Rosemary is the former senior curator for South Asia at the V&A Museum in London, specialising in Indian textiles and paintings. She has published many books and articles on these subjects and has travelled widely in India. She was co-curator of the exhibitions Colours of the Indus (1997), The Indian Portrait (2010) and The Fabric of India (2015-16). It was her research into Odisha’s ikat textiles that first took her to the region and she has returned several times since.
We asked Rosemary to share her thoughts on who has inspired her, her best travel advice and more.
How often do you or have you travelled to India?
I’ve stopped counting, but it must be over 50 times, as I’ve been going to India for over 30 years, sometimes up to three times a year. Some of these have been short trips for meetings or conferences, but others have been longer stays of up to 6 months travelling, researching a book or working in museums.
What surprises you about India?
The clash of the very old and the modern, like having to squeeze past a cow to access an ATM, meeting a dread-locked sadhu who was a former bank manager or visiting craftspeople – potters, sculptors, weavers – still making things in the same way that has been done for thousands of years.
What is your most amusing travel story?
One I can think of is turning up very dusty and dishevelled at a hotel in rural Orissa to find it completely staffed by immaculately dressed hijras (trans-gender people), who viewed us as very disreputable females and offered to give us a make-over. Or being followed by police and questioned as suspected gem-smugglers in tribal Madhya Pradesh. Or being instructed to take a large jar of Horlicks as a gift to a highly revered monk in Sri Lanka…
What are your favourite places/experience in India?
I love visiting small towns that have maintained traditions in architecture and skills and have a lively bazaar to wander in – places like Bhuj in Gujarat, Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh and Karaikudi in Tamil Nadu. Or for relaxation, when it gets too hot in the rest of India, I love the mountains of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, with beautiful villages and temples with amazing views of the Himalayas.
What is the one essential you travel with?
A folding hand fan, invaluable for hot journeys. Also a small jar of marmalade or Marmite as an alternative to the truly horrible Mixed Fruit Jam that is usually provided for breakfast in hotels – but if you’re lucky they may provide honey.
What is your best piece of travel advice?
In India, try not to be too dependent on a tight schedule, and try to have a Plan B in mind. Trains often run late, landslides may block the road and whole villages may be suddenly deserted because everyone has gone off to a wedding.
I also think it’s good to have some kind of theme or focus to your trip. This can be quite informal, whether it’s visiting textile makers or craftspeople in a particular region, seeking out obscure temples with interesting wall-paintings or sculptures or perhaps tracking where your grandparents lived – these will give you a reason to venture off the beaten tourist path and see more interesting aspects of India.
Who has inspired you to do what you do?
The craftspeople who have kept textile traditions alive in the face of increasing industrialisation in India, and the individuals and NGOs who continue to give them work. India is in transition and these skills would so easily be completely lost without a lot of effort and dedication.
Where is next on your travel ‘bucket list’?
In India, I would like to travel more in South India. In the rest of the world, I would love to see something of South America and West Africa – both great areas for textiles as well!
India group tour – Textiles and Temples of Central India
Accompany Rosemary on our small group tour in November 2018. Journey from Delhi to the central heart of India. Discover the fascinating textiles of this region and learn more about its influences on India’s history and architecture.