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The Hill Palace, ChottaNikkara Temple and Tripunithura Temple… the Princess Diaries continued!

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And then it was off to the Glorious Hill Palace- a place where both my fathers parents (both of them were cousins) had been born and raised and where the Maharaja had lived from 1914- 1932. My grandfather who unfortunately I never met was born 1921 and my grandmother who died at a very young age (and who also I never met 😦 ) was born in 1926 at the Hill Palace and my Father is lucky to have photographs of them playing together and growing up together in this beautiful, beautiful palace!

I had been really waiting to see the Hill Palace and I was right. It is indeed one of the most magnificent palaces I have ever seen! With layers of Gardens and fountains in front, the Palace , at one time must have stood out as a glorious white swan amidst a lake of green ! With a deer park (huge) which still have beautiful deer and with several building nestled among the lush greenery- the Hill Palace is easily one of India’s most glorious and most underrated palaces. After visiting it, I hope to write to the ministry and I will try and restore my family’s old home to part of it’s former glory. It seems only fitting. It seems only fair.

The Palace is looked after well, considering their obviously limited finances. The Government employees are proud of the Palace and the wood seems to be polished regularly and care has been taken to preserve all the incredible paintings, jewelry and artifacts. But with an entrance fee of Rs. 20, it is difficult to even keep a Palace of this size clean- so restoring it to it’s former glory is impossible. Sponsorships and Funding must come in and we should try and preserve this proud testament to India’s glory days.

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The gardens are now but shadows of what they would have looked like. Where the would have been 50 trees, there is now one aged weed and where there would have been brightly coloured flowers there is one token bush. The fountains are dry and chipped…. A new coat of paint and landscaping would easily restore the gardens to their lush beauty.

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I entered and immediately i saw my Family Crest carved beautifully in wood. The Family Crest is everywhere – on the top of the Hill Palace,in different rooms, etched in glass everywhere! Immediately we were click happy and I asked to get some photographs taken.

DSC04416In most parts of the Hill Palace, photographs are not allowed especially in the Crown room and where the Jewellery is stored- but because we were family- a wonderful government historian proudly took us around to rooms that hadn’t even been opened to the Public yet; showing us artifacts they were restoring and rooms that would soon be open to Public.

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Another interesting thing to note…is like the Taj Mahal in Agra, you must walk thru this Palace barefoot. The Palace is kept clean and the tiles are original and is wonderful to walk on the cool flooring and marvel at the care and attention that had been taken when this palace was built. It was also so far sighted of those that constructed the palace to choose the right materials for the Palace. Even in the humidity and heat of a Kerala afternoon the floors were cold and the windows kept a steady stream of air passing through. With out air conditioning , we were still able to walk a few hours without even breaking a sweat!

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And so it was off to the Crown room! And we saw the crown and the throne and the room where the Maharaja would conduct his daily business!The Palace in itself has several buildings with the traditional centre courtyard. The women, families and children would live and play in the other buildings. I’m assuming a simple game of hide and seek could run a couple of days with the amount of space this exquisite Palace has! 🙂 Unfortunately those building have yet to be restored and sadly some of the of them are being used as administrative offices and the rest of them just left vacant.

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Achan (Dad in Malayalam) and I posed in front of his great grand father picture (The Maharaja of Cochin) and  I know I was dreaming of being a Princess and roaming this beautiful Palace as my home.

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I was snapped out of day dreaming with the stunning light emanating from the rubies and emeralds and the room where all the jewellery and armor is stored. And then we wandered off to see the carriages … beautifully kept and a wonderful memory of a simpler, grander time!

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After a quick stop at the Deer park , I sadly said farewell to a new Palace I had just seen but which seemed so familiar to me….! I will come back. I must restore it.

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And then it was off to the famous temple ChottaNikkara. Legend has it that my great, great grandmother Parukutty Nethyar Amma ,got married very young. Like all young girls, she wanted many things. Her husband, said to her that if she wants so much, then she should perhaps ask the Devi and so she did. She prayed for fame, fortune and prayed with all her heart. When the Raja abdicated , she was at the temple when the Priest asked her whether she had moved to her new house- the Palace. She went home, to find that her husband had just been named the first Maharaja on Cochin State. The temple is beautiful. With great amount of faith, I went and prayed. I was so proud to just be able to walk the space my great great grandmother had and be able to share some of the faith she had!

No photographs are allowed in the temple.

And then finally we ended up in the Tripunithura Temple where the kings came after their coronation. Interestingly ,in Gurvayoor the Krishna idol is standing, in Tripunithura – he is sitting and when you go to Trivandrum, he is lying down!The temple has a massive courtyard where the elephants were brought and made to stand! We were overjoyed to see one hungry, very naughty elephant troubling his Mahout as the evening set on this PERFECT DAY!

From Hill Palace, both these temples are very close by and MUST SEES!

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Cuddling lions in Sun City!

When you shoot for shows on television or get to shoot for or in a film, you often get to see places that are truly amazing and sometimes places that you never thought you’d actually visit! This is what happened when during the second season of ‘Making the Cut,’ we traveled to Sun City, South Africa!

Now Sun City is about 2 hours away from Johannesburg Airport. Jo’burg Airport is nothing to write home about. The Arrival area is simple, efficient, crowded and quick. After a long, night flight; knowing that I would be starting work as I arrived to the hotel, I grabbed a quick cup of coffee and headed into a waiting car.

The drive to Sun City was spectacular in it’s sparseness. There is almost nothing on the road, except for massive estates every few kilometers guarded fiercely with electric fences, high walls and FBI-worthy security. These estates are usually opposite huge hills which I was told were mineral deposits. The ride was otherwise unspectacular and the roads eerily empty in broad daylight! Jo’burg has a very high crime ratio and rape ratio and that  was the reason we were told! A very scary start indeed!

