I must confess I have just returned from a long adventure to the south of India. It was a trip I had been dreaming of for a long time. With a BIG BIRTHDAY on the horizon, my dear husband jumped on board and plans were made. Before I knew it we were off on almost a month’s journey and adventure.
I need to take a moment to sing the praises of India Someday, the tour group that planned my trip with me. The company, headed by Abbas Slatewala, is a relatively new travel organization out of Mumbai and pride themselves on offering a very personal approach to the vacations they plan for their clientele. This was truly ideal for us and I can sincerely recommend using them. They also know the best tour guide in Mumbai, a gal named Hemali Talsania who’s business is called Bravo Bombay. You really feel like you are walking around with a good friend when she takes you out, as she goes that extra distance to make everything she takes you to see relevant and full of all sorts of personal details.
Today I am going to write about some design/ architectural highlights of the trip. As you can imagine, much of what I saw was extremely inspiring and thought provoking. One must also remember that Southern India is quite different from the more famous northern areas of Delhi and Rajasthan. Let’s take a look at some things that stood out in my mind while having this fabulous adventure in the land of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
We began our trip in Mumbai and stayed at the infamous Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, the one that had been attacked by terrorists in 2008. The hotel has been restored to all its original grander but you cannot enter it without going through a security check point. No problem for us. The hotel was originally built in 1903 and is a handsome building full of luxurious, old world Indian interior architectural detailing.
Next on to the city/state of Pondicherry, which is unique in that it was originally a French colony and, although no longer French, it still maintains it’s “Frenchness” today. The city is actually divided into an Indian section and a French section and the locals refer to them as such. In the French section you will see colorful Mediterranean style houses, many of them which are being renovated and brought back to their original glory. Our hotel, Palais de Mahe, was a prime example of a building that had been constructed to replicate the old French buildings of the city. Wealthy Indians purchase vacation residences and the real estate prices reflect the desirability of the city. It is truly lovely and the French style architecture makes for chic, romantic hotel stays.
Further south there are fabulous Chola dynasty temples built in the 11th and 12th centuries…they really are quite awe inspiring, I must say. We visited many of these sites as we traveled through the state of Tamil Nadu, but the most outstanding architectural achievement of the Cholas is the “Big Temple” in Thanjavur, also known as the Brihadisvara temple. It’s mere size and carvings…the entire temple is covered in symbolic and religious carvings…are daunting.
Continuing through Tamil Nadu we then visited the Chettinad area. This is where one can also see the stunning 18th century mansions constructed by the wealthy Chettiar businessmen, who were inspired by the architecture and materials used in East Asia and Europe when they constructed their homes. These magnificent mansions, although no longer inhabited by the original families, are in many cases still owned by these families, and are available for tours given by resident housekeepers for a small fee. Some are just kept in the family to be utilized as a place to hold the marriage celebrations of their children. We had the great fortune to stay several days at Saratha Villas, a mansion that has been restored by two Frenchmen and now functions as a boutique hotel. Experiencing the graceful style of life associated with this beautiful home was quite a delicious experience.
The state of Kerela, located on the southwest corner of India was a total surprise. Instead of all of the small huts and flimsy dwellings we saw primarily as we traveled through the country side from further north, we were surprised to find an abundance of brightly painted, cleverly design concrete and wood homes, that actually looked as if there might have been an architect involved in the process. They were completely charming and definitely in keeping with the warm tropical climate of the area and the beautiful beaches lined up against the gorgeous Arabian Sea. I was quite taken with the designs of the houses and made our driver stop every two minutes so I could take a picture!
Last, but not least, I need to talk about an unusual home in Mumbai. Believe it or not, it is not a house but a 27 story skyscraper. It is called Antilia and it is the home to Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries. According to what I have read, it is the most expensive private home in India and for that matter the world. I was told he employs 600 people in order to keep it running, what with its 6 stories of underground parking, three helicopter pads, cinema, health club and gym, dance studio and ballroom. And let us not forget the guest rooms and ordinary rooms he and his wife and three children occupy. It is a modern edifice with a strange design built right in the center of Mumbai, and it jauntily juts up above smaller buildings in the area. Ironically enough, adjoining the property next door is a rundown, ramshackle cluster of stores. Go figure. If I had his money I’d want to live with more privacy and in a place more alluring. But that’s what makes horse racing they say!
I thought this building merited an informative slideshow so here you go:
Stay tuned for some more posts on my trip to India…
Ciao, ciao ’til next time!