Travelogue: Sara Ricciardi in India

The Italian designer recounts her travel experiences in New Delhi and Nubra Valley, including the road to Lake Tso Moriri and the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho.

Sara Ricciardi, sketchbook, travel to India, 2018

A call comes in: "Sara, would you like to tell us about your trip to India?"
I accept the request with a vague onset of panic. It is very complex: harnessing words to reflect the intensity of discovery; sifting a thousand events and raking them into orderly impressions. Join me in a number of thoughts I jotted down in my notebook without any geographical order. They are micro-visions, pages of quick mood boards I like to make with cut-out pictures and colours as I travel.
Before you continue, relax your backs and imagine a placid, imperturbable cow on your right, grazing tirelessly, eyes blank. Now imagine your feet sinking into warm mud made of monsoon-dampened dirt. Around you are swells of an overpowering odour, a blend of entrails, manure, offal, carnations, humidness, flowers, klaxons, discomfort and wonder. Once you have conjured up this immersive and imaginative scene, you may proceed.

Note 88: Khajuraho
I have been looking at these charming statues sculpted on the temples for hours now. I can't help seeing an analogy with the late-Gothic ones on the Duomo back in Milan, which I love madly by the way. The comparison makes me laugh. The combination of apostles and Indian nymphs, what a potpourri of austerity and sensuality! I admire the layered structure of the temples divided into the four pursuits of life in Hinduism. Their observance leads to ascesis. One of them is kama, or desire. The temples are decorated with provocative statues dressed in girdles that make modern lingerie pale in comparison. I fall in love with the captivating poses. All of them lure me from every point with their eroticism and skilful use of their body. I am in ecstasy. Thighs, winking eyes, buttocks, breasts and mouths create a crescendo of excitement that blossoms into love. Obviously, as I look at all this flesh made of stone, my thoughts return to my beloved Santa Lucia, so chaste, so milky, so enrobed. I think of San Sebastiano, so pale, so languid, so pierced. I think of how subconsciously they teach us about the architecture and postures of statues we have around us in the city.

Sara Ricciardi, sketchbook, travel to India, 2018

Note 89: Khajuraho
I am greatly impressed by the naked Jain monastics present at the doors of the temples. Neither fabric nor moral obstacle stands between their bodies and the divine, between them and the light. They walk for years, read texts, live on offerings, do not eat anything that derives from animals, no life must be killed, they listen and meditate naked year-round, pilgrimaging from temple to temple. A true ascetic needs to not feel bound by needs; he must be exempt from common necessities. The Jain monks have beautiful wooden pitchers to drink water from, and a brush made of peacock feathers to sprinkle themselves with good fortune and clean themselves with the divine. I enjoy witnessing how the children listen to the Jain presence without any disturbance on the squares in front of the temples.

Sara Ricciardi, sketchbook, travel to India, 2018

Note 130: Nubra Valley
I have thought I was going to die at least 22 times. The cliffs here plunge downward from either side of the jeep, and the driver's nonchalance makes me fear the worst. The tyres are ten centimetres from the void. These are lethal ravines. Maybe now I should look upward and avoid thinking. Obviously, the road is not worthy of being called such. We are tossed around without mercy. I am in a shaker of dust and clouds. To not think of things too macabre, I give myself an exercise. I place my pen on the page for ten minutes without ever lifting it during the bumpy delirium of the crossing. A graph appears of this four-wheel-driven insanity. Internal organs have undergone major shifts from their habitual positions. If only I could have an ultrasound made now. I am convinced my spleen is clinging to one of my collarbones. What a coward I am. But we'll all survive, folks!

Note 15: New Delhi
I just ordered a mango lassi. I take a sip. An incredible, heavenly sensation expands softly over my palate. I dedicate the first five sips to an entire reconfiguration of my life. "I'll quit everything. Enough with design. I'll open a food cart back in Italy, all coloured and pulled by a cow. I'll sell 24-hour mango lassi." Then I could paint the sign with gaudy colours. "Uncle Shiva" it would say, with tiny cymbals hanging from it, tinkling to signal my arrival. I'd wear a saree uniform in an orange-and-fuchsia madras check as I quench the thirst of all Italy with sugary sweetness and Hindu prophecies flavoured with mango.

Sara Ricciardi, sketchbook, travel to India, 2018

Note 4: New Delhi
Someone please tell me how it is possible that these Indians are permanently blaring their klaxons. They don't just toot their horns to declare danger, but also to feel alive, I believe. A sort of Klaxon, ergo sum. If only an anthropologist could dedicate a doctorate dissertation to this socio-sonorous phenomenon.
I need to coat my brain with an impermeable layer of patience to survive the annoyance of these invasive decibels. What if automobile manufacturers replaced the terrible tones with a nice smooth B-flat? What a great concert it would be. In the street, at that! A crazy kind of jam session of jazzy steering wheels.

Sara Ricciardi, sketchbook, travel to India, 2018

Note 134: Tso Moriri
At the umpteenth checkpoint, as I produce my passport and visa on the road to Tso Moriri on the border with Pakistan, the Himalayas are stinging my eyes with their beauty. But then I see something else: a colourful truck, parked by the side of the road. I peer inside the driver's compartment shamelessly, and WOW, what a cabin! Colours everywhere, knick-knacks, ribbons, thermos flasks and glitter. I look for the calendar of nude ladies, but can't find it. I activate my baby-seal-eyes mode, babble a few invented Indian words asking the driver if I can go inside. He understands, and my dream comes true. We drink exquisite masala chai inside the outrageous nook. As we part, I promise that one day I will design an interior inspired by his truck cabin. Then I see the words on his license plate: "Where there is love, there is life". Mamma mia, such poets at the Indian department of motor vehicles!

And here I take leave of you with an invitation to love and discovery. India is surreal and intense. It puts you in a situation of deep introspection on what you are and what you really want. Highly recommended.

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