Meet the traveller: Shilo Shiv Suleman

* Meet the Traveller is a new series on Potli Baba, of conversations with people who have been inspired by travel.*


Shilo’s work as an illustrator/artist/designer/storyteller has been a mood-lifter from the moment I stumbled upon her blog six years ago. I’ve had the good fortune of interacting with her since and have discovered that her work and her art is a result of her many journeys. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect person to start off this series with. Here she is, in conversation with Potli Baba.

Describe yourself in one word. Same as everyone else: LOVE.

Where do you live? In my heart. (And Bangalore)

Where have you travelled to till date? Goa, Hampi, Gokarna, Bengal, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Orissa, Kashmir, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Kutch, Maharashtra, Malwa (and many many more states/spaces in India), London, Scotland, Bali, Europe and soon, Brazil!

Travel to you is: Extending myself into the universe. Trust. Fearlessness. When I say trust I mean two things: trusting oneself, and trusting that your path is guided and protected. I think, for an Indian woman to travel alone despite all our years of social fear conditioning is an act of surrender, an act of trust. Trusting that nothing will harm you, trusting that you will actualize all that you dream of, trusting that your decisions are the right ones and that every journey is part of a much bigger journey into the self.

Five things your travel bag will always have: Watercolour set, notebook, brushes and pens, incense, jewellery.

Wanderer or tourist? Wanderer all the way! No plans, no directions. Wide-eyed wanderer.

Mountains, beaches, deserts, jungles, nature or adventure sports? Jungles, beaches, RIVERS and anywhere with lots of colour and culture. You’ll always find me in bazaars around the world, looking at vintage old books and teapots in London, amidst piles of colour and fish and fabrics in India, and old lace and perfume in France. I love bazaars.

Plan your own travel or get someone to do it for you? Don’t plan as much as possible! But if I do, It’s always always on my own.


Shilo Shiv Suleman’s journal entries, dating back to 2005.

What’s your favourite journey to date? Your travel memory? All trips to Hampi. Riding bikes, wading in the river, moondrunk while stretched out like crocodiles on rocks, being blessed by elephants in temples and more.

My most recent favourite journey was to Pallakad, Kerala, where I was working with shadow puppeteers in a small town there. It was amazing. Taking baths in the small ponds with green sky of leaves. Watching local performances in temples with walls of diyas, the smell of jasmine flowers and coconut oil and so much learning. I hope to be back there soon to learn how to make my own natural paints with roots and minerals and barks from the local temple muralists there.

Also Kutch; I work with the Kabir project and am working on a book about the Sufis of those Salt deserts. It’s turning out to be rather beautiful. We’re working with seven love legends from the region where in each of them, a female protagonist sets off wandering against all odds in search of her beloved (only to find it within herself). Which brings me back to trust and fate and all those other things :)

If you were a city/town/country/place, which would you be and why? Hampi. Free, mystical, flowing rivers, historic, cultural, ancient.

How has travel inspired you? Travel has inspired everything. It has transformed everything. When I travel, I watch. My eyes are open and my heart is open. All the colours and forms I see become part of the pattern that makes my illustration. I listen. I hear stories and myths from around the world and those stories get woven into my own stories, from Sufis in Kutch and Rajasthan to temple performers and artists in Kerala. Meeting these people, understanding the Indian aesthetic and storytelling traditions has given me a sense of ‘Me’, my roots, the traditions I want to draw from and take into the digital universe.

My latest favourite quote is “we are made of stories not atoms”.

Complete this sentence: If the world could fit into your palm, you would… Paint it.

Shilo invited me to her home to see her journals. As i went clickety click with my camera, she patiently filled my little book of questions with drawings. The leather case in the foreground is home to her journals over the years.

You can go see more of Shilo’s work on her blog.

Hampi Sutra.

The gods took a bite out of Krishna Temple. Camera: Minolta point-and-shoot.

