted rugs I was developing for launch later in the year under my own name.
Having visited Rajasthan 17 years ago as an art student I was struck so much by what a magical place it was; as a lover of colour, pattern, design and techniques and processes, it had been at the top of my list for a while. I had always had a big desire to return and do another trip. Now my son was 7, and I felt that it could be a great opportunity to do some travelling with him, to show him a part of the world that I loved so much, and also show him a culture so very different to our own. I was also really keen to show him some of the manufacturing processes that I have always found so inspiring, to show him at first-hand how fabrics are woven, how wood is carved by hand and then used to block print fabrics, how indigo can be used to colour fabrics rich metallic blues, and how rugs are meticulously hand knotted using incredible colours in wool and silk.
I had no trouble talking one of my best friends – also a designer and colour lover – into coming, too, with her 9 year old. As well seasoned holiday partners – or ‘framily’ as we call ourselves – I knew we were going to have a great time. Then the final touch was to persuade our lovely friend – an interior designer who was currently working as a volunteer for a girls’ home near Bangalore to join us for our road trip.
We began in Delhi with our Wes Anderson style tour bus and driver Mr. Raj Kumar who introduced us to parathas, crossing 6 lane motorways on foot (you hold up a piece of A4 paper and just walk across), the importance of the Indian car horn, and great masala chai. We journeyed from Delhi to Jaipur, where we spent a few days exploring the stunning city and seeking out obscure antique dealers, textile weavers, and little known craft museums.
I stumbled upon Savista through googling ‘Heritage retreats outside Jaipur’. As London-based people we felt strongly that we needed some rest, fresh air and space to counteract the stress and to de-compresss from city life in London during the trip. Also, to give the boys some space to let loose a bit as it was close to 40 degrees most days. We arrived at dusk and we were immediately struck by the incredible peacefulness of the place. Upon arrival you are hit by the most beautiful smells of jasmine which come from Bhanwar and Radhika’s stunning garden which is populated with a wide variety of well established and beautifully cultivated indigenous plants and trees (including, as of this year, a stunning forest which was planted in the monsoon months). Their garden is also home to over 85 varieties of birds, with parakeets, red-vented bulbuls and chipmunks making cheeky frequent visits to the breakfast table and terraces. The house itself is stately, elegant and so stunning but also beautifully simple and understated. We felt immediately at home and at peace. Bhanwar and Radhika welcome you like family to their home and made us feel instantly welcome.
One of the highlights of the stay is the incredible food which is cooked by their chef using completely organic home grown vegetables and fruits from their garden. We were treated to hand-made guava juice at breakfast (which is worth coming just to taste this!), the best masala omelettes ever, hand-made 7 grain rotis, smoked eggplant baba ganoush (Indian style), stuffed okra, coconut chutney, Rajasthani pickles, amla (gooseberry) fruit chutneys and some incredible soups.
During the day we visited Bagru which is a major centre in India for hand block printing using natural dyes – only a 20 minute car ride away. We were welcomed into the print room and dye workshops and they even let us try our hand at block printing. The boys loved it and actually admitted textiles wasn’t as boring as they had first thought!
It was my son’s 7th birthday while we were at Savista, and we were so touched by the amazing efforts the team went to. They sourced an absolutely delicious first class chocolate cake from Jaipur, made hummus, flat breads, pasta, salads, and finger sandwiches, and laid on the spread in a special party space for us. We also had the pleasure of taking a camel cart ride, complete with stunning brightly coloured and embroidered Rajasthani umbrellas and a fascinating visit to local farms.
We felt we could have stayed much longer at Savista and were really so sad to leave. We then travelled on by night train to Udaipur, then finally to Varanasi. We packed our days with visits to silk weavers, spinners, rug makers, more block printers, hidden ancestral homes tucked away down back streets, palaces and private collections of rare artefacts.
