Deepak Srinath shares how he turns a sourcing trip for his store, Phantom Hands, into a holiday
For a few years now, our travel plans have centered around a fundamental question, “Are there good antique shops in that place?” Since the hobby turned into a business, courtesy Phantom Hands, our antique hunting trips have only increased. Read on for our
Pondicherry has a couple of well-known antique dealers in the French Quarter, usually selling larger teak and rosewood pieces for a princely sum. But the antique paradise would be the 50 plus shops that begin to appear as soon as you enter ECR (East Coast Road) and go on for a few kilometers. These shops may be nondescript and the owners often seem to know very little about the provenance of the objects they’re selling. But the shops are full of decent quality reproduction colonial furniture. What we love are the serendipitous discoveries here – sandalwood chests, vintage metal chairs, wooden statues, pillars and window frames from old demolished mansions. Our best buy? A wooden statue of Christ, from a colonial era church. Also keep a lookout for mid-century ‘Ashram’ furniture from The Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville.
When to visit: October to February – not too much sun or rain.
Where to stay: Palais de Mahe features a charming blend of Tamil and French architecture and decor. Rs. 12,000 upwards. Details: cghearth.com
The narrow, winding Jew Street in the Mattanchery area of Fort Kochi used to be the center of a Jewish settlement dating back nearly
two millennia. Today, the area supposedly has less than 10 Jewish people and is more famous for its antique shops. On visiting with a dear friend who is a respected antique dealer from Bangalore, we were taken to ‘inside rooms’ and warehouses and shown some real treasures. Jew Street antique dealers are by and large honest, knowledgeable and will tell you whether something is a reproduction. Sipping on ice tea at cafes in former spice warehouses and gazing at the sea is a ritual we always follow, after purchasing wooden cowheads and bronze lamps.
When to visit: December – it is cool.
Where to stay: The Brunton Boatyard is a restored Victorian-era shipbuilding yard. Rs. 10,000 upwards per night. Details: 0484 3011712
The Chettiar community of the region, from their travels around the world, assembled splendid trousseaus for their daughters and these dowries now comprise a large part of the ‘antiques’ available in Karaikudi. Muneeswaran Kovil (temple) Street, a tucked away alley in the center of town, is dotted with small antiques shops that carry an amazing array of household objects from around the world that are mostly unused and in mint condition.
When to visit: June to February.
Where to stay: Saratha Vilas is the essence of Chettinad architecture and aesthetics. Rs. 6,700 upwards. Details: 09884203 175
The antiques shops start appearing just before the beach resort town of Bentota on the historic Galle Road from Colombo. Beautiful country homes converted to antique shops filled with ebony chairs, storage cabinets with ornate decorations, wooden statues of Hindu Gods, the shops continue sporadically down to Hikkaduwa, each one outdoing the other. Even though Sri Lanka has restrictions on the export of antiques, the dealers claim that they have no problems shipping out containers to India. The prices quoted are exorbitant and can be negotiated down heavily. When to visit: December to March
Where to stay
Havelock Bungalow, if you want something artistic and peaceful in the heart of Colombo. Rs. 6,055 per night upwards.
Amangalla is a 150-year-old landmark, near Galle’s historic fort. Rs. 33,300 upwards. Details : amanresorts.com
— Deepak Srinath and Aparna Rao are the founders of Phantom Hands (phantomhands.in), an online store that curates and lists antiques and vintage collectibles from across India