Walking around Lacock village

A couple of months ago, I visited Wiltshire on holiday and decided to stay at the lovely village of Lacock for a couple of days. The key museum highlight of the village is of course Lacock Abbey and the Fox and Talbot museum, which I have shared in a separate post. In this post, I am focusing on the special highlights of my stay in the village and my morning walks around the village.

Each morning, I woke up to a view of a private garden that I had labelled the secret garden. I would have loved to explore that garden, if I had had the permission of its owner.

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After making myself a hot cup of tea, I would go out for my much treasured morning walks, exploring the village without a soul in sight. The village is tiny with just four main streets in a grid like pattern, so I invariably ended up walking around several times during my stay.

The medieval village of Lacock was built around St. Cyriac’s chuch. The base of the current church was built in the 11th century, though there has been renovations made across the centuries.

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Close to the church is King John’s hunting lodge, said to have been used by the King when hunting in the Melksham forest that surrounded the village then. The 13th century hunting lodge, which still has some of its original beam structure, is now a tea room. It was closed for renovations during my visit.

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I took the tiny street near the church, leading towards Nethercote hill, and came upon the packhorse bridge over Bide brook. The packhorse bridge was the first bridge of its kind that I had seen. So, while I guessed that the path leading into and out of the brook was for carts carrying market goods, I had to read about it to learn that it had been used for packhorses during the wool trade heydays of the village.

Instead of continuing down Nethercote hill or taking the Lover’s walk footpath trail, I turned back and walked back along Church street. I passed Lacock bakery, which I had visited during the afternoon of the previous day to indulge in a sweet pastry.

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Near the end of Church street, close to the main road, I came upon the Sign of the Angel, which had been a 15th century inn and was now a restaurant with rooms to board. Later in the day, when I was walking along the street, I saw tour groups gathering outside the inn and the tour leader was referencing Harry Potter so I guess this place must have been one of the many places in Lacock that was used in the movie. I was more interested in the fact that the village was used to depict Meryton village in Pride and Prejudice (the 1995 BBC miniseries).

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From the corner of Church street and West Street, it was lovely to see my rooms above Quintessentially English and I wished that the cars had not been parked on the road, so I could imagine that I had traveled back in time.

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Walking along West Street, I passed George Inn, which had been highly recommended for their food by Ollie and where I had planned to have one of my dinners but never did get around to it. George Inn has continued to be a bustling inn since it obtained its license in 1361.

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Turning on to High Street, I passed the National Trust shop and Red Lion inn.

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While I did not try out all three main inns in Lacock as I had originally planned to, I did have a lovely meal at the Red Lion. I am a fan of the chunky chips that is served in England.

Opposite Red Lion, at the start of East Street was the medieval tithe barn. This was the place where taxes was collected in the form of 10% of farm produce.

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At one end of the barn was a small holding cell, which had been used to hold people overnight, who had too much to drink.

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The next door village hall is used for community events.

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Returning to High Street and walking further in the direction of the abbey, one passes the playing field managed by the Lacock Parish council.

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The High Street curves around the low walls and perimeter fence of the abbey grounds and onto Hither Way. I enjoyed my views of Lacock Abbey and its grounds, from the road.

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I walked up to the Wharf and Lacock bridge. This bridge has been in use since the 14th century and I read that it is sometimes inaccessible due to floods.

I became fond of the little village from my morning walk explorations during the two days that I stayed there and would highly recommend an overnight stay or more, rather than a day trip to the village. It adds to the experience of exploring Lacock Abbey.

A special highlight of my stay in the village was my accommodation. From the moment I saw Snoozums on AirBnB, I knew I had to stay there when I visited Lacock. Fortunately, the place was available on the days I planned to visit and it was right in the heart of the village,  above a shop opposite the bus stop.

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Quintessentially English is a delightful shop that Jacqui Sheard founded, so that she could make her passion for crafting handmade organic soaps her profession. The lovely scents of different bath products greeted me as I entered the shop upon arrival. I was soon ushered next door and up the stairs, to Snoozums, the apartment I would be staying at.

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It was a lovely space with a living area, cosy bedroom and a private bathroom. Jacqui left a huge breakfast basket for me as well as some of the bath product goodies in the welcome tray.

