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The Penland Diaries: Washing dishes and making them

From washing dishes to making them has been the tagline of these last few days. And I’m borrowing and modifying the phrase from my very talented sister Ranjita (who used to be a chef and is now a potter) who says she went from: “Making dishes to making dishes”.

Exhausting. Hectic. Overwhelming. Intense. Fantastic.

A few words to sum up my experience at Penland so far. Time flies when you’re having fun and it really did. I have no idea how 10 days went by–it’s like one of those sprint races with Usain Bolt. It’s over before it started.

The 18 member group worked at breakneck speed to fire “Rosie”, Penland’s three-chambered wood kiln. After 24 hours of stoking and firing, making sure all the three chambers were heated up, we stopped a bit past midnight on Wednesday.

Scenes from the wood firing–Rosie gets lit up

Scenes from the wood firing–Rosie gets lit up

It was a first time for me working together with a team to fire a wood kiln and it was memorable. Now, I can see the reason why people fire these things. It’s tough and challenging–I still don’t understand most of it since we had experts who have been doing this for years who were in control–but just helping around and being there observing was interesting. And hot–it does get sweaty out there.

Now we rest and wait for Rosie to cool down.

In the meanwhile, I’m thinking back to the last few days and all I can say is that I need a few days of good sleep to recover.

The backdrop of the hills has been the perfect place to work. I didn’t land up walking around as much as I intended, largely because of our schedule.

The greenery, chirping birds, with intermittent rains provided the perfect scene for our creative pursuits

The greenery, chirping birds, with intermittent rains provided the perfect scene for our creative pursuits

Studying and working has been quite a learning experience for me. I don’t remember doing this kind of thing except during my student years (which was a very long time ago), when I worked washing dishes and standing on tables. Here, I got to do dishes. I got rejected for the reading room position. Hah–not the first time being rejected so I took it well.

The art of juggling is challenging and took me around 3-4 days to find some rhythm. In between washing shifts, I would run back to the studio for a demo. And then another demo post-lunch, a bit of time to practice and I’d have to be off again! Everything had to be squeezed in between 2-3 working shifts a day. When I had my first day off on Friday, I actually had the first productive day.

The work-study program is a great initiative from Penland, especially when you want to attend one of these intensive sessions, but can’t afford it. But for those who want to give it a shot, come prepared! It’s no piece of cake. I found myself constantly trying to focus in between work and it got a bit easier towards the 2nd week, but by then, we had to have most of our work ready.

I had to stay up on most nights till 1-2 am, trying to make up what I couldn’t do during the day.

An important lesson I’ve learnt is to be able to change focus quickly. I can’t say I’ve mastered it yet. There were days when I’ve been too exhausted and can’t really seem to get a move on. Would I advise this mode of study? If your only focus is on the course, you might want to make your decision with some thought. Stretch your budget a bit, or borrow (no stealing, please!). But if you’re okay with not having long stretches of time at hand, it definitely makes more sense in terms of the costs. I would love to come back here and just study at some point of time, if I’m able to.

Meanwhile, the first week was also overwhelming in terms of the amount of learning. With two instructors (Mark Shapiro and Sam Taylor) who have nearly 60 years of experience between them, we were treated to a double dose. Not that I’m complaining, but it was just fascinating to watch these two artists collaborate and work together.

The different perspectives of Sam Taylor and Mark Shapiro gave us lots of food for thought. Not to mention a lot of humor and good fun!

The different perspectives of Sam Taylor and Mark Shapiro gave us lots of food for thought. Not to mention a lot of laughs!

It also helps that they’ve been friends for a long time. The dynamics of their relationship reflects in their interactions with each other. Both of them complement each other really well and I must say that I’ve also realized that you can be two people with two totally different approaches and still create a wonderful sense of synergy. No one is necessarily right, or better. They’re just different approaches and a healthy respect for each other is what counts.

Sam’s style is much more relaxed, and spontaneous (controlled spontaneity?!), which is something I am drawn to and syncs well with my personality. Mark veers towards perfection. His forms are ones which kind of strike you as being “perfect”. You can see the amount of control he has over the structure. Whereas Sam’s forms possess a certain “relaxed” nature and a joie de vivre about them.

It was freeing in a sense to realize that it’s not just about perfection. It’s about putting a bit of yourself into everything you do and create. If you do something for 20 years, it’s quite certain that you’ll get really good at it. But giving it a bit of yourself is what makes every piece unique. And abstract though it sounds, it makes sense too.

