Cartagena

•March 6, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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After a series of freezing days in New York, the whiff of the warm and humid air at Cartagena airport felt almost like an out of body experience. Ok, maybe thats a bit too much, but it did feel great as the sunglasses came out and the puffy jackets went in. This beach city felt like the perfect start to my South American rendezvous, throwing much more at me than i was expecting.

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It was an eclectic mix of colourful homes mushroomed all over the older fabric, in contrast with the progressive skyline daunting the newer parts of the peninsula. The white towers(our hotel was one of these) almost seemed alien to the warm and cosy residential neighbourhoods. However, the historical fabric with all its charm couldn’t lured us into the walled city every single day and definitely every single night.

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This UNESCO world heritage site is definitely one of the best preserved pieces on that list that I have seen. It was extremely heartening to see owners and tenants touching up patches of luscious pink and earth mustards on barely off-coloured walls, to help make the place look impeccable round the clock. Balconies and bouganvillas adorned these facades to give them greater character and with stores and restaurants so seamlessly tucked into the walls. I could not help but click a picture of how even a Benetton store could look so pretty when in Cartagena.

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It wasn’t until a few hours that we felt the need to peek into every single courtyard we passed by, which furthered the mystery of the place. Often a time there was a swank little cafe nested in one of these and at times it was like a small dump yard. But the mosaics on the floors, chandeliers from the ceilings and the rustic ambience made each of them look intriguing. On our last night we did manage to find a table at one of these enchanting courtyard restaurants.

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But, in spite of the enticing shops and the decadent patisseries, the streets were the most amazing place to be. Every corner opened up 3 extremely inviting streets to enter, and we aimlessly roamed about witnessing hoards of people floating in one part and a quant walk in the other. Street artists, small vendors and food carts thronged plazas that would appear out of nowhere and coaxed us into halting a moment, and taking it all in before we moved on. And some of these plazas were the best places to be into the wee hours of the night entertained by local music and surprisingly mime artists.

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An extremely expensive cab ride to the fort seemed a rip off until I reached atop the structure. Breathtaking views of the city, further enhanced by the setting sun made for the perfect goodbye to the city. Watching the sun go down gave me time to take in these wonderful 3 days which I had no idea how they went by, and made me think of what would have I missed had we not made an error with our tickets and booked them for a day earlier than our planned date of departure.

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Signing off for Cartagena here, but not for Colombia. Medellin is up next, a whole new world of the latin landscape making sure that i keep coming back to Colombia and more of the continent.

Copyright Abhimanyu Prakash

Budapest

•October 4, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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My first dip into the world of Eastern Europe was a fascinating experience,  given the precedents that I was going in with and the physical reality that I was immersed in. The colors of the sky made up for the rain that painted the town wet as we touched base in the Buda part of Buda-Pest. This significant merger of two names was a merger of much more that just that. It was the bridging of two extremely varied landscapes and hence significantly differently styled architecture, laid out on the plains in Buda and the hills of Pest.

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Unlike my past experiences in the so called ‘richer’ nations of Europe, this city came with something more and a little different along with the palaces, cobbled streets, charming downtown and stunning architectural marvels. Budapest spoke of much more than just a glorious past, but also stoically showed off troubled eras in history and their remnants. Their people spoke of not only how great their rulers and kings were, but also how valiant their warriors were and how tolerant and strong their ancestors were. Budapest started giving me a glimpse into the tumultuous past of the region, with much more in store for me in the latter part of my trip to Poland.

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The gentle cruise down the Danube was possibly the best tour across the city. The progression of bridges across the river and their architectural styles reflected an era each of them belonged to and gave a sense of floating through a timeline, representative of Hungarian History. Amidst all of this was the seat of the government, the Parliament Building on one bank, while the other showed off the historical seat of power- the Palace of Budapest, and the bridges seemed to just connect the past to the present.

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The charming city had more than just architecture to offer. Picturesque landscapes, a whole new world of food and interesting crafts and souvenirs make it a tourist’s paradise and to top it all off its reasonable. Jokes aside, the city gives much more than you can ask for and leaves you with an impression forever.

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Venice

•January 16, 2013 • Leave a Comment

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An impromptu trip to Venice, in lieu of the Architecture Biennale was just the apt thing to do after my stay in Kochi,India which is also known as Venice of the east. This trip had various agendas, the foremost being the Biennale, followed by comparisons to its so called Indian counterpart and reliving memories from a childhood visit to Venice, more than a decade ago. However, the city hasnt changed, not in the last 15 years and probably not even in the last century. The only change is in the numer of tourists, which has gone up to over 20 million a year.

