“I simply chose India. I liked the idea of a secular democracy and loved the culture,” says Australia-born writer-designer Fiona Caulfield, who made India her home in 2004.
Caulfield, the founder-CEO of the Love Travel Guides series designed for luxury vagabonds, says she thought of the project during a visit to Kolkata in May 2004. “I had an idea for a new kind of travel guide – one that uses time as the core currency and not budget,” she tells Little India.
Caulfield, who also contributes to the world’s leading travel publications, talks about how her travel guides came into being, what she likes — and dislikes — about Bengaluru, and more:
Trip to Kolkata
In 2004, I undertook a trip to the Everest Base Camp, after which I decided to visit Dhaka. I had to fly via Kolkata to get there so I took the opportunity to stay overnight and see a little bit of the city.
While I was there, I wanted to try local Bengali food. When I asked the concierge for help, he first directed me to the Thai restaurant and then to the 24-hour multi-cuisine restaurant inside the hotel. Upon clarifying that I wanted to leave the hotel and find local Bengali food, he seemed shocked and confused and ended up recommending an Indian restaurant in another 5-star hotel.
So I went to the hotel bookstore where a charming lady escorted me to the guidebook section with shelves lined with the regular mass market pan-India books. She sensed my disappointment, and asked what exactly I was after. She then wrote on a piece of paper the names of the three best Bengali restaurants in the city. I still have that paper with me. We discussed textiles and socially responsible craft centers and suddenly Kolkata was opening up!
I needed intimate knowledge of what made the city really zing: where did the people shop and eat and how did they live? Through this lady, I found it and began to fall in love with India.
Love Travel Guides
After Kolkata and Dhaka, I visited Bangkok where I sketched out a plan for a life in India and writing the kind of guidebooks that I wanted, now that I was committed to trekking and visiting more remote and interesting locations.
I quit my job in New York and arrived in India, homeless and unsure about where and how to begin. The universe helped me find friends, a home and a name for the books: LOVE.
I believed it was time to fall in love with places other than London, New York and Paris. Indeed, it was time to fall in love with Delhi, Bombay, Kolkata, and more. Love Travel Guides was formed and the first book, Love Bangalore, appropriately went on sale on Valentine’s Day in 2007.
Since then the range of these handcrafted books has expanded to six titles, the most recent being Love Mumbai 5th edition, which was launched this month. I never thought I would run a business that needed carbon paper.
Because of clients wanting to tap into my in-depth knowledge of India, I began offering travel design services in 2014, creating travel experiences for discerning private clients.
I am also expanding services to Sri Lanka in 2019 and working on a Love Sri Lanka book.
We are committed to being conscious of the society and the country we are visiting and believe in contributing to it in a meaningful way.
Ten percent of the profits are distributed among organizations and charities that undertake social and/or environmentally sustainable work in India. We hope that our work gives a deeper and more meaningful connection with a destination.
Same, Same but Different
I think India has taught me not to have expectations. It has exceeded any expectations that I once had and is beyond anything I could have imagined.
I like the smell of jasmine and coffee. I like seeing the flowering trees. I like eating dosas. I like the feel of dappled sunshine through a rain tree. I like drinking fresh coconut water. I love flower markets at dawn.
I like living in India’s “city of the future.” I like the smart people. I dislike the traffic. Something I find a little odd is the love affair with shopping malls.
Everything is “same, same but different.” Australians and Indians have so much in common — a love of laughter, of great food, a core belief in democracy, freedom of speech, secular societies. And a shared passion for the highest religion — cricket!
I have experienced incredible generosity of spirit and am in awe of how a country of over a billion people operates so peacefully.
I attended the Maha Kumbh Mela in 2013 on the most auspicious bathing day, when the crowds were estimated to be more than double the whole population of Australia. It was incredible to experience this sea of humanity; peaceful, spiritual and simply amazing.
A Constant Pleasure
India keeps me curious and keeps me wondering. I feel I have grown intellectually and emotionally since I began living here.
I cannot ever imagine not having a close relationship with India, I feel grateful to the country for nurturing my curiosity, encouraging me to experience and learn new things.
Living in India is a constant pleasure; it is the reason I stay. I love the intensity of life here. When I leave India, it feels like someone has turned the volume down and flicked the switch from color to black and white.
The interview has been condensed and edited.
Expat Voice is regular column on expats in India. Email us at email@example.com to nominate yourself or another expat for the column.