Modernist Asia, part I: January 10 - January 24, 2019
Chandigarh (2 nights) - Ahmedabad (3 nights) - Pondicherry (2.5 nights) - Phnom Penh (2 nights) - Kep (2 nights) - Phnom Penh (1 night)
Day 1, January 10, Thursday
Arrive in Delhi and transfer to our delightful hotel in the heart of the Lutyens’ New Delhi. We will meet in the afternoon for a welcome walk of New Delhi to visit the eighteenth century Jantar Mantar sundial, to learn how it has influenced many modernists, and the 1987 British Council Library, designed by Charles Correa, India’s most famous modernist architect, with a large mural by Howard Hodgkin in black Kadapa stone and white Makrana marble. Welcome dinner in a fine modernist restaurant nearby.
Day 2, January 11, Friday
After breakfast we drive north, to Chandigarh, India’s modernist post-partition capital of Punjab: a city planned by Le Corbusier in the 1950s and 60s, and recently refashioned as a ‘smart city’ by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Check in at our comfortable central hotel, and enjoy a buffet lunch. Some time to rest. We will meet in the afternoon for an introductory walk to get to know the city’s past, and to feel its present vibe. There is much more of importance behind and alongside Le Corbusier’s buildings. Our first stop will be Asia’s largest rose garden, just opposite our hotel. Then we will visit the city museum, curious from an architectural perspective, and also boasting an excellent collection of Indian miniature paintings, historic and modern. And lastly, we will visit the next door College of Architecture in Chandigarh, to admire its architecture, and to have a question and answer session with local architects and students. Is Chandigarh a success? Or a failure? The common argument that it is a failure is that Chandigarh never achieved the cosmopolitanism it craved. Instead of ruling, enlightening and modernising Indian society, this city of the future became a museum piece in need of protection from its own violently quarrelling citizens and the ravages of the climate. Architectural structures that once cast a heroic gaze forward, but now appear as a sad testimony to a future that never arrived. Yet Chandigarh has the highest per capita income in India. And it is the cleanest city of the nation. An architectural spectacle better suited for postcards than for living? Let’s decide for ourselves. In the evening we will see Punjabi mud wrestling - with melted butter, cinnamon, cardamom and what not thrown in the mud to make it softer for the skin. We will take dinner in the town’s Sector 8, in a hip local restaurant.
Day 3, January 12, Saturday
After breakfast we will visit Chandigarh’s Sector 1, which was designed as the head of the city: it holds the fascinating High Coart, Assembly and Secretariat buildings, as well as the Tower of Shadows and the Open Hand monument (all UNESCO World Heritage Sites). After touring them we will visit the absolutely phantasmagorical Rock garden, which has thousands of figures made by government official Nek Chand, from waste materials, over the course of two decades. This rock garden is another gap in the way Chandigarh is planned, and the way it is lived. Afterwards we will drive to the nearby house-museum of Pierre Jeanneret, cousin and fellow architect of Le Corbusier. We will have lunch on the lawn in front of his stunning house - which is actually the same type of house that was built for senior civil servants. (It is possible to stay overnight in the house: you can sleep on the famous Swiss architect’s own bed, work on his desk, and sit on one of his famous charpoy chairs, made of tensile ropes and wooden legs - a remarkably inventive and elegant furniture, and which today is smuggled out of Chandigarh and into western auctions. The facilities at the house are pretty decent. There are functional bathroom facilities. As in a Soviet sanatorium, do not expect luxury, but expect to be taken back in time. If you decide to stay, we will drop you off in the evening, and pick you up in the morning. And there is permanent staff at the house to address your needs.) After our lunch, we will visit a private home, designed by Le Corbusier and his team, to learn how Chandigarh today is lived. We will have a stroll in the Panjab University, stopping at the Gandhi Bhawan and the Union Building. A last key stop will be in a famous local sweets shop, with hundreds of mouth-watering desserts! Then back in the hotel to rest, and have dinner.
