Travel: 24-Hour Room Service: Surya Samudra Beach Garden, Kerala

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The Independent Culture
THE FIRST thi-ng that greets you when you arrive at the Surya Samudra is the scent of frangipani blossom, which sets the tone perfectly. Beneath a ceiling of coconut palms along the shore, the German proprietor and architect, Klaus Schleusener, has reconstructed a number of traditional 100-year-old wooden bungalows, to create a luxury hotel in staggering natural surroundings.

Fed by a fountain, the swimming pool is built into the rock high above the sea. Above the pool is an open-sided dining room; fresh fish comes in every day - usually tiger prawns, barracuda and lobster - which can be curried or fried in garlic and lime and washed down with litres of Kingfisher beer. When yoghurt is available, you can have lassi for breakfast.

The hotel is attached to an Ayurvedic spa, so the guests wander around blissed-out by massages or herbal wraps. An on-site yoga teacher can allow you to pretend you are entering the spirit of the region, even if you fall asleep during the session with the sea crashing in your ears. The garden leads straight on to the beach, a secluded sandy cove with clear, but pretty rough water. The postcard and lunghi vendors are chatty but not pushy, and helpfully double as lifeguards.

Location, location, location

The Surya Samudra hotel is near the village of Pulinkudi, just south of Kovalam on the southern tip of India (00 91 471 48 04 13, fax: 00 91 471 48 11 24)

Time to Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) airport: about 30 minutes by taxi, which the hotel will lay on free of charge. Their drivers are excellent, but the hair-raising game of chicken played on Indian roads takes some getting used to.

Are you lying comfortably?

The hotel manages to blend into the natural environment, sheltered by trees and hugged by the shore, while offering every possible luxury. The top-range bungalows are made of intricately carved wood and have comfortable cane chairs on the terrace, the perfect spot for your sundowner of rum poured into a coconut. The B category, only marginally less expensive, are a lot less glamorous.

Beds: Wooden four-posters with mosquito nets (a man comes by with mosquito- killing incense in the evening). An overhead fan does little to cool the air, but the house has several huge windows to let in air and the sound of the waves.

Freebies: A few token soaps and shampoos, plus the odd visiting frog.

Bathroom: The major feature of the category A bungalows is a walled, open-air bathroom: a garden with a shower at one end and a loo, discreetly screened, at the other. The experience of showering under the trees in the warm air is unbeatable, though hot water may be erratic.

KEEPING IN TOUCH

TV: not available

Radio: not available

Phone/fax/internet: faxes can be sent and received at any time of the day or night; phone lines are surprisingly good, but but equally surprisingly expensive.

Services: The staff will make reservations for you if you plan to travel around.

Newspapers: The Indian Express and The Times of India are available at breakfast.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The A-category bungalows cost $160 per night, although the proprietor plans to make his seafront houses bigger and more exlusive, so the cost may rise. Category B, much less elegant with an internal bathroom, are $140 a night.

I'm not paying that: C category rooms, a little further away and more simply constructed, cost $100.

Still too much? You can join the backpackers up the coast at Kovalam beach.

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