Mark also said something very interesting (when we were all talking about how little we knew) when we started off and I’m paraphrasing a little: “You’re at a junction where there is so much to learn–it’s an enviable position to be in.” It’s a great way to look at where you are and the journey you’re on. In the beginning, everything is new and exciting. And maybe this is a stage we need to appreciate and savor more. Rather than lamenting about how little time we have and how much we don’t know (which I am quite prone to do). I guess this could apply to any new skill.

We had Michael  Kline share some of his brush techniques.

We had Michael Kline share some of his brush techniques.

Louis Cort, Curator of Ceramics at the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian, talks to us about model, copy, utsushi, homage, fake and forgery from a Japanese perspective.

Louis Cort, Curator of Ceramics at the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian, talks to us about model, copy, utsushi, homage, fake and forgery from a Japanese perspective.

A plethora of mugs from the first salt firing. Lots of hits and some misses!

A plethora of mugs from the first salt firing. Lots of hits and some misses!

Managed to sneak out for a while on one day and visit a couple of artists nearby. This one was Rebecca Plummer of Barking Spider.

Managed to sneak out for a while on one day and visit a couple of artists nearby. This one was Deborah Plummer of Barking Spider.

Work on display by the resident clay artist at Penland, Tom Jaszczak

Work on display by the resident clay artist at Penland, Tom Jaszczak

With part of the group at dinner.

With part of the group at dinner.

We’re winding down now towards the end of our session. The last few days have some “outside” studio time that I’m looking forward to including field trips and a show and tell session.

And of course, this weekend is all about Rosie!

(PS: Please excuse typos as I’ve written this at breakneck speed–corrections will have to wait till later!).


The Penland Diaries: Arriving and settling in

The Penland School of Crafts has been on my “wish” list for a few years now. In 2013, when I was visiting friends in Virginia, I did a 2 month ceramics course down at Manassas. Around that time, I happened to chance upon the school and the workshops it offers and instantly put it down as something I’d like to try and do someday.

Workshops are on a wide variety of mediums—glass, metal, wood, drawing, painting, clay – check out the current workshops and also future ones here.

Workshop Workshop Workshop
A peek at some of the workshops

During the last year I’ve been able to explore both jewelry making and ceramics to a greater extent with access to more resources than I had earlier. Some of the artistes I’ve been able to learn from are Edith Schneider (jewelry), Elaine Pinkernell, Linda Mau and Jamie Meador—all three being fantastic handbuilders. And then towards the beginning of the year, I was browsing and came across a link asking those interested to apply for the summer sessions that would be taking place during the June/July/August period. It was bit of a last minute (and quick) decision, but I put my application together, wrote my statement, got a couple of references and I was all set! I didn’t have anything to lose.

So I sent in a “work-study” application to try and make sure the finances worked out for me. In the first week of April, I got a letter saying I’d been accepted into the workshop to be conducted by Mark Shapiro and Sam Taylor.

You can choose your top five workshops in order of preference, but you have no idea which one you’ll get into. Though there were several I wished I could attend, I was thrilled I got into the one that’s going to be conducted by these 2 extremely experienced artists.

Fast forward, July 22nd. I flew into Atlanta, had a delicious breakfast with family there (a vermicelli upma after ages, yummy!) and then embarked on the long drive to Asheville. I made sure I took a couple of breaks enroute and drank coffee to avoid drowsiness from the red eye that I took overnight from SFO.

I was surprised by the amount of traffic on the roads—somehow I’d imagined empty country/mountain roads. But most of the drive was on a busy freeway and only when I was around 50 miles from Asheville, did I get some nice scenic views of the mountains.

In Asheville, I met up with two other students and we shared a cab that delivered us to Penland—an hour’s drive from the city.

A view of the playing field and the building on the left where I'll be spending my time, from Pines.

A view of the playing field and the building on the left where I’ll be spending my time, from Pines.

Nestled in the base of the Blue Ridge mountain range of South Carolina, the location is idyllic and quite perfect. Driving in through a curvy tree-lined road, you’re not disappointed when you’re finally in front of a sign that says “Penland School of Crafts” on one side and the mountains on the other.

It’s going to require some determination to focus on matters at hand, instead of whiling away time gazing at the mountains!

Inside the lush green Penland campus - perfect environment for creative pursuits

Inside the lush green Penland campus – perfect environment for creative pursuits

The first day was just settling into the school, finding our way around and since I’m a work-study student, I started off my stay by working! And along with the rest of the folks, we also got our allocations of what we’re required to be doing over the next few weeks.

