* “Memsahib” was used to refer to or address white women in India, especially during the period of British rule.
One of the many blessings of my career is the opportunity to collaborate with people who become friends.
Philippa Kaye is one such person – even though she lives on the other side of the planet. She’s a Brit who has lived in India for the past 20 years and founded a company called Indian Experiences. She also writes a fascinating blog called “Memsahib in India, and will soon publish a book, Girl India, a thinly-veiled memoir of her own life!
I had the pleasure to travel with Philippa seven years ago when I visited Darjeeling, in the northeast of India. I was scoping out the destination for a client (who, unfortunately, killed the project), and Philippa was the perfect person with whom to develop a customized itinerary. We had great fun and great chemistry. We are kindred spirits, for sure!
When it came time to plan my upcoming journey to India, there was no question who I would contact. Her task was, simply: “Let’s do India Different.” I’m thrilled with the result – and can’t wait to see everything come to fruition. Philippa will be joining our group – which will enhance the experience greatly.
Not to mention, she knows all the best places for G&T (gin & tonic, a quintessential British libation)!
I did a little Q&A with Philippa recently …
1. Why India?
“I stumbled upon India by accident, though in retrospect, I think that India found me. India does that, it turns you into someone who can’t help but feel the force of her nature.
I had just completed six ski seasons and decided it was time to return to the UK. I saw an advert in the back of a magazine for a travel specialist. I wasn’t one but had just spent six years traveling so I called. I was invited to lunch with three investors who wanted to set up a travel company but couldn’t decide on a destination. They offered me the job, I accepted and they said they would get back to me when they had a plan. Three months later, they called and asked if I had ever been to India. It had never entered my mind, but a week later I was in South India spending 6 weeks exploring Kerala and Karnataka. And the rest, as they say, is history!”
2. What plan did you have for your life before India entered the mix?
“I didn’t have a plan. I was a bit of a drifter. I had intended to do only one ski season but it turned into six. All my university friends had great jobs, earning lots of money. They were miserable. That never appealed to me.
I have always wanted to live in the moment and enjoy life, take it as it comes. It was one of the reasons I ended up moving here, the possibilities are endless. You can guarantee the weather, and where else in the world can see you heading off each weekend either to a beach, or to go trekking in the Himalayas, or heading out on a desert safari by jeep or camel or to ride priceless Marwari horses? Where else can you be entertained by a former maharaja, stay in palaces or forts or luxury tented camps, learn to cook Indian food in a charming homestay, find yourself in the jungle on a tiger safari?”
3. What’s been the most satisfying thing(s) about living in India?
“Gosh. Now that’s a question. It’s the people who make it for me. The encounters I have on a daily basis are a mixture of hilarious and humbling. It isn’t an easy country to live in and a lot of people have a tough life here, but the generosity and hospitality of even the poorest people is heart-warming. As my father said last year at the end of his first visit, ‘I have met the most extraordinary people who may not be rich in terms of material value, but who are rich in positive attitude and hearts and smiles.’ It’s true, I have never met a people more resilient or resourceful. When you come, you’ll see why.”
4. What is the most frustrating?
“In Delhi, it has to be the traffic and the timekeeping. People joke about IST (Indian Stretchable Time) but in Delhi, they take it to a whole new level. Ninety minutes late is considered on time! People just shrug and say, ‘That’s Delhi for you.’ Having said that, even my Indian friends say that I handle it better than they do. If you accept that things take time, life becomes a whole lot easier. If you expect things to work as they do in the west, you will drive yourself insane.Take a deep breath and carry on with something else in the meantime!”
5. Best travel experience(s)?
“First tiger in the wild? The first time I galloped a Marwari stallion across the desert in Rajasthan? Pouring beer from a teapot, into a cup and saucer in the days when alcohol wasn’t allowed in Kerala? Gazing in awe at the phenomenal temples in Tamil Nadu? Listening to the music and watching the rituals at sunrise on the ghats at Varanasi?
6. Favorite places in India?
“It’s true that one lifetime isn’t enough to travel the whole of India. Kerala will always hold a special place in my heart as it was the first place I visited, the people are so warm and welcoming and genuine and the friendships I made on that trip are still true to this day.
Being given the opportunity to get into the heart of this country and meet with the landed gentry as well as the villagers and being able to interact with them all and ask any questions about their life (well, almost any question!) was a wonderful experience. To be invited into people’s simple yet pristine homes and witness true ‘guest is god’ hospitality was an honor. And to realize that in visiting the rural areas rather than being confronted by poverty, one actually escapes it, was a discovery.
I know that people want to visit the main sites, but it’s my great joy to show and share the treasures they’ve never heard of!”