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In addition to my delight at staying at the cosy and comfortable apartment in a historic building, I enjoyed interacting with Jacqui and her husband, David. I also enjoyed helping Ollie with packing some of their Christmas orders and learnt about different bath products, in the process. Jacqui was very generous that she gave me an extra night’s stay free of cost, for helping them out with the Christmas orders, and dropped me at Chippenham for my onward journey at the end of my stay.

[Linking this post to Faraway Files #19 and The Weekly Postcard]

Suitcases and Sandcastles
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En-route to Udaipur and the City Palace

The last city that we visited on this trip was Udaipur, or the lake city. The best part of this leg of the trip was the scenic drive from Jodhpur to Udaipur, through forested areas. We stopped at a durry weaver’s cottage to observe the weaving and decided to buy a small hand-woven carpet, though we had not planned to buy one or even heard of durry weaving before visiting that cottage.

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We then stopped at a small restaurant for a light lunch of chappathis and Marwari vadi. We drove past breathtaking hills, past natural reserves, at one time the adivasi (indigenous people) settlement area. Our driver recommended us visiting a 15th century Jain temple in Ranakpur, even though it was not part of our itinerary. We agreed and found our first visit to a Jain temple fascinating. The religion is based on the three principles of non-violence, non-absolutism and non-possessiveness and has an emphasis on vegetarianism. There were some people walking about the temple, with pieces of white cloth tied over their mouth. I thought it was to maintain silence but I read that it was to prevent the killing of insects or other micro organisms unknowingly, while breathing. Yes, this religion is a tough one to practice because one needs to even watch carefully where they walk so they don’t harm an ant.

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There were numerous picturesque villages along the way, which fired one’s imagination and I wish we had spent more time in some of those villages. At one point, our driver stopped the car and said, ‘old way of irrigation. you take picture’. I observed a bullock team walking around in circles, turning a wheel which in turn drew water out of a well.

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By the time we reached Hotel Rajdharshan in Udaipur, it was evening and we decided that we would prefer to go on a boat ride on Lake Pichola that evening and go on the guided tour the next day. The boat bookings was however full that evening so we ended up exploring the bazaar area around our hotel.

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The next morning, we drove to the City Palace. We entered through the Sun door and came across a board hung at the entrance with the names of the different rulers of Udaipur and their reigning period. A line had been drawn under the name of the Maharana who had been responsible for building the palace. Maharana Udai Singh II is credited with beginning the construction of the palace in the 16th century and the expansion was continued over the centuries, through his successors.

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The city palace is considered the second biggest palace in India, after Mysore Palace.

thoran pol at Udaipur Palace.JPGThe Maharana of Udaipur, Maharana Bhupal Singh, was the first ruler to have handed over his property to the Indian Government at the time of Independence. He was actively involved in the politics of the time and one can visit the room where Nehru and others gathered at Udaipur palace to discuss political issues. Maharana Bhupal Singh became the first Chief of State of Rajasthan. Due to a spinal disorder, the Maharana was disabled from a young age and therefore had an elevator installed to enable him to move from his chambers to the public area. As the Mewars liked symmetry, another door was built alongside the elevator door, but which was a dummy.

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After the city palace tour, we visited Sahelion Ki Bari, an early 18th century summer garden for the royal women and had been built so that they would have a relaxing place away from the court.

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It was soon time to check out of our hotel and take the flight to Delhi, for a final evening in the city at our own leisure.

This Golden Triangle trip, which gave my mother and I a first glimpse of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, still remains my best travel memory.

[Linking this post to Weekend Travel Inspiration]

Lacock Abbey and grounds

It was a photo tour of Lacock abbey, by Clare at Suitcases and Sandcastles, that inspired me to add the abbey to the list of places I planned to visit during my trip to England last year.

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Lacock abbey has a very fascinating history. Ela, the Countess of Salisbury, was a wealthy heiress who became the countess suo jure or in her own right, and not by marriage, in 1196. She did marry that same year, at the age of 9, and her husband became the Earl of Salisbury by marriage. A few years after her husband’s death, Ela founded Lacock Abbey in 1229 and laid its first stone in 1232. She joined the abbey as a nun in 1238 and became its first Abbess in 1242. To ensure that the village around the abbey thrived, she obtained a charter from the King which allowed a weekly market to be held in Lacock.

