Yoshida Hiroshi, and India according to 20th century Japan

In the early 20th century a Japanese woodblock printer came to India, and produced a set of prints which are famous for their place in Japan’s shin hanga (“New Print”) movement, which aimed at returning to the more traditional style of ukiyo-e (浮世絵 “pictures of the floating world”) printing. This would see Japanese techniques combined with a “western” way of representing form.

A lifetime ago in Oxford, after finishing my exams in June, I visited a TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, which featured Yoshida’s Indian prints. It felt like fate. Like me, Yoshida travelled to the Taj Mahal, unlike me, he produced six different prints of it, deliberately depicting it during the day and night, at dusk and dawn. Like me, Yoshida also visited the Amber Fort in Jaipur, and saw the pink city gates, and another of his prints shows the entrance to the Jama Masjid – one of the first things that I saw in Delhi.

You can read lots more details about the life and career of the artist here, but this is not the place to copy out all of the notes of the exhibition. What interested me was that Yoshida’s life and career transgressed cultures and boundaries, he was born in 1876 at the time of the Meiji Emperor. He died in 1950, and would have known of Japan’s defeat in the Second World War. His artistic career was varied, in that it doesn’t conform to the idea that Japanese art was becoming “westernised” during this time; in fact, Yoshida trained as a “western-style” painter in oils and watercolours, and only became interested in traditional-style woodblock printing when he was in his 40s. Perhaps this is why the prints were referred to as having a “quality reminiscent of watercolours”.

One sentence stood out to me at the time, enough for me to have noted it down, alongside various other scrawls which don’t make sense now; Yoshida was particularly fascinated with the quality of light that he found in India. I feel as though several of the photos that I’ve taken here have captured much the same thing.

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Maota garden, just outside the Amer Fort, Jaipur. 
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The interior of the Chaturbhuj Temple, Orchha. 

 

You can view all of Yoshida’s India prints here.

 

 

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The (high)Lights of Jaipur

At the end of last week I was finally able to visit Rajasthan, in particular the capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur. This is something that I’d wanted to do since I knew that I was coming to India, and it was well worth the wait!

Although marked on every tourist’s map as part of the ‘Golden Triangle’ of must-visit places in India (Delhi, Agra and Jaipur), Jaipur by no means loses its charm due to the presence of pockets of tourists (in fact, I enjoyed a great conversation about travelling with an older woman and her friend who were sitting in the Amber Fort…)

The main sites of the city are so spectacular that they attract many people from India itself, and it’s not hard to see why;

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Interior of the Hall of Public Audience, Jaipur City Palace

The buildings in the centre of Jaipur conform to the Mughal style of architecture that most tourists would associate with India, but, in a vibrant twist, most of the palace structures are the heart of the city are pink, hence the nickname of Jaipur – The Pink City.

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The Hawamahal, or Palace of the Wind – the outer wall features an elaborate screen by which the palace women were able to view street processions and the outside world via a series of elaborately meshed windows and cubby-holes. 

Ok, so the Hawamahal was probably a personal favourite, because I loved going up each storey and finding something different – a balcony here, some stained glass over there, and of course, an incredible view from the top floors, which allows you to see into the Jantar Mantar complex, and all the way up to the mountainside where the Nahargarh fort  is located.

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View from the battlements of the Nahargarh Fort, overlooking the city of Jaipur during Diwali. 

So here is where myself and my friends got completely enchanted by the city of Jaipur. We’d found out from some other friends, all fellow TAs on the same British Council programme as us, that you could go up to the Nahargarh fort at night and have a drink in a bar which was perched on the walls of the fort complex. The drive upwards was far steeper and on a worse road than I had envisaged, and I can’t imagine taking the same ride on a motorcycle or auto-rickshaw (though our driver gleefully told us that the mountainside road was actually in a far better condition than a few years previously, when a girl from New Zealand had been killed, along with the driver of the auto she was in, when it plummeted over the edge of a steep ridge – not exactly what we needed to hear in the dark!).

After a slightly spooky walk through the main gate of the fort, which is ruined in places, and then along a vaguely-lit track, we came to the bar which was much brighter, and looked down at the spectacularly illuminated city below. I’ve heard that the government actually pays for the Diwali lighting (maybe just for businesses and gov. buildings?) but I have no idea if that’s actually true. Either way, the view was even more breathtaking in person, and the lights were constantly dancing, accompanied by the constant bursting of fireworks and crackers. It was such an incredible way for us to experience the Festival of Lights for the first time. We ordered some drinks, sat back, and enjoyed the spectacle of a city which deserves its place on any traveller’s list.

 

Orchha – one of India’s hidden gems.

Unexpected weekend escapes are one of the major perks of working abroad.

Having made no real plans for the holiday of Dussehra, I was very happy to end up going to Gwalior with another teaching assistant who’s working nearby, to meet up with another pair of British Council TAs. The ‘last minute’ nature of this plan did make travel more stressful (e.g., buying our return train tickets on the Sunday morning, knowing that we had to be in work on Monday!) but it was definitely worth the hassle (and approx. 20 hours spent travelling there and back from Greater Noida…) as Orccha ranks as one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in India.

Orccha is a medieval fort city in Madyha Pradesh, about 3 hours’ drive from Gwalior. We hired a driver and car and set out to explore temples, a fort and a palace complex, set along a stunning backdrop of mountains and rivers. It certainly made a change from Delhi! Although there were buses of tourists arriving, and the main street of the city was bustling with shops and stalls, the place didn’t have an annoyingly commercial feel to it, once you moved away from the designated tourist bus stands. The main attractions – the fort, the chhatri buildings along the river, and Lakshmi Temple, were not as crowded as those in Delhi and Agra, but even more spectacular. At one point, my group found themselves alone in an almost ‘secret’ gated garden compound, which was full of small temple structures and flowers. Later, as we were about to leave, we were able to sit by the side of the river on some rocks, and speak to some local children in Hindi!

Chhatris are elevated, dome-shaped pavilions used in Indian (Mughal) architecture.
Chhatris are elevated, dome-shaped pavilions used in Indian (Mughal) architecture.

All in all, weekends like the last one are a fantastic cure to the boredom that comes with any working Monday- Friday routine. When everything seems so much more complicated and illogical than at home, seeing such a magnificent place reminds me of why I chose to live and work in India.