I’m looking forward to my two weeks here. For the first time, I’m in a dorm, feeling a bit like a student again. That’s going to be an experience in itself. I’m planning to try and run here, since I won’t be able to either swim or bike. Remains to be seen as to how much of it I can manage, between washing dishes and spending time learning.

I think time will fly, as it tends to do when you’re having fun and learning something new everyday. The environment seems great for creative pursuits and once the session starts, I’ll probably be traveling at around 70 mph.

Snapshot of the first couple of days

Snapshot of the first couple of days

My endeavor is going to be to document my experiences over the next few weeks. I hope this will help anyone who is considering doing similar workshops (in Penland or even other schools), going away for a while, or wants to pursue something off-the-beaten-path. I also have another motive—to get over my current writer’s block. A combination of laziness and not being able to express myself lately has meant that I’m not writing as much as I’d like to. Writing is therapeutic for me. Good conversations are few and far in between-unless I meet people who are on the same wavelength—in which case I love talking (though it’s quite rare, I must admit). But when I’m writing I tend to be more generous and (sometimes) go overboard with words.

Maybe I’ll find my groove again.

Adventures in India: A 12 day trip to the South

Join me on an adventure of a lifetime!

A vibrant and diverse country, India can be fascinating and yet also be pretty challenging for a traveler. Especially, if you haven’t been to the country before. But don’t worry – you’ll be in good hands! I’ve traveled to many parts of the country, on many occasions on my own, and have a fair idea of the dos and don’ts to ensure that we have a great time, and ensure we keep out of trouble.

If you did have India on your mind—this could be the perfect opportunity to join in on an active adventure—indulge in fun activities like running, swimming, hiking and cycling (and if we have time, we can even squeeze in a few other local activities). Besides of course, tasting some of the local delicacies—every state in India has a different cuisine, language/s and customs. On this trip, we’ll cover 3 states.

Trip Description:
An adventure trip and we’ll make sure you keep fit and active with hearty doses of cycling, running, hiking and swimming. At the same time, you’ll get introduced to the culture, local experiences and get a glimpse of village/rural life, jungle safaris, wildlife, culinary experiences, and much more!

Here are the details:

Dates: November 10-November 22, 2016 (12 days, 13 nights)

States covered: Karnataka, Kerala & Goa

Starting in: Bangalore

Itinerary highlights:
We will take a day to make sure you get over your jet lag and culture shock (yes, India can be a bit overwhelming when you first land there!), and another day to relax and get in some sightseeing (and also prepare for the next day). On day 3, we head towards the Bangalore Ultra (where you can run distances of up to 25k on November 13) and kickstart the adventure on a high. Though its not mandatory, it would be great to participate. And there’s a shorter 12.5k option too.

We then travel to Mysore to get a taste of history, culture and hopefully a swim too.

We start cycling towards Kabini and the Nagarhole National Park and explore that verdant forest area. We also have a wildlife safari planned and you will get a glimpse of the Asian elephants, amongst others.

The next stop is Wayanad—which is a great area for cycling – with its hills and valleys and green expanses all around, this happens to be one of my favorite areas to cycle through. We also get to go on a couple of breathtaking treks in this region.

After a couple of days, we descend towards the coast, towards Kannur, where you’ll get to do more running/cycling, experience of a “houseboat” ride, through the backwaters. And also get to stay with a local family.

It’s now time to get onto an overnight train and make our way to Goa, which is India’s sunshine state. The seafood/sunshine and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean are a perfect way to end the trip. We’ll swim, run and get to taste lots of Goan delicacies.

We then return to Bangalore, which is our point of departure. If you want, this could be a chance to get some shopping done at some of the city’s stores.

Why am I doing this?: I’m a serious travel buff and love spending time discovering new places and new things. I’ve traveled a lot of India and I’d love to now help fellow travelers/adventure lovers get a taste of India and hopefully create an unforgettable experience. If you want to know more about me, do go through my blog and you’ll find enough (and more!). I am supported in this adventure by a great outdoors company called Muddy Boots, who will provide logistics, support and the gear (MTB cycles).

Excited? I also have a day-by-day itinerary, inclusions and costs—so if you want more details, drop me an email (anitabora at gmail dot com) or send me an enquiry via my “Contact” page.

Winter destination: Manali for romance and adventure

It’s been years but I have some nice memories of the town of Manali. I first landed there maybe 10 years ago for a trek and spent a few days hungrily drinking in the fresh crisp air (after the city, you can imagine the feeling). And then, in 2011, Manali was our base as we prepared for a trip to cycle up to Leh and I got to experience the town again.

