Thursday, 13 March 2014

Arco Iris--The House that Love (Re)Built

The lovingly restored dining room as it looks now
 
This is what it looked like before

Experience history in harmony with nature
Picture a dilapidated Portuguese bungalow, decaying into a morass of falling timbers and peeling plaster. The surrounding lush landscape makes the house appear all the more forlorn and surreal. Yet there is serenity too. As if the sprawling structure is waiting for someone to wake it up from deep slumber.

That haunting quality is what drew Bennita and Ganesh Subramaniam to the crumbling house, deep within the heart of Curtorim, a quiet village in South Goa. And it led them to embark on a labour of love, to create a home so filled with light and colour, all the shades of the rainbow seem reflected in it. A home so replete in history and heritage, that they decided to share it with absolute strangers.

A home by the river
The 200-plus-year-old home they have so beautifully restored is now known as Arco Iris, meaning 'rainbow' in Portugese and Spanish. It is a Neemrana Heritage Homestay. “I fell in love with the fact that the 1.5 acre property overlooks Corjim, a seasonal lake--in summer it becomes a football field, during the monsoons, it is a lake,” smiles Bennita. And did we mention that the Zuari river flows just about a km away?

“Beni and I have always kept an open house wherever we lived, be it Chennai or Bangalore. So it felt natural to do the same here in Goa,” explains Ganesh. But getting the restoration done on time was a challenge. It took Beni and Gani, (as their numerous friends call them) three years of handling construction crews, unexpected cost overruns, unannounced building delays, to complete the renovation. But the journey has been worth it, they stress. They have been running it as a homestay since 2009.

Before moving to Goa, the couple were in Bangalore with their two daughters Trusha (now 12) and Trikaya (now 9). Trusha would get asthma attacks almost every day then. “Since we came here, the attacks have become infrequent,” says Gani. In Goa, not only have the two girls' gained in health and happiness, they have also gained another family member--Feni, a gentle-natured golden labrador. Three-year-old Feni is a favourite with all their homestay guests.   

History in harmony with nature
Arco Iris comprises an “entrada” (foyer), “sala” (living room), dining room and five bedrooms with en suite bathrooms (four on the ground floor and one on the first floor). Three of the bedrooms open onto private balconies. Each bedroom is in a different colour--violet, indigo, orange and yellow, in keeping with the rainbow theme. There is a balcao” (balcony) and gallery in the front of the house and a courtyard at the rear. A 100-year-old well stands guard on the periphery of the rear courtyard. There is abundant fruit and flora within the property--the couple grow coconuts, chikoos, papayas, pineapples, cashews, pomegranates and mangoes. There is also a small kitchen garden.

Everything at Arco Iris, from the lovingly polished antique furniture, to the grand four-poster beds, has been chosen with care--from wthin Goa to places as far apart as Pondicherry, Karaikudi and Kochi to tea estates in Eastern India. The colourful floor tiles too have a history. “They are from Bharat Tiles, a swadeshi company founded by Lokmanya Tilak. These are hand made tiles that go through seven rounds of polishing,” points out Gani.

According to him, this is a home in the Goan Portuguese style. “It reflects the social position of the erstwhile owners who were one of the biggest landlords in the Taluk. The only significant change we made was the open courtyard at the back which was closed before the restoration. Cross ventilation, large doors and high ceilings are all part of the traditional design,” he adds.

Far from the maddening crowd
Staying at Arco Iris is more about wandering past the seasonal lakes and paddy fields, than partying the night at a beer-sodden beach shack. Yes, the beaches of Colva, Benaulim and Varca are close, but not too much so. Besides, these are not as crowded or as commercial as those in the more popular North. Curtorim itself is a haunt for naturalists and birdwatchers because of it's proximity to wildlife sanctuaries in the state. What's more, here and in the adjoining villages of Rachol and Chandor, there are several places of historic and archaeological interest. For instance, the Church of St. Alex, one of the oldest churches in Goa, is about 2 kms from Arco Iris.

For Beni and Gani, moving to Goa was a gamble. “It started as a lab experiment,” is how they put it. Now Arco Iris is a way of life.


Getting thereArco Iris is about 30 minutes' drive from Dabolim airport
Address: 1384, Sinai Bagh, Curtorim 403709
http://www.arcoiris.in
https://www.facebook.com/ArcoIrisGoa

All photos courtesy: Beni and Gani, Arco Iris. 

(Note: This is my original, unedited article for The New Sunday Express Sunday Magazine. Here is a link to the edited version:
http://www.newindianexpress.com/lifestyle/travel/GOA-Romancing-the-Rustic-Rainbow/2014/03/09/article2094473.ece#.UyE9yaGLe1E)