Holidays in God’s own country

Epitome of Luxury in the Nature’s Lap

19 FEBRUARY 2015,
A houseboat with tourists, snaking its way through the backwaters of Kumarakom
A houseboat with tourists, snaking its way through the backwaters of Kumarakom

I must have visited Kerala more than a dozen times and each time I stayed as a guest of either a luxury resort or in one of the famed Kerala Home stay properties. Never did I venture to stay in Kerala’s many luxurious “Kettuvalams” (Houseboats) until my childhood friend from Cochin – Jacob Kutty urged me to try out one of Kerala’s best backwater destinations – the shimmering Lake Vembanad, which happens to be one of Asia’s largest freshwater lakes. While there is no dearth of luxury hotels and resorts in God’s Own Country, the Kerala Houseboat segment has provided a kind of “shot-in-the-arm” for Kerala Tourism and today Kerala has carved a niche for itself as one of the world’s premier backwater cruise destinations and welcomes the discerning world traveler in the most unique way. Once my reservations for a 5 days Backwater holiday was confirmed, I booked my air tickets and hopped into an early morning flight from Kolkata to Chennai and from Chennai to Cochin. Around 3 P.M. I reached Cochin and Jacob was there to receive me and we reached the magnificently appointed Kumarakom Lake Resort. The unprejudiced eye of the architect echoes in every nook and corner of the resort. Here at the Kumarakom Lake Resort, the virtually impossible seem graceful and easy and I think that’s what architecture is all about. Be it the ethnically designed Heritage Villas, Lake Villas or the marvelously luxurious Presidential Suites, the resort is a supreme adjustment to opportunity and local conditions. All attention has been concentrated on, not collecting art, but on creating art, like one beautiful picture.

I was told by the resident naturalist that the Vembanad Wetland system has been integrated in the list of wetlands of global importance in terms of wetland conservation and happens to be the largest of the three Ramsar Sites in the state of Kerala.

It isn’t surprising to fathom that Vembanad Lake today has become a major tourist destination due largely to its ethereal and picturesque setting. As we ventured towards the impeccably conceived Kumarakom Tourist Village, which happens to be the most popular site on the shores of the shimmering lake, a sense of fulfillment engulfed me.

For the benefit of the discerning travelers, the village offers a bewildering array of nature based recreational pursuits like luxurious boat cruises, yoga & meditation, the famed Kerala Ayurvedic massage therapies, fishing to name just a few.

In fact the ingenuity of the Keralites is to be seen to be believed – from thoughtfully prepared itineraries to an amazing array of holiday experiences like tracing family history, the unique décor, eco friendly initiatives and one-of-its-kind cultural experiences with the host community to name just a few, have compelled the new age traveler not only to embrace the backwater holiday options but also to herald the beginning of “Responsible Tourism” in this gem of a tourist state in India. As honored guests of the resort, you have lots of leisure and recreation options that are truly enchanting and inspiring. Be it the Hideaways package, the ancient Ayurvedic Rejuvenation therapies, the innovatively conceived Honeymoon packages or the famed Kerala Beach & Backwater holidays, guests are indeed spoilt for a choice.

Being a Travel Writer, it was most refreshing to absorb the sheer enthusiasm of the support staff at the resort, who would go that extra mile just to see you smiling and satisfied. Since I had limited time at my disposal, I preferred to remain within the resort premises and explored every nook and corner of this Eden on Earth. It was only in the evenings, with the red molten ball setting on the distant lake horizon that I would venture to the impeccably designed luxurious houseboat of the resort, embark on a peaceful 1-1.5 hour night cruise, indulge on a few sips of my favored tipple, have a sumptuous dinner on board and retire for the night in the king-sized bed onboard the houseboat.

To explore the nocturnal joys of the backwaters, the concept of “Backwaters by Night” is becoming a rage in Kerala amongst the discerning international travelers and I must admit that the joy of viewing the nocturnal creatures by night is thrilling. There was just enough ambient light, courtesy of the moon and pretty soon things got interesting. The expert boatman knew the backwaters by the tip of his fingers and he would often halt at the right places, by the edges of lake. All sorts of nocturnal creatures: Frogs and Snakes, Fish, large aquatic Insects and other weird and wonderful things could be seen prowling in the shallows, right next to the shore. You must have a keen sense of hearing and your ears become even more important for locating and identifying the nocturnal creatures. If it is spring or summer, a nocturnal symphony of frogs may be performing.