Hampi’s a centuries-old tale of man’s mortality, etched in stone structures that once touched the sky but now lie scattered, cracked and broken. There’s a slice of history everywhere you turn.

Bustling Virupaksha Temple.

My first visit to the village that’s home to the royal ruins of the Vijayanagara empire was way back in the days of my Minolta point-and-shoot. I alighted from the KSRTC bus with two of my friends and was instantly greeted by a Kal Ganesha – a seven foot tall stone carving of The Remover of Obstacles – flanking the bus stop to the right. Quaint little shops selling coconut water, packaged food and water and hats lined the bus station; taxis and autos waited to carry passengers to wherever they wanted to go; old women in sarees led the younger ones, adorned in langa davanis – the traditional Kannadiga skirt, blouse and dupatta attire – and strings of fragrant jasmine in their hair, to Virupaksha Temple from where the melody of prayers drifted. Clanging bells mingled with Bollywood music and shouts of vendors, honking autos and crying children being dragged past little toy stores. The ruins of temples, old-world courts and meeting places stood by silently and watched, letting people go about their business, quietly slipping into the new pace of life. It was like I had travelled back in time. Like I was in some Malgudi Days kind of setting.

Hemakunta, next to Virupaksha Temple. Little structures like this one dot the hillock, sharing space with looming boulders and trekking tourists.

When I went back last year, a lot had changed. Hampi had more tourists and fewer ruins. Structures were getting eroded. The stone was finally giving up its battle against the changing ways of the world. If you’ve been planning to visit Hampi, I would urge you to go before it’s too late.

What’s there to do?

My first trip had me going to all the touristy places – the Lotus Mahal, elephant stables, the gold market, Vittala Temple, Hemakunta, Hazari Rama temple complex and so many more. Last year, we drove down and chose to visit the ruins that had no sign of human visitations. There’s no dearth of such places in Hampi – just pick a direction to drive in, and you’re sure to come across non-touristy ruins everywhere, like stray dogs with no home to go to.

The board outside this enclosure said, “Historical monument”. Even the excavators have no idea what this place is.

Just hire cycles (or an auto – so much more fun! And if the driver’s nice, he’ll let you ride it too) and ride around. Explore at your own pace because there’s lots to see. When you’re done with the market side of Hampi, take a ferry to the other side and explore more.

Guardian of the Two Wheelers.

Eat at Mango Tree. Simple, delicious food made even better by the ambience.

Spend an evening on the hillock that houses Hemakunta. Sit under the Frangipani tree and, if you’re lucky, listen to the locals play ageless, mystical tunes on flutes and tabalas till the moon is above your head and glowing softly.

Sunset by the Frangipani tree.

Discover that life isn’t all money and rush hour and somewhere to go and something to do. Hampi teaches you how to be adrift, without purpose and love it.

If you have a love for photography, you’ll have many affairs with Hampi. There’s visual pleasure everywhere.

Pillars in temples and other stone structures are full of stone carvings. Most of them show animals attacking, resting, being domesticated or being led to war.

Observe people. You’ll see how the non-urban population of Karnataka lives, learn new things about the culture and maybe make a few friends.

Visit the Vittala Temple to experience the musical pillars. They are sheer genius.

On my first visit to Vittala Temple, we went exploring behind the temple area right onto the mountain behind. This non-Indian sat on a flat patch of the mountain and was teaching Yoga to the young Indian boy. Camera: Minolta point-and-shoot.

Getting there: Hampi’s a six to seven-hour drive from Bangalore, but is also well connected by buses and trains. Should you have difficulties getting reservations on either, travel to Hospet and hop onto an auto from there.

Go if: You love history, culture, exploring, stone carvings, rocky hills and temples. You could go for two days or two weeks, depending on how much  you want to see.

The ruins of the Vijayanagara Empire.

P.S: Some of the pictures here were shot with my Minolta. The rest were taken with the Nikon D3000. Even then, the pictures don’t come half close to what the place really looks like.