Another cool place I like to retreat to when the Kathmandu city noise gets to be just a bit too much is BABER MAHAL REVISITED. It’s rather high-end ambiente, but oh so neat and clean, and a really fine place to recharge and relax. (You don’t have to shop or even eat there, you just might want to enjoy the pleasant surroundings.)
Originally built in 1919 by the then prime minister for his son, this unique complex of neo-classical Rana palace outbuildings has been redeveloped to house quite a broad selection of chic clothing shops, designer galleries and handicraft shops, as well as a couple of top-end restaurants and bars.
Neatly touched up after the 2015 earthquake, It’s aimed squarely at expats and wealthy locals so prices are as high as the quality.
From website www.babermahal-revisited.com
French restaurant “Chez Caroline”
If you want to touch base with European elegance in food and service, you might want to enjoy the lovely French restaurant CHEZ CAROLINE (prices seem high, but are pretty much equivalent to what you would pay in the West). www.chezcarolinenepal.com
Boutique hotel “Baber Mahal Vilas”
If you want to just have a look at a very classy accomodation, check out the splinternew boutique hote BABER MAHAL VILAS (with a rooftop pool!), the friendly staff is very willing to give you a little tour!. www.babermahalvilas.com
Where to find this little oasis? It’s right near Maitighar Mandala (if you take a taxi, make sure the driver understands that you want to go to the Baber Mahal “REVISITED” complex, as there is an old government building of the same name nearby!
What there is to see at the Taragaon Museum is as much about the museum complex as it is about the museum collection, a documentation of Nepal’s cultural, anthropological, architectural, and artistic history as made by foreign scholars and researchers. The distinct, barrel-vaulted rooms which museumgoers need to navigate as they walk through the permanent exhibits were originally built by Carl Pruscha to house temporary visitors who came to Nepal seeking encounters with its landscape, its culture, and its people.
In the 1950s, when the decision to open Nepal to the larger world was made and implemented, it was not just a Hindu kingdom on the Himalayan foothills that was introduced to the 20th century but also the century–rapidly changing with technology as it was and drastically affected by the two world wars–that was introduced to this country. As foreign visitors who came here in the 50s and increasingly in the 60s and the 70s, took in the sights and sounds of the country– specifi cally the capital Kathmandu, and breathed in heavy bits of it, Nepal too took its few first steps into the modern era.
To the foreigners who came here–some seeking research and documentation, others exploits and experiences; all of them adventure and understanding in one form of another–the country must have seemed a romantic idyll of the oriental sort. Nepal’s forests were pristine then, its villages as if trapped in time warps. Up until 1957, when the Tribhuvan Highway was built, there weren’t even motorable roads that lead to Kathmandu, just paths on which it was not cars that ferried men but men in their hundreds who carried cars on their backs to the Capital. Documentation is central to Taragaon Museum’s goal and existence. The photographs, drawings, sketches and other pieces of crucial visual information that are in its collection record Nepal’s recent history and showcase it to a people who are fast-forgetting the city Kathmandu used to be.
To those entering it for the first time, Kathmandu Valley must have seemed a city left untouched since the middle ages. Indeed, the architecture of the Valley was still largely dominated by elements from the Malla Era at the time. The white plaster, classical columns and Venetian windows that the Ranas brought into Kathmandu were largely limited to their own homes and palaces.Brick-walled and often more than two storied–their tiled roofs double-pitched saddles, and their structures supported by brick and timbre–the typical homes and residences of Kathmandu still retained the typical Malla-era Newar house characteristics.
These houses were joined together and built around a central courtyard, and community–the very fabric of Newar culture–was manifested in the architecture.Kathmandu was a walking city full of old routes back then, and its water was still largely supplied by stone spouts. To those who laid eyes on it for the first time, the Capital must have been an exotic land, a place unlike any other in the world. It was these eyes, foreign eyes that recognised the wonder of what must have been a beautiful and exceptionally unique city, which presented the first documentations of Kathmandu and its periphery. The foreigners who came here at the time studied the Valley’s culture and recorded it for posterity.
