Lunuganga – a garden tour

For quite some time now, I had been meaning to visit Lunuganga but it didn’t quite work out till earlier in April. Ever since I learnt that my favourite place in Colombo, Seema Malakaya meditation centre, was designed by Geoffrey Bawa, I have been interested in his other work around the country. I went on the tour of No 11, his Colombo residence. And, it was time for me to visit his first landscaping work, considered his masterpiece.

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The country home of Geoffrey Bawa (1919 – 2003), Sri Lanka’s most renowned architect, was his first landscaping work which led him to his passion – architecture. After completing his law studies in England, he realized that it was not the career he wanted to pursue. After spending some years traveling around the world, he returned to Sri Lanka and bought an abandoned rubber estate in Bentota in 1947. He started landscaping the place and continued working on it till 1998, when his illness prevented him from doing further work.

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The garden tours, at Lunuganga, allow the public to visit the place. For those ready to splurge a bit, one can stay overnight at one of the guest rooms at Geoffrey Bawa’s country home.

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The Glass House

There are fixed time tours, and you simply need to be at the gate at the specified times for the tours, and ring the bell. One of the staff takes you to the ticket office just in front of the Glass House, one of the spaces that is rented out to overnight guests.

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Garden room

The tour starts from the Garden room, a beautiful space where Geoffrey Bawa kept his gardening tools as well as used to work from.

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Lovely corner in the Garden room

Close to the garden room was his studio, which was originally the chicken shed and the cow barn. The studio is also one of the spaces that one can stay overnight in.

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The studio

From the terrace in front of the garden shed, one has a beautiful vista to look upon.

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Nataraja statue, with the butterfly pool in the background

This was a spot that Bawa enjoyed dining from and there was a table with a bell adjacent to it. From this spot, not only did he have a view of the butterfly pool, but also the rice fields and the river beyond.

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We walked down the stone steps to the butterfly pool and the water was very clear that day, they were beautifully reflecting the blue skies and the trees above them.

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Reflections in the butterfly pool

From the butterfly pool, we walked along the rice fields and came across a windmill, that is no longer used. In Bawa’s time, the windmill was used to power the motor of the well beneath. You can see the windmill and the well in the left corner of the photo below.

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We walked up to the bank of the river, where during Bawa’s time, a boat could be taken to his little private island. Boat tours can now be taken by overnight guests at Lunuganga.

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River bank

We came upon several benches placed at lovely spots, as well as alcoves that looked out on to beautiful views, while giving one privacy for reflection or a quiet read.

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View of Pan in the woods, from my bench

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The yellow pavilion

The main plantation house, which was where Geoffrey Bawa stayed at, had a view of the river on one side and a lovely frangipani tree and the cinnamon hill, on the other side.

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Frangipani tree, by the plantation house

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View of cinnamon hill

The design of the exterior of the gatehouse, which is close to the row of hedges seen in the above photo of the cinnamon hill, reminded me of Bawa’s Colombo residence and which perhaps, he had worked on during the same time period. The gatehouse is also one of the spaces that is available for overnight guests.

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Gatehouse

Passing the gatehouse, we came across a little corridor. The guide opened a window in the passage, which he referred to as the ha-ha window, and pointed out the public road below cutting through the estate but which could not be seen from any part of the estate ground, though it was right between the hedges seen in the photo of the cinnamon hill.

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View from the ha-ha window

We then passed a mural, that had been created by another of Bawa’s artist friends, and climbed cinnamon hill to its peak and the tree with the tempayan pot, that can be seen from the main house. This tree marks the spot where Bawa is buried and as per his wishes, there is no stone marking his resting place, except for the tempayan pot which one can see placed at different spots across the estate.

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The cinnamon hill house is a house that Geoffrey Bawa had built for visiting friends and it is at the edge of the hill, overlooking the river. It is also now available for overnight guests but is a bit isolated from the main house and the rest of the estate so I am not sure, I would want to stay in this space were I an overnight guest.

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Cinnamon hill house

We walked back to the main plantation house and walked up the steps to a tiny terrace that led us back to the ticket office.

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Steps leading to the terrace of the plantation house

We looked back one final time, from the terrace, at the view of cinnamon hill and Bawa’s resting place in the distance, before leaving Lunuganga. The place is certainly a labour of love and Bawa’s passion for landscaping can be clearly seen and experienced. I am glad that the Geoffrey Bawa Trust are maintaining this gem of a place very well.

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Have you visited Lunuganga? If not, I would highly recommend visiting it next time you visit Bentota in Sri Lanka.

[Linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #27]

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Special Six: Stockholm Art

One of my favourite cities in the world has been Stockholm, ever since I first visited it in 2000. Since that first visit, I have lived there for three years working and studying and my last visit there was in 2010. While there are many places and things I like about the city, this post is about the six places of art in this city that are special to me.