Day 4, January 13, Sunday
After breakfast we will head to Chandigarh Airport for a late morning flight to Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, located just south of the Tropic of Cancer. Transfer to our modern hotel in Ahmedabad, overlooking the Sabarmati river. Whereas in Chandigarh the focus was on power and politics-sponsored modernism, and how people fit in it; in Ahmedabad the focus is on commercially driven modernism. After some rest we will visit the Sanskar Kendra museum, a modern architectural jewel, which while under-funded and under-staffed, does have one of the world’s finest collections of Gujarati art. After our museum visit we will have a short guided walk through Ahmedabad’s UNESCO-listed old town, with some stunning Islamic wooden architecture, and the famous pols, or clusters of housing. We will witness the busy traditional lanes - the India that modernism sought to replace. We will have dinner at one of India’s finest restaurants, in the heart of the old town.
Day 5, January 14, Monday
After breakfast at our hotel we will enjoy one of India’s most fascinating spectacles: the Kite festival over the old town of Ahmedabad. Anywhere you look, there will be kites of all sizes, shapes and makes. We will visit a small workshop of a kite master, to learn how kites are made in Gujarat. We will then have lunch in a rustic local Gujarati restaurant. In the afternoon we will visit the studio of B.V. Doshi, one of India’s most celebrated modern architects, to learn more about his work alongside Le Corbusier, and his modernist projects in the later decades. Then we will visit the Louis Kahn designed Institute of Management: a small, but adorable college campus. We will have some free time in the afternoon to rest or have a stroll down the green Sabarmati river promenade, just across our hotel. Dinner at our hotel restaurant.
Day 6, January 15, Tuesday
After breakfast we will visit the small and secretive Calico museum of textiles, one of India’s most interesting museums, boasting a large collection of 15-19 century Mughal palace textiles, embroideries and miniature paintings. Then we will head to the magnificent Mill Owners Association Building, designed by Le Corbusier, and in my opinion the most beautiful modernist building anywhere in India if not the world. We will have lunch at the Mill Owners Building and have a talk about Gujarat’s textile industry today. In the afternoon we will visit a modern mill, to see how textiles are made, and learn about some of the challenges facing the industry - energy, labour and markets. Lastly, we hope to visit the stunning Villa Sarabhai (subject to confirmation, as it is a private home, and is often busy), a modernist icon, the home of a wealthy textile family. Dinner at our hotel restaurant.
Day 7, January 16, Wednesday
In the morning we fly to Chennai, on the east coast of India. We will drive for approximately an hour south to Mahabalipuram, a stunning cluster of seventh and eight century Hindu monuments, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Then we continue to Pondicherry, another two hours or so drive south on the beautiful Coromandel coast. Pondicherry, a former French colony, is one of India’s most charming small towns. We will check in at our beautiful half-old, half-modernist villa. Lunch at the villa. Time to rest after our journey, and to soak in the warm tropical weather. In the later afternoon, when the sun is down, we will go out for a walk on the streets of Pondicherry, to explore the town’s French heritage. Dinner in a delightful local restaurant, mixing South Indian and French fare.
Day 8, January 17, Thursday
Pondicherry. In the morning, after a lovely breakfast, we will visit the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, which holds India’s oldest modernist building, the Golconde, a meticulously kept spiritual residence built by Czech Antonin Raymond and Japanese George Nakashima in the 1930s. Those who are curious can spend the night in this unique building, and experience the atmosphere of a spiritual community housed inside a modernist fero-concrete building. Afterwards, back at our hotel, we will have a cooking lesson, and then have what we’ve just cooked for lunch. Afternoon at your leisure to explore the city and its numerous colonial buildings and churches, relax by the pool, or head to the beach. Dinner at a nearby restaurant in town.
