It’s Happening! Making the India pied-à-terre Habitable

I’m writing from Chennai, India, where we’ll be for the next two weeks working on our apartment here. It’s gritty right now. As construction always is. It’s like cleaning — things get way worse before they look great. And in the apartment, the mess is on a massive scale, with dust and wood splinters and paint splatters and an occasional electrical cord and saw strewn about on the floor. Yeah, watch for the saws when you’re walking on the floor in your bare feet. In India, you’re always walking in homes in bare feet. And I work in safety as a profession! I tried to keep up with keeping the environment safer, but it’s really hard to keep up with 8-10 men making a massive mess. Here’s a peek:

I apologize for committing the cardinal video sin of holding my phone vertical. It’s what makes most sense though!

In keeping with the grittiness of the apartment right now, here’s some gritty scenes during our runs for supplies, paint, hardware and occasional food …

This is a scene down the street and around the corner from our apartment, maybe 5 minutes away:

Street Scene in Chennai, India

We passed that serene goat scene while bearing brackets to brace the bathroom counters, which will be made of Burmese teak. Of course everyone is freaking out about using wood in the bathroom. Boats are built of wood. I’m sure it will be fine when properly treated.

Pretty shapes and colors found during a foray for wood skirting contractors:

Chennai India

Grille in Chennai India

Buying wood skirting can be treacherous to your pocketbook. One contractor wanted to charge 3x the rate of another contractor that we originally visited. But we couldn’t remember the original contractor at the time. Thankfully we found paperwork and we found the original contractor. And not only were they a fraction of the other guy’s cost, they came up with a linear foot estimate when they measured our apartment that was 2/3 the estimate of the more expensive contractor!

Across the street there was a “stick no bills” sign, so they were stuck over here:

Poster Remnants in Chennai India

Street numbers change, and you will often see “old” and “new” numbers:

Chennai India Street Numbers

A painter’s ladder in our apartment. And more of that blue, because these are the guys painting it:

Painters Ladder in Chennai India

There won’t be much blue in our apartment — for now it is all bright white. More coming soon about paint, because I’m all about the paint!


Did you like this post? Don't miss out on more:

What topics interest you?

A Rural South Indian Village

Today I share some shots of Osur village, in rural South India. We went there in 2013 to witness blessings for a temple. During a stroll around the handful of streets that are the village, my eye was drawn to textures and glimpses of things. As you will see, I was probably more intrigued with capturing parts of things than the whole. Because often the whole wasn’t pretty. It was tough reality. I guess this was my attempt to make it feel pin-worthy. That is not passing any judgment on the village — it’s more a reflection of, maybe, my privileged need to make things “pin-worthy.” That’s heavier stuff than just taking photos, for sure.

Osur Village Home

Rural South India Village Home Entrance

Rural South India Textures

Osur Village Dog Resting

If this is making you feel melancholy and maybe a little lonely in this world, well, that’s the effect many scenes here had on me too. But things are looking brighter …

Painted Stairs in Rural South Indian Village

Wooden Door in Rural South India

Osur Village Colors

Colors of India

Here are some scenes of the streets:

Street in Osur Village

Palm Leaf Roof

There were very few people. No children to be seen around. Most adults might have been at the temple’s ceremony, though I spotted a few people peeking warily through windows.

Some of these women adjusted my sari. And it’s surprising how the sari can go from making you feel like a caterpillar confined uncomfortably in a shapeless cocoon that you keep picking at, to a silken goddess gliding on air effortlessly. I thank them for making me feel that way!

Women at the Temple Visit

Workers are building modern blocky concrete homes next traditional styles:

New Construction and Traditional Homes

And that is Osur village. I’ll share later my fantasies of designing an Indian courtyard country house and images collected on a Pinterest board. Big contrast from what life really is!

Did you like this post? Don't miss out on more:

What topics interest you?

Traveling to a Temple in Osur

To where? Believe me, it’s not on the radar, even off the beaten track, of any traveler. Nor should it be. It’s one of myriad tiny South Indian villages where people live out their private lives far from cities and travelers. It’s a speck lost in the vast patchwork of India’s agricultural countryside, many kilometers from any major road.

Osur Village in Tamil Nadu India

Here’s the tiny village shown closer on Google Earth. It’s only a handful of streets:

Osur Village in India

To give you perspective, it’s southwest of the city of Chennai in Southern India. Here is how you would get to the village:

From Chennai to Osur Village

Why did we go there? It’s the ancestral village of my husband’s family. They have been rebuilding a Hindu temple there. I was reluctant to post anything about the location for a long time because I thought maybe the temple had valuable centuries-old stone and wood carvings that were lying around for temple raiders to take and profit. You know, like our own little Angkor Wat. Alas, there is nothing there any more. A few years ago my husband visited the old temple and captured a few photographs of the former carvings. And it was sort of like a little Angkor Wat. (Angkor Wat’s architecture is influenced by South Indian Hindu temple architecture, did you know?) We thought they would clean up and restore the old temple. But instead it was demolished and it’s being rebuilt.

