Wind and the willows
The first two homes that flag off the nascent Amarja Estates in Lonavala provide eloquent testimony to the potential of using natural resources to power residential projects, says Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena.
Two windmills whir in the brisk breeze on top of a mountain near Lonavala; and closer to terra firma, a short distance away, is an energy-powering unit. They are busy harnessing the solar and wind power that’s an integral part of Amarja Estate – the eco-friendly, zero-maintenance project offering luxury ‘second’ homes.
The drive up to the plot is steep – the gradient of the narrow road, in many places unfinished yet, rising sharply before twisting and turning to reach the site 3,000m above sea level.
At the top is an uninterrupted view of the terrain. The area overlooks the Pauna Dam and has in its sights the Lohgad Fort, Karla Caves and several peaks of the Sahyadri range.
This is Nanak Properties’ first eco-friendly project. As Manoj Sainani, managing director, Nanak Properties, explains: “It is a retreat to revitalisation. In the midst of unexplored nature, it will provide luxury homes. And although many people are planning to come up with similar projects, currently we are the only ones to do so in that area.”
The principal architect, Sunil Yadav, adds: “It may not be completely green in the conventional sense. But we will be keeping the natural foliage as it is, and adding water bodies and plantations.”
Targeting the well-heeled of the neighbouring cities, Mumbai and Pune in particular, the company is reportedly investing Rs25 crore in the 55-acre project. Plans for expansion of the project’s scope are on the anvil. Sainani says: “We will acquire more land as per the requirements in the future.”
The land will be divided into minimum 1 acre/4,000 sq m spots. Of the 100 bungalows planned, currently only two are standing. The brown wooden bungalows, set amidst a landscaped garden, have a distinctly countryside feel.
The completely wooden structure smells and feels as good as it appears. A climb up the steps takes you to the upper floor, where a balcony affords ample space for sitting. As yet, the detailing of the kitchen and bathrooms is to be worked out.
Both Sainani and Yadav emphasise, “The wooden homes require no maintenance. The prototype bungalows have been made using genuine Russian pinewood sourced from Germany. Pinewood is the best material for houses because it is particularly resistant to decay and is characterised by a high share of core wood, pores rich in resin, and slow but even growth. With constructions such as wood buildings, the choice of the raw materials is essential for perfect quality.”
The bigger bungalow has its inviting swimming-pool in place. The wooden bungalows, if the clients so desire, come with an eco-friendly 15x 40 sq ft ready-to- install swimming-pool offering a depth of 4.4 ft. Since the project will have a recycling plant, the hassle of changing the water is taken care of. Moreover, the circulation and filtration system keeps the water sparkling clean.
The windmills have been imported from Australia. “All the external lighting for the streets and common areas will utilise solar energy, while the electricity needed for the bungalow will be generated by the windmills,” explains Sainani. “It’s a hybrid system, and we tested the renewable resources at the site with our experts. Residents don’t have to pay anything for their consumption.”
Incidentally, the project will have two types of houses. There will be wooden houses that will each take about 60 days to build, with the stone and concrete bungalows carrying a different price tag. For the cemented homes, the materials used will be bricks, stones and Mangalore tiles.
Yadav adds: “We may provide a mezzanine for added height, but the design will be as per the client’s requirement. As far as possible, we will keep the character of the elevation the same in terms of the skyline and the look of the bungalows.”
The project also offers a slew of lifestyle amenities like a clubhouse, gymnasium, spa, library, jogging track, playground and tennis court with round-the-clock security. As for payment, 10% of has to be paid at the time of booking, 50% within a month and the balance on possession.
An obvious question is, what would induce a buyer to invest in a home like this – even as a second home, considering that costs are likely to be higher? “The aim is to provide a world-class lifestyle with standards conforming to international living. This project is aimed at people who have the wherewithal to buy. We’ve already received 10 orders for luxury homes,” maintains Sainani.
There will be a separate landscaping team as the project progresses, but the architect has faced some challenges as far as the terrain goes. “This project has two accesses – from the expressway and an internal road from Lonavala itself, via Kale colony,” discloses Yadav. “The area is mountainous, and there are no tunnels. We have tried to avoid cutting the hills in a major way. We studied the contours thoroughly, and then planned the roads. The buildings did not pose as much of a problem as the terrain did. We had to carefully plan the landscaping, the road pattern, and the location of the sewage treatment plants. The aim is to give a good view to almost all, because that will increase my client’s selling rate. Right now, we are just sub-dividing the land into plots. We have to allot some plots to infrastructural properties, which will be centralised as per the clusters.”
The garbage disposal keeps in mind environmental issues. The company has opted for a sewage treatment plant to ensure efficient waste management as well as to provide low-cost sanitation and environmental protection.
Yet another challenge is the climatic conditions, especially since wood is being used. “The pinewood is a novelty,” agrees Yadav. “We have heavy rains here, accompanied by vicious winds. The quality of the pinewood has been checked and we have been given a 15-20 year guarantee of resistance. Each bungalow is to be assembled with lap joints and erected over a plinth that we construct. We will put silicon in the exposed parts to make it leak-proof, and the developer will provide a team to look after maintenance – which will be common for the whole estate.”
Interestingly, there is no specific date for completion of this project. “We’re not building homes and then selling them,” says Yadav, emphasizing the fact that the bungalows will be built according to each buyer’s specifications. “We are making three or four prototype designs of regular material like bricks and cement too, but we will be avoiding RCC as far as possible.”
This is getting as close to nature as you possibly can – comfortably. As the SUV turns down the road, the last sight you see is that of the tall windmill intent on its eco-power task.