Day 9, January 18, Friday
After breakfast we will visit Auroville, a modernist utopian town established by Paris-born Mirra Alfassa, chief disciple of the Indian yogi-philosopher Sri Aurobindo (after whom Auroville is named). Auroville is centred on a giant geodesic dome suspended several metres above a lotus pond. Beside it are a cluster of egg-shaped sandstone meditation chambers and a couple of public buildings. The French architect Roger Anger planned Auroville as the embodiment of Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual ideas, which dispensed with politics and social hierarchy. Both Chandigarh and Auroville promised an alternative future, yet they were realised in completely different ways. We will visit the four section of Auroville: the international, cultural, industrial and residential parts, stopping at several key buildings like the Sri Aurobindo auditorium, the Bharat Nivas (or India pavilion), the solar kitchen and the food distribution centre. Lunch in Auroville, and then back to Pondicherry to rest. In the evening, after dinner, we will drive to Chennai, and catch a late flight to Phnom Penh via Bangkok on Thai Airways. The total duration of the flight is five hours, including a stopover in Bangkok.
Day 10, January 19, Saturday
We will arrive early in Phnom Penh. Transfer to our beautiful hotel - one of the world’s most enchanting and peaceful hotels, with private plunge pools, yet located in the heart of Phnom Penh. Time to rest after the flight. In the afternoon we will meet for a tour of the city’s sights. But rather than focusing on the royal palace and the gruesome killing fields, which all other tourists do, we will focus our tour on the four religions that have shaped Phnom Penh: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism, by visiting a Carmelite chapel, a mosque, a Buddhist Wat and a Chinese temple, all of them overgrown, almost forgotten, yet stepped in history and memory. Then we will have a welcome dinner in a lovely Khmer-French restaurant in town.
Day 11, January 20, Sunday
In the morning, after breakfast, we will do a tour of Modernist Phnom Penh, as charted by the greatest Cambodian modernist, Vann Molyvann. We will start with the curious hundred houses project on the outskirts of town, blending traditional Khmer residential architecture with modern materials and philosophies, then the beautiful Foreign Languages Institute, and finally the Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium, Vann Molyvann’s masterpiece. The stadium, on prime redevelopment land, barely survived destruction. It is now surrounded on all sides by monster apartment and office complexes, and can hardly be seen from the street. We will take lunch at the modernist Pasteur Institute, now used as a residence for working class people. We will share our lunch with the locals, learning some of their stories, and once again (after Chandigarh) see the gap between modernity planned and lived. Then we are back to our hotel to rest. In the later afternoon we will walk to the nearby Bophana Centre, one of Cambodia’s most curious NGOs. We will do a tour of the centre, see the work these amazing guys are doing for reconstructing Cambodia’s memory, culture and arts. We will watch a modernist new wave film about the past - the Khmer Rouge, and all that nastiness which happened to Cambodia in the past. We will have the opportunity to chat with the artist and director about their film, modernity and Cambodia. We will all have dinner together in a nearby restaurant and micro brewery.
Day 12, January 21, Monday
After breakfast we will drive south to the coast. Our first stop will be a beautiful modern pepper plantation. We will see how the famous Kampot pepper is cultivated, picked and dried. And we will learn how to cook with it, and have lunch with what we cooked. After lunch we will have a tour, with several buffalo carts, to a small but enchanting Cambodian village, with its farms, school and shop. In the afternoon we depart to nearby Kep, on the coast. Kep was one of the liveliest and trendiest seaside resorts in Southeast Asia before the Khmer Rouge took over. It now has about a hundred modernist villas, ghost shells of a bygone era, awaiting redevelopment into larger resorts. Let’s enjoy the serenity of the place while it lasts. We will stay in a lovely modernist villa, on the banks of the ocean, with it’s own beach, pool and rice fields. It is a piece of paradise. Some time to rest, and then dinner at our villa.
