Saturday, May 16, 2015

Aalayam goes to the great Southwest to discover its storied past and its gorgeous terrain!

Hello, we are back!  In our travel feature today we head South West to the gorgeous state of Arizona to discover it’s storied past, desert landscape, southwestern charm and so much more! I’ll take you on a photographic journey through the Old Pueblo (Tucson), spiritual Sedona, and of course the mighty Grand Canyon. 

Have you made your travel plans for this year yet? Unfortunately for me, this year does not look like we can travel much at all and so, I plan to see the world vicariously and hope you will share your own travel tales and experiences with me. Make sure to write to me.

Once again, many thanks to my talented husband for the beautiful photographs featured in this post! 

This was a trip we took last year (in March actually) and so we were not at all bothered by the famous Arizona sun.  I was in awe and wondered why Arizona had not featured higher on our travel bucket list. 16 years in this country and this was our first visit to the Grand Canyon!

The great symbols of the American west – the Grand Canyon and the giant saguaro cacti had me spell bound. Driving past rock formations, buttes and mesas was like being in an old western movie. But what struck me the most was how the cities seemed to pay reverence to art and culture thus creating an eccentric mix of rugged landscape and urbane culture!

Here are the key highlights from our trip-

Tucson: This hip little southwestern city had so much to offer. I was there for a conference and wished I had more time to explore the hidden gems. Our favorites:

Open-air, mural gazing -The colorful murals that gazed at us from city corners were a testament to the collaborative work of talented street artists. These artsy murals breathed life into barren walls and gave the city a vibrant personality and a sense of community. Thumbs up!

Sunset at the saguaro national park- Bathed in the late afternoon sunshine, the tall saguaros left a lasting impression as we drove through windy roads hoping to find a picture perfect spot. This excursion was also a great lesson in ecology for my 10 year old. Do not miss the spectacular stately Saguaros!

 Mission San Xavier Del Bac: Referred to as the “White Dove of the Desert”, this architecturally fascinating 18th century Church stands tall in the vast expanse of the surrounding desert land. Take your time exploring the Moorish, Byzantine and Spanish renaissance style architecture for it is worth it!

Sedona: One word- breathtaking! Whether you are there to experience the positive energy of the vortexes or take in the magnificent red rock formations or simply to lavish in the abundance of the culturally rich shopping and dining experience, you will come away with a great tourist experience!

Our favorites:

 Red rock formations:  Some call Sedona the “most beautiful place on earth”. I don’t know about that but there is something about the majestic and peaceful red rock formations that stirs your soul from the minute you enter the city. 
Panoramic views of bell rock, cathedral rock and more remind you of nature’s astounding beauty and leave you to your thoughts. Thumbs up all the way!

Tlaquepaque (Tla-keh-pah-keh): An arts and crafts mecca!! Cobblestoned alleys, vine covered buildings, gorgeous Spanish tiles, colonial architecture and giant sycamore trees add to the shopping experience as you stroll through the by lanes of Tlaquepaque shopping village, the epicenter of Sedona. 

And I’ve heard that certain times of the year are better and you might encounter a carnival like experience - jugglers, magicians and fire dancers extraordinaire included! (So check the calendar of events if you are headed that way)

A word on the sunset chateau: The design and decor enthusiast in me is always looking for travel accommodations that are a bit indulgent. 

I am also looking for places that offer an authentic feel for local architecture and elegance – in this case, a touch of the Southwest. However, I try to be budget savvy and avoid the high price of highbrow travel and look for off season deals! I zeroed in on the sunset chateau a boutique bed and breakfast that claimed to “be an artistic oasis and offer timeless elegance of old world charm and breathtaking views of Sedona”.

 The property itself was quite nice and I was rather impressed with the grounds and the adobe style architecture .The dining area with its Southwestern décor was utterly adorable as you can tell by these pictures.

 But there ends my admiration for the place. I was appalled by the discourteous and rude host and I give the place a big thumbs down for customer service and hospitality and that was a bummer!

And now, for the show stopper of our trip – the mighty Grand Canyon. I would be a fool to think I could capture its might and majesty in my words. Perhaps, Uj’s pictures can serve more justice.  

 Nature has patiently put together this masterpiece of mountainous wonder for all of humanity to marvel at. I felt humbled and will never forget how my spirit came alive at first gaze and I am sure those of you that have been to canyons will agree?

 And oh! The helicopter ride offering unsurpassed views over the clouds, the canyon and the Colorado River was totally worth it!

