Year-End Special: If these walls could talk, what tales they didn’t tell
Old homes have stories. The battle to preserve their weathered walls is as much about holding on to the countless moments of laughter and longing they’ve witnessed as it is about bricks and mortar. In the very act of restoring them, crafts that are no longer cherished, skills that are forgotten, knowledge that has no value, are made relevant again. Here’s a list of boutique hotels which don’t ring out the old but, instead, celebrate every aspect of it.
Nimmu House, Ladakh
Nimmu House was the 20th century home of the king of Ladakh’s cousin, a tax collector. He built a lavish residence with 30 rooms, stables, and surrounded by 5,000 sq. m of orchards. But he was a hard man, and it is said the villagers cursed him, so he couldn’t have children. He adopted his sister’s daughter and numerous ceremonies were organized to rid the house of the curse. It saw many happy times. Years later, when the family was unable to look after it, the house fell into disrepair. Since 2012, it has been painstakingly restored in phases (that will end in 2019), using local materials and techniques. Importantly, the restoration has been used as an opportunity to build in sustainable technologies like solar energy, double glazing to conserve heat, and water conservation. The simple and tasteful decor is in keeping with Ladakhi tradition. Visitors get a chance to immerse themselves in local culture with cooking classes and village tours.
The Bhuj House, Bhuj
Pestonji Sorabji, the great-great-grandfather of the current generation of Bhujwalas, built The Bhuj House sometime around 1894. Awarded the title of Khan Bahadur, he was a respected figure in the then British-administered territory. Bhuj, the capital of Kutch, had a strong Parsi community. But when Kutch merged with Gujarat and became a dry state, the family business of distilling and importing liquor collapsed, triggering a migration to the metros. Then came the devastating earthquake of 2001 that damaged the roof and weakened the structure. When the current generation started restoring the home, wooden pillars and traditional tiles were sourced from other homes that were being demolished. Staying in one of the rooms built around an open courtyard, guests can sip Parsi chai and time-travel through the photographs and artefacts that adorn the walls of this last-remaining bastion of the Parsi community in Bhuj.
Not just a structure, but an entire way of life is preserved at Visalam, located in Kanadukathan village in the Chettinad region. Lovingly built as a gift from a father to his daughter, the art deco-influenced exteriors of the house enclose a pillared courtyard surrounded by rooms with high ceilings, gleaming floors with handmade Athangudi tiles, and warm Burma-teak furniture. Specialized artisans from the region were roped in for the restoration of the 100-year-old building, including tile makers, carpenters and stone-workers. Care was taken to maintain the old-world feel by using Chettinad handlooms and traditional techniques. For example, the walls were plastered with the traditional mix of eggshells, lime, jaggery and seashells, and given a final coat of egg white for a glossy finish. Guests can watch aachis make murukku in the kitchen, listen to the news on an old radio, or walk over to a textile unit in the village to hear the clackety-clack of the looms.