  1. Waldemarsudde

Prins Eugen, who was himself a landscape artist, left his home Waldemarsudde and his collection to the Swedish state in his will. Therefore, since 1948, the place has been open to the public. The building was built in early 20th century as a residence for the prince. He soon added a gallery as an extension to the house, as he needed space for his expanding art collection. At the time of his death, his collection included 3,200 of Prins Eugen’s work and around 3,500 works by other artists.

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Prins Eugen’s home

I first visited the lovely home and art museum in Djurgården on a lovely excursion organized by my university, KTH. I fell in love with the house and its park overlooking the lake so much so that I brought my mother here for her birthday. The aesthetically pleasing landscaped gardens has several famous sculptures including Carl Milles’ Archer and an Alexis Rudier cast of Rodin’s The Thinker.

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My mother on her birthday, Waldemarsudde, 2003

This beautiful art museum is a not-to-be-missed gem by the visitor to Stockholm city. There is a restaurant and cafe, the Prince’s Kitchen, within its premises.

2. Millesgården

Nearly around the same time that Prins Eugen moved into his newly built home, Waldemarsudde in Djurgården, the artist couple Carl and Olga Milles bought their property on the island of  Lidingö. Over the next several decades, Carl Milles designed his gardens and added his fascinating sculptures to the landscape.

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Fountain of the Muses

The visit to Millesgården was also a special treat organized by my university.

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God on the rainbow

More than the house itself, I liked the gardens and my favourite was this little piece of sculpture on a low wall. A tiny stone carving of a wooden bench on which a couple are huddled together from the the cold. If you peeped across the bench, you would see a man sleeping on the other side. The sleeping man is supposed to be the artist, Carl Milles himself, and represented his time in Paris as a struggling artist.

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A la belle étoile

3. Monument honouring Raoul Wallenberg

During my initial months in Stockholm, my parents and I stayed in Lidingö for a short while. While walking with my mother across the city hall park, I came across a monument which called out to me from the first time I saw it. It was that of a man handing out documents, with his hands clasped at the back, and hands reaching out from the ground for those documents. Seeing that sculpture by Willy Gordon began my fascination with the story of Raoul Wallenberg‘s life. As a Swedish diplomat in Budapest during World War II, he is credited with saving the lives of about 100,000 Hungarian Jews, before he disappeared in January 1945. I admired his initiative, courage and commitment, despite knowing that he would be targeted eventually.

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Source: Lidingo.se

4. Kungliga Tekniska Hogskolan

Not just because it was one of the universities I studied at, I also like it very much because it is aesthetically pleasing. The main campus building in Ostermalm was built in the early 20th century and features work by prominent Swedish sculptors such as Carl Milles and Ivar Johnsson. The borggården (courtyard) is particularly lovely during summer.

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KTH Courtyard

5. National Museum

The museum was built in 1866 and is currently closed for renovation. For one of my mother’s birthdays, I had planned a day trip to this national museum. My mother used to enjoy painting a lot but at some point, had stopped her painting. After her visit here, she was re-inspired so much so that she not only resumed her painting, our apartment and my sisters’ houses were soon filled with her artwork.

6. University of Stockholm 

The campus at Frescati is located within a beautiful area and includes the Bergius Botanical gardens. Walking around the campus, taking in the sculptures by Marianne and Sivert Lindblom among others, is a treat.

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Photo credit: Jan Oqvist at sivertlindblom.se

Which of these special six places would you want to visit? If you have already visited some or all of them, how was your experience?

To view this article in the GPSmyCity app, please follow this link on your iPhone or iPad.

[I am linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday , City Tripping #51 and The Weekly Postcard]

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Helga’s Folly

Dusk was setting in. The hundreds of candles that had once burned bright had melted upon each other and the candelabra with these candle relics cast a ghostly pall on their surroundings. With only a few lamps illuminating the rooms, it was easy to imagine ghosts lurking in the corner. The effect was enhanced by a face staring at you from the wall, an old writing desk with an old ledger left as if the person working on that decades ago had just stepped out and would return any time.

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When I saw the old vanity table with a framed photograph placed on it, the thought that had crossed my mind earlier and became stronger was that I might very well be in the ruined house of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, had she been inclined towards murals. It seemed like a living memorial to the ghosts of the past by the owner, who lives on the top floor of the (guest) house.

As we moved across the room, we suddenly heard a thud behind the seemingly black walls off one corner that led to the dark stairs. We peeped down the unlit stairway and saw a black door at the end of it. There was another thud. With the haunted atmosphere hanging in the air, my friend and I scrambled back to the lounge area, which was playing music from the 30s and finished our tamarind juice drinks before leaving Helga’s Folly.

