The weather was great with overcast skies, slight drizzle and fog. The landscape was green as can be. Farmers covered with polythene sheets, planting paddy in muddy fields. The road was smooth and traffic very light. A bus or two, some biker guys and gals and a few cars.
Lavasa has a grand entrance complete with Nepali security staff and a barrier. Our vehicle number was supposed to have been registered for entry but was expectedly not. After a small pow wow we were allowed in.
The 6 km drive from the entrance to Ekant, the hotel was exhilarating. Visibility was down to 50ft, waterfalls roaring down the cliffs, street lights every few metres, gabions protecting the road from landslides, storm water drains, smooth road marked on the sides and the centre, viewpoints with seating areas all along. Yup, the first impression, uh, was impressive.
Their restaurant Ekant, located atop a hill overlooking Varasgoan lake and covered in mist and clouds, served us an excellent lunch buffet for Rs. 250 per head. Wine and beer was also on sale. Though the choice was limited, the quality of food and service was much better than many Pune restaurants. Ekant has rooms at Rs. 2000 per night plus 10%tax. The sucker punch is the food cost. Rs. 150 for breakfast and Rs. 250 each for lunch and dinner! On weekends the food rates are up by Rs.100 for each. If you plan to stay there, wear trousers with deeeep pockets.
After lunch we attended a presentation by Prachi of Lavasa Corporation. The basic gyan is
1. Entire project is covers 25,000 acres of which 12,500 acres are allowed to be developed. Of this 12,500 acres, only 3,750 acres can be built up (FSI 0.3). This will be done in different phases. The First phase, expected to be ready by 2011, includes a 50 bed hospital, hotels, city hub and villas.
2. The project has it's own rain fed water source which will be dammed at Dasve and overflow into Varasgoan lake. This dammed water is divided into two parts. The water flowing in from the upper area will be pumped back to maintain the waterflow in the small artificial bay. There will be pedestrian bridges, water sports etc. The boats are already in place. I expect there will be gondoliers singing romantic songs too. This area is a replica of Portofino , the internationally famous resort on the Italian Riviera near Genoa down to the building shapes and colours. I wonder if Portofino, Italy can sue Portofino, Lavasa? Talk of plagiarising movie ideas, this takes the cake.
3. This Portofino is entirely a pedestrian area with fashionable stores, bistros, cafes, restaurants etc. They, um, forgot to provide any ramps or handicapped access. So, if you have problems walking or are a mother pushing a pram, this area is out of bounds for you! It's definitely senior citizen unfriendly.
4. On top of the stores are 3 storied serviced apartments, centrally airconditioned, if you please, complete with a handkerchief sized courtyard open to the elements. A clogged drain will flood your fancy home. Why anyone would want to shut out a hill station breeze and prefer recirculated air is something I am yet to figure out. I was told by an engineer that 'Bombay people ko a/c lagta hai'. The apartments share common walls so ventilation, if you open the windows, is only from the front. Cross ventilation is not an option since the internal walls cut out the light and air. The kitchen has no window.
This entire Portofino area with serviced apartments and stores has been sold to some unnamed company in Mumbai which will manage it. All properties will be on rent and they will provide essential services like laundry, book store, supermarket, chemists etc. It will be a city without competition which always translates into high prices and poor service.
5. Lavasa's water source is the backwaters of the Dasve Dam. It will be purified at their own water treatment plant and pumped to the city. 24x7 potable water on tap could become a reality! They are also setting up a waste water and sewage treament plant for every phase. The treated water will be used for irrigation in the forest areas and the treated solid waste, till their own bio generation plant comes on stream, will be sent to Pune Municipal Corporation for treatment. I was impressed with the high quality of storm water drainage already in place. PMC can take a lesson on how to build good manhole covers.
6. It was disappointing to see no evidence of use of renewable engery - Solar, wind, hydro. biogas etc. And nothing is on the cards. This is the type of greenfield project that can set an example in utilising alternative energy. Lavasa will be fully dependent on electricity from Tata & MSEB. Keep your candles handy.
7. Property owners will have to hire maids, cooks and household help from Lavasa's own housekeeping service company at prices fixed by them.
8. Ajit Gulabchand of HCC has announced that Lavasa will impose municipal taxes. They are building a town hall which will be the adminstration hub. Who will decide on the taxes and how the interests of the residents will be protected are yet to be asked and answered.
9. All properties in Lavas will be on a 999 year lease. Transfers will attract a 2% fee. I did not ask if there is a lock in period. All buildings will be constructed by Lavasa as per the approved plan. No outside contractors. Which I think is a good thing. At least the place will be pretty and not an eyesore with flagrant violations of FSI and building laws. All those with a penchant for constructing illegal floors will be kept at bay.
In the first round, Lavasa claim to have sold 500 units - whatever that means - at Rs. 2,950 per sq.ft built up area. Allow 27% over carpet area. The next round of sales will start after 3 months. I have no details about the sizes of apartments, villas etc. They claim to have sold all their studio, 1 & 2 bedroom apartments in phase one.
10. I am quite impressed with the construction quality of the project. As a supplier to construction projects in Dubai, I know my bitumen and my cement and I can say they are doing a good job at least on the roads. The flooring of the pedestrian areas is not very good. Lots of broken paving stones etc. Maybe they'll fix them.
11. The first Fortune hotel is expected to be ready by end 2008 and they hope to attract weekend visitors, tourists, conference attendees etc. Second home buyers may be able to holiday there by end 2009 but as a place to live in, Lavasa will be ready by 2011 for residents.
More in my next blog. Readers' comments are welcome.