‘Would you like to choose from the Tholu Bommalata wing, the Etikoppaka wing, or perhaps the Budithi, or the Kalamkari wing?” is most likely the first sentence you will be greeted with when checking into this elegant art-themed hotel. You may even have trouble pronouncing the names – I did – but much like when you’re at a museum, the informed staff will enthusiastically introduce you to these traditional – oft forgotten – Andhra arts and crafts that make up this hotel.
To start at the beginning; to enter this brand new property, I make my way to the popular Palm Beach Hotel, Visakhapatnam. The Andhra Art and Craft Hotel sits within the same grounds as the Palm Beach, yet is dubbed a boutique property in itself. What sets it apart from the Palm Beach, or just about any other hotel, is the fact that it positions itself as the ‘World’s first handicrafts hotel’. It comes as no surprise that the Andhra Art and Craft Hotel is yet another venture by the Bajaj Group of Hotels, which gave us the famed Le Sutra art hotel in Mumbai. Mrs. Radha Bajaj, the spokesperson for the hotel, explained that the idea was to create a ‘microcosm of Andhra Pradesh and allow guests to experience the art and crafts of the state within the hotel’
Over 30 native artisans have created 70 sculptures and 50 installations that shape the property. And the art isn’t limited to the rooms. It is everywhere: brass idols of mythological figures dot the alleys; a recessed wall niche, in the common area, showcases a painted fabric; an intricately carved wall bracket, in the alley-way, sits high on the roof, etc. But consider this just a crash course in the arts; it’s when you check out the rooms that you really gain a deeper understanding of the traditional arts of the region.
The beach-side property comes with 24 rooms, evenly divided into four wings; each wing is dedicated to – and also referred to – by a particular art-form. Choose your room based on a craft that appeals most to you (I went with Kalamkari). You can get even choosier; no two rooms within the property are the same; even those that belong to the same wing are decorated differently. You know it’s a great vacation when the only choices you have to make is between one stunning room or another!
The Budithi wing showcases brass-work from a village by the same name, situated in the Srikakulam District. The village is known for her artisans who create intricate brass idols, largely of Hindu Gods. You can see Budithi work at the entrance of the hotel itself as a larger-than-life idol of a Goddess welcomes visitors. Walk into these rooms and find yourself in a serene temple: wardrobes with little brass bells, a mini brass prayer bowls adorning the table, etc. A little flyer left in each room expounds on the art-form that cocoons you.
Kalamkari refers to hand-painted textile-art, which tells many-a-tale. In these rooms, a Kalamkari painting takes center-stage, often placed just above the bed. In some rooms the painted cloth retells a popular Indian folk tale; in others, it recounts a myth. My room showcases a colourful bull in an equally colourful field. It could be Nandi; it could be a metaphor for staying optimistic and bullish! The art form is also subtly weaved into the room to serve as design elements: a painted cloth wrapped around the wardrobe handles or fitted beneath a see-through glass panel in the bathroom.
Each of the rooms, though distinct in character, come with similar, requisite luxuries: the rooms are spacious with plenty of seating area, sink-into beds; some rooms overlook the waters and even come with a sit-out balcony. The rooms though large and bearing art-works are uncluttered and lend a calming air, which is further amplified by large clear-glass windows. Coir mats decorate the windows for those who prefer privacy. The bathrooms also bear hints of art-work – a kalamkari cloth tucked beneath a glass decorative element, etc. These subtle art-elements in the bathroom tie in with the simple solid-colored tiles.
The property shares three restaurants and a bar with the Palm Beach Hotel. The aptly named ‘Sea Deck’ sits on the water’s edge. You can enjoy the sea-breeze, sip on some bubbly, while a live music band entertains you. Choose from an A la carte menu that includes everything from spicy local delicacies to continental fare.
Looking to sit indoors while still taking in the gorgeous view? Opt for the cheekily named ‘Masalah Mafia’, which afford you a view of the green trees interspersed with hints of blue. If you like to choose from a large selection of dishes, Masalah Mafia is the place; the restaurants dishes out breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets, with a live kitchen so foodies can watch and learn!
For couples craving a more intimate space, there’s ‘Dusk’ with its earthy interiors, low lights, and cozy table arrangements. The lounge with its large clear windows overlooks tall swaying palms which give into hints of the bay. The menu consists of cuisine from across the globe.
Call it a night, but only after you’ve stepped into the ‘Mafia Bar’, an extension of Masalah Mafia, which comes with an extensive menu of cocktails, wines, and whiskies. What’s more, unlike the bars in Mumbai, here there’s plenty of seating space.
Despite the many amenities at the Andhra arts and crafts hotel, the village arts almost lend the property a sepia-tone. It’s a return to another era; a time when art was created by man, versus machine. Perhaps it is this aspect that subconsciously allows a visitor to slow down and unwind.
A return to a simpler time is best reflected in the Etikoppaka wing. This wing gets its name from a nearby village – 120 km from Visakhapatnam – which showcases the region’s hand-made wooden toys. Etikoppaka toy-making dates back to about 400 years ago. The know-how was passed down generations; whispered from father to son. The hand-made toys are fashioned out of softwood, locally known as ‘Ankudi Karra’or Wrightia Tinctoria. The toys are painted in natural dyes making them completely non-toxic and safe for kids. However, despite this advantage, the craft declined as the toys faced stiff competition from cheaper Chinese counterparts. To counter this, in 2017, Etikoppaka toys were given a GI (Geographical Indication) tag.
These rooms hark you back to carefree days of childhood as toys are incorporated into the design itself: the wooden headboards are actually a string of spinning tops, or a bunch of infants rattles, fused together. And they come painted in natural dyes.
In years gone by, when the written word was the privilege of a few, Tholu Bommalata (Telugu for shadow puppet theatre) kept history and folklore alive, particularly at village fairs. In this wing, you won’t find actual puppets. Instead, Tholu Bommalata is translated into various mediums: embossed characters on a canvas painting made to resemble puppets; colorful glass elements that recreate the vibrancy of a village mela, where this art-form was usually seen, etc.
The art, strewn through the property, is open to interpretation: Does the monkey figurine represent rural life? Or is it an ode to monkey-god Hanuman? To know exactly what the artist was thinking, ask the staff. Or tap into your creative side, and draw your own conclusions.
Where: The Andhra Art and Craft Hotel
Beach Rd, Jalari Peta, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh 530023.
Tel: 080082 00122
(Kiran Mehta is a Mumbai-based journalist. Instagram: @kiranmehta17. She was invited by the hotel, but all opinions expressed herewith are her own)