In August 2007 a group of North South University (NSU) architecture students went on its first expedition to India and Nepal to find out what the new generation was doing and especially what the students of architecture were doing. It also aimed to visit different architecture schools, see the students' work, establish a connection and perhaps a link program. I was one of the nine other students and a faculty member.
First stop, Katmandu, a city bursting with activities. Anywhere we go we see some really old and really beautiful Buddhist or Hindu temples. Nothing though was as breathtaking as Bhaktapur- an old town completely preserved containing the Raja's Durbar square, a palace complex, and many beautiful temples.
We were given a warm welcome and a campus tour by the Tribhuvan University students. They had a presentation for us at the seminar room on their works and then it was our turn. They were impressed with our presentation, which they did not hesitate to express. I felt proud. Later some of the students we got acquainted with asked us if we wanted to try some “really traditional” “Newari” food. Of course we accepted the exotic food, although not that everyone loved it. I loved every bit of it and stuffed myself the most.
After lunch we started for Pokhara, the mountain city of Nepal famous for its beautiful lake, with an awesome view of the Annapurna Mountains. One of us had an uncle living in Nepal who got us an amazing resort in Pokhara at an affordable deal. It was a fantastically landscaped complex, and the rooftop tower gave a stunning panoramic view. After two days' relaxation in Pokhara we started for Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha. But we got stuck by a landslide in the mountains, and had to spend the night on the highway sleeping in our small jeep. In the morning we decided to cross the blocks on foot and find another jeep on the other side; we were exhausted by noon the next day as we reached the destination which appeared below our expectation. There was nothing spectacular to see; the many beautiful temples there were all built recently and there was nothing glorious about them. Each country with Buddhists had made a temple there to honor Buddha; I liked the one made by the Germans. From Lumbini we headed straight for Sonauli, one of the many towns on the Nepal-India border. We had some trouble crossing it because of the many unusual visa protocols; I failed to understand the reason which make traveling to India so hard for foreigners. From Sonauli we took a bus to Gorakhpur and from there to Lucknow. Tired of nonstop traveling, we decided to relax a day there. It was a pleasant stay; we all could recharge our batteries as well as our camera batteries.
Next stop was Delhi. The train ride from Lucknow was long but pleasant not to dampen our high spirits.
The next day we toured Delhi on a rented jeep to India Gate, Qutub Minar, Humayun's Tomb and the Jama Masjid. For lunch we went to Kareem's next to the Masjid with delicious and heavenly food that emptied my purse. After sunset all got a crash course on the Mughal history from the exciting Red Fort Light and Sound show.
Next, we had time to visit the School of Planning and Architecture. The campus was nice; the students had painted the auditorium exterior. They gave us a tour of the campus and the studios explaining how it works. The collection of books at the library and the advanced equipment at the labs impressed me too.
Later that day we visited the Bahai House of Worship more popularly known as the Lotus temple because of its analogical design.
Then we stopped at Chandigarh planned by the world famous architect Le Corbusier. We had to plan our only day there carefully as the FRRO ate the rest. We then visited the famous Nek Chand Rock Garden made with recycled materials; we liked the sculptures and the waterfalls, and went to visit the Chandigarh College of Architecture. I liked the buildings more than the green campus, started by Corbusier and completed by another architect. The school was amazingly lighted; at 4 in the evening no classroom had any lights on and there was still enough natural light. They hadn't planned a presentation for us; so we went around their works. I was impressed by the heliodon they built to see how the shadows fell on models at anytime of the year at any hour. I also was overwhelmed by the huge workshop and the amount of tools they had there. Afterwards they took us to their auditorium to see our presentation. I felt very happy and proud about the fact that they liked our work; I could hear the crowd using words like “bombastic” and “josh”.
At our next stop Agra, we visited the Taj Mahal, Sikandra and Fatehpur Sikri-- all breathtaking works of genius. Luckily at Fatehpur we met two student interns at the famous architect Raj Rawal's office; their invitation to visit the firm was instantly accepted. We had to stop at Delhi to pick up our visas which was also a transit stop for Ahmedabad. So we went to meet Rawal. To our surprise, it was a humble rented place in the middle of a market. After I met the hottest architect today I understood why-- we talked to the humble man for 15 minutes trying to learn anything we could from him but he suggested we visit his works to learn more. He lent us his car to take us to the Nehru Institute of Research which we enjoyed; there was something about its design that was both modern and at the same time reflected the traditional style subtly and yet so strongly.
The next day I woke up in a long and tiring train ride to the last city Ahmedabad. We first visited huge National Institute of Design-- a place that I could get lost in, in a good way. It had departments like videography, animation, furniture design, product design and graphic design, and a huge and diverse library that included books ranging from design to subjects like economics. Almost every student there carried a laptop. But the most stunning was the design to reality room for the product designers. In 3D printers you put your digital file and it makes model out of plaster-- too futuristic for me to absorb. The 3D scanner would scan a model and give you a digital file of it. They had other 3D design digital equipment that took me aback.
We then visited a museum by Le Corbusier which none of us found that great, and headed to CEPT (Center of Environment Planning and Technology), another huge and impressive campus. They had spaces landscaped with level ups and downs for students to sit and chat outside; they had an outdoor café and the coolest stationary store.
We then went on to visit the famous architect Doshi's firm Sangath. Sadly as we did not confirm our time of arrival there Doshi could not give us much time except sparing a few minutes from his important meeting to greet us.
Frem there we headed for Louis Kahn's IIM (Indian Institute of Management), suggested by the CEPT students. We reached there almost at sunset and were sad to have missed seeing it in the daylight. However we were dazzled by the place as the last golden sunrays hit one of the best buildings that I had ever visited. The next day we were all on the way back home in the longest train ride of the whole trip. But it didn't feel that long as we were not in a hurry to get anywhere anymore. We reached Kolkata with these mixed emotions and the next day headed straight for home. Till today three months after the event none of us can stop talking about it.
(Student of NSU)