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During the dissolution of the monasteries, Sir William Sharington bought the abbey and converted it into a house in the mid 16th century. Despite the demolition and construction work that took place, the cloisters remained as it was in Ela’s time. The Abbey soon passed into the Talbot family, when Sharington’s niece, to whom the property was willed, married John Talbot. In the mid 18th century, the house underwent alterations in the Gothic revival style.

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The abbey was gifted to the National Trust in 1944 by Matilda Gilchrist-Clark, who inherited it from her uncle Henry Talbot, the son of William Henry Fox Talbot, who contributed to the history of photography by developing the photographic negative process. A museum on photography is housed at the barn at the abbey gates and you can see the copy of the world’s first negative taken by Talbot in 1835 here. The negative is of a window at Lacock Abbey.

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My visit to the Abbey was in winter and so only the cloisters and the grounds was open to visitors, and not the house. However, as my primary fascination about the place was centered around its medieval history, it worked out well for me.

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The entrance to the cloisters was adorned with Christmas decorations and the staff were at work decorating the passageways, as I explored it.

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The Chapter House is a section of the cloisters, which has been well preserved. This room was where the nuns gathered every day and read a chapter from the Rule of St. Benedict for Benedictines and Cistercians.

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If not for Septimus, the kid’s guide to the cloisters, urging one to watch out for the creatures that came alive at night, I might have missed out a closer look of the ceiling bosses. I spotted the swan but not the seahorse or the mermaid. It would have been fun had the adult’s guide also included ‘spot the object’ games.

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The niche in the wall, which once held books, was also interesting. Since books were very expensive during the Middle ages, they were often locked or chained to the shelves.

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The warming house was one of two places at the abbey, which had a fireplace. Visitors were therefore shown to this room, after being received in the parlour. The nuns’ dormitory was above this room so that the warmth from the room would reach them. The huge cauldron, dated 1500, was originally a cooking cauldron before becoming a garden ornament in the 18th century.

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With the quiet surrounding the cloisters, it was very easy to imagine how it must have been like during the time that the nuns were in residence at the abbey.

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Emerging from the cloisters, I decided to walk around the abbey grounds, circling the abbey. The grounds were well maintained and a beautiful place to walk around.

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I passed a deep and still pool, as I walked along the grounds carpeted with the fallen leaves.

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The Rockworks was a mid 18th century creation, built as a mock ruin for those walking the grounds to come upon.

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Other highlights of the abbey grounds was the rose garden, the botanic gardens and the kitchen gardens. The kitchen gardens were used, since the time of the nuns, to produce food for the abbey residents. The botanic gardens were a special endeavour of Henry Fox Talbot, who was a keen botanist in addition to being a keen photographer.

Walking back to the entrance gate, I stepped into the Fox Talbot museum, which was opened in 1975 in the barn, used as stables in the 16th century. The ground floor gallery showcases the history of photography, while the first floor displays temporary photography exhibitions.

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Henry Talbot became interested in photography when he became frustrated with his artistic efforts to capture the scenes he and his wife saw on their honeymoon travel across Europe in 1833. Returning to Lacock, he started thinking about how the image reflected onto ground glass from a camera lucida could be permanently captured, without having to trace its outlines. His chemistry experiments led him to develop light sensitive papers which could be used to leave contact prints of opaque objects, which he called sciagraphs. It was in 1835 that his experiments of using sensitive coated paper and a modified camera obscura led to the development of the world’s first negative. However, he did not publish his results and in 1839, Louis Daguerre announced his independent findings and came to be known as the father of photography.

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While I had heard of a daguerrotype, which was the first commercially successful photographic process, I had not heard of the calotype, Talbot’s invention and modification of his earlier work in 1835, and which he had patented in 1841. So, it was with interest that I explored the Fox Talbot museum in Lacock.

The Lacock Abbey has certainly had a very interesting history from its medieval beginning as an abbey for nuns and then as a site for early photography experiments.