I was intrigued however by this first dusk visit to Helga’s Folly, a home turned into an art museum/ guesthouse in Kandy. So, when a couple of friends visiting me in Sri Lanka this month wanted to go to Kandy for the weekend, I decided to explore more of Helga’s Folly with them. Visitors who are not staying overnight at the guesthouse, where the rooms start at USD 100 and go up to USD 500 per night, or dining at their restaurant can walk around the house after paying a tour fee of USD 3 per person. I think it is wonderful that they allow visitors to tour the house and at such a reasonable price because the artwork in the house is truly worth seeing.

This time though I chose to visit during daylight, when I could see the murals better and the house had a slightly less haunted atmosphere. What greeted us first as our vehicle climbed up the steep road leading up from the Kandy Lake was the bright red buildings covered with colourful artwork. The house was originally designed in the 30s by Helga’s mother, Esme de Silva. A house that has welcomed famous dignitaries like Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and Indira Gandhi during its political heydays, given that Helga’s paternal grandfather was Sri Lanka’s first Minister of Industries and Fisheries and her father was the Mayor of Kandy, a parliamentarian and Ambassador of Sri Lanka to France and Switzerland in the 60s.

Helga’s parents turned their house into Chalet hotel. However, it is after Helga took over the house a few decades ago, renamed it Helga’s folly and covered it with artwork that I feel it has become a legacy for future generations. It has certainly attracted many movie celebrities, such as Vivien Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier, and the Folly brochure boasts of its Hollywood heydays as well as the Stereophonics song, Madame Helga, inspired by a stay here.

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Photo credit: Nancy Yang

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Photo credit: Nancy Yang

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Photo credit: Nancy Yang

The front office manager handed us a sheet of information on Helga’s Folly before suggesting we start our tour of its interior from the Jane Lillian Vance grotto. So we walked into the front room where the artwork of American artist Jane Lillian Vance covers its walls.

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Photo credit: Nancy Yang

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Jane Lillian Vance grotto is an amazing art room combining Vance’s beautiful artwork, Helga’s family history as well as a bit of Jane Vance’s personal traumatic story.

We retraced our steps past the reception where framed news clippings of Helga’s family line the walls and passed the former office of Helga’s father, Frederick Lorenz de Silva. The office is currently used by the front office manager as her office. We were not able to see the room that Mahatma Gandhi stayed at during his visit, but the friendly manager mentioned that she had been lucky to stay in that room when she first arrived at the Folly.

Both times that I visited the lounge area, it had some lovely old French music playing in the background. This time though, I was not able to explore the artwork in this area much as there were other guests seated on all the available couches that I did not feel comfortable walking around them looking at the walls. Anyway, I knew I would need to revisit a few times in order to leisurely appreciate the artwork in each room.

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A little corridor leading away from the lounge towards the gardens had this little nook, which we decided was a great spot for a group photo.

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Taking the stairway up to the restaurant area, we came across several dining areas which were set up as private dining spaces. Each seemed to have a different theme and the dining room with the octagonal Taprobane table seemed extra special and perhaps reserved for special occasions.

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The corridor leading away from the dining rooms and to the guestrooms was covered with black walls. One of the walls had a white tree and red hearts and writing that asked you to add a heart for each beloved soul you have lost. I really don’t think I could comfortably stay overnight in a room in a corridor that was decorated like this. I felt that the house was not haunted, as I initially felt during my first visit but rather had dark vibes of a place that had absorbed the grief, depression and angst of its residents, the owners and its guests.

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There was a colourful, whimsical corner under the staircase, along the sombre corridor, which lightened its dark overtones.

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What’s interesting about the place is that the artwork is diverse and at first seems the result of a psychedelic mind. However, you begin to see individual stories emerging and the hand of different artists at work, whether it is in the whimsical or spiritual overtones of the murals. I was informed that Helga’s Folly welcomes artists, writers and senior citizens for longer stays at special rates and the house is certainly a place that seems to inspire the creative. From artists who have been inspired to contribute to the murals to musicians who have been inspired to write a song about the place, it is certainly a place that invokes your emotional and creative response to the visual extravaganza.

I left Helga’s Folly with a sense that here was a house that needed preserving for future generations and some maintenance in the present, as it seems to be acquiring a certain dilapidated air about it. I hope Helga and her family consider establishing a trust that will manage it well in the future and continue to allow visitors to tour the place. And, for travellers visiting Kandy city and interested in amazing murals, I highly recommend that you visit Helga’s Folly at 70,Rajapihilla Mawatha, Kandy.

Following my visit, I interviewed Helga Perera, the person responsible for creating Helga’s Folly. You can read her interview here.

Have you visited a (guest)house that has amazed you with its beautiful murals? 

[I am linking this post to City Tripping #38Wanderful WednesdayThe Weekly Postcard.

I am also linking the post to #TravelLinkUp, hosted by Adventures of a London Kiwi, Silverspoon and Fresh and Fearless , under the October theme of ‘most interesting item you have discovered or seen in a hotel room/ accommodation‘ as the murals in the Jane Lillian Vance grotto at Helga’s Folly is the most interesting and amazing item that I have seen in a guesthouse room]
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