Well, I love this country’s heterogeneous landscape – it is unparalleled. And as I have discovered time and again, it is not just the destination but the journey itself that makes every trip so indelible.  I’ll never forget the excitement of looking at the rolling hills and snow peaked mountains as we drove on 89 A from Sedona to Flagstaff or my husband’s crazy pursuit of the moonrise (and wanting to capture it through his lens) on some unknown Arizona highway as we were heading back from the Grand Canyon. He is a huge Ansel Adams fan – remember Adams’ moon rise over Hernandez? Well, Uj now has his own moon rise picture.   

I cherish our wayfaring because of such interludes!

And ofcourse, no vacation is complete without a shopping excursion. This time, I came back loaded with southwestern treasure - fabrics, placemats, talavera pottery and more. 

Here's a glimpse of the treasures I spotted -

Now, I leave you with this picture of a table scape from my husband’s 4oth b’day. I used our travel finds - the southwestern placemats and the Mexican serape for this one as a fond reminder of our trip to the great Southwest!
Incorporating travel finds in to your home!

Thank you for your patience dear readers. Work-wise, Supriya and I have been swamped and that’s derailed things at the blog end slightly. Hopefully, we can stretch ourselves and get back to regular programming. This is what we have lined up for you - a home tour, a tour of my workspace, more local and internaional travel and Supriya is working on exploring our emotional and sartorial connection to the Great Indian Saree! Exciting stuff! Stay tuned- our summer pipeline is heating up!

Now for the Dvara Magazine giveaway winner – I know you have all been waiting. It is Shruti of The East Coast Desi. Yay! You are all familiar with her fabulous blog, aren't you? If you are not, stop everything and go there right now – what a fantastic blog Shruti owns! Anyway, she sent us a lovely picture of her living room and the Dvara duo loved it and Shruti you will love the first edition of Dvara! Congratulatios!!

Those of who have not yet liked Dvara’s fb page, do so today and stay updated on Dvara's future offerings!



p.s: All images are shot by my husband and are from our personal archives. Do not use wihout prior permission.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Aalayam goes overseas!

Aalayam was honored recently with an invitation to get featured in a blog called "Tickled by Inspirations". 

A blog, in the author's words:

"that has a bit of everything for everyone as its got a global feel to it, a mix of ethnicity, traditional and contemporary. A blog that focuses on creative people around the world who share their experiences and inspirations. 
A self discovery and a visual treat!!"

I had a great time sharing pictures from my home for Tickled by Inspirations' Home Tour section. This gorgeous blog is hosted and owned by Rachel Eapen.  When asked to describe herself and her blogging journey, Rachel says 

" I am currently based in Muscat, a HR and finance management professional by profession. I have worked in a leading corporation in Bangalore for a couple of years. Now I am a stay at home mom, a passionate blogger, an occasional freelance writer and currently experimenting with acrylic art.

I have always been passionate about arts and it's different forms. I have been obsessed with design, décor, interiors, art, food and photography. I needed a platform to document my passion and that’s how my blog was born. “Tickled by Inspirations” is my little visual blog and diary of ideas, thoughts and creativity and everything that inspires us to be creative. 

It’s also a platform where different artists, crafters, designers and entrepreneurs can showcase their work"

Rachel's blog is a visual treat, do check it out when you have a chance. Rachel and Tickled by Inspirations is also on Facebook. Here are the details.

And finally, a sneak peek into, and the link to the actual home tour itself. Enjoy!!!

Thank you Rachel for taking Aalayam all the way to Muscat, and to  your audiences. Now come on Aalayam, lets show Rachel and her blog some bloggin' love!!

A cozy, and conversational corner - Supriya's home!
Because I always say 

" Color is synonymous with inspiration to me. I derive my joie de vivre everyday looking at a palette of vibrant colors in my living space - whether on the walls, on the bookshelf or on kitschy cushions thrown around all my rooms! "


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dvara -a fusion Indian coffee table magazine and an Antique Indian Home tour!

I am pleased to introduce Dvara – a fusion Indian coffee table print magazine that is all set to be launched on April 21. Dvara embraces Indianism at its core but promises to seduce and delight its readers with a global charm. Dvara’s founders hope that this will serve as a creative platform where vintage and modern blend seamlessly. The style quotient of this magazine is so high that it had me at hello! 
Dvara intends to inspire the reader with its unique editorial perspective  (amazingly styled shots and alluring stories) at the turn of the every page and I can’t wait for their first edition. Luckily for me and you (dear readers), I was able to bring some gorgeous images of their first edition to Aalayam and that’s not all! One lucky reader has a chance to win a copy of their first edition, so make sure to sign up for the giveaway (rules at the bottom of this post). 