And this documentation is what we get to see at the Taragaon Museum, Bouddha (the Hyatt Regency compound), an exhibition space that houses permanent collections– photographs, sketches and architectural drawings, mostly–inside premises built by Carl Pruscha, the Austrian architect extensively involved in Kathmandu’s urban planning in the 1970s, and revered not just for the brilliance of his regional designs but also the instrumental role he played in getting Nepal’s cultural heritage on the world map.
What there is to see at the Taragaon Museum is as much about the museum complex as it is about the museum collection. The exhibition space is scattered across the roughly 16 rooms that were originally built by Pruscha as temporary residences for foreigners visiting Kathmandu and boarding at the Taragaon Hostel. The hostel itself was planned as part of the larger Tara Gaon Village, a tourist complex envisioned by Angur Baba Joshi, a woman born in Kathmandu’s Dillibazaar in 1932 and educated at Oxford in the 1960s, a time at which few women in the country even got a chance at receiving an education. It was Joshi’s wish to “propagate Nepali culture” and “promote Nepaliness in the tourism industry”, that planted the seed, as it were, of Taragaon in the late 60s, and the museum that we see today is a reflection of that wish in many ways.
The architecture of the complex will seem immediately familiar to anyone who has walked into the superlatively designed and appallingly maintained CEDA building at Tribhuvan University.
The drumroofed structures that repeat throughout the complex are based on barrel-vaulted structures that sheltered pilgrims–“a kind of Pati” as Pruscha calls them–which the architect came across at temple complexes in Kathmandu while conducting research here in the 1970s
Individual drumroofed structures, the actual exhibition rooms at the Taragaon Museum, lead to common courtyards where art performances, book launches and social gatherings take sometimes place.
Here, Pruscha’s modern Chinese kiln-fired red bricks–a material he chose to work with for the aesthetic and structural affinities it shares with Kathmandu’s traditional Dachi brick structures–bring the sort of Nepaliness Joshi was aiming for in her Tara Gaon complex to a very modern design. A letter dated May 13, 2010– portions of which have been transcribed and blown up for display at the Taragaon Museum–provides insight into the actual designing of the complex. In passages readable at the museum, Pruscha talks about how the centre and focus of his design for the Taragaon Hostel, the drumroofed structures that repeat throughout the complex and give it a structural harmony that has an almost classical underpinning to it, were based on barrelvaulted structures–“a kind of Pati” as he calls them–he came across at temple complexes in Kathmandu in the 70s, serving as shelter for pilgrims.If form does follow function, then the basic form of the Taragaon Museum, what Pruscha calls the “prototype” for his design, can be seen as following the same sheltering purpose that these Patis provided religious devotees.
The pilgrims’ at the Taragaon Hostel came here seeking encounters with the Nepali landscape, its culture and its people, and for Pruscha it was extremely important that he give these temporary residents the kind of space that would serve their needs–for contemplation as much as interaction, perhaps, and privacy as much as society.
Hence the individual drum-roofed structures, the actual exhibition rooms at the Taragaon Museum, today lead to a community building–the Museum cafe, as well as common courtyards where art performances, book launches and social gatherings sometimes take place. The function of the complex has been revised with the deliberate purpose of documenting an era and a way of life that is gradually slipping from living memory. The Saraf Foundation–which endeavours to support the preservation, restoration and documentation of the arts and heritage of Kathmandu–turned a beautiful and culturally-historically significant complex that had fallen into disuse and subsequent disrepair into a documentation centre.
