Land of the rainbows
Argentina was at the forefront of my travel plans. But as luck would have it, I was invited to show at the Buenos Aires Alta Moda (BAAM) earlier this year. The Synthetic and Rayon Textile export Promotion Council (SRTEPC) of the Government of India along with the Argentinian government invited Anita Dongre and me to have a fashion show in Buenos Aires. An opportunity to show my creations, be a part of a delegation representing India, as well as travel to a new destination was a perfect blend. The journey began with a great deal of excitement as I boarded the Mumbai-Johannesburg flight stretched out in my plush seat. Travel is a great way to open your mind, but a long plane ride is a great way to de-clutter. Suspended in air, 35000 feet above terra firma, somehow makes you automatically detach from daily woes, with just flutes of Moet and noise-proof phones blocking the clutter of mundane everyday chaos.
At, the Johannesburg Airport it was easy to get distracted by duty free…I nearly missed the connection to Buenos Aires, failing to catch the announcement while checking out zebra skins and beaded jewellery! What followed naturally was an action-film like frenzied dash to the gate; neither chic nor fashionably late. Just plain hysterical and rather pitiable.
Buenos Aires stretched before us: wide avenues, rain and green landscape. Tango, a sense of nostalgia and the world’s best steak awaited us.
Fashion follows a certain rhythm throughout the world and fittings are the same everywhere. Models, clothes, sizing, hangers, shoes…a mad scramble. The show in Buenos Aires went off beautifully with the people loving the colours, textures and freshness of the clothes. It makes you feel very proud and privileged – being Indians we have a culture that’s our own, an aesthetic that’s very individual and refined and a point of view that’s solely ours!
Exploring the night markets, eating at small roadside cafes, learning the intricacies of the Argentinan way of eating, great wines and beautiful people! (If you are a vegetarian, the options are not much more than salads, with some pasta and fries if you are lucky!)
For the rest, there are heavenly tastes that abound. Chorizo (spicy pork or beef sausage), asado (whole carcass of beef grilled) or cordero (lamb) greet the discerning diner. At the ranch-style restaurant, La Estancia, we found the meats to be fresh, superbly grilled and served with a spicy sauce called chimichuri to dip in. The cuisine may lack in variety but the food is wholesome, non-pretentious and fresh.
Buenos Aires is nostalgic, beautiful in parts, extremely chic and yet surprising. Palermo, La Recoletta, the boat ride on the Tigre River and backwaters, a fabulous sit-down lunch at the Gato Bianco, small lanes to explore in the Technicolor la Boca, and a fantastic leather goods and antiques market are what one takes back from the ‘Paris of the South’. It truly is a city that’s contemporary and yet has retained its character, where the future and past co-exist wonderfully.
Argentina itself is a very large country. We began our trip with the spectacular Iguazu Falls in the north, which are on the border along with Brazil. The Iguazu waterfalls are in a lush tropical jungle. We saw a Toucan soaring above the forest canopy below us, when landing. It was really like being in the Amazon jungle (though the Iguazu is not a part of the Amazonian rainforest).
Consisting of more than 250 cascades, the Iguazu falls are viewed from both the Argentina and Brazil side (both spectacular) with the boat ride taking you under the waterfalls on the Argentina side. The fact that we saw a caiman in the water definitely added to the thrill. Also amazing was seeing huge swarms of butterflies all over the forest especially on the water’s edge, while we sipped on the most amazing Caipirinhas with sugarcane cachaça!
From Iguazu, we flew to the central part of Argentina that includes San martin, Villa La Angostura and the seven lakes trail. It’s almost reminiscent of the Lake District with endless connected big lakes, fog, rains and a totally different topography from Buenos or Iguazu. It was rather like a posh resort in Europe with tourists, cafes and a holiday feel to the towns. We also checked out the magnificent forest of Les Arrayanes, made up of a special kind of tree. It was a great place to spend time and re-connect with family.
The next stop was the lovely city of Bariloche; nestled on the banks of the Nuahel Huapi Lake which is many hundred kilometres long! It is superbly blue and almost like a sea. Bariloche also is essentially a chic resort for the well heeled, with a sense of relaxation. It almost has the air of a hill station in India: think a main market with a busy road and hotels. The mind-boggling Llao Llao hotel on the outskirts is one of the most exclusive hotels in the world and is the star attraction. Not to forget that it’s the town for the chocolate lovers of the world! The main street is lined with the best chocolate shops…La Turista, Mamushcka, and Rapa Nui among others. It was Easter week; it seemed the entire population was living off chocolate – which is not necessarily a bad thing! Don’t miss the hot chocolate at Rapa Nui.
A particular spot in Bariloche has been rated as the seventh best view in the world by the National Geographic magazine…deservedly so. Kilometres of forest, lakes and the most amazing landscape and particularly windy and freezing. The 360-degree mountain top spectacular views come with a price – battling the wind!
El Calafate is a town in the middle of the desert with Chile as a neighbour. The plane journey throws up the most stunning views of endless desert with hues of browns, black, grey dotted with water bodies of mineral-rich water in green and blue! Calafate doesn’t have much in terms of sightseeing, but the main attraction are the mind-boggling Perito Moreno and Upsala Glaciers away from town. Huge frozen rivers of ice – hundreds of feet high and millions of years old. There were colonies of flamingoes right behind my room in the hotel at the waters edge, which made for some lovely pictures.
The downside of all this fabulous journeying: the hectic travel, ceaseless work of fashion week in Mumbai before leaving, spending a whole day on the deck of the boat taking photos in sub-zero temperature, glacial waters and bergs had given me a nasty fever and left me shivering under a duvet with antibiotics for a couple of miserable days.
But, Ushuaia beckoned…the city closest to the South Pole. Although Bariloche is also a part of the famed Patagonia…it’s only in Ushuaia that one sees the full splendour. Autumnal colours covering forests of beech and maple, the entire landscape a flaming red and auburn, with mossy green and brown dotting it…. Ushuaia was cold, beautiful and magical, leaving me with the realisation of how far away from home I really was.
We did a day cruise through the famed Beagle Channel and saw colonies of seals, sea lions and cormorants. The choppy seas, the grey skies and wind did nothing to dampen the joy of seeing creatures perfected for the environment that they live in. Just last year I had travelled to Alaska and it was uncanny how similar in some ways, the northern and southern tips of the planet are!
The return to Buenos Aires was a picture-perfect finish to the trip, with one last walk around the lanes and markets and a languid evening culminating in a café. If fashion had not found me, I would have been a wildlife photographer or perhaps a chef…so this trip was a fulfillment of all the three of my interests.