What features of Lacock Abbey is of most interest to you? 

[Linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #18]

An overnight stay in Jodhpur

Driving along the grand National Highway 8, connecting Delhi to Mumbai, we passed Ajmer on the way to Jodhpur. Ajmer is home to the shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. Dev, our driver, mentioned that the city was also famous for its nearby marble market in Makrana. It was marble from this region that was used in the building of the Taj Mahal.

The sun was beating down on us as we moved further towards the Thar desert. The landscape being drier, though still without the sand dunes that would have been prevalent in Jaisalmer. We had difficulty keeping our eyes open and we were worried that our driver might also doze off. I was keen on not getting into a road traffic accident a second time and kept checking in the mirror to confirm Dev was awake as well. My mother was finding the heat very taxing for her eyes and I was wishing the car windows had been tinted or had some shades to provide some relief from the desert heat.

We stopped midway for a lunch of vegetable pilau and spinach and paneer curry under a tent. We eventually reached Jodhpur and were taken to Meharangarh fort.

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We met our Rajput guide at the entrance of the fort, which was built in 1459. It was a steep climb to enter the fort and by the time we came to what looked like the entrance, the guide told us that we were on the 15th floor of the fort. Gasping for breath, we were thankful for the guide’s lecture to give us a minute of rest. The guide paused by a plaque and pointed to the opposite side of the fort wall, where it looked as if someone had patched up a square hole in the wall of the fort. The guide said that at the time that the fort was built, the King had been adviced that if a man was buried alive in the foundation of the fort, the fort would withstand the test of time and onslaught of enemies. The King’s Meharan (palanquin-bearer) volunteered to be the sacrificial being and the patch was the last stone placed as he was buried alive. While the story of the sacrificed man is true, it is not clear whether the fort derived its name from the buried man or the Rajasthani word for sun, which the ruling clan was connected with. It was a ghastly tale of origin for such a magnificent fort that still stood strong and powerful.

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Walking up the ramparts, we had a partial view of the city below and we saw the reason why it was also known as the blue city. Most houses were painted in dark blue as the high caste brahmins of Jodhpur liked painting their houses blue.

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We first visited the fort museum. In one section, there was a display of palanquins that had been used over time. The one that stood out was a more recent one specially made for the King’s mother, for her visit to England. Her palanquin was fashioned as a telephone booth. I can’t imagine how she could have been comfortable travelling in that booth though.

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The next section was the royal cradle museum, in the former women’s section of the palace, which had some of the cradles that had been used in the royal family. A more recent contraption was the electric cradle that was gifted, by the Department of Public Health, to the newborn Maharajah in 1948. The cradle was designed such that it would automatically swing, when it was switched on.

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It was also from this room that the married women, who still had living husbands, threw rose petals at the Maharajah and his retinue, when he left for or returned successfully from a war. Women whose husbands had passed away were considered inauspicious. Among the exhibits in this room, another interesting exhibit was a display of dumbbells, which the guide mentioned had been provided by the Maharajah to the royal women so that they could exercise and keep fit, despite being confined to their zenana. There was also a painting of the women exercising with the dumbbells.

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We visited a couple of apartments open to the public: the Phool Mahal, or the entertainment hall of the Maharajah; the Maharajah’s apartment and the hall of public audience. The artist who had designed Phool Mahal had died midway and the King had left the hall unfinished as it was, in memory of the artist.

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From the fort, we saw a smaller monument a slight distance away, which we were told was Jaswant Thada or the crematorium of the royal family. As we left the fort, we saw at the entrance gateway, small hands imprinted into the wall. The guide said that they were the hands of the women who had committed sati and that sati originated in Rajasthan, during the Mughal invasion era. The practice was initiated to prevent the abuse of the women at the hands of invading armies, once their King had been killed. While the suicide practice had been initially a voluntary one, it soon became part of the culture, especially among the nobility, and women who had lost their husbands were expected to commit suicide. The practice was only banned in 1952. It was horrible to think of the women, who had placed their hands on the wall as a last imprint of their existence before burning themselves on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands.