The Museum today houses and displays to the public a significant body of work that the artists, photographers, architects, anthropologists and Sanskritists who travelled to Nepal in the second half of the 20th century have left behind.“Those foreign scholars and professionals who worked and lived in Nepal these past couple of decades are leaving, and their work is often leaving with them,” explains Roshan Mishra, museum manager at Taragaon as he talks about the documentation that is central to Taragaon Museum’s goal and existence. These photographs, drawings, sketches and other pieces of crucial visual information record our recent history, and it is this history that the museum showcases brilliantly as well. “The pictures we have in our collection might have ended up in garages in different parts of the world,” Mishra continues. The Taragaon Museum saves these works, the museum director points out, and enables visual documentation in a manner never before been attempted in Nepal.
Images from as far back as the 19th century are currently in the museum collection, the two oldest being an 1853 etching and a 1863 photograph of Kathmandu. The architect, photographer and author Niels Gutschow (who is also involved in a curatorial role with the Museum), photographer Kevin Bubriski (who has been documenting the Nepali landscape and its people in haunting black-and-white images that stick to you since the 1970s), photographer and theoretical physicist Jaroslav Poncar, photo activist Thomas L Keely, architectural photographer Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, and photographer, journalist and author Tiziano Terzani are amongst the expatriate documentarians whose work the Taragaon Museum has in its permanent collection.
An article in ASIA ONE of 8 July 2015 describes the feelings of a resident of “Park View Horizon”, a cluster of luxury highrises everyone sees when flying into Kathmandu. (Includes promotional video of the high-end real estate towers!)
Park View Horizon is one of two high-rise buildings that have been slapped with a red notice, meaning it needs either major work to make it safe or else must be demolished. (AFP Photo/Bikash Karki)
His luxury flat had views of the Himalayas to make the heart soar but Dan Bahadur Budhathoki is going to take some persuading to move back into Kathmandu’s 17-storey Park View Horizon apartment block. Budhathoki was at home on April 25 when Nepal was hit by its deadliest earthquake in eight decades and felt the ground sway under his feet.
“I was really frightened,” said Budhathoki, the boss of a local temping agency who has been living in his office since disaster struck.
The 7.8-magnitude quake killed more than 8,800 people and destroyed nearly 600,000 houses in Nepal, a country where high-rise buildings are still something of a rarity and are limited to Kathmandu.
The quake also damaged another 280,000 houses, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless and emptying villages deemed too dangerous for human habitation.
Nepalis watched in horror as clouds of dust rose over the Kathmandu Valley and thousands of poorly constructed houses crumbled to pieces, many of which were home to some of the capital’s poorest residents.
More than two months later, blue tents and makeshift shelters made from iron and tarpaulin still dot Kathmandu’s landscape, offering shelter to working-class families who saw their life savings turned to rubble.
Wealthier residents who live in better-designed buildings by and large emerged unscathed.
When Budhathoki purchased his home in one of the capital’s most desirable addresses, he was given assurances about its capacity to withstand an earthquake.
“The developer said that the building was safe for quakes. Initially it was an 11-storey building but then he got the permit to add six storeys. “Maybe that’s the reason for this big damage,” added Budhathoki who heads a group of some 100 apartment owners and tenants demanding compensation.
Before April’s quake, 58 high-rise buildings had been built in Kathmandu while around another dozen projects have received planning permission. While thousands of one or two-storey buildings were reduced to rubble, none of the tower blocks were toppled.
Park View Horizon is one of two high-rise buildings that have been slapped with a red notice, meaning it needs either major work to make it safe or else must be demolished. While six buildings sustained no damage at all, the other 50 require lighter remedial work, according to Buddhisagar Thapa, an urban development ministry official who has responsibility for Kathmandu.
Varun Developers, the local offshoot of the Indian construction giant RJCorp which built Park View, says the building does not necessarily have to be razed to the ground and can be made habitable again.
“It will take at least six months but it can be done. The foundations are okay but we are working on strengthening them,” said Amit Gupta, the company’s representative in Nepal.
Gupta insisted construction had conformed to all safety regulations but acknowledged residents were fearful about returning. “Of course, things will never be the same and it will take time but by six months, phobia of high storeys will decrease.”
