All posts by Sukanya Ramanujan

Multi-lingual professional with varied interests such as reading, travelling, music and photography.

Review: The Park Hyatt, Hyderabad- Complete Hospitality

(All photos from my mobile phone without flash)

I normally never give perfect ratings to hotels because for most of us money is a big thing and luxury hotels charge a lot of money. So I expect perfect service and more often than enough- hotels always slip on some little thing. But I was tempted to give Park Hyatt a complete score for one particular reason.

If you normally land up in an airport and you’ve requested airport transfers from the hotel you’ve got someone who turns up and helps you with your bags after baggage claim. As for the Park Hyatt there was someone waiting right outside the gate area. Fortunately or unfortunately I only hand baggage. When you check out and leave your hotel, you take your car from the hotel- they drop you outside the departures area and the car leaves. I was actually stunned when someone from the Park Hyatt actually stepped up to help me with my bags. She actually walked with me to the check-in counter with my bags. I was in economy but she snuck up in the business line and got me my boarding pass, got my baggage tags and tied them around my bags. Seriously have I ever experienced this level of helpfulness? No. Never- not even with the Taj. It was as if the Park Hyatt said they would take care of you not just within the hotel but as long as you were in the city.

View of Atrium from 6th Floor
View of Atrium from 6th Floor

Now for the actual in-hotel experience. I must say that the decor of the hotel was completely innovative and new. I liked the concept of a high skylighted atrium space surrounded by a restaurant on one side and vast lounge space on the other.
The rooms were vast- they layout was also quite different in that the entire front portion of the room when you enter from the door is a kind of vast walk in closet and bathroom area. The WC and shower/ tub are in different rooms on the one side and the other side is a vast dressing area with a mirror and other facilities. The hotel provided “Forest Essentials” amenities- the only other hotel to provide these being the Vivanta by Taj chains. I seem to however have some bad hot water karma- the shower kept getting confused about whether it wanted to spout hot or cold water. This seems to happen to me almost everywhere so I’ve given up.

Just above the Atrium
Just above the Atrium
Wardrobe Area
Wardrobe Area
View of the Bed
View of the Bed
Couch in the living area
Couch in the living area

The living part of the room was very comfortable. The bed was very comfortable and there were two massive couches that were ideal for sitting and working. The flowers in the room were also smelling divine. I was disappointed that my room looked out at the atrium and I felt potentially open to other rooms but the room more than made up for this.
The food was tasty. The hotel doesn’t place any hot items in the breakfast buffet as the hotel prepares them freshly for you. Both the Indian and Italian selections from the restaurants were very good.

View of wardrobe space from the living area
View of wardrobe space from the living area

The service offered by the hotel was good but I think the people at the Taj hotels just spoil you a bit more (nobody offered me packed breakfast or anything- I know I complain but hey it’s just looking for value for the money).
I think the Park Hyatt Hyderabad is a fantastic hotel. I will recommend this to anyone, any day!

A pen! and not a pencil- yay!
A pen! and not a pencil- yay!

Remember those White Mondays?

Whites on a Monday
Whites on a Monday

If you ever went to school in this part of India, chances are very high that you were forced to wear white uniforms on Mondays. It was as if just Mondays weren’t sufficient to torture the students- they had to further endure the torture of wearing white outfits that were incredibly hard to maintain. Anyway looking at this flower reminded me of those Mondays even though the beauty of this flower is quite far removed from the terror of those Mondays.

Have a great week ahead everyone!

Splendours of the Hoysala Empire- Haleibidu

I wrote about the Chennakesava temple in Belur yesterday. The information was presented in a lecture by Dr Chitra Madhavan, renowned historian and expert on temple architecture in Chennai.

Today, I will be writing about the Hoysaleswara Temple in Haleibidu. This temple was also built in the reign of King Vishnu Vardhana and is about 15 kms away from the town of Belur. The building of the temple was taken up in the same time as that of the temple at Belur. The town of Haleibidu was originally called Dwarasamudra because of a lake that stood there.

