Meet the Traveller: Gina Joseph

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

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Potli Baba’s note: First off, this post has been a year in the making, because I was preoccupied with less important things like life and work. Since my first interview with her, I’ve reconnected with Gina to understand how her year has been so far; from exhibitions at Kala Ghoda and Singapore, to being one of the 25 chosen for the Milestone Makers Programme – a collaboration between Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center and Startup India – she’s had a busy, enriching year.

Dear Gina, thank you for your patience. A year is a long time to wait for a conversation with you to be published! 

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The word ‘Stories’, inked just below her wrist, plays hide and seek with the clinking silver bangles as she scribbles her answers in my notebook. Head bent in concentration, she pauses from time to time to tuck her hair behind her ear and think of the various stories she has gathered over the years travelling to different parts of India, working with remote tribal communities to create beautiful pieces of quintessential Indian jewellery. Meet Gina Joseph, Founder and Creator of Zola. Much like the pieces she creates, Gina’s evolution as an entrepreneur challenges convention. From the craft of advertising to the craft of creating stories through beads, metal and fabric, what a journey it’s been.

“It just happened by chance”, she says. Zola started off as a piece for her design project and quickly grew to become a name familiar to women who want to make a statement with simple, elegant accessories. Combining her new-found love for creating magic through fabric, metal, leather and colours with her wanderlust was an unplanned dream come true. There were hurdles along the way – the initial struggle, finding investors and yes, brands plagiarising her designs – but she’s only emerged all the stronger for it. Recently, she got herself inked a second time, inspired by The Great Wave off Kanagawa created by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai, with a mountain and a red full moon-like dot over it. “When an immovable object meets an insurmountable force… the wave and the mountain. So, however tough life gets and pushes you, you have to stand strong. That’s my learning in my years of existence.”

Travel is how Gina unwinds, recharges and discovers local art forms as well as artisans. She loves planning for trips that she will take one day and wills the universe to make them happen. Here she is, sharing her story.

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Picture Courtesy: Gina Joseph.

Describe yourself in one word. Story-Collector.

Where do you live? Chennai.

Where have you travelled to till date? USA, Kenya, Sweden, Oslo and Singapore. In India, Kashmir, the heartland of Orissa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu for Zola workshops. I’ve travelled most of North India too, but am yet to explore North East and hope to do this at the earliest.

Travel to you is: A form of meditation. I can’t sit still and meditate for long, so travel is my escape that enriches me at every step.

Five things your travel bag will always have: Phone, power bank, medicines, money and Vaseline. 

Wanderer or tourist? Wanderer.

Mountains, beaches, deserts, jungles, nature or adventure sports? Beaches, jungles and nature.

Plan your own travel or get someone to do it for you? I plan it all.

What’s your favourite journey to date? Your travel memory? Every journey lets me discover something new about myself, so can’t name just one.  

If you were a city/town/country/place, which would you be and why? India. For the vibrant colours, different cultures, history, food and stories. 

How has travel inspired you? Travel has been the best teacher and inspiration to me. It’s made me stronger emotionally, mentally and also a lot more open to things in life.

Complete this sentence: If the world could fit into your palm, you would Well, I wouldn’t want to fit the world in my palm. Just the fact that I am such a small part of this world is exciting and humbling at the same time… so let me explore it one day at a time.

From the Journals: A Stranger to Travel.

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On the Hanuman Temple Hill, Hosur.

Many, many feet above sea level, the wind whipped my hair. Was it angry that I was cloistered in a closed space all this while, shutting out the world, face buried in a laptop? Or was it just a friendly whack to the back of my head that said it was glad I was finally out in the open? Questions, always so many questions. This need to find an answer to everything – to know for sure – when did it start taking over?

I shook my head and focused on the moment, the here and now. Massive rocks overlooking a sparsely populated landscape hundreds of feet below with patches of glittering green and brown fields… and I was standing on top of the highest one. I was high metaphorically as well – I had just climbed a mountain stacked with sharp, gigantic boulders just to prove to myself that I could. I breathed heavily, but it was a welcome sensation as the invisible chains around my soul came off. Travelling anchors me, but these days, I don’t travel as much. And I feel uncertain, unanchored. A piece of driftwood in a world that constantly pushes one to prove one’s abilities and work more, play more, live more. Live? Really?