After indulging and being thoroughly pampered on the “Kettuvallam” (Houseboat), I can vouch for one thing – it is one thing to be pampered in a super deluxe hotel but quite another to spend time on the banks of Kerala! It is sheer bliss.

From the splendid luxurious isolation of Kumarakom Lake Resort, it was now time to appreciate yet another niche backwater holiday in God’s Own Country. Off course in Lake Vembanad! Only the locale and the setting changes.

We proceeded to the West of Kumarakom and soon figured out the gorgeously anchored Park Apsara, which has provided a new dimension to Backwater holidays in Kerala – a touch of boutique hotel experience along with a harmonious blend of the famed European yachting spirit; a spirit of inquiry in nature’s lap, a spirit of discovery and bliss.

The sophisticated Park Apsara is a pioneer project of India’s one and only 5 star boutique hotel chain – The Park Hotels. This luxurious cruiser is innovatively built on 2 levels by the renowned Dubai based CDB Yatch Design. With eight elegantly designed rooms, an exclusive galley, saloon and dining area, a sundeck and a fabulous seating area that offers breathtaking vistas of the ethereal backwaters of Kerala, one couldn’t have asked for more. The interiors are sophisticated and ooze with luxurious furnishings and modern amenities.

While the dining area and salon are positioned on level 1, the magnificent decor generates an ambience of opulence. The impeccably appointed corner sofas with designer cushions and tables on level 2 offer plenty of space and leg room for guests to truly enjoy the breathtaking vistas of the backwaters.

I was particularly impressed with the harmonious décor and the quality of food served in the lake side restaurant - Hyacinth that offers some of the most amazing culinary delights from Kerala along with a bewildering array of gastronomic delights from the world over.

Every evening to keep the guests entertained, the cruise staff organizes cultural shows on the vessel’s deck (Vallom) that reverberates with Kerala’s rich heritage and culture. On the penultimate day of my stay, after lunch, which consisted of the quintessential “Chettinad Cuisine”, cooked to perfection by the resident chef, I ventured out to an adjoining hamlet, quaint as it was and would you believe! The gorgeously dressed womenfolk who were busy preparing for the Onam festival that was just a week away came out with all guns blazing – singing local Kerala hymns and folk songs as rehearsal that sounded incredibly melodious.

The manner in which the quality of life of the rural folks, inclusive of women have improved along with the preservation of nature and cultural heritage of the villages was something that impressed me a lot. Hats off to the Park Hotel’s management, they have done a commendable job and have set a very high standard of service and ethos.

Here in God’s Own Country, the slow moving carts still ply on the village roads, the thatched hutments are still in existence, joyful village theatres are still performed by rural artists, cows and buffaloes are still being used in tilling the soil and the popular folklore is still alive even to this day in spite of the onslaught of modernity. Add to it the characteristic features of Sustainable Backwater Holiday option and you have all the makings of an “Eden on Earth”. The entire experience reminds me of Rishi Aurobindoo’s immortal poem –

“When you and I, we played together,
Who my playmate was I did not know.
Without a fear, without a shame,
Life in quiet ease did flow”.

Traveler’s Fact File:

Reaching Kerala:

Kerala is a small state that is ideally located to the south western part of India. This south Indian state is renowned for its nature based tourism products and blessed with nature’s bounties. To the west is the Arabian Sea, and to the east is the impressive Western Ghats mountain range, which in a way separates the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu from Kerala. Kerala is easily accessible by air. There are three international airports - Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, Cochin International Airport and the Karipur or Calicut International Airport. The state is easily accessible by both railway and road transport networks.

Useful Travel lnformations:
Websites:

Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala
www.keralatourism.org
India Tourism Development Corporation
www.theashokgroup.com
Ministry of Tourism, Government of India
www.tourism.gov.in
www.incredibleindia.org/en/

Useful Addresses:

Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala
Park View, Opposite to Museums Compound
Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala - 695 033, India
Phone : + 91-471-2321132 Fax : + 91-471-2322279
Tourist Information toll free No : 1-800-425-4747
Email : info@keralatourism.org, deptour@keralatourism.org

The Park Vembanad Lake

Resort Manager
Puthenangadi, Muhamma Panchayat, Cheratala Taluk,
Alappuzha Kerala - 688525 , India
T: - +91 478 2584430
E: resv.vl@theparkhotels.com

Kumarakom Lake Resort

Kumarakom North
Post – Kottyam – 686566
Kerala, India.

Tel: +91-481-2524900, 2524501
Fax: 0091 481 2524987