28 November 2014
Wander Around in Kerala
If North India is a haven of riches and colours, South India focuses on the regeneration of nature and its elements.
One of the more culturally and religiously liberal provinces, with its hippy accents, Kerala and its inhabitants live in harmony with the environment.
Here is a preview of several unique properties.
You arrive by boat…slowly, sliding across the calm waters of the Backwaters canals before glimpsing the waterfront portico and shimmering earth-coloured tiles on the roof, amidst rustling palm trees. Built in a colonial style, this eco-lodge sets itself up as a small village, with its bridges, covered passageways and landscape gardens. Between two sculpted shutters and columns, in the shade of a pagoda constructed of teak and anjili – a local and exotic (plus rot-proof) species of wood – settle yourself on a swing during the daytime, and take the time to consider the sprawling immensity of Lake Vembanad. Simultaneously lost and protected by this luscious nature, you find yourself at the spa, where you can try out beneficial “oils and vegetable-based concoctions”, whilst taking in the view of neighbouring rice paddies. Here, Mother Nature is sacred, because she continues to provide for everybody.
If Lake Vembanad were the home of a spirit, it would be the kettuvallam: small boats that take on the appearance of large caterpillars, they soundless survey the region. Unchanging, they sail between lily pads and lagoons, with their inflated sides, woven from palm leaves, coconut fibres and bamboo and, to enhance the comfort of their occupants, with holes in the awnings, further illustrating the ingeniousness of their vernacular architecture. It must be said these house-boats have a vast playground: away from the coast of Malabar, the Backwaters reach and stretch across an enigmatic labyrinth of canals, lagoons and close to 1500km of waterways. Carefully tended to by CGH Earth, these kettuvallam vessels used for the Spice Coast Cruises double up as elegant cabins, so you can float on water both day and night.
On entering this former royal palace of Vengunad, a placard summarises the philosophy of the place: ‘Leave your world behind’. Visitors come here to empty their souls, to push themselves, to make changes for a better life…all this according to a strict Ayurvedic treatment – a traditional Indian medicine that literally means ‘science of life’. Cut off from the outside world, the palace resides in a closed society, a feat made possible by the care provided by the CGH Earth group who renovated the premises: this revived former palace lives with such precision between a central basin garnished with lily pads, century-old trees, pavilions transformed into suites, passageways decorated with columns, and princely ceramic tiles, all of which link the bedrooms to one another. In these rooms, antiques and beds fit for maharajas tempt you to take a well-deserved rest. And depart feeling fully rejuvenated.
As Marcel Proust once said: “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”.
Rooted in the very centre of the wind-swept hills of Kerala and cardamom fields and tea plantations, Spice Village convokes the essence of a tribal village. A perfect example of ecology, the resort honours the surrounding architecture – villas are constructed from local raw materials, respecting vernacular traditions – and offer any visitor the chance to take a tour with a naturalist, to discover organic gardens of the Spice Village but also bamboos, teaks, a vast range of honeysuckle and coffee beans, which flourish in the high altitude. As explains naturalist Anand Gopinath: “The uniqueness of the flora and fauna surrounding Spice Village stems from its ethnical origins, reinforced by close protection of local species by indigenous people who wish to reduce the strain placed on natural resources and to respect the biological dynamic balance”. A green goldmine.