The wind whirled around me again. While my cousins were busy taking selfies and swinging from trees, I took a moment to gather my senses. To see if I could reach out and find myself. “Get away from the edge! Don’t be a fool, sit back a little!”, my aunt said, looking at me. “I won’t fall”, I assured her, the wind still whipping my hair. I won’t fall. Into this rigmarole. This pattern of waking up, working, coming home, passing out, managing family expectations, social expectations, not finding time to reorient myself. Not finding the time to travel. To be me. About time I broke this pattern. I need to. I cannot live without hitting the road, driving past paddy fields and waterfalls and fishing boats and islands and processions and waving to strangers on the road guilelessly. I cannot live without driving through lonely forest roads in dark nights on the way to Goa or wondering how I’m going to trek to a monastery two mountains away from the starting point. Without feeling the sand tickle my toes and the water terrifying me. I cannot not travel.

So, I made up my mind and shut out my everyday existence. Took two days off – days that seemed like a lifetime – and went away with the family. I walked, ran, slipped and slid, climbed rocks, sang, bathed in moonlight, got kissed by the sun, lived in the fear of a close encounter with some wild animal, slept like a log, laughed hard, talked, sang, danced… I lived.

And in that moment, as I stood there on that magnificent rock, revelling in the pleasure of feeling anchored again, the wind changed course and made its way through my hair and into the curves of my ear. “Welcome back, stranger”, it whooshed.

I smiled in reply.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Utah’s barren-land blooms.

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Badland Blooms, Utah. Image via BoredPanda.

Blistering heat, parched throats, Fata Morganas – the cliches of a desert are quite familiar to everyone. Utah’s desert life, however, shatters the stereotype one short-lived colourful bloom at a time.

During Spring, the arid, magnificent landscape bursts into a blanket of colour as sprigs break out of the dry soil to drink in the moisture, come to life, breed through a quickie and wilt away.

The whole process is pretty short-lived, apparently, and a lot like lasting love – the conditions have to be just right for the phenomena to happen, and everyone may not have the good fortune of experiencing it in a lifetime. The lucky few (thank goodness they were photographers) have captured it for the vicarious pleasures of us less-fortunate – if we can’t see it, we can at least live it through the images.

Via Bored Panda. Read the full article here.

Picture via Bored Panda, who curated it with help from LostatEMinor.

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What is Down the Rabbit Hole?

Remember Alice? And how she went slip-sliding down an innocent-looking burrow? And how she emerged into this fantastic, unbelievable world on the other side – one she never thought existed? Well, Potli Baba will go down a special rabbit hole from time to time and stumble upon strange, fascinating worlds that have been recorded for posterity by those brave enough to venture into them. Simply put, Potli Baba is going to curate interesting and marvellous articles, stories and photo essays from the Internet and bring them to you as a series (complete with gift-wrap and ribbon) on the blog. Just for your reading pleasure.

May this year be absolutely magical for you.

According to the Zen Master Dōgen Zenji, there are 6,400,099,980 moments in a day. My wish for you is that you feel alive in every one of those moments, every day. May you breathe deeply, laugh, love, discover more within and around you. May you take risks, go with the flow, be rewarded for your leaps of faith. My wish for you is that you live with abundance and create an unforgettable journey that spans 365 glorious, magical days.

Happy Fresh Starts to you, my friend.

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A day at Chowmahalla Palace and Qutub Shahi tombs, Hyderabad.

Grumpy duck, Chowmahalla Palace.
Grumpy duck seeking cover under a fountain, Chowmahalla Palace.

No matter how much I love the city or how hard I try to capture its flavours in one single post, Hyderabad is flat-out refusing to be captured by my words. So, here it is, another itty-bitty snippet on the home of the Nizams.

One of the inner palaces at the Chowmahalla Palace. This one had all the weaponry.
One of the inner palaces at the Chowmahalla Palace. This one had all the weaponry.

Chowmahalla Palace – middle name, Grandeur
An unexpected delight and an architectural jewel of the history of Hyderabad, Chowmahalla Palace is tucked away in the most unassuming corner of the back roads leading away (or to, depending on how you see it) from Charminar. Despite having spent every summer of my growing-up years holidaying in Hyderabad, I heard of Chowmahalla Palace for the first time a couple of months ago. And of course, because I hadn’t heard of it before, I was itching to go.

The ceiling of the main durbar area.
The elaborate ceiling of the main Durbar area.

The place didn’t disappoint. Chowmahalla Palace is like the Inception of palaces – four palaces within a palace. Each more beautifully crafted than the other, with intricate ceilings heavy with spectacular chandeliers stretching towards the ground. And like that isn’t breathtaking enough, every palace is a museum bursting with relics of the Nizam’s reign – photographs that have been framed with great care, an opulent grandfather clock from a neighbouring king, cutlery and chinaware, furniture, clothes, weapons and the most well-maintained vintage cars I have seen in a while.

