Saturday, 26 September 2009

Coconut Lagoon, the eco-resort

After a blissful 24 hour stay aboard a houseboat we were dropped off at Coconut Lagoon, a beautiful eco-resort near Kumarakom. This resort is just a few miles outside Kottayam, but can be reached only by boat. Normally the guests are picked up from one of two jetties (piers) and brought by boat right up to the hotel's reception block. But, since our houseboat was too large for the channel leading into the hotel we had to alight a short distance away.

We were received with sandal paste and flowers by a young & pretty lady dressed in traditional Kerala style. She was accompanied by a musician playing a welcome tune on a flute. We discovered later that the musician, when not engaged in receiving guests, was on hand to give the guests free lessons on how to play some of the instruments.

The buildings in Coconut Lagoon are all over a century old, and some even date back to the 18th century. They have all been dismantled from their original locations from all over Kerala and painstakingly reassembled at this resort.

The reception block for example, is a "nalukettu" design with a central four-cornered open courtyard. It was originally built in 1860 and located at a place called Vaikom. It was purchased by Coconut Lagoon in 1993 and was re-assembled at its current location with the help of a master craftsman.

The dining block is a larger and more imposing structure. It is an "ettukattu" design, and has two courtyards. This is the oldest building on the site.

Most of the buildings at Coconut Lagoon are representative of several types of traditional Kerala architecture and have all been reassembled conforming to the "thachu shastra" style of carpentry. All these buildings are very tastefully located amidst coconut groves and a network of irrigation canals.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The houseboat experience

Our houseboat had two air-conditioned, bath attached cabins for the guests, and a covered viewing deck equipped with comfortable lounge chairs, a dining table & chairs, a flat tv, and a ceiling fan. In addition to this was the kitchen and crew area. The crew consisted of three persons - two to take turns at the helm and the cook. They were efficient, courteous, and very eager to ensure that we enjoyed our stay.

 The entire houseboat experience was extremely enjoyable. I am now convinced that travelling for pleasure should be done only at such a sedate pace. It was extremely relaxing to sit on the deck and watch the beautiful countryside slide by.

 We were told that the tourist traffic this year was poor on account of the global recession. It did not seem that way to us. The waterways had plenty of houseboat traffic as the photographs that I am posting will confirm. Of course, in addition to the houseboats, these waterways see a lot of everyday activity just like any busy street in a city.

 While going down the canals of Kuttanad I was amazed to learn that the waterways in this region are actually several feet above the level of the adjoining land. The water is saline for several months, and is suitable for cultivation after the monsoons. Paddy is cultivated in these fields when the water loses its salinity.

 If you would like to , you can read more about it here.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Surprise....a holiday over water

Kottayam is located on the edge of the Vembanad lake, a large waterbody which connects with the Arabian Sea and is therefore in some ways a backwater. The South Indian state of Kerala has many such waterbodies, most of them connected to one another. There are also very many manmade canals. All these are used extensively to transport people and goods.

After resting at the club for a few hours we got ourselves dropped at a boat jetty. My wife was relieved to learn that we would not be holidaying at the club, and quite excited that we would be travelling over water to our holiday destination (wherever that was :-)).

On the way to the jetty we saw that while many of the houses that have direct access to the water have their own private piers and boats or canoes, some of the ones that were not located next to the waterbody had cut canals and brought the water right up to their doorsteps.
My wife expected that we would be catching a ferry or some such means of transport. Imagine her surprise when she saw a houseboat pulling up at the jetty. I had arranged for us to spend the first 24 hours of our actual holiday on this houseboat.

Until the early 90s these boats or barges were used primarily for transportation, and that too mainly to move goods. They were powered by wind (sails) and manpower (oars or poles). About 15 to 20 years ago Kerala realised that it had tremendous potential as a tourist destination and that is when a large number of hotels and holiday resorts sprang up. Somebody came up with the very enterprising idea of converting these barges into houseboats and the idea has really caught on since then.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The first leg of our Kerala holiday

I took my wife on a surprise holiday. The surprise element was the destination. I had to check with her as to whether she could take a break from her work, and for how long. She was able to, and she agreed to leave the entire planning of the holiday, including the destination entirely to me.

The first leg of our holiday trip was by train. We took an overnight train to Kottayam where a friend had booked a guest room in one of the local clubs. Although quite disappointed with my choice of a holiday destination, my wife put on a brave and cheerful face. We freshened up, had breakfast and while my wife listened to some music on her iPod, I went out and made a couple of quick sketches of our first stop.