We were delighted to find that the boys – typically like two stunt men normally throwing themselves around the place raucously – actually really enjoyed the experiences. They seemed to be genuinely interested and inspired by what we were seeing and doing. The only time they got a little impatient was when we spent an hour in 42 degrees heat in ‘Roop Rani Bangles’ in Jaipur trying on bracelets and pulling every bangle they had out of the stock room!! Their only request was that they got to go in a tuk tuk at least once a day (a driver let them actually drive one at night which kept them on a huge high for days). Anyone with children of this age will know they are fascinated by rules. The boys’ favourite motorway game was competing to see who could see the craziest item strapped to the back of a motorbike; the winner was a full sized dinner table with a person strapped face-first to the front, closely followed by an industrial sized fridge freezer!!
The trip culminated in Varanasi, with a spectacular view of Aarti (Offering of Fire) seen at night from the top of the steps, and a trip to the temple of Shiva, the guardian deity of Varanasi.
We then travelled out to the factory to see the rug samples for my new collection. Hand knotted using 180 knots per inch by master craftsmen in sustainably sourced silk from south India and wool from New Zealand, they typically take 4-5 months to complete. The patterns are then meticulously hand carved by up to 4 master carvers using large sheers to create the raised and carved relief silk motif. It was hugely rewarding to see these samples which had started their life as drawings and colour cuttings in my London studio some months before.
Following the launch of the collection in September of this year I decided to return to India and to Savista to take a much needed break and time out to restore energy and inspiration. I spent two days in Jaipur where I sourced antique textiles and visited the incredible Kantha quilt collection at Rajasthani Arts and Crafts. Then I headed to Savista for 5 gloriously relaxing days.
This time I resisted the urge to rush around site seeing and decided to sit and soak up the beauty of Savista. I spent most of my time on the roof, reading books from Bhanwar and Radhika’s extensive collection, I practised pranayama and yoga with Radhika on the steps of the amphitheater at dusk, swam in their beautiful swimming pool (refilled daily and the water is used to water their crops) and ate the delicious meals they treated me with. It truly is a retreat in the real sense of the word, and I feel like I am returning to London fully restored and ready to head into the British winter. Bhanwar and Radhika are truly unique hosts, I like to think that they have become a little extension of our London based ‘framily’.
I am already planning my next trip here, and am wondering if I can stretch 6 months before being tempted back!!
Genevieve’s first visit to Savista in the summer of this year when she was travelling with her “framily” was an all-too-short two days, when the three designer-friends arrived with the single minded objective of giving the two children – Torben and Tom – their relaxed holiday. The group spent most their ‘down time’ by the pool, culminating in the celebration of Genevieve’s son Torben’s 7th. birthday. They just about managed to squeeze in a visit to the blockprint workshops in Bagru. We got a brief glimpse into the work that they did, but little idea of their intense and many layered involvement in their chosen professions. All three of them promised to write for our blog; Genevieve’s has been the first to arrive. As the one who chose Savista for their stay in Jaipur and, in a sense, led the framily group through their India travels, she was also the one who along with her adorable son Torben came closest to us even in those brief two days.
Our mutual acquaintance deepened when she returned to Savista for her own solo holiday following the successful exhibition where she showcased some of her recent creations, including the beautiful rug shown in the pictures here. What began as a wonderful warm feeling on both sides has blossomed into a more full blooded friendship that we hope will continue to grow. Genevieve is one of those exquisitely sensitive and understated persons, capable of great warmth and fellow feeling, whom it is a pleasure to know. And the relationship that she and Torben share is a very special one to behold. She hopes to – and we hope that she will – come again. And, perhaps, bring Torben with her when possible; we are eager to play our self appointed role of honorary grandparents! In the meanwhile, we wish her ever greater successes in her work. She has been on her own independent path as a designer for over ten years now, best known for her bespoke leatherwork that has seen several successful exhibitions. In this post she speaks of her first-ever foray into designing and exhibiting rugs under her own name, and from all accounts it has been a hugely successful effort. May her collaboration with the printers and weavers of Varanasi prosper and grow.
Genevieve may be contacted at:
Genevieve Bennett Ltd
Unique Leather For Interiors
35 Corbridge Crescent
0203 637 3483