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Boarding the Vaporetto / Water Taxi, i made my way through a choppy sea all huddled up and landed at Venice Port, with just a faint image of the clock tower in the distance. As I walked on the cobbled street leading up to the magnificent St Marks Square, the fog started to clear out and the historical facade started to give subtle glimpses. The magical mist and the prefect setting coaxed me into sitting down for dinner and Italian coffee, before I headed to my hotel.

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After a good nights sleep, I walked out into a clear morning. Light peeking in from the narrow openings at the end of the lanes, heavy movements of tour groups along the port and gondola riders pleading you to take a ride, was just the flavor of Venice I was looking for. This was to be my morning walk route for the next 4 days as I made way to the Biennale sites and pavilions.

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The biennale was an eye opener of sorts and a must visit for every person even remotely interested in Architecture. However, its scale and detail calls for a separate post and so getting back to Venice for now, the canals, streets and bridges created the most intriguing urban network. This fascinating fabric called me to surrender myself and allow it to take me wanderlusting through the streets for more. The ancient docks were a treat to the eyes as they represented Venezian skill and importance in the medieval times.

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The last morning, once again turned misty and surreal as Venice seemed to literally be sandwiched between the clouds and the sea. Felling privileged to have experienced this  heavenly atmostphere, i spent half the day meandering through the labyrinth aimlessly and drifted towards the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. A tiny Venetian Villa, with the most endearing character was home to some of the most notable works of Contemporary Art of the last century. A world of modernity housed within an mid century villa, amidst an ancient city was quite an experience.

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The sights of the moonlit Rialto Bridge, the old Venetian palaces and the masquerade costumes hanging in the shops were reminding me of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and lessons at school. My mind started imaging the characters playing their parts on that very ground and re-assured me that I was an attentive student at school. The last night at Venice was spent consoling myself about the fact that I had to leave, but with the promise that I would try and attend more such Biennales and in turn visit Venice.

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Copyright Abhimanyu Prakash

Bilbao

•April 3, 2012 • Leave a Comment

A peaceful Basque town, once home to classical orders stands rejuvenated today under the influence of one of the worlds’ most modern architectural statements – the Guggenheim. Welcoming visitors into the city are sweeping shiny walls and a bright red gateway, built with a vision to give Bilbao a facelift, inspire its people and bring a spring in their step. Successfully this city has become a must visit destination for all those coming to Spain.

Enveloping all the contemporary juxtapositions is the quaint countryside, home to brick mansions overlooking gorgeous sunsets, highways leading to the french borders of St. Sebastian, fog laden foot hills and pristine beaches. Even the landscapes, like the architecture, showcase a seamless blend of varieties and contrasts.

Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

•January 22, 2012 • 1 Comment

Lucknow was an experience where one saw time and people literally reflect themselves in the Architecture and unlike most places, these were not restricted to a single monument but large areas characteristic to a certain era. The nawabs displayed their regal splendor in ‘masjids’ / mosques and ‘imambaras’ situated in the old city. Followed by the British rule, the city witnessed colonial styled buildings as part of the Residency and the famous Hazratganj market. Even today the old city and the market place is home to many and probably the most commercial districts buzzing during the day.

Post independence the city took to the trans-Yamuna side with large housing colonies coming up. Gomti Nagar, the most populated amidst these saw the ‘free’ people going crazy with their freedom. This area plays host to some of the most eclectic and some times grotesque houses also, with the people taking influences from all the styles that can be seen in context. Lastly and lately Lucknow is witnessing a style personal to a political head, Kumari Mayawati. This chief minister of the state is making her presence felt by of a megalomania taking over the city. In the name of architecture for the minorities, these projects worth millions are stone covered parks, superstructures and statues of her.

A short trip to Ayodhya intervened the explorations through Lucknow’s legacy. This temple town, considered to be the birth town of Lord Ram, has seen its holiness being overpowered by hostility. Communal issues over religious structures has somewhere snatched away the aura which I imagined a town like this would possess. However, the ghats by the Saryu river, colorful houses and the simple images which the people portrayed showed their ignorance to these issues triggered by political powers.

Back to Lucknow !! A horse cart ride and culinary journey through the old city was a great experience and quite like a friend said” Lucknow the  land of the erstwhile Nawabs and delectable Kebabs.” A seamless blend of persian, islamic and indian architecture adorned the mosques. These royal structures had mazes and secret passages all accompanied by historical reasons and mythical stories.

Moving onto the British part of town, the Residency remained only in shambles with gun fire holes all over the remains. But some structures of French influence stood tall and glorious. The La Martiniere School a fine example of French architecture is still the growing grounds for many students . This palatial complex with sprawling laws is so enticing that even i was tempted to go back to school if it looked like this.

