Friday, April 22, 2005
We had just set foot in God’s own country, in search of that elusive stuff called peace. It had rained just then. The sheer collage of colors blinded us – a natural mosaic of greens, yellows and browns which merged into a beautiful pattern. Even the muddy roads seemed picturesque. A narrow creek appeared out of nowhere .. We took a small detour and followed the stream , driving through the muddy road , cutting through the foliage, until we saw the board. Tharavadu Heritage Home, Since 1870. We were in Kumarakom, a small island carved out of the backwaters .
We had decided on Kumarakom after much deliberation. We had wanted an authentic experience of Kerala, with dollops of nature thrown in, spiced with a bit of local culture and topped with luxury. With just three days on hand and a shoe-string budget, we opted to go in for a home-stay - to get a taste of Malabar heritage and hospitality and to experience the backwaters, floating in a Kettuvellam ,with the water hyacinths for company. Our choice was the Tharavadu Heritage Home, a 135 year old “Mallika “ built in the Syrian Christian style
The verdant greenery was all enveloping as we entered the portals of this heritage house. The creek which had guided us flowed into a river scattered with lotuses . A school bell rang close by ; devotees emerged out of a temple located on its bank. We munched our breakfast , taking in the scene . It was a lazy day, as birds gnawed on the grains and coconut shells were sun dried in the courtyard or the ‘koprakalam’ .
We explored the three acre property which boasts of a heritage preserved over the last century. We went past the dining hall which overlooks the river and interrupted a group of geese playing in a pool. Stepping over logs of wood , we crossed over to the bank , where some boats were slumbering . There are three magnificent structures here with ornate wooden work, that speaks volumes of a bygone era Our host, Kencee George points to an etching on the brick red tiles that adorn the sloping roof which reads 1870 and the name , M C Chandy, the grandfather of the current owner, Joseph John. The home stay is now jointly promoted by the duo . The sloping roof and terracotta floor have been retained , while the rooms have been renovated to suit all modern requirements.
The common portico comes with arch shaped entrances as they open into various rooms There are currently eight rooms only and more are on their way. Some rooms open into their own private verandahs opening into the garden The teak furniture is mostly antique and intricate designs can be seen in all of them .The house smacks of an ancient charm, especially the dusty wooden staircase which is being renovated. An underground storage area, which has been closed now, ends near the reception, says the host.
The architecture tour ended in a sumptuous meal, replete with all the traditional food, soaked in the deliciously rich coconut oil. A trip to Kerala is never complete without a touch of ayurveda. As we treated our frayed nerves and tired muscles, we succumbed to indulgence . Before we knew it, a day just went past us as we launched into sight seeing and it was time for us to shift our abode. And this time, we literally floated around.
A spacious double bedroom kettuvellam or the traditional rice barge was waiting for us on the narrow creek with her crew on board . This was an extension of the hospitality that The Tharavadu Heritage Home offers to make your holiday special . The houseboat completely charmed us , and it came with a living room , an open lounge, a kitchenette and a personal bathroom attached to our bedroom. The thatched windows soon opened out into the Vembadand Lake and the canvas came alive-an endless expanse of blues, with tinges of green and browns.
As we started sailing towards Alappuzha, we crossed several clusters of islands and farms separated by a labyrinth of brooks, streams and lagoons. The inclined coconut trees interrupted the landscape as we found ourselves flanked by lush greenery on either side. Several tourists and locals sailed past us in their barges and canoes, taking in the moment.
It was one heady mix of beauty and peace. Occasionally the birds broke the silence , feasting on the paddy fields submerged in water. We paused for lunch in an idyllic island, sipping in the natural flavor of toddy . Our next port of halt was the bird sanctuary on the enchanting island called ‘Pathiramanal‘, home to several migratory birds such as Siberian cranes, teal, egrets, heron and the water duck.
We ensued our journey watching the lake turn several hues. The sunlight streamed in, creating patterns, a flight of birds flocked in the horizon, a lone oarsman slowly rowed his way through , leaved a hard day’s work behind him … it was like a moment captured in eternity . As the night closed in on us like a thick blanket that shrouded everything, I collected my thoughts of the day. My journey had not yet ended … but I think we found what we were looking for.
You need to reach Cochin by air or train and then drive or ferry down to Alleppy or Kottayam.Kumarakom is just a stone's throw from there and you should ideally ferry down from there . We took a train from Chennai to Kottayam and drove down to Kumarakom. We later sailed from kumarakom to allepy and back(22 hours) in the houseboat