If I lived in Delhi, I would probably step out much more often to escape the blazing summer heat and spend time enjoying the much needed respite – amidst lofty hills, lush greenery and cool breeze. Or even in winter, for a dose of snow and sub-zero temperatures, perhaps.

A glimpse of the snow-covered mountains, taken on a trip, way back in 2006.

A glimpse of the snow-covered mountains, taken on a trip, way back in 2006.

As a destination, it’s the perfect place. Set amidst a picturesque backdrop of the snow-capped Himalayan range, the only things that should be on your mind are: romance… or adventure! So whether it’s a luxury vacation, a romantic getaway or an adventure filled trip (like it was for me), I would head back to Manali in a jiffy.
A cosy cottage in the hills

A cosy cottage in the hills

Situated at an altitude of 6020 feet, it is one of the most breathtaking attractions in the Kulu Manali valley. For more on the location, visit Go Ibibo’s travel guide on the town. It is also a prominent place in Hindu culture, named after sage Manu, the name Manali can be translated to mean the abode of Manu. During summers, it can be quite a hotbed for activity. Families and vacation seekers flock the cooler climes to enjoy the green meadows, rivers and pristine landscapes. For some, it is also a stop on the way to Ladakh.

Some of my favorite places to visit in Manali

A cafe somewhere in the old town

A cafe somewhere in the old town

Most guides will give you a list of destinations to head to including the Hadimba temple and the Manali Gompa. But here are a few that I would personally recommend.

There’s Kothi, a lovely and picturesque destination located roughly 12 kilometers from Manali. It’s at the foothills of the Rohtang Pass and offers you some magnificent views of the mountains, glaciers and the Beas River. And it’s been featured in many a Bollywood movie too, in case you’re interested in that kind of trivia.

Then there’s the Solang Valley, a plateau nestled between Manali and Kothi. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains and glaciers, it’s a great spot especially if you have a penchant for adventure. It’s also the destination for a yearly winter skiing festival.

If you want to trek, hike around in the forest, past the Dhoongri temple, a stray path opens into a deodar, horse chestnut, walnut and maple forest that is part of the Manali Sanctuary. There are also options to stay in tended accommodation at Lambadug or Gailani Thatch – check for those details.

And don’t forget to stroll around in old Manali town – it’s quite a difference experience all together.

Where to stay
There’s a lot to choose from. From luxury to budget, to hippie style accommodation. Sterling Holidays – White Mist has a property that’s worth checking out; especially if you’re traveling with family and want all your creature comforts too. It has the usual play area, sightseeing tours, adventure activities and options ranging from 1 bed studios to apartments for members and classic for guests.

Best seasons to travel
The most ideal period would obviously be summers. While temperatures in the plains break new records almost each year, the temperatures in Manali range from 10-25 degrees Celsius. But if you can brave the cold, why not choose winter? Starting around October, it lasts till around February and you’ll get to witness below zero temperatures.

Reaching Manali
Fly: Bhuntar airport, located 10 kilometres from the hill station.
Rail: Jogindarnagar railway station, well connected to several major cities.
You can also travel by road from Deli, Chandigarh and Dehradun. We took the overnight A/C Volvo bus from Delhi and it was quite comfortable.

More stories and info:
Life in Manali
Delhi to Manali: A guide

In search of the perfect dim sum: An anniversary special menu at Yauatcha

A dim sum evokes all kinds of feelings in me. I associate it with comfort food. Though traditionally it was meant to be an appetiser, I can eat it any time during the day – breakfast, lunch or dinner. And in between. There are moments I could do anything for that perfect steaming mouth-watering dim sum. It’s a seemingly simple dish – but one bite and you’re in foodie heaven. If you read this detailed guide, it will tell you that dim sum means “touch the heart” – it definitely does something to mine!

My fellow foodie in Bangalore, Mukta Chakravorty, braved the incessant rains (and risked being stranded thanks to our infamous local disappearing cabbies of Bangalore), and came back with this report.

Enjoy and bon appétit!


A Michelin-star restaurant, baskets of steaming hot dim sums and cocktails – perfect combination for a rain-drenched Wednesday evening.

We all know how the rains in the city throws everything off course. Afraid it would put a dampener and the traffic already looking menacing, it was about an hour’s battle to get to the Yauatcha, located at 1 MG Road. But as early birds, we got to start our meal with a refreshing lime and passion fruit mocktail. The menacing environment outside seemed a little less stressful as we found ourselves relaxing.
A pink champagne - just the right combination to take of the edge

The new menu features an assorted dim sum basket (both veggie and non-veg options), a pink champagne cocktail and macarons (also called macaroons). The cocktail, aptly called the “Red Dragon” had white rum, campari, cranberry juice and pink champagne – and just enough kick.