Although there are similarities between the temples at Belur and Haleibidu there are quite a few differences as well. The first thing that strikes you- especially if you visit both temples on the same day is how much more ornate the temple at Haleibidu tends to be. Where the sculptors at Belur squeezed every square inch of space into sculptures, the ones at Haleibidu squeezed every square millimetre of space to depict something of interest. Once again this temple was built out of chloritic schist and hence the architects made the temple pleat on itself like a star rather than having a four walled structure. In fact there is so much indentation that it sometimes becomes difficult to keep track of what you’re viewing. This photograph will give you a better idea of what I’m trying to describe.

Indentations that give more room for sculptures
Indentations that give more room for sculptures

As you would see once again there are elephants at the bottom of the platform- these elephants are also unique from one another and there are more than 1200 of them in the temple.

The temple, dedicated to Shiva (once again differing from Belur which was dedicated to Vishnu) has a dvi kuta style of architecture (which means that the temple has two principal shrines inside- one for Hoysaleswara (for the King) and one for Shantaleswara (representing the Queen Shantala)). It was also the royal temple and unfortunately this meant that it was often the first point of attack for enemies.

There are numerous impressive panels and friezes with sculptures. Here are some of them

Dwarapalaka standing guard
Dwarapalaka standing guard

A number of scenes from Dashavatara and Mahabaratha have been included in the panels

Vamana Avatar
Vamana Avatar

Denoted above for example is the fascinating tale of Vamana – the fifth avatar of Vishnu. In this tale, Vishnu in the guise of Vamana- a short Brahmin- approaches the kind Mahabali (a good but slightly vain ruler) and asks him for 3 paces worth of land. As soon as the king consents (shown above by the pouring of ritual water), Vishnu takes up gigantic proportions. With one step he covers the entire earth and with the other the Heavens. Mahabali having learnt his lesson offers his head as the third step and is then rewarded with immortality. In the panel above you see Vishnu taking his foot up to the heavens.

Ravana lifting Mt Kailasa
Ravana lifting Mt Kailasa

Here’s another panel of a ten headed Ravana lifting Mt Kailasa- an oft recurrent motive in temples (including in Cambodia). Here we see that Ravana has exerted himself to lift that massive mountain which is the residence of Shiva. Also notice how his foot is arched and how his knees are buckling under the weight of the mountain.

Panel of Airavata with Indira, Garuda with Vishnu
Panel of Airavata with Indira, Garuda with Vishnu
This is how packed with sculpture the walls are
This is how packed with sculpture the walls are

All in all the temples at Belur and Haleibidu are such interesting and magnificent pieces of art, architecture and history. If you haven’t already been there you should definitely visit and even if you’ve been there- visit again and explore the region- I’ve been told there are many more smaller but equally interesting temples.

I hope you liked the two posts. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Splendours of the Hoysala Empire: Belur (Part I)

Last weekend, my mother and I attended a rivetting lecture by none other than Dr Chitra Madhavan, renowned historian and scholar in history and archaeology. We had earlier attended a day long seminar in late 2013 at the Chennai Mathematical Institute by Dr Madhavan and this had actually opened our eyes to a lot of details in South Indian temple architecture that we had never known before and we had recently been to Belur and Halebid in Decembre 2014. So when we got to know that Dr Chitra Madhavan would be talking about Hoysala temple architecture with specific respect to Belur and Halebid we just knew that we had to go. Here’s some facts that I picked up from the lecture accompanied by my own photos from Belur.

The Hoysala empire was in prominence between the 10th Century AD and the 14th Century AD is what is modern Karnataka. The first mention of the Hoysala empire appears around 1006 AD. One of the most important kings of this dynasty was Vishnu Vardhana- and he was also the king that commissioned the building of the Belur temple (and many others). Vishnu Vardhana was originally a Jain (called Bitti Deva) but was converted to Vaishnavism by Sri Ramanuja. His wife was Queen Shantala Devi- a Jain and a noted dancer.