I have so much to share today (it is a long post) and I sincerely hope you will take the time to enjoy this firecracker of a post.

The piece de resistance is of course Jayashree’s home and Karthika’s photography!

Jayashree's pride - her Chicago home filled with treasured Indian antiques!

 Jayashree’s home is an artistic rhapsody that I simply cannot get enough of! If there is such a thing as perfection in ethnic interiors then this is it! From grand mural walls that host madhubani and warli artwork to quiet corners that are charmed by brass vignettes to the vibrant pops of color that enliven the space, this home is punctuated with personality and reflects Jayashree’s pride. 

I am ecstatic to be able to showcase this home on Aalayam. I want to spend a day in her home and I have told her so, I feel like I could learn so much from her style of decorating!

Jayashree (L) and Karthika (R) take a break to share the Dvara story with Aalayam!

I also wanted to get into the minds of two very talented and self assured women  (Jayashree Rao and Karthika Gupta) to get a sense for who they are, their motivations for getting behind a bold publishing venture and the milieu in which they are bringing this magazine to life. I will let them explain the Dvara story in their own words – so follow along and as always, we start with introductions.

Who is Jayashree Rao?

Professional Background: I am an engineer by profession who followed my heart to pursue my real passion - Fashion. I came to Chicago post marriage in 1997, worked at one of my favorite stores - Ann Taylor as the visual merchandising head. Quit my job 5 years ago, after my daughter was born and later started my lifestyle blog (on Indian fashion and art) "Sage&Slingback" to fill the creative void.
I recently joined hands with my photographer friend Karthika Gupta of Memorable Jaunts to start a quarterly fusion Indian coffee table magazine called "Dvara". I am one of the founders and the creative stylist of Dvara.

Personal Background: I am a coastal girl, a typical Mangalorean who loves sunshine, sand and the beach. I am old soul living in a modern setting. I love to be surrounded by beautiful antiques that mean something to me.  Everything about my home (India) fascinates me. I am intrigued by its colors, textiles, jewelry and decor. I am also a self taught Madhubani artist and I see beauty in the most imperfect things in life.

Jayashree takes her talent to the walls - an adorable pair of  folk women in kalamkari style adorn her stairwell wall!

 I was familiar with Jayashree’s blog Sage and Slingback. I liken it to an art book full of jaw dropping concepts – bold, unique and so unpredictable! So when I was introduced to her (by a common friend), I could not wait to get to know her more.  I had heard so many wonderful things about her Chicago home too and wanted to weave that into the post as well. I know that she has had multiple requests for a home tour previously but I am so glad that I have the privilege of showcasing her home on Aalayam. 

An effortless medley comes together- thanks to Jayashree's artistry!

Again, I believe Jayashree and Karthika are forceful ideograms of the brand they represent and I wanted to showcase their passion, their talent, their perseverance and their aesthetic sensibilities as it is very telling of what we can expect from Dvara. I personally believe that Dvara is different because it is going to be enhanced by their consummate personal style!

Now, more from our conversation….

Who is Karthika Gupta?
Karthika Gupta is a professional photographer and owner of Memorable Jaunts, an on-location photo studio that specializes in wedding photography and family portraiture. Karthika has an engineering degree with a technical and business background and spent about 15 years in the corporate space before venturing into something completely right brain focused. She also is a regular author at the Digital Photography School and writes photography related articles. She comes from a family of creative individuals and is glad to finally be a part of that group.
Karthika captures the beauty outside!

How and why did you both decide to collaborate and work on a magazine?
Talk to me about the process of bringing a vision to life?
The Glamorous Dvara girls bring their synergistic strengths to Dvara!
Dvara was born out of a desire to showcase our home, India. We are originally from India but have lived away for many years. This absence ignited a passion to discover various facets of India that we knew nothing about growing up. We were introduced to each other through a common friend, bonded over Madhubani art class and started following each others work, soon to realize that we both saw beauty in all things uncommon and unusual. Later, we decided to collaborate on a magazine. After putting in months of hard work and burning the mid-night oil (literally) – Dvara happened. So far, this partnership has been an amazing creative journey. We both have quite different personalities but this difference is what really makes for a strong working partnership.

What is behind the name “Dvara”?
Dvara, meaning doorway, offers an insight into Indian culture that transcends across time and across generations  – a glimpse into the old way of life with a modern twist. The goal is to inspire people to adapt these old traditions seamlessly into modern everyday life.

What are the short term and long term goals for Dvara?
Dvara’s vision is to be a medium to showcase all things beautiful and unique about India –art, culture, people, places and food in a aesthetically appealing and visually captivating way. We want Dvara to grace many coffee tables across the world. In the future issues, we hope to showcase artists, artisans, independent designers and other creative experts via Dvara.

