Thereby Hangs A Tail!

Sights and scenes from Ganpatiphule and nearabouts:

This is taken sitting inside a train at an unscheduled stop between Chiplun and Ratnagiri. Zoom in and observe the antics of a baby monkey in the center of the frame.

If not displayed above, view it here.

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At Chiplun railway station…it’s Sunday morning if you haven’t guessed already.

Waiting for a train that isn’t coming any soon?

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A busy street in market place, Ratnagiri

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A screen of trees providing cover – women bathing here! (kidding)

On the beach…decked for the evening out!

Folks, am done for the day!

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Sisters:

The blasé

The bashful one!

Riot…of colors in the wild!

The flamboyant pair!

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Thibaw Palace for a king who did not want to…more about it to follow.

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At Ratnagiri station…

Vareli paintings by Aniket Chiplunkar

And finally…

End

A (Re)Treat Unexpected At Swamimalai (K4)

Continued from here.

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Fauna:

These deer appear well-fed and healthy. File shots show children holding them up and petting.

Free roaming peacocks. Every morning, grains are strewn for them to feed. Their ‘screams’ are distinctly identifiable. When this one flew in and landed overhead, it sounded like the roof was coming down crashing.

A good number of ducks, big and small, spotlessly white and hued. A few turkeys too. They are not known to stray out of the resort perimeter despite the paths open to them!

(a file shot)

One wakes up in the morning to a chorus of calls of birds of many kinds. The show is repeated for our listening pleasure in the evening hours too!

At times snakes have been sighted emerging from the bushes though there’s no record of anyone, human or animal, suffering bites anytime.

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What really makes this place unique of its kind besides re-creating the rural ambiance of the past are those hundreds of objects/artifacts, small and big, painstakingly collected over the years, on display. Would do proud to any respectable museum.

It would take days and weeks just to look at them (many inside glass cases). And to think each one has a story to tell about its life!

Here’s a very small selection for you to sample the flavor.

Gone off the road long since:

A manually pulled rickshaw. These were last seen on the roads of Kolkata? File shots show guests taking a ride.

A bullock cart, still in use in some parts of the country. I recall riding a more common mono version of it when young in Srirangam. Years ago one of our premier institutes of management even researched on bettering the wheel design to make it easier on the animals.

No idea where these were used. Perhaps the forerunner of the modern day ‘cages’ used to ferry children to school? Though looks a little fragile for the rural roads.

A deliberate design for lovers in the park? On the left are grinding stones used in kitchens.

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Creative Designs:

Actually a rain water drain pipe!

A space-saving folding chic looking crib! Uses a pantograph like link mechanism.

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Now, for the stories:

Story 1:

This is ‘Chola Boy’ napping in his own bed. Notice something? He lost his forelegs two years ago in an accident. Now he is cared for at the resort.

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Story 2:

This is an icon of Ardhanari, a male cum female form of Shiva. Will let the placard tell the story below. Info about the icon and its making is in the last para preceded by explanation on the concept of male cum female. A metalurgical marvel – the flawless icon, a SEAMLESS composite of half bronze and half copper! Incidentally Swamimalai even today sustains the art of bronze iconography. The iconographer of this piece is no more, we learnt, but his son is active today carrying on with the art.

The male and female face and crown, Observe Shiva’s flaring braids.

The male and female lower torso. Look at the different embellishments.

A close-up of the female torso.

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Story 3:

A strange but true story below, in their own words, lightly edited:

‘’…A miraculous translocation of a worthy heritage monument, The Mint Palace, from Chennai to its present location in Swamimalai. 42 trucks, 120 conservation student volunteers, 40 craft masons, 30 labour persons and about 35 days of labour, a couple of crores of rupees and a few persuasive minds doubled with tons of passion and pride. Here is the story:

An oil wick lamp, placed on the roof of the officers’ mess, which was also the then Exchange Building (now the Fort Museum), served the vessels coming into the Madras port during the 17th and 18th century for the East India Company. As technology improved, a new flashing light consisting of argand layers and reflectors were ordered from the Chance Brothers, Birmingham, UK. This was to be placed in the lighthouse tower being constructed in the present high court campus. Interestingly, even before all this, the East India Company officers were looking for a tall building along the shores of the then Madrasapattinam within their territory to embed a traditional wick lighthouse to guide their cargo carrying sailboats.

One of their suppliers and minter, by name Bhansi Lal Rai Bahadur, owned the interesting tall building near the black town. While the consideration to fix the wick lamp here was on, the British officers arrived to reject the idea of the company men and position the same within the officer’s mess along the shore.

