24-Hour room service: Kumarakom Lake Resort India
Saturday 16 June 2007
After 16 uncomfortable hours on an overnight train and two hours in a taxi (both car and driver looked too old to be on the road), we pulled into Kottayam. The hub of Kerala's rubber and commercial crop industries, it's neither pretty nor the sort of place you'd want to stretch your legs.
We jumped quickly into another taxi and made straight for the resort, half-an-hour's drive out of town, on the shores of Lake Vembanad. The commotion soon gave way to paddy fields, pierced by the fierce red of a setting sun. With the picturesque nature of the scene increasing by the metre, we entered the gates and found ourselves in a recreated Keralan village. From the open-fronted reception pavilion we surveyed a glittering lake and felt a soporific breeze roll off the water.
Sensitively airbrushed rather than recreated as a theme park, the sprawling lakeside "village" is dotted with restored homesteads and modern interpretations. The former have been plucked from across Kerala, either in fractions or in entiret, with some parts dating back more than 200 years. Among them is the former home of a family of ayurvedic practitioners, now housing the ayurvedic spa. The resort took four painstaking years to complete, using an old method of interlocking wood panels, rather than hammer and nails. Some villas are arranged backwater-style on the banks of canals plied by gardeners tending to foliage from dugouts. Others overlook the lake, and the more modern villas snake beside a 250m-long pool.
Kumarakom Lake Resort, Backwaters, Kumarakom North, Kottayam District, Kerala, India (00 91 481 252 4900; www.klresort.com).
On the south-eastern shores of Lake Vembanad, a long body of water plied by kettuvalloms (houseboats) and whose banks are indented by the backwaters by which Kerala has become known. Five-star resorts predominate here but, since all are low rise and tucked into coconut groves, you feel fully secluded. Before the hotels moved in, Kumarakom was known for its bird sanctuary. It attracts scores of migrating birds – including Siberian storks – that swoop over the lake in formation at sunset.
Time from international airport: Cochin is about two hours' drive. Cochin/ Ernakulam Junction train station is about one and-a-half hours' drive.
I arrived with a stomach virus: coconut water was fetched and a dinner of plain grilled fish and steamed vegetables prepared. I was also given an appointment with the ayurvedic doctor which, thanks to a cloud-like bed, I missed. Our 10-sided Heritage Pool Villa overlooked the lake and had a traditional open-air bathroom with not-so-traditional – but nonetheless desirable – tiled plunge pool. Traditional features included an earthen-hued mural over the bed, latticework in the peaked wooden eaves and a medieval-looking door lock to ward off evil spirits (not that you could imagine any would set foot in such rarefied grounds). The gardens were so lush you could almost hear – in wildlife-documentary fashion – grass-shoots pushing through the earth and petals unfurling. As I padded across springy grass, kept in check by two albino rabbits, I identified coconut palms, black pepper and rain trees. Guests indolently swung in hammocks, or floated in the infinity pool, which seemed to spill into the lily-carpeted lake. Seagulls perched on fishing posts and boats glided across the water. And, as I took it all in from a sunlounger, a warm breeze lulled me into a snooze.
Freebies: fruit bowl, bottled water, tea/coffee, nibbles, ayurvedic toiletries, daily copy of The Hindu, boat or car transfers and daily, sunset boat trip.
Keeping in touch: direct-dial phones in rooms, internet access.
The Bottom Line
Doubles start at US$288 (£160), including breakfast and afternoon tea. Houseboats start at $303 (£168) per night, full board.
I'm not paying that: Water Scapes (00 91 481 252 5864; www.ktdc.com/WaterScapes.htm, also in Kumarakom offers doubles from Rs3,950 (£46) full board.
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