Budhathoki, who owns twinned apartments on the third and fourth floors, is cool about the prospects of a return with his wife and two children. “Shall we come back? Wait and see.”
Damages to Park View Horizon buildings in Dhapasi
The official line is there is no reason why the quake should signal an end to multi-storey buildings.
“High rises can be built here,” said Thapa. “We are revising the building code so that we can minimise the extent of damage seen in the buildings after the quake and make them more earthquake resistant.”
But experts say the disaster should serve as a wake-up call about the dangers of high-rise buildings in a city with a history of earthquakes.
“No dynamic soil test has been conducted in Kathmandu to measure how the soil will react to seismic waves,” said Deepak Chamlagain, a geology professor at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan University.
“Some high-rise buildings have been built according to the Indian building code but geological conditions in the Kathmandu Valley are very different because the layer of clay in our soil can amplify the propagation of the seismic wave.”
While the fate of Park View Horizon hangs in the balance, some of its neighbours are clamouring for its demolition.
Prem Bahadur Lama runs a hotel which was full on the day of the quake. But he has had to close his business over fears Park View could collapse on top of it. He now sleeps under a tent on a vacant lot nearby. “With some neighbours, we opposed the construction of this building because we thought it would be dangerous,” said the 53-year-old. “We would like that the building be demolished but I’m not sure Nepal has the skills to do so.”
I had a fabulous weekend in this amazing place, the only city in the Netherlands to be totally bombed at the end of WWWII, thus practically nothing quaint left – instead a very modern and multi-cultural place to visit.
We just had to see two major sites: besides the modern watrfront area “Wilhelminapier” this was first the “Markthall”, an indoor market-place just recently opened (near the famous cube houses) with an absolutely amazing arched ceiling and apartments on the outside, creating a kind of shell around the market activities inside. On both sides the market hall is enclosed by huge window fronts which had to be specially engineered to withstand winds and temperature changes in summer and winter (and allowed for some nice mirror photos!).
On the way through town we also saw an ingenious underpass, making possible the continuation of a major shopping street UNDER a busy thoroughfare – nice shops and a very pleasant experience instead of having to wait to cross the busy street above:
The second major point of interest was the Wilhelmina pier. A totally new quarter on a pier that still welcome about 30 enourmous sea cruise ships per year, but also hosts the highest apartment tower of the Netherlands (43 stories!) as well as just one historic building, namely the “Hotel America”, last abode of thousands of emigrants taking off with the Holland-America Line for a better future in the U.S.!
(image by kcap.eu)
View of “Hotel America” with the modern construction all around it:
On the very left below the highest apartment building of the Netherlands , the New Orleans building. It is a 43-storey, 158.3 m (519 ft) tall residential tower, designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira. It is currently the tallest residential building in the Netherlands:
(all photos: Beata Wiggen - except when specified)
And if you want to watch a really cool advertising film:
Yesterday I had the chance to join an architectural tour in Krefeld featuring two villas “Haus Lange” and “Haus Ester”! How fantastic was that. With a lot of background information we walked around the villas, built 1927 to 1929 for a rich textile merchant and his legal advisor. Both villas sit on 7,500 square meters of ground, featuring more than 1,000 square meters of living space. Take for example “Haus Lange”: a bedroom each for the parents with individuals bathroom, a bedroom each for the 3 children, all with their own bathrooms and access to the top-floor terrace. On the ground floor a huge hall (where up to 100 chairs for listeners of concerts or readings could be accomodated), a gentlemen’s lounge, a ladies lounge, a living, a spacious dining room, kitchen and prep-kitchen, and servants quarters.
I had long been aware of famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe having designed these villas in Krefeld, a city nearby my German home. Yes, that’s the Mies van der Rohe of “Barcelona chair” and “Barcelona pavillion” acclaim. I was incredibly impressed by his ingenuity (most impressed by the 4 huge picture windows facing the garden which could be totally lowered – they disappear with an ingenious motorized contraption into the cellar wall!) and his impeccable detail-orientation.