The occasion was the introduction of a special limited edition menu to mark the restaurant’s anniversary celebrations in the city.

But we must get back to the dim sums. When the basket was unraveled, we were blown away by the good looking models in front of us. Multi-hued and perfectly crafted, with thin, translucent coatings, they were just inviting to be relished. The veg dim sum basket consisted of baby corn and French beans, spicy turnip, vegetable mandarin and vegetable chow. The regular basket had prawn and scallops, pepper, chicken and celery.

A spread of dim sums - filled with goodness and bursting flavours!

A spread of dim sums – filled with goodness and bursting flavours!

Although all the dim sums were quite scrumptious, my picks would be the spicy turnip, vegetable mandarin and the prawn and scallops. The spicy turnip had a gorgeous lavender coating and provided a burst of flavour with each mouthful. Who would have thought that this humble vegetable could be turned into such a delectable morsel.

The vegetable mandarin had the right amount of citrus zest that lingered on the palate. And as for the prawn and scallop, I think it did a little dance on my taste buds. Succulent and juicy, it was pure joy!

Oh, wait. The feast was yet to end. Contentedly patting our satisfied tummies, we were offered to try some of the other restaurant specials (not a part of the set menu). But then when it comes to food, we have a problem saying “no more”. So we gave in; rather easily. Sampled their kung-pao chicken, stir-fried green beans, rice noodles, and fried rice. If you’re thinking we’d had enough; apparently not.

As a sweet end to a sumptuous meal, we got treated to the champagne cherry macarons. Chewy on the outside and moist butter cream on the inside, it was everything that a good macaron should be.

Delightful, soft, chewy and oh so good!

Delightful, soft, chewy and oh so good!

The rains, and terrible traffic were just a distant memory (at least for a while), as bit into our macarons. If only life was just as sweet all the time.

If you’re tempted enough, do visit Yauatcha for taste of their anniversary special limited edition set menu from November 9-30, 2015 – your taste buds will thank you.

Veg – Rs 1700 plus taxes
Regular – Rs 2200 plus taxes

(Note: On an invitation from Yauatcha to try out the anniversary special menu).

Showcasing Karnataka: Looking back, one year later

On November 1, 2014 (also Karnataka Rajyotsava Day) a motley gang of 6, displayed the labor of their love at the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishad.

Photographs taken over a 3-year period, traveling through the width and breadth of Karnataka. It was difficult to choose around 48 frames out of the more than 30-40 trips we had made individually and collectively. But, it had to be done. That’s all we could fit into the hall we had booked.

What we remember though was that it was some of the best times we spent discovering the rich and abundant state of Karnataka, my home for nearly 10 years of my life. Not only did we challenge ourselves from an artistic angle, learning from and motivating one another; we also had some really fun times.

Here’s a glimpse of some of the frames we displayed.

My frame capturing a delight of a little boy jumping into a temple tank at Melkote.

My frame capturing a delight of a little boy jumping into a temple tank at Melkote.

Hema Narayanan's iconic shot of the majestic Ibrahim Rauza.

Hema Narayanan’s iconic shot of the majestic Ibrahim Rauza.

Raghavendra's unique shot of the massive Bahubali at Sravanabelagola.

Raghavendra’s unique shot of the massive Bahubali at Sravanabelagola.

Renith's much admired shot of an "ideal woman" frozen in time at the Chennakesava temple.

Renith’s much admired (and sold many times!) shot of an “ideal woman” frozen in time at the Chennakesava temple.

Venkatesh Katta's colorful and vivid image of one of Karnataka's most famous festivals - the Mysore Dussera.

Venkatesh Katta’s colorful and vivid image of one of Karnataka’s most famous festivals – the Mysore Dussera.

We learnt so much from the time we spent together. But most of all, all of us forged a unique friendship that’s rare to find. While we had grand ambitions of putting a book together, we ran out of steam. And funds! But I hope we can get together someday again to work on another project!

More on our Facebook page: Prathibimba, Karnataka

The joy of photography, travel and having fun together!

The joy of photography, travel and having fun together!

Some of the coverage we received:
The Hindu
Buzz in Town: An Ode to Karnataka
Citizen Matters
Deccan Chronicle

Hema Narayanan
Venktatesh Katta