Luckily I had the very beautiful Celina Jaitly as company and we talked about the wonderful man in her life Peter (now her husband!) and a 2 hour trip didn’t seem so long after all- Thankfully girlish gossip can make time fly ;)!

We did pass a village with some makeshift houses made out of tarp and wood and saw ‘Doctor’ scribbled on what I had to assume was a room. This showed the  huge disparity between the rich and the poor and suddenly the high crime ratio seemed to make some sense. In India you see poverty and huts often, but the small village with its one room and burnt tires on a small patch of green was more poverty than even I had ever seen. The gaunt , young children standing at the edge of the road playing with a stick is a memory that will remain etched in our minds forever.

And then suddenly, as if from nowhere, gates- similar to those from the movie ‘Jurassic Park’ rose from the ground. An island , a mirage, a vision of great beauty stood in front of us! Welcome to a land of splendor and beauty! We were welcomed into Sun City, an oasis in the midst of what can only be described as nowhere!

Sun City has four Hotels- The Cabanas, the Cascades, Sun City Hotel and the Palace of the Lost City.

The Palace

Traveling through Sun City we passed beautiful fountains and entered Sun City Palace – The Palace of the Lost City. Walking through the domed lobby the best way to describe this hotel is opulent. Carved furnishings, large , magnificent chandeliers, gold and ornate pieces of art…it truly looked like a Palace! The shoot was starting in the evening…so I got down to work immediately and started exploring the grounds with my camera team to ensure we got the best possible locations for the shoot the following days!

What a spectacular hotel! With beautiful fountains, exquisite sculptures and even babbling brooks, exploring the hotel was truly wonderful. It had so many locations and we were truly spoiled for choice!

Playing around!

The crew, models and designers were staying at the  Cascades Hotel and in the Cabanas both 2 of the hotels part of Sun City.These hotels are younger and more casual but I know I would never have been happy except in the Palace! I am that kind of girl, after all!

There is also a lovely entertainment centre which can be approached via the Free shuttles which leave from the hotels on request. The entertainments centre has everything from Indian food, to fast food to a casino! Needless to say the models loved the Entertainment centre and if for any reason we couldn’t find one of them…that’s where they’d probably be!

There is also a fun complex called The Valley of the Waves where families can enjoy themselves being bombarded by waves! I’m not particularly crazy about the idea…but it always seemed full…so I guess it worked especially for kids!

The shoot was hard and long. The finale was in a beautiful amphitheater which had been used years earlier for the Miss World Contest and was absolutely spectacular. There was almost no time to enjoy the locations or relax till the shoot was over each day and by that time I had no energy to do more than fall in to bed! The evening our shoot ended I enjoyed a cappuccino on the terrace of the Tusk Bar while I watched a monkey sit on a nearby ledge waiting and hoping that we’d share more than just a cup of coffee!

That’s the thing with Sun City. There are so many monkeys and birds, it’s spectacular! We were told to keep our balconies shut because monkeys often entered rooms! And I must confess that one evening as I trudged back to my room I remember two monkeys gleefully helping themselves to the chocolates on the Housekeeping cart as the hotel staff was doing a turn down service for one of the rooms in the evening!

Crystal Court

The rooms are large and comfortable. Meals are served in the main restaurant downstairs in the Crystal Court which also serves a high tea or you can opt for an Italian dinner at the Villa del Palazzo. The high tea is good but the rest of the food unfortunately is not! It is bland and tasteless and for the first time I found myself missing just a simple tikka roll!

And so he walks...

Bobbing heads!

Walk on!

The shoot took us to the Cultural village which was fun and informative and to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve which is an experience I will never forget! Driving down the dusty road, we saw the bobbing heads of giraffes, the grazing zebras and the magnificent elephant! The African elephant is huge and causes a great amount of damage in the forest often knocking down everything in its path and we saw a herd grazing quite a distance away. I looked at them and then turned to Aditya and said-” he’s coming our way…Ganesha is coming

"He's Coming to us!"

our way.” And right on cue a magnificent , male elephant walked towards our van.  Still hundreds on metros away I kept my hand on the camera trigger and kept clicking- ” he’scoming to us…I know he is.” I said my prayers as the rest in the van slowly started moving to the other end. Whispers grew louder and then slowly people started screaming. I kept clicking and he kept coming forward. My Ganesha walked to me and to my position in the van, looked me straight in the eye and thenwithout causing any harm despite the screaming models in the background, slowly and magnificently walked away! This was the closest I came to God- I saw complete purity and innocence in the eyes of one of God’s most glorious of creatures. I was blessed!

Staring at Ganesha!

Watching your back!

We also got to see a pck of 3 rhinos each guarding each other’s back! It’s funny how animals are often more humans than humans are! Maybe we could learn a thing or two from them….instead of always having to watch our own backs! 😉

It was only after the shoot that I got a day to relax! And we packed that day in beautifully! Sun City has an International Golf Course and Aditya and I explored that via segway! I had never driven a segway before and I have to confess that I am easily one of the most unbalanced (in movement not in the head 😉 ) people in the world and though it took me a little while to grasp ; in about 30 minutes I was riding like a pro!

Bottle feeding!

And then it was on to the Pilanesberg Game reserve corner at the Lion Park, where we saw lions who had been abandoned by their pack at child birth or strayed away from their elders getting rehabilitated! Babies were still fed via bottle and as they grew older they learned to feed on carcasses and then were once again let into the wild where they would have to fight a male pack member to stake his claim in the jungle and create his own pack. A chance at freedom and a chance to rule the jungle the way they ruled our hearts!

Cuddling lions!

 

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