Who is the target audience?  How can one order/preorder copies of future editions?
In the broadest sense, Dvara’s audience is anyone who loves eclectic, beautiful, culturally rich and Indian concepts. As long as you have a love for anything related to art, travel, lifestyle, food and fashion you will find inspiration in her pages and stories. You don’t necessarily have to be of Indian origin.
You can preorder single issue, annual subscription and 2 year subscription. You can go to and select ‘Shop’. You can even purchase a gift subscription for friends and family. Please add the address of the person you are gifting Dvara to in the ‘Notes to seller’ section of the checkout process.

What should the reader expect to find in Dvara and how is it different from other print magazines in the same sphere?
Dvara’s visual stories are documented in a 100 page, clean, crisp, white matte paper and is published by one of the leading publishers in the U.S but will be shipped internationally. Dvara has five consistent categories in every issue - Fashion, Food, Art, Travel and Lifestyle. The magazine is advertisement-free assuring a clutter free experience to her readers. By showcasing 5 genres of Indianism, there is bound to be something for everyone!

I think Dvara is an exciting venture, the visuals are captivating, and the concept novel  - tell me a little bit about the creative process that was involved in bringing the first edition to print.

Creative brainstorming- work in progress!

Initially, we spent several days in planning two years of content. We knew that this was not a one-time process. We want each issue to be an experience in itself and evoke certain emotions in our readers. Every issue has it’s own color palette which is carried forward in the concept, styling, photography and marketing meets. We have been extremely fortunate in having the support of many creative individuals.

I am familiar with Sage and Slingback (too cool!) and Jayashree, clearly you are a bundle of talent and your aesthetic sensibilities are unique  (a great amalgamation of Indian and global) – can we expect to see more of your personal aesthetic influences and style sensibilities peppered throughout Dvara?

Thanks Deepa. Certainly, yes! The initial few issues will have my signature styling in the fashion, art, lifestyle and food segment but we would like to bring the talented stylists and artists as contributors for Dvara’s future editions.   Dvara is a visual medium and hope it would be an ideal platform for budding talents from all around the world.

Karthika – have you had a creative platform  (such as a blog perhaps) before you took the plunge into print media (pardon my ignorance). I am trying to get a sense for the professional evolution of two (obviously) very talented women.
Yes. I am a professional photographer and have been photographing wedding, families and events for the past 5 years.
My work can be seen on my website and my blog at My style of photography is very fresh, natural and organic. I absolutely love imagery that conveys feelings and emotion. I want to bring this style of photography to Dvara and her visuals.

 You are expatriates like Supriya and me and continue to harbor this deep love for your roots. Personally, what does it mean to live away from India and work on something that is so Indian at its core? Will we see cultures and influences from your adopted home (The United States) in Dvara as well?

Jayashree Rao:
Dvara is an Indian fusion magazine - so definitely India will be her main subject with a western influence and targets people with an eclectic sensibility. Since the time I left India, 18 years ago, India has changed by leaps and bounds and the time is just right to showcase my country to the world through a different lens. I remember a time when Rohit Bhal, Ritu Kumar, Ritu Beri and Bhanu Athaiya were the only big names in Indian couture fashion and now there's a whole crop of them doing fabulous work, India is changing in other fields too - a lot of talent is being noticed and appreciated.  So, it's creatively satisfying to use Dvara as a platform to bridge this gap between India then and India now through a new lens.

Karthika Gupta:
Yes, absolutely. Being predominately Indian, she will be largely influenced by Indian cultures and traditions but in a modern way. Both of us have been away from home for quite sometime now. They say, home is where the heart is and even though we have a home, family and friends here in the US, part of our heart lies back in India - in the cities we grew up, the people we associated with and the childhood memories we so fondly remember. Working on Dvara has been a great way for us to relive so many of those cherished memories. It’s like going home - always exciting and emotional!

I asked to see pictures from your homes – I am a sure, talented folk like yourselves only live in spaces that inspire you and your work everyday. Tell me a little about what drives your home décor philosophy?
What can I say - sigh!
Jayashree Rao:
I am very home proud. It makes me happy when people compliment me on my house.  Every piece in my house evokes some kind of emotion in me. Give me something that is old, distressed and unconventional and I will be the happiest. It's very important for me to live in a space that is surrounded by things that hold a special place in my heart. My grand mom’s wooden trays/ blackened brass utensils or my great grand mom’s gold hairpin means a lot to me. They talk to me about the time and the era they belonged to. I am all about stories and emotions and my house reflects the same.