The said house was, at that point, known as the Mint Palace, for the simple reason, the street led to the government mint. In 1742, the second mint of the Madras Presidency was established in Chindadaripet, which was shifted into Fort St. George in 1792, alongside the existing mint established in 1695. These mints were finally closed down in 1869 to make way for the Government Press. But Mint Street once known as Thangasalai remains until this day housing several gold and silver dealers.

Even though the idea of positioning the wick lamp on top of the Mint Palace failed, the provisions created on the roof for this lighthouse was left behind and not removed. The good relationship between the East India Company and the owner of the house resulted in giving him the title of Rai Bahadur. The last owner was known a Bhansi Lal Abheerseth Bahadur.

Sadly, this beautiful building was razed to the ground in 2010 to make way for sale of the land and erection of another multi-storey complex; a real-estate compulsion…the resort acquired all the pieces of this beautiful building with the deep desire to erect it at a suitable location where it would live forever. Interestingly, unlike many other buildings in Chettinad, every pillar, jali frames and woodwork has been singularly edged in Rajasthan and transported to Chennai for this unique creation. No two columns are of the same dimensions…’’

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Story 4:

A cell where Subhash Chandra Bose was held captive in erstwhile Madras is dismantled and transplanted here. The placard tells the story (above and below)

(original)

Look how spacious…fit for some of today’s politicians!

Observe the redundant bolts in the locking mechanism.

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So it goes on…stories waiting to be uncovered!

May be it’ll be you to…

This is all we could cover in the short time – an hour here an hour there over the two days we stayed – we could steal from the hustle and bustle of a traditional marriage.

The website here provides a glimpse of what the retreat has to offer besides boarding and lodging – an amazing range of participative activities in local art and culture. Also has shots of select objects and collections.

A further incentive to visit: Swamimalai is close to Darasuram, Ganga Konda Chozhapuram and Thanjai Periya Koil (Brihathiswara Temple, briefly covered here), three World Heritage Sites, treasure houses of Dravidian art and architecture.

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PS: While the resort with its rooms, ameneties and service are plain commerce, the collection, in my view, should also get due attention with the support of trained and committed staff even if minimal.There’s room for organizing the objects better with informative placards. The general upkeep could also be tightened – saw here and there broken/damaged artifacts piled up carelessly. Some need unobtrusive touch-up. Of course it’s not easy to maintain such a large collection on daily basis without employing an army with attendant expenses. Also a nagging question: It would be sad to let the collection atrophy. Is it live and growing? Is it still a one man’s – Steve Borgia, Chairman and Managing Director, INDeco Hotels –  passion?

A Treat Unexpected At Swamimalai (K3)

To me the word ‘Resort’ conjures up images of a row of cabins laid out around a pool, some trees and lawns thrown in, some play gear and a sand pit for children, etc. etc.

So when last week we set to Swamimalai near Kumbakonam to attend my niece’s wedding, a two-day event, I was too jaded to have any real expectations as we checked into this resort. In fact it caused me a little concern to learn it is an acclaimed, award winning hotel providing authentic living experience of bygone years – too authentic? As was in those days, did it also include hurrying all the way to nearest ‘nature’ with a bucket of water in hand to attend to its ‘call’, keeping eyes and ears open for curious small animals from the bushes sniffing around?

My concerns were grossly unjust – the accommodation was both comfortable, with all of the ‘atmosphere’ it is credited and a lot more! An experience I would love living through once again!

This was our ‘room’!

Looks exactly like our house in the village did some fifty plus years ago. In fact it’s an old dwelling in the village of Thimmakudy, acquired and renovated, preserving its original aspects as far as possible, thanks to the initiative of a ‘possessed’ individual! The door opens into a fairly large sized room with beds, chairs, tables of the kind one had seen if ever only in ancestral homes, complemented by a noiseless AC, a colour TV, a rotary-dial phone and a geyser in the bathroom.

It’s the same with every structure – residences, pathways, courtyards, halls – in the resort as seen here:

(main reception)

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As you walk along, every now and then, you’re accosted…..by an icon, often full sized, in metal, terracotta…that you cant get tired of!

(a man of village)

(a woman of village)

(a village god)

(villager with bananas)

(Bhairava, a form of Shiva?)

(Lord Muruga, the presiding deity of Swamimalai, in bronze)

(Soorya, the sun god, in his chariot pulled by seven horses)

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Walls adorned with large and beautiful pictures and frescoes painted by local talent using natural colors:

(Thiruvikrama, an avatar of Vishnu, his feet on the head of Maha Bali)

(Shiva)

(a marriage scene from Mahabharata?)

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This is not all. What puts this resort in a class of its own, to follow!

End of Part 1