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The tour operator had booked Mandore Guesthouse in Jodhpur, which had been one of the places I had specifically requested for during this tour. I was interested in Mandore guesthouse for two reasons: that it offered a traditional Rajasthani hut-style accommodation at a family-run guesthouse and secondly, because the guesthouse owners ran a  community volunteer programme in the nearby Bishnoi village.

Mandore, the former Marwar capital, is about half-an-hour away from the city area. Myth has it that it is the birthplace of Princess Mandodri, the wife of King Ravana of Sri Lanka, in the Ramayana. We visited the nearby Mandore gardens, where the cenotaphs of the Maharanis were. In front of the entrance to the garden, there were many stalls set up. It being the day after Eid, the festivities were still continuing in the neighbourhood. The gardens seemed a popular hang-out place for the locals as much as it was for the langurs.

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After our short walk in the gardens as we were not too keen to be wandering around the cenotaphs at dusk, we returned to the entrance area. We spotted a boy playing some lovely folk music on a traditional Rajasthani musical instrument. My mother was very much taken by the music and the string instrument so we asked the boy where we could get a similar instrument. The boy replied that the instrument was 500 rupees but he wouldn’t sell it, as it was his living. We weren’t able to make him understand that we were not trying to buy it from him but from the place he had it made or had bought from, so we gave up and returned to the guesthouse.

We were a little early as we had requested dinner at the guesthouse around 7-7.30p.m. so we decided to sit in the garden till it was ready. The proprietor of the guesthouse introduced himself and spoke to us about the village and his days growing up there. As a poor boy growing up in the village, he said he dreamt of speaking English and wearing trendy clothes and had to endure jokes made by his college mates, when he went there on a bicycle. He was proud of all he had achieved since then and especially of his initiative of giving back to his community. The idea for the guesthouse and tourism venture, he said, sprung from his strong feeling that the palaces and forts though a great testament to the past were not where life was and that India, the current, living India was found elsewhere among the rural communities. It was with this opinion that he had founded his tour company, which offered tours to rural villages. He added that he felt that tourism should be a two-way process, not just tourists coming and enjoying sites but contributing meaningfully to the communities they visit. He felt that his venture provided that by combining short volunteer programmes in surrounding villages, which enabled the voluntourist to experience village life first hand and get to know the residents. He said that to make it more attractive for the volunteer, he incorporated special interest themes, like learning puppet-making or henna designs or cooking into the volunteer programme, to enable a cultural learning as well.

When he initially started his community tourism concept, he said it had been difficult to sell the idea to major travel operators in Delhi. However, over the years, his venture had built its own name for the volunteering programmes and had even been mentioned in the previous year’s Lonely Planet guide (2005) and he had been invited to attend a conference organized by ILO and UNCDF on responsible tourism in Bangkok. Most of the people who visited the place, he said, were those who had been recommended the place by others who had come earlier.

Dinner was announced and he invited us over to the table that had been set up for us in the garden. His lovely daughter-in-law served us the home-cooked dinner which did not taste like the Rajasthani meals we had on the road or at the hotels, but very much Sri Lankan (rice with dhal, okra curry, potatoes, pappadam). The garden was lovely but full of mosquitoes and we were slightly worried with all the dengue news going about in India.

Finishing our dinner, we went back to our cottage. The accommodation was as described in the webpage, but the only drawback was that in the middle of the night, the a/c stopped working and it became extremely uncomfortable, as there was no window. The walls seemed to have absorbed the heat of the day and were releasing it in the night.

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Despite the air conditioning system that stopped working and the uncomfortable, sleepless night, it was a lovely stay due to the wonderful hospitality of the family and their responsible tourism venture, which I enjoyed more than my visit to the fort.

[Linking this post to Weekend Travel Inspiration, City Tripping #66 and Faraway Files #21]

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Untold Morsels

A Tour of No 11 Residence

My former office had been down Bagatalle Road, so I used to come to this road daily for seven years. Yet, I had not visited the No 11 Residence. A home turned into a museum. Ever since I learnt that Seema Malakaya had been designed by Geoffrey Bawa, I started paying attention to other places he had worked on. I finally decided this week it was time to visit his home, which has been turned into a museum managed by the Geoffrey Bawa Trust.