The emblem of the Hoysala dynasty was that of a person called ‘Sala’ who fights with and defeats a tiger that was attacking his guru. The term ‘Hoy’ in old Kannada stood for ‘to strike’ and hence the name Hoysala. We are not sure if this is just a folk myth or actual reality. One of the first things you encounter when you are inside the temple compound of Belur is this magnificent rendition of the Hoysala Legend.

Sala Fighting Tiger- The Legend of Hoysala
Sala Fighting Tiger- The Legend of Hoysala

One of the alternate interpretations given to this emblem was that this was also supposed to represent Vishnu Vardhana’s defeat of the Cholas- the tiger being the emblem of the Cholas (and the emblem never making an appearance before that particular victory). However as in so many other things in history we will never know the true origins of this particular motif.

Vishnu Vardhana lived between 1108 AD and 1152 AD. This encompassed the reigns of  at least three famous Chola Kings in Tamil Nadu (the neighbouring state)- Kulotunga Chola, Vikrama Chola, Kulotunga Chola II and Raja Raja Chola II. Incidentally this was also during the reign of the famous king Suryavarman II who built the Angkor Wat in Cambodia. What an amazing time in history it must have been when every king tried to surpass each other- not just in military might but also in their devotion to God- when they built like Gods!

The Chennakesava temple of Belur was originally called the Vijayanarayana temple (once again we are not sure of the origins but it is believed that this name was given to celebrate Vishnu Vardhan’s military victories- especially against the Cholas). The temple was commissioned in the early part of the 12th Century. It is built of a soft stone material that is actually called Chloritic Schist (and when I was taking down notes during the lecture the only reason I knew how to spell Schist was because I had visited the Grand Canyon about 5 months ago and had read about the Vishnu Schist or the basement rocks that are some of the oldest rocks you can see in the canyon). Chloritic Schist does not lend itself to tall structures unlike granite which was widely available in Tamil Nadu and hence used by the Cholas to build the massively tall Vimanas  of the Big Temple (Brihadeesvara Temple) and Gangai Konda Cholapuram. But Schist lent itself more easily to intricate carving. This led to the temple builders choosing a star shape for the temple- which means you have the walls pleating in and out- giving the architects not only a lot more wall space to play with but also plenty of opportunites for play of light and shadow. And how well they used it!

Intricate Carvings- Walls Pleating In and Out
Intricate Carvings- Walls Pleating In and Out

We have already met the Elephants of this temple in a previous blog post of mine. The interesting thing to note is that the pierced windows were not put in during the time of Vishnu Vardhan but during the later reign of King Baldala II.

There was also a difference in architectural styles in use in the temple. The main Gopuram of the temple (and it is only thanks to Dr Chitra Madhavan that we first identified the difference between a Gopuram and a Vimana) is built in the Dravida (South) style- however the main temple itself does not conform to this style.

The front lintel of the temple has this amazingly intricate work of Garuda carrying a ‘Ugra Narasimha’ (An enraged Narasimha- an avatar of Vishnu). This is probably the only temple in the region that has this depiction. I incidentally did not get a clear photograph of the front lintel- however Dr Madhavan explained that the garland like circular structures that surrounded the Narasimha each had one version of the Dashavatar carved inside them. Wow!

Front Lintel of Belur Temple
Front Lintel of Belur Temple

Inside the sanctum you can witness delicate carvings on a sunken ceiling (called Bhuvaneswari) and also a number of fascinating pillars. Some of these pillars were carved using a device similar to a lathe whereas others were hand carved. One of the pillars actually acts as a kind of index pillar and has a miniature depiction of almost every other sculpture in the temple (I have to admit we missed this during our visit- oh well!)

Apart from the elephants the other piece of architecture that stands out are the carvings of Madanikas (celestial nymphs) that stand at an amazing 45′ angle between the pillars and the roof. Like the elephants each one of these Madanikas are unique (there are close to 42 of them) and one of the most famous ones is that of Darapanasundari (the lady with the mirror).