Day 13, January 22, Tuesday
After breakfast we will head out for a tour of modernist Kep: like the Angkor Wat, the modernist villas are similarly overgrown in the surrounding jungle. We will have lunch at Kep’s famous crab market, said to have the best crabs in Southeast Asia. In the afternoon we will have a poetry and literature reading at our villa, with some of the most curious literary talents of Cambodia. Dinner all together in our hotel.
Day 14, January 23, Wednesday
After breakfast we depart back to Phnom Penh. On the way we will join Cambodia Living Arts, an NGO aiming at preserving Cambodian arts and crafts, on their music bus going to villages to revive lost musical traditions and transform lives. Lunch in a village en route. In the afternoon we arrive back to our Phnom Penh hotel, check in, and have some time free. You are welcome to explore the city by yourselves: perhaps visit the nearby Royal Palace, or venture to the Central Market. Farewell dinner in town.
Day 15, January 24, Thursday
End of tour after breakfast. Head home, or perhaps fly to Siem Reap to explore the stunning Angkor Wat: we can help you find good accommodation and guide.
- Accommodation in some of India and Cambodia’s top lodgings.
- Transport with new, comfortable minibuses.
- Drivers and guides lodging and food.
- Flights Chandigarh-Ahmedabad and Ahmedabad-Chennai on Jet Airways or similar; Chennai-Phnom Penh on Thai Airways.
- All meals according to programme: 14 breakfasts, 12 lunches, 14 dinners in carefully selected places.
- All taxes and fees.
- Bottled water, refreshments and sweet treats while on the bus and while exploring sights.
- A comprehensive information pack with maps, literature, useful knowledge and gifts.
- Tips for pretty much everyone but guide and driver.
- All activities according to the program.
- Entry tickets to all sights that are ticketed.
- And much, much more.
Price does not include:
- International air fares.
- Medical and travel insurance.
- Personal expenses such as phone calls, laundry, internet, drinks apart from those included.
- Visa fees for India and Cambodia.
€4960 per person, €770 single supplement.
The cost is per person sharing double or twin room.
We accept payment by bank wire, credit card and cash (cash is only in our office in Sofia, Bulgaria!).
- Painting a comprehensive picture of modernism in India and Cambodia since the 1930s.
- Visit to Asia’s largest rose garden.
- Guided tours to Chandigarh and Ahmedabad’s museums.
- A visit to Chandigarh’s UNESCO-listed High Court, Secretariat and Assembly, designed by Le Corbusier.
- Getting lost in Nek Chand’s Rock Garden, India’s most curious modern tourist site.
- Opportunity to spend a night in two modernist icons: Pierre Jeanneret’s house in Chandigarh, and the Golconda, India’s first modernist building.
- Opportunity to visit a private home inside a modernist building, and see how people of different walks of life have adapted to modernism: from the textile tycoons of Ahmedabad to the poor of Phnom Penh.
- Mud wrestling in Chandigarh.
- The amazing annual kite festival in Ahmedabad.
- Visit to the studio of one of India’s greatest architects, B.V. Doshi.
- Visits to numerous modernist landmarks: Le Corbusier’s Mill Owners Association Building, Louis Kahn’s Indian Institute of Management, Charles Correa’s British Council in Delhi, Vann Molyvann’s Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh, and more.
- Guided tour to the French colonial heritage in Pondicherry, a former French colony on the Bay of Bengal.
- Guided tour to the four religions that shaped Phnom Penh: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism.
- Visit and lunch at the Kep crab market, where some of the world’s best seafood is served.
- Visit to a Kampot pepper plantation, which has the world’s best black and red pepper, and a water buffalo cart tour of a Cambodian village.
- Visit to Auroville, a modernist, utopian, spiritual planned town in southern India.
- Visit to the Mahabalipuram Hindu temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Coromandel coast of India.
- Walking through Ahmedabad’s pols, another curious UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Lots of amazing food, curious local artists and intellectuals as guides, and stays at amazing hotels.
- And much more!