Geoffrey Bawa (1919 – 2003), for those who haven’t heard of him, was Sri Lanka’s renowned architect. He had studied to be a lawyer in England, following his father’s footsteps, but realized when he returned to Sri Lanka that it was not what he wanted to do. He eventually discovered his passion and became an architect towards his late 30s.

No 11 was his home in Colombo, a place he re-modelled after purchasing four row houses at the end of the lane. The house museum is available for public viewing by appointment. Since the management has taken a lot of effort to maintain the house exactly as it had been during Bawa’s time, the curator is quite sensitive about viewers not touching any objects, which can be a bit difficult if traveling with kids.

When I arrived for my tour, I was led to a waiting hall next to the former home office of Geoffrey Bawa, where there were around ten others waiting for the tour to start. I was given my invoice for the tour as well as a brochure on the house. The curator then started the tour with a short documentary, which focused on the remodeling of the No 11 residence undertaken by Geoffrey Bawa.

Following the documentary screening, we took the stairs to the terrace. Towards the latter part of his life, when it became too difficult for Bawa to walk up the stairs, a lift had been installed in the house.IMG_2813.JPG

The rooftop terrace had been one of Geoffrey Bawa’s favourite places to sit in the evenings.

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We walked down the stairs, passing the floor with the guest suite. The guest suite is now rented out to anyone wishing to stay at the house. It was not part of the viewing tour though. So, we made our way back down to the ground floor and walked towards Geoffrey Bawa’s living area. While no photography was allowed inside the living area, we were allowed to take photos along the corridor.

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One of his trademark design was the use of corners, allowing for natural light to filter through and green trees and ponds to cool the spaces.

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This corner of the house led to his private apartment and the curator mentioned that the pillars were Chettinad style pillars.

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The corner opposite the Chettinad pillars had a couple of chairs designed by Geoffrey Bawa. The curator said that it was part of the furniture collection he designed for Bentota Beach hotel, his first hotel design in Sri Lanka.

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His private area was the most fascinating part of the house and the best part of it too, as it gave a better glimpse of the person than the rest of the house had done. It had a sitting room, dining room and a bedroom, each of which had lovely ponds and trees in their corners or views of a tree across the room. What was lovely about this space was that it was filled with personal stuff, his books and his collections from his travels.

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Geoffrey Bawa’s reading space (c) Geoffrey Bawa Trust, with permission from the manager of No 11

Before Geoffrey Bawa became an architect, he had spent considerable time traveling around the world in the 1940s/ 50s and was most taken with his time in Italy. Apparently, he had liked the Lake Garda region, particularly the gardens, so much so that he had planned to buy property there. However, due to some legal obstacles, he had not been able to do so and when he returned to Sri Lanka, his brother had encouraged him to buy a country estate in Bentota and create his own tropical version of Lake Garda. Geoffrey Bawa’s first landscape gardening project revealed his passion and he decided to pursue a path in architecture, returning to study in England. His first work, Lunuganga, is considered his masterpiece. I have been long meaning to visit the place and hopefully, will do so this year.

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The tour ended at the entrance, where Geoffrey Bawa’s old Rolls Royce was parked. The batik painting covering the wall was by Bawa’s friend and artist, Ena de Silva.

The tour was a fascinating insight into the home and living space of Geoffrey Bawa.

[I am linking this post to Faraway Files #17 and The Weekly Postcard]

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Exploring Jaipur

As we entered the streets of Jaipur, our driver, who had a tendency to turn guide abruptly, announced, “Welcome to Jaipur, pink city. All buildings here are pink.” We were passing through the bazaar area, where buildings were every colour but pink.

After we checked in at our hotel and rested a bit, we decided to go out for a drive in the evening, as recommended by our Jaipur guide, to see the lights that had been put up for Diwali and visit Birla Mandir.

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We drove past the Legislative Assembly and other Government buildings where the lights had not still been removed after the Diwali celebrations. The Birla Mandir looked pretty adorned in the Diwali lights. We prayed and went around the beautiful shrine for Krishna and Radha and received some sweet candy, as prasadham, from the priest.

