Tuesday, 12 April 2011

TRAVEL DIARIES: Hyderabad-Sydney

Published in Now! Jakarta, Mei 2011


Taj Khrisna waiter stands guard in the moghul pavilion.

Last month I went to Hyderabad for the engagement party of Mallika Reddy, daughter of GVK boss Sanjay Reddy, with Siddhart.

GVK has just been awarded the job of renovating Bali’s airport, after their successes in Mumbai and Bangalore.

The party was completely over the top: jewelry-clad socialites with the extended Reddy clan who played host to half of Hyderabad).

The evening started with a ‘choir’ of Brahman pre-teens (from the local Hindu ‘pesantren’) reciting Vedic hymns on the covered lotus pond; behind them, a giant screen showed the arrival of the fat cats in big cars.

The house, and the bride-to-be, had been decorated, lavishly, by Sandeep, of Abu and Sandeep, Mumbai’s top couturiers.

In the ‘Moghul Garden’, which I had designed some years ago, I found some topiary-style Indian musicians (after Jeff Koon) in a marble pavilion, attended by one of the Taj Khrisna’s elegant, orange turban-clad banquet staff.

• • •

Dia Reddy and her sister-in-law Mallika Reddy at the engagement party.

The choir of chanting Brahman schoolboys in front of the big screen at the Reddy’s house.

Sanjay Reddy with Jero Wacik

The day after the party I visited Priya Paul’s latest ‘design hotel’ — the S.O.M design Park, Hyderabad, a master piece of modernism. Miss Paul has asked various Delhi designers and artists to do the interiors which have a refreshing, exotic Indian look.

• • •

From Hyderabad I travelled to Kochi to start work on a new Banyan Tree hotel on an island in the backwaters near Kochi — a resort that promises to be spectacular, with a Venetian-style canal entrance ‘drive’.

The view to lake Hyderabad from the pool deck of the Park Hyderabad.

• • •

On the way to the site I spotted a Kerala-style mosque complex — a tiered roof timber structure that lead to a stepped tank. Connecting the tank and the handsome 19th century mosque was a curved corridor cum ablutions block (for the Muslim wuduh performed before prayers) that was also a ‘masterpiece of modernism’, only more inspiring that SOM’s Park Hyderabad. Truly angelic Mopla Muslim schoolboys in white turbans — from the local Madrasah — completed the atmosphere of perfection and old world charm. From Kochi I took the train to Kasargod in North Kerala, to the site of the Taj Bekal, the superb boutique beach resort which nears completion under the able stewardship of Bali-based architects and landscapers. Oddly, Indians are coming to Bali to build tropical airports and the Balinese are going to India to show them how to do tropical gardens.

LEFT: Young Muslim students at the heavenly mosque near the Banyan Tree Kochi jetty, Kerala, India.RIGHT: Tough worker in chic Malayalee (Kerala) day wear (Lughi and Paul Smith shirt) on the Banyan Tree Kochi project site.

The seven hour train trip went quickly, passing though some delightful towns and countryside along the Malabar coast. An exquisite teenage Punjabbi ‘Sloane ranger’ joined us for the last half of the journey and enchanted the coach-load of merry Malayalees.

In Bekal I witnessed the last night of a series of demonic possession rituals called Jlema Lengeh at a local temple. There was a lot of slaughtering of animals and squirting of blood which seemed unnecessary. After Bali, the Hindu temple rituals of India seem chaotic, if heart felt.

LEFT: A painter in Jackson Pollock inspired T-shirt at the Taj Bekal project site.RIGHT: A Punjabbi beauty on the train from Kochi to Kasargo, Kerala, India.

The next day I spent a few precious minutes documenting worker fashion in the workplace, for my coming book.

It is a fact rarely noted that the Indian workers on construction sites, from Singapore to Libya, are very stylish — the most stylish being the Malayalee (Keralites) and Tamils, whose darker complexion takes bright colours wonderfully.

• • •

My next ‘pit-bull stop’ was Mumbai where I stayed at the truly remarkable Grand Hyatt, designed by yet another venerable N.Y. firm of architects and interior designers, Kohn Pederson Fox. The collection of contemporary Indian sculptures, part of a hotel-wide art consultancy by Delhi-based Rajiv Sethy is awe-inspiring.

Mumbai was in the grips of World Cup fever — with headlines such as “Born to lead” and “No fly zone over stadium” — so I was glad to leave Sydney on Singapore Airlines heavenly early morning flight that gets into Singapore at three and connects to Sydney on an A380 at 8 p.m.

6 April 2011, Sydney: A chance encounter with two living treasures:
Early April saw me back in Sydney for the sensational Amie Leibowitz exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and to take in some nature, generally, after three months in the urban sprawl of Asia.

Sydney and Melbourne really are the perfect antidote for Sprawl-itus, and for the early onset of bloody-mindedness — there are so many fabulous arthouse cinemas, and theatres, and concert halls, and VIEWS.

Living in South East Asian cities — Singapore being the exception — one tends to forget about the joy of ocean, harbor and mountain views so immersed is one, almost constantly, in traffic.

Australian Parliamentarian Alison Anderson Nampitjinpa giving a speech at the opening of her Solo art exhibition in Sydney.

Walking in the Whitely Gardens in Lavender Bay I happen across celebrity gardener Wendy Whitely and famed author Nicholas Rothwell, with his partner Aboriginal Australian politician and painter Alison Anderson Nampitjinpa.

Alison is having a solo exhibition at the gvh gallery tonight and I am invited back to Wendy’s home, the ‘Taj Mahal’, to see a DVD on Alison’s work, and her community of artists, near Darwin.

The film featured painter-women doing extra-ordinary pointillist works while saying mundane things (“Edna just bashed Gwen on the head there was blood everywhere”). There was quite a bit of spirited dancing (while holding fistfuls of gum leaves) which I loved. The Northern Territory landscape —the background to the plot, and to Allison’s art — is sublime.

When one has an Indonesian-islander perspective the Aborigines’ sound a tad “sacred and secret” when talking about their (threatened) culture. The people of Alor share many cultural traits with their distant cousins in Australia but they don’t sound pious and New Age when explaining their culture, just child-like, like the Balinese High priests.

No one wants to go wading into a mine field of mystical metaphor but one thing is for certain: the attachment of the indigenous Australian to their land and their worship of nature is intense — a lesson to us all.