Darpana Sundari
Darpana Sundari

The intricacy and the details of the carving make you wonder just how much time, effort and skills these artisans must have put into this project.

Some other captivating photos from the temple

Madanika chased by a Monkey
Madanika chased by a Monkey
Bracket Carvings on the Wall
Bracket Carvings on the Wall
Entrance to the temple
Entrance to the temple

One of the good things about the Belur temple – as against a lot of contemporary temples is that the names of the main architects/ sculptors have survived in the inscriptions. These are Dasoja and his son Chavana. It is also said that the similarity in the carvings were maintained because most of the sculptors came from the same guild. Well, hats off to them!

I hope you liked this post. Have you been to Belur? Or have you had a chance to listen to Dr Chitra Madhavan’s lectures in Chennai? You must, if you are interested. My gratitude to her for the knowledge she freely imparts through these speeches.

In my next post I will talk about the temple at Haleibidu.

5 DAY BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO CHALLENGE #5 Startled Bull from Burma

Startled
Startled

This was actually one of the first photographs I took with my Olympus EM-5 when it first arrived nearly a year and a half ago. The photograph is a close-up shot of a carved bull which looks startled because (and you don’t see this in this picture) there is a monkey or a monkey like person or a turtle ( I know right? but I really can’t figure it out) on its back. I wonder if there are any folktales in Burma about a Bull and a turtle/ monkey/ person?

This wood carving was actually brought by my maternal grandfather when he went to Burma (now Myanmar) in the early part of the 20th Century. So it’s probably getting close to being about 100 years old (and hence the bit of damage you see near the ear).  I hope to go to Burma/ Myanmar someday very soon- who knows I might be able to see something similar there?

I’m taking part in the 5 Day Black and White Photo Challenge. There are two rules to the challenge

1. On 5 consecutive days, create a post using either a past or recent photo in B&W.
2. Each day invite another blog friend to join in the fun.

I was nominated to this challenge by Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures Plus and my thanks for this.

I’m happy to nominate Nivs24 for this challenge. Nivs24 uploads photography and other interesting observation on their blog. I look forward to seeing contributions for the Black & White Challenge.

Today is the last day of the challenge. More of regular blogging from tomorrow!

5 DAY BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO CHALLENGE #4 RAHU, WHITE TEMPLE, CHIANG RAI

Rahu- Decider of the Fates of the Dead
Rahu- Decider of the Fates of the Dead

Wat Rong Khun is a monument/ temple that is located in Chiang Rai, Thailand. It is also more famously called ‘The White Temple’. An older temple that existed in the spot was rebuilt by a local artist- Chalermaichai Kositpipat. As the name indicates the temple is a work in monochrome with small pieces of mirrors embellished all over the walls and sculptures. At the entryway to the temple you see two massive statues- one of Death and the other of Rahu (pictured above) who apparently controls the fate of the dead. The statue is truly awe-inspiring and strikes a bit of fear into the hearts of those who enter.

I’m taking part in the 5 Day Black and White Photo Challenge. There are two rules to the challenge

1. On 5 consecutive days, create a post using either a past or recent photo in B&W.
2. Each day invite another blog friend to join in the fun.

Would anybody be interested in participating in this challenge? Let me know in the comments and I’m happy to nominate you.

5 DAY BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO CHALLENGE #3 Droplet

Droplet
Droplet

I think flowers are a fascinating subject to photograph- especially when they have water droplets hanging off them- to photograph the droplets and then to see the world through and off them is inspiring.

I’m taking part in the 5 Day Black and White Photo Challenge. There are two rules to the challenge

1. On 5 consecutive days, create a post using either a past or recent photo in B&W.
2. Each day invite another blog friend to join in the fun.

I was nominated to this challenge by Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures Plus and my thanks for this.

I’m happy to nominate Travelleah to participate in the Black & White Challenge. Leah is fascinated with travel especially with travel in Europe. You can read more about Leah in her blog. I wish her all the best!

Would anybody else be interested in participating in this challenge? Let me know in the comments and I’m happy to nominate you.