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In the morning, we drove over to Amer Fort, the UNESCO world heritage site which was the former capital of the Kachchawa clan. The construction of the fort had been started in 1592 by Raja Man Singh, whose sister is said to have married Emperor Akbar and who himself was a Commanding General in the Emperor’s army. The fort construction was completed by Sawai Jai Singh I, who then decided to shift his capital and proceeded to build his new Jaipur in pink and relocated there in 1727.

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The Amer Fort was on top of a hill in the Aravalli range. It was very hot outside as we drove past the narrow, ancient streets, where life still continued in the form of odds and ends shops squeezed along the streets. The guide pointed out differences among the ruins we passed on our way up the hill. He said they were layers from different period of rule in the region. Some of the oldest ruins were considered to be the ruins of structures built more than 1000 years ago by an ancient tribal clan, Meena tribes, who had been considered to be descendants of Rama of the legendary epic Ramayana. They were driven out by the Kachchawa clan who were subsequently ousted by the Rajputs, who established their rule in Amber for 150 years, building and expanding Amer fort, before moving their capital to Jaipur.

Older ruins amongst recent ruins.JPGEntering the courtyard of the fort through the Chandrapol, or moon gate, we passed the elephant stand that has been in use since the ruling days of the Jaipur Maharajahs. The courtyard was also used as a training place for the Rajput armies and servants. Now, the elephants were used to bring in tourists into the courtyard and out through the Suraj pol, the sun gate. A girl approached us and asked if would like to have some henna done on our hands. The usual postcard sellers offered postcards for sale. A snake charmer sat languidly at the foot of the steps to the palace.

We walked up the steep incline and went through a narrow stairway, past a temple, and into a passage which led to a courtyard. This courtyard had the hall of public audience. Windows of the zenana overlooked this public courtyard, which allowed the royal ladies who were interested in the state happenings to listen to the ongoing political discourses or public grievances, without being seen.

AmerFort's hall of public audience.JPG

Through the beautiful Ganpathi Gate, we passed into a grand but small entertaining place, inlaid with beautiful mirror and marble work, for the royal dignitaries who were wined, dined and entertained there. After I took this shot of Ganpathi Gate, my film roll finished (it was in the days before I got my digital camera) and I realized that I had left my new film rolls behind in the bag in the car. So, I wasn’t able to take photos for the rest of our Amer Fort tour.

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There were so many dark tunnels and narrow passages that we passed through. One odd aspect was that the floor was not even and paths not really made for walking as they had inlaid iron bars as if it was a medieval rail road. Perhaps, they had used trolleys to push things around. Going through one of these passages, we entered the private quarters of the Maharajah – his zenana. He had twelve main wives and each of his wives were given a separate set of identical rooms. The zenana was designed such that three rooms were on each side of the square courtyard, with a raised platform in the middle. The rooms for the numerous concubines, who did not have the same status as the Queens, were on the first floor.

Our guide told us that, unlike in the Mughal rule, Rajput women had a slightly better status though the veiling culture existed here as well. Especially in the time of war, the Maharajah would have to consult his queens separately and get their permission for them to release armies from their respective birthplaces to support the King in his war. Thus, the Rajput Queens had some power and the marriages were more political marriages, as the more wives the King had, the more powerful was his combined army.

At the top of the fort, there was an open air dancing place, for performances during summer nights. Above the fort we were at, we saw another fort. Our guide explained that Amer Fort was divided into the Upper and Lower Fort. The Lower Fort was the main place of residence for the ruling family but in times of security threats, they removed themselves through secret passages to the Upper Fort, where they waited out the war. The entire fort was itself surrounded by walls that spread across the Aravalli range. Watch towers installed at different places transmitted danger signals by the lighting of fire and beating of drums.

We entered another section of the fort to the area of the summer and winter palaces. The summer palace was interesting. It had the natural version of an air conditioning system. The walls were thick and in between the walls, there were hollow places in some areas where pots of water were kept to cool the rooms. There were also stream channels where the water was allowed to flow through the walls and across parts of the room and into the gardens. The combined effect of the water behind the walls and the flowing water would have cooled the rooms.