Karthika Gupta:
My home reflects my love for open spaces. I love open windows, white walls, natural light, rustic colors and lots and lots of images of my adventures. My family's images are all over my walls - I love seeing their faces every time I walk by - those that are with us and those that are no longer around. I always stop and smile when I catch a glimpse of a family photo. My true inspiration comes from my travels - I absolutely love the mountains and if I had my way, I would permanently move to a house with a view of snow capped mountains. So instead of showing you my home, I am sharing a few images of my favorite places to go and rejuvenate.

Karthika loves the open outdoors!

Does your home décor fit the bill for any particular style? Who calls the design shots in your home? 

Jayashree Rao:

I love cozy places that exuberate warmth and heart. Putting things together that are visually appealing is an art by itself and I specialize in that. Clutter when done right can look beautiful. Like you see in these pictures, there are wall murals all over my house and each one of them has a story to tell. My decor style is consistently "Antique Indian" sans any crystals and glitter. I love mixing different textures and colors to break the monotony, so that there is a flow from one room to another without a match-much situation.
Calling the design shots? - Well, I have been really lucky on that aspect - My husband gives me a free hand and supports all my creative madness whole-heartedly. 

Karthika Gupta:
I am extremely lucky to have married into a family that is completely right-brained. So early on in our marriage, we agreed to let him take over decorating our home. I am quite happy to let him have complete reign in calling all the design shots of the house - I hate moving around heavy furniture!

At Aalayam, we are all about the home and living the inspired life. What does the word “home” mean to you both?

Jayashree Rao:
Home to me is more than 4 walls made out of brick and cement; it's my extension, my reflection. I let my home speak for myself. I try and surround myself with things that have a sentimental value to it. I don't go by the books, I follow my heart and it works wonders for me.

Karthika Gupta:
To me, home is any place that gives me a sense of peace, calms my mind and inspires me to become more of who I am. Home is my space here in Chicago, my maternal home in Chennai, our home in Bombay, our tent that we pitch up in places like Glacier National Park and Yellowstone, our car that we spend many hours in during our cross-country road trips - it’s anywhere and everywhere I feel happy!

What are your favorite resources for inspiration? (Blogs, magazines, stores,
Designers….) I know I will be adding Dvara to my list of inspiration soon!

Jayashree Rao:

I am huge Sabyasachi aficionado. I own his stuff from the time when he had just started and I follow his work even now. He is hugely responsible for bringing back the saree to India and Indians in a major way. He drew inspiration from India and gave it back to Indians in a beautiful package. Apart from him, I love the works of many other Indian designers like Payal Khandwala, Pero, Rimzim Dadu and Kallol Dutta to name a few. With western designers I follow the works of Jason Wu, Alexander McQueen and Dolce & Gabbana (Fantastic styling). Apart from being a fashion lover, I am also a serious foodie and I follow a few food bloggers. I love Chinmayee Bhat's "Love, Food, eat " (her cooking brings back the memories of my hometown Mangalore), Beth Kirbys "Local Milk" for its aesthetics and "Pure Veg by Lakshmi "- her cooking is an art by itself.
And because I love this shot!  -the creative visionaries behind Dvara.
Karthika Gupta:
My greatest source of inspiration comes from our family adventures, my kids, and vintage travel books that I collect and cookbook. I love studying the images and am inspired to play with light, textures and colors. Art came late in my life but it is something I really enjoy as well - painting and coloring brings out the kid in me and is very therapeutic. I have recently started dabbling in film photography and that is another great source of inspiration. Film photography really forces you to think about so many different aspects of the art of photography before you click the shutter and I am inspired by the breadth of work that exists!

There you go my dear readers – wasn’t that amazing?  A magazine with a distinct voice powered by the passion and talent of two visionaries that want to showcase India in a new light. How exciting! 
Now, here is a chance for one of you to win a copy of their launch edition. Follow these simple rules and get in with the program!

Giveaway eligibility criteria:

1. Like Dvaramagazine  page on FB and follow Dvara on Instagram

2. Join Aalayam as a member .

3. Share one image of a cozy corner of your home and in a couple of sentences, let the Dvara team know why it holds a special place in your heart. Please do this on Dvara’s facebook page.

The contest opens today  and ends on –May 5, 2015  @ 10 pm eastern.

The winner will be decided by the Dvara team based on the best entry!
Good luck!

Thank you Jayashree and Karthika for sharing your story, your home and your photographs with all of us!


P.S: All images in this post belong to the Dvara Duo and cannot be reproduced without permission.