The trip ended with still a few places left to be seen, a few delicacies yet to be tried and a culture still to be explored. Lucknow and its surroundings are a true melting pot of mainly hindu ideologies, islamic structures,  socio-religious political powers and other minorities characteristic to a mini-India

Copyright Abhimanyu Prakash

Kolkata_Durga Puja, West Bengal

•January 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The most awaited time of the year for every Calcuttan / Kolkatan was here and once again I was all geared up to tread the narrow streets of the city, all adorned to the hilt to welcome the goddess Durga. Yet, even this year the festivities were different and unique, and especially for me in many ways. This time round it was a study ground for me, being the case study for my dissertation on the spatial stratagems adopted for  the Durga Puja Pandals, and to top it off I had a great set of friends in town, some gladly and some reluctantly helping me through my research.

The festivities take the city by storm and literally transform almost every nook and corner, combing the city with temporary temples / pandals housing elaborate representations of the deity. These pandals are themed spaces, very often extending beyond the main structure, generally designed to create a fantasy land, housing the idol, food stalls, performance areas and activity zones. Big and small, all pandas have a unique design and a similarly styled idol, sometimes aping an indian craft, or describing a global phenomena and at times just an installation out of a certain material or object.

2011, was a special Durga Puja as i was not only exploring new facets myself, but was also guiding my friends through this cultural extravaganza. Starting with the most talked about puja adorned with aluminum utensils, we streamed through massive crowds and along we saw others which had terra-cotta pots, mirrors and at times streamlined shapes as the major highlights. Stepping out in the evening, we got back home only before sunrise. This went on for the entire 5 days of the festivities with all the eating and resting taking place in the open grounds and food courts around the pandals.

The creative geniuses of Kolkata had decked up the streets in strings of colorful lights and massive gateway type structures. All of these added to the ambience and directed movement to the idols. Idols of varied shapes and sizes , and representative of national and international themes. The most notable off these was a ‘green’ Durga riding over a junk art bull, a 52 feet megalomania unable to fit within a pandal, an idol designed by Sanatan Dinda and the atypical traditional idol at Maddox Square.

After very many contemporary Durga Puja Pandal visits over sleepless nights, many cups of coffee at any and every coffee shop on the way, walking through sweaty yet enthused crowds and tiresome traffic journeys, we visited the oldest celebrations at the house of the medieval land lords of the region. The earliest celebrations can be traced back to the 1600′s when it was an event commemorated only by the rich and influential, the zamindars / landlords. Even today the palatial courtyard of the De family hosts a massive celebration, open to all to worship a copy of their centuries old family idol.

And, then it was time to head back. After experiencing all possible types of puja, maybe just 5% of those to be seen, it was the end of this season and a call for various return journeys. The visitors were returning home, my friends were going back to Delhi and the goddess was on her way back to heaven. To mark her departure the idols are immersed in the holy water of the Ganges after a long and pompous procession through the very streets that housed those idols. Thanks to my friends and the improved traffic management, i was motivated to drive into the immersion grounds and witness the immersion amidst loud drum beating and shouting worshippers, beckoning the deity to return again as she bids farewell saying “Aami Aaschi” (i am returning soon).

Kolkata does this to anyone who steps foot on its grounds. It leaves the traveller wanting more and coaxes the visitor to say “Aami Aaschi”.

 

Copyright Abhimanyu Prakash

Nawalgarh, Rajasthan

•November 26, 2011 • 1 Comment

It was a journey back to my roots, from where my ancestors hailed, my community belonged, a journey to Nawalgarh, Rajasthan. It was meant to be a religious trip for my friends, while for me it was primarily a weekend getaway. However, what a getaway that takes me away from architecture (college work), to see more architecture. Architecture that still holds itself high amidst all thats springing up around it. It was a discovery of the once ancestral ‘HAVELIS’ of the marwaris, now living in contemporary houses in Kolkata, Delhi and Bombay.

The vocabulary spoke of arches, celebrated doorways, sprawling rooms and intricate detailing. Built on the lines of the traditional courtyard house typology, they varied in scales and ornamentation. Classical simplicity was seen in the Junjhunwala Haveli, while the Seksaria residence oozed grandeur and lavishness. The Poddar haveli and museum was a star attraction with every square inch of its walls covered in miniature art. The most beautiful of all marwari havelis made feel proud to be a ‘Nawalgarhia’.

Every door, every passage and each gateway seemed to grab my attention as we walked across the streets and the sprawling mansions. Irresistible as they were to my camera, so were the ‘kachoris’ and ‘pakoris’ to me. For me the trip was of immense satisfaction with a feast to my eyes and the foodie within. The rural aura combed with a constant bustle and a smell of deep fried goodies kept us active and constantly on the move.

A visit still incomplete, to be done with my parents in order to locate my ancestral home, now supposedly a home for the travelers. Many more houses and streets are yet to be explored and street corner delicacies to be savored.

Copyright Abhimanyu Prakash

 

 

 
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