This is no longer there, but this is the old stone “mandap” that my husband photographed. The mandap is like a gateway to the temple. You would pass under this into the temple:

Main Mandap Osur Temple

It’s in the tropics and the forest will reclaim its space if you don’t keep hacking it back.

Jungle Reclaiming Old Osur Temple

Here’s another shot of the main temple dome, snapped by a photographer before demolition began:

Osur Temple Main Dome

This shows the length of the temple:

Old Temple in Osur India

This would have been the scene once you passed through large carved wooden doors:

Osur Temple Doors

You will often see old large carved wood Indian doors in antique shops and they can come from temples like this.

Here’s where they built rustic scaffolding to work on restoration. If I remember right, this little building is still there:

Osur Temple Structure

This is the coolest … an old wooden elephant:

Old Wood Temple Elephant

I am afraid for the future of this elephant though. What’s interesting is that people will pay many hundreds or thousands – even sometimes tens of thousands – for relics from old temples. But this temple and all its stone carvings were demolished without a thought.  They thought it was old junk. Now it’s hard to raise the funds to pay for rebuilding the temple. If we’d known they would demolish all this to rubble, we could have salvaged old carvings and possibly sold them to raise some funds! It wasn’t even thinkable, coming from their perspective, that anyone would pay anything for the old temple carvings. So … we heard the elephant is being kept somewhere to be re-used in the new temple. But, I don’t know for sure.

More carved wood my husband photographed at the temple:

Carved Wood at South Indian Temple

We traveled to Osur and the temple in November 2013 to watch pujas (prayers) being done by Hindu priests for the temple. I went as a respectful observer. It’s not the sort of thing that non-Hindu American travelers get to see or do. They were very welcoming and showed me their plans and opened the little stone building holding the Hindu deities (the representations of their Gods) and explained their hopes and dreams for a better more beautiful home for their deities.

Here is a rendering of their dreams for the temple:

Osur Temple Renovation

Next I will post some photos taken in this temple’s village


Did you like this post? Don't miss out on more:

What topics interest you?

Spa.ce, a Spa in Bangalore

Why would I willingly let burned bamboo be smeared all over my face? Oh, but if you go to spa.ce in Bangalore, you may want the bamboo charcoal facial too. And maybe more – they offer all massage and beauty care spa services.

Of course I didn’t just take spa.ce’s word for it regarding the bamboo charcoal facial, which they call the Black Sapphire facial.

Bamboo Charcoal

I Googled “bamboo charcoal” and learned it has great absorption properties, even after it’s carbonized into charcoal. Bamboo charcoal is even used to remove impurities from drinking water. So, I figured I’d trust it on my face. It’s been used as far back as the Ming Dynasty in China in the 1400s. Some say bamboo charcoal will absorb smells from the air, just like setting out some baking soda. Doesn’t that stack of bamboo charcoal sticks look much cooler than a box of Arm & Hammer baking soda?! And, bamboo grows very fast so it’s certainly more renewable than trees that are cut and burned. 

After the pollution and sweat my face was repeatedly exposed to in India, I felt like getting the bamboo charcoal facial on the last full day there helped to clean my skin and, in a way, start un-doing the hardships it goes through during travel. And how can you not indulge in these things in India? A facial at spa.ce is a fraction of the cost of a facial at the spa down the road from my Chicago home.

Living up to its name – spa.ce – this place is not just a spa, it is quite the space too. There are two locations. I went to the Cunningham Road location, which is on the ground floor of a large and majestic old Bangalore home. See this inner courtyard:

Interior Courtyard in spa.ce the spa in Bangalore

spa.ce spa in Bangalore

I liked their textiles and furniture. They are a skillful blend of modern and traditional Indian, and they add to the soothing atmosphere:

spa.ce spa in Bengaluru

Spa in Bengaluru called spa.ce

spa.ce spa in Bengaluru India

The above photos are from the spa.ce website gallery. I also snapped photos of the pretty garden outside their Cunningham Road location:

Garden outside spa.ce spa in Bangalore

Garden Outside Spa.ce Spa in Bengaluru

Garden view from inside the spa:

Garden View from Inside Spa.ce Spa in Bangalore

There’s a good restaurant next to the Cunningham Road spa, called Fat Buddha. That might be a name we expect to see on a fast food restaurant. But that’s not what this restaurant is. It’s good Pan-Asian food, lots of Thai flavors mixed with Indian – uncommon but creative and tasty. And you can enjoy a lingering meal here.

You can get a good lunch or dinner and a spa experience just a few steps from each other, and it’s all set back a far way from busy Cunningham Road – even the traffic noise is muffled as it should be for this experience.

Did you like this post? Don't miss out on more:

What topics interest you?