Returning from Amer Fort and moving towards the City Palace, we passed a couple of interesting sites. One was Jal Mahal, the water palace used by the royals during the summer time. Now, it was a dilapidated palace amidst a stinking lake. The guide said that the government was considering a project to renovate the area. I just managed to take a quick photo from the road before fleeing the overpowering stench.

Jal Mahal.JPG

We also passed some nice monuments and when we inquired about them, the guide disparagingly replied, “Oh, they are just the cenotaphs of the queens.” I would have liked to have heard more about the queens.

At the city palace, we first went to Jantar Mantar, the first of the five observatories built by Sawai Jai Singh, who was also a keen astronomist. There were several instruments and one of the ones that stand out in my mind is the sun-dial clock, which uses the sun to calculate the time, by the shadow that a nail cast on the concave marble arc, which had been constructed based on Jaipur’s actual inclination towards the north pole. We calculated the time and found it to be precisely 10.47, which was the local Jaipur time. It was fun trying out calculations on the different instruments. It is advisable however to visit Jantar Mantar a bit earlier in the day as the place seemed to attract all the heat and focus it on the instruments which were outdoors. We felt we were in peril of getting a sun-stroke so decided to move indoors to the city palace museum.

City Palace Textile Museum.JPG

The museum basically showcased the clothes worn by different Maharajahs and Maharanis at different periods for different occasions (coronation, wedding, playing polo etc). Going out of the museum and entering through another gate, we came to the courtyard where the hall of public audience was located. It was a well-maintained hall with two famous pots at the entrance.

Hall of Public Audience_City Palace Jaipur.JPG

One of the Maharajahs had a habit of practicing yoga and praying with the water of Ganges river each morning and when he was invited for the wedding of King Edward VII, he had two huge pots made and taken with him to England. The pots were filled with the water of Ganges, which he deemed sufficient for the duration of his voyage. The pots made it into the Guinness book, for being the biggest pots and they now stand at either side of the entrance to the hall of public audience.

Pot from Guiness Book.JPG

Jaipur is a fascinating city, with a rich history, and certainly the place to go on one’s first visit to Rajasthan. There is an annual international literary festival held in Jaipur, which I hope to visit the next time I travel to that state.

 

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Have you visited Jaipur? What are your impressions of the fascinating city?

[Linking this post to Weekend Travel Inspiration and City Tripping #65]

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Wander Mum

Wandering along Maunsel Lock

If you are visiting Taunton in Somerset county, a nearby place to visit on a sunny day would be the Maunsel Lock. After my visit to the Taunton castle museum, my sister and I decided to visit the Maunsel Lock area and walk along the canal path. There is a car park near the lock and it is a great place to start one’s walk along the Bridgwater and Taunton canal.

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In its heydays, the lock was busy with boats carrying trade from and to the Bridgwater docks.

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The canal is recommended for canoeing enthusiasts. The British Canoeing organization, UK’s national governing body for paddle sports, considers the Bridgwater and Taunton canal route UK’s best kept canoeing secret and recommends an 8 mile trail that starts and finishes at Maunsel lock.

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Those who want to walk a specific trail can have fun trying out the Somerset Space Walk, which opened in 1997. The Space walk is a sculpture trail model of the solar system, using the towpath of the Taunton and Bridgwater canal, with the walk  starting at the sun model at the Maunsel lock. My sister and I simply chose to go for a short walk along the Maunsel lock area, stretching our legs after being indoors at the museum all morning.

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The Bridgwater and Taunton canal opened in 1827 and links River Tone to River Parrett. A fascinating aspect of the canal is that the locals have set up a volunteer wardens scheme to look after their canal and my walk along a key part of it showed me the well maintained and peaceful towpath.

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While the canal is recommended for wild life such as kingfishers and dragonflies, I spotted a couple of swans fishing for their food.

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I enjoyed the relaxing walk along the quiet towpath, taking in the fresh country air, despite its proximity to the bustling town of Taunton.

Have you explored some of UK’s 2000 miles of canal network? 

Do check out Untold Morsel’s exploration of the London canals and A family day out’s experience of the highest aqueduct in the UK, for more inspiring canal trails.

[I am linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #16]
Wanderful Wednesday

Suitcases and Sandcastles