Many of Mangalore’s colonial homes are disappearing. Belmont House is a traditional colonial home in Mangalore, with beautiful architecture. The Belmont House still stands proud and regal, hugging an interesting history to her bosom. The beautifully–maintained house is a joy to visit!
This article is adapted from an earlier article I wrote on Belmont House, published by Spenta Publications in JetWings Inflight Magazine, in 2015
Belmont House – A sight to behold!
It’s a hot and sultry afternoon, and I am outside Mangalore’s famed Vas Bakery, inhaling the aroma of freshly baked puffs. But my eyes feast on the beautiful colonial home nearby that I am about to visit. Belmont House seems out of place amid the concrete structures around. Nestled in a sprawling compound, it has a sloping tiled roof and a capacious verandah.
The house is owned by the Peres family, and octogenarian Joan Peres lives here. I open the wrought iron gate and walk past a beautifully manicured garden. Mrs Peres steps out looking elegant, her hands open wide in greeting. She is a gracious hostess, and walks me through the house, explaining fascinating little details.
The home’s original architecture has not been altered. It’s a delight to experience the high ceilings, the open Neo-Gothic cathedral windows, teak wood doors and rafters, and the genuine old floors with patterned Italian tiles.
Belmont House, Mangalore – an interesting history, bonds forged
Belmont House was built in the year1820 by Michael Thomas Harris, Collector of Canara District. He was the son of Lord George Harris, who served in the British Raj and played a big role in defeating Tipu, the Sultan of Mysore in 1799 at the battle of Seringapatam. Apparently, Harris named Belmont House aftr his own home in Faversham, Kent, which he bought in 1801, with his earnings from his service in India.
Incidentally, Belmont House in Kent is also well-preserved. It is a tourist attraction there. What is even more interesting is that Michael Thomas Harris’ grave is at the European Cemetery in Mangalore. Since the two families are in touch with each other, one of the Peres sons still maintains his gravesite on behalf of his family in Kent.
Well-preserved interiors at Belmont House
The living room is decorated in a mixed style. Yet, because the architecture speaks so volubly, the colonial facet of this home shines through. A piano in the corner adds that extra bit of old-world charm.
The bedrooms take you back in time, with their pretty window curtains and bed linen, cupboards with unique Gothic symbols, antique beds, writing tables and dressers. Interestingly, Mrs. Peres has color coded her bedrooms, as you can see in the images below.
The dining and kitchen areas at Belmont House
The house has an enormous formal dining room, and the chandelier definitely steals the show!
In the adjacent kitchens, old brass kitchen utensils are displayed polished to a gleam. Many of the traditional cooking aids such as the grinder, the coconut scraper and other implements are also displayed.
Typical colonial architecture and facets
A distinguishing facet of the colonial Mangalorean home is the attic or the “mahlo”, usually leading up from the kitchen, via a wooden ladder. Like the rest of her house, Mrs. Peres has maintained the mahlo and her grandchildren love to explore it when they visit.
The old-style bathroom still has an oversized copper vessel to hold hot, boiling bath water. It’s called the “baan” in Konkani, and it’s believed that the copper makes the bath water therapeutic.
The mahlo and the old baan baath are not pictured here. I will update the images when I get them.
The T-Shaped “sopo” or the verandah (featured above and below) is where the family congregates after a meal, or when greeting visitors.
Belmont House – The old and the new in perfect harmony
I join Mrs Peres in the verandah, for a slice of her famous biscuit cake, and I hear soft strains of classical music. Bach! I look around wondering if she has a hidden set of speakers. It suddenly dawned on me that there was a music school just beyond her compound wall
How lovely to live here, I think, in a home with a glorious past, with such beautiful music streaming in all day! Later, as I bid her goodbye, pausing for one last look at the sweeping lawns and carefully tended plants, the music suddenly changes to a noisy contemporary piece! How apt, I think, as I step out back into the “other world” of traffic jams and modern buildings.
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Love old homes? How about some vernacular architecture from Mangalore? Tour the Kodialguthu home on this blog!