Tree of Life Eila Is Literally Art Suspended in the Forest

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Cocooned in a dense deodar forest that looks the Dhauladhar range in the eye and suspended high on a ridge with the expanse of the Beas valley down below, an uncanny spaceship in the quieter part of Himachal Pradesh welcomes you into its fold. As you enter, you may feel you have landed on the sets of a science fiction film, albeit in the midst of an alpine landscape marked with traditional mountain homes. For all the conventions that surround it, the Tree of Life Eila deviates from the norm with all its might.

Photography by: Arpit Raj Tandon

Created painstakingly over a decade by Rama Shankar and Palak Singh, an art-curating father-daughter duo from central India, this is a space that defies the textbook definition of an arts centre in every sense. Standing tall in Naggar, an elfin mountain settlement known for its association with Russian painter Nicholas Roerich, Eila is a concept that takes the town’s fine art heritage forward without losing its own unique expression. The space is both a platform for local and contemporary art and an accommodation that allows art lovers to indulge in the atmospheric place, especially in its rooms that give the illusion of floating in an interstellar world.

Photography by: Arpit Raj Tandon

Spaced Out

Six of the ten rooms are created in this format—the slight projection of the room into the valley gives the feeling of being suspended in space. The design of these ‘Skyscape’ category rooms, which resemble a crumpled ball of paper from a distance, is also inspired by the natural habitat of insects, specifically, ant hills. It deviates from regular rectangular or squarish spaces with 90-degree walls and flat roofs and instead embraces the natural contours of the mountainside and a framework that creates multiple points of crisscrossing lines. This results in several triangular surfaces with different slants of varying degrees.

Photography by: Arpit Raj Tandon

The glass covering these surfaces provides insulation and traps heat on sunny mountain days, and keeps the rooms warm; at the same time, it allows infinite hours of sky gazing at night while staying snug indoors. Each of the rooms is named after old schools of traditional miniature arts emerging from the state of Himachal Pradesh, a nod to the local arts. Since there is no way to view the structure in its entirety except, from a bird’s eye view, each vantage point gives a different perspective to the viewer.

All of this was brought together on-site without any references from existing structures; there aren’t any in India, to begin with! The fabrication of the rooms, on the contrary, was done offsite to halve the carbon footprint. The stress on the green factor was of utmost importance, and no trees were uprooted in the process of building, including the deodar trees on the plot that are now over 30 feet high, snaking their way enchantingly through the restaurant and lobby ceiling.

Levels of Art

Ras Turant, the in-house restaurant, displays the showstopper, an 80 feet art wall that is an ode to the region, its forgotten arts, handicraft and food, flora and fauna, and the fairs and festivals of Kullu. The rich heritage of Roerich also finds a special spot on this wall. Conceptualised by renowned artists Wahida Ahmed and Manish Pushkale, some of the pieces on the wall tell the evergreen folk stories that permeate the valley, while some are stamps of the creators’ own signature artistry.

Photography by: Arpit Raj Tandon

The various levels showcase a range of contemporary paintings, sculptures, murals and installations that have been specially conceived and created for the Tree of Life Eila. Nain Sukh, the in-house art gallery, is named after a pahadi school painter of extraordinary brilliance. A 75-seater amphitheatre has been created for events, artists’ camps, and literary retreats, and a splash pool outside reflects the asymmetry of the rooms.

Photography by: Arpit Raj Tandon

True to its name, Eila, the Sanskrit word for the earth as well as moonlight, connects both clay and cloud in its design that is rooted yet sovereign. The binary in its name is a reflection of the space, both an art hotel and a gallery at the same time, a modern platform for traditional arts, complete with local elements with a contemporary touch. Unique architecture and design may be at the heart of this spaceship, but art is the fuel that spurs it on.

The space was designed by Manish Gulati of MOFA Studio

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