The Durbar - made of solid marble and flanked on the sides and from the ceiling by crystal chandeliers.
The Durbar – made of solid marble and flanked on the sides and from the ceiling by crystal chandeliers.

The best part about visiting the Chowmahalla is that even on the busiest days, it isn’t bustling with hordes of people. It’s like a well-kept secret among locals, a slice of the past that the tourists haven’t been able to get their hands on, making the pleasure of experiencing the palace more than a tick mark on a checklist of must-see places in a city.

Most of the Chinaware housed in Chowmahalla consists of elaborate pieces that were gifts from neighbouring countries whose kings visited the Nizam. This one was especially pretty because it had an ornate butterfly in the place of a handle.
Most of the Chinaware housed in Chowmahalla consists of elaborate pieces that were gifts from neighbouring countries whose kings visited the Nizam. This one was especially pretty because it had an ornate butterfly in the place of a handle.

Another place, of course, is the Qutub Shahi tombs. Less popular with the tourists and a better-known retreat for the locals, it hasn’t changed one bit since my teenage years spent exploring the tombs and climbing stairways that were blocked by lush bramble.

One of the many tombs at Qutub Shahi Park. One can still see hints of the enamel work in the facade near the dome. When I was a kid, I used to collect the chunks of fallen Enamel pieces, almost as if it were a part of history that I could call mine.
One of the many tombs at Qutub Shahi Park. One can still see hints of the colourful Enamel work on the facade. When I was a kid, I used to collect the chunks of fallen Enamel pieces, almost as if it were a part of history that I could call mine.

Qutub Shahi tombs – where there’s beauty in death
The only thing that doesn’t make the approach to the Qutub Shahi tombs nondescript is the tourist shuttles standing outside the gates of the tomb park. Once you walk through the gates, though, it’s an entirely different story. Tombs of varying shapes and sizes dominate the area, reflecting the Persian, Pashtun and Hindu forms of architecture that they are based on. The kings of the Qutub Shah dynasty – including next-of-kin and important commanders – are buried here. The tomb of Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah offers a pretty decent view of the Golconda Fort, located about a kilometre or so away from the tombs.

Mughal architecture is incomplete without symmetrical archways. So is my set of photographs! There's something almost poetic in framing a picture with arches and having someone walk through it.
Mughal architecture is incomplete without symmetrical archways, and so is my set of photographs! There’s something almost poetic in framing a picture with arches and capturing someone walk through it.

Every tomb has a story behind it, not just about the person/people buried under it, but also the architecture itself. The bigger the king, the grander the structure and the inscriptions on the walls. Excavation of the Badi Bowli – the Big Well – was underway when I went there. From what I could see behind the sealed-off area, it resembled the step wells of Gujarat. It should be open to visitors soon enough.

The grave on ground-level is just an indicative structure built on top of the actual sarcophagus. Although not considered holy, there are still those who pay the graves a visit and seek blessings.
The grave on ground-level is just an indicative structure built on top of the actual sarcophagus. Although not considered holy, there are still those who pay the graves a visit and seek blessings.

As with all places of death, Qutub Shahi tombs is quiet, serene and somehow, more beautiful. There are the occasional light and sound shows that are held on premise, but otherwise the place shuts down after dusk – and for good reason too. Imagine moving around the place in darkness, with at least two dozen dead bodies that are at least four centuries old for company!

A smaller tomb on the Qutub Shahi Park premises, and also one constructed away from the main tombs. It could mean that the person buried here was of lesser stature than the king and his kins. Still, the craftsmanship is fairly elaborate.
A smaller tomb on the Qutub Shahi Park premises, and also one constructed away from the main tombs. It could mean that the person buried here was of lesser stature than the king and his kins. Still, the craftsmanship is fairly elaborate.

Since the better part of the day was spent roaming the Chowmahalla Palace, I couldn’t spend as much time at the tombs as I wanted to. I did leave with an imprint of a gorgeous sunset on my mind – and my camera – though.

Maybe the next post I write about the elusive city of Hyderabad, I’ll be able to add more to my exploration of it and of the other places that are waiting to be rediscovered.

A glorious sunset against the tombs made the short visit totally worth the while.
A glorious sunset against the tombs made the short visit totally worth the while.

Getting there: Hyderabad is easily accessible by road, air and train. I would strongly recommend driving down because the route is picturesque and the roads, beautiful.

Go if: You love food, history, architecture, attention to detail and a little bling.

P.S: Yes, yes, I’m fully aware that Potli Baba was off the radar for a good two months (or more). We are back now, though, and hopefully will be more regular in posting here! Meanwhile, thank you to everyone who hung around, waited patiently for posts to appear and even reminded me to get back. Sending much love and gratefulness your way.