Guests in "God's Own Country", Kerala in India. But first the God’s surprise, as he never tires of throwing up surprises. Kovalam, the beach located about 15 kilometers south of the capital city of Trivandrum, at first sight I must say was disappointing.
Sitting along the crescent shaped cove, hanging like an earlobe from the Arabian Sea, it's the color of the sand that surprises you first. It's a dull gray, almost black. Then you see unusually laid back trucks (yes!) and workers, busy in rehabilitating the damage caused by the Tsunami five years ago. (More informed people insisted that the real reason for the beach resembling a construction site is the building of an artificial coral reef, about a meter deep from the surface, some 50 meters further out to sea from the beach).
Next, the scorching May sun doesn’t make the beach any better -- even if one chooses to ignore the local ladies selling fruit-by-piece, and the men flexing their muscles indicating a good massage in a clear and intrusive way.
Then, there are invitation calls from the shacks alongside, promising awesome seafood. Having wet our feet in the beach and eaten a few bananas, we settled in one such shack. It was called Beatles. The place boasts framed newspaper clippings on its walls that speak loudly of its obsession with itself. There is a fading picture of The Beatles caught frozen from the years of the yore.
Fish and chips along with beer for me and my wife, and coke for the girls, tasted great. The kingfish mashed well, and was nice and crisp. It was served alongside a bed of salad and a rather large portion of finger chips. We did well to hide the beer that helped wash the fish down, while the irritated noise of the kids sipping through straws was drowned out by the sound of the surf, merrily declaring its arrival every few seconds.
For just under 400 rupees, Beatles is a must visit. We saw a few foreigners (Europeans literally) order large omelets, gorging hungrily without looking from their books, while a few men and women tried their best to catch their attention with all types of wares and services. Finally, one gave in to the lure and looking happy, bought a stole.
The Leela Kempinski – God’s Own Five Star Resort?
The Leela is one of the oldest five star properties on Kovalam Beach and as expected, quite pricey. But with my children's summer holidays always falling in the middle of the off season, the timing of the ghostly presence of the recession, and the rather ambitious overdrive of the hotel to woo customers with lower prices, I was able to take a two night package for just under 12,000 rupees.
Food wasn’t a part of the deal, but we were more committed to eat out during our outings than at the hotel. In the end though, it didn’t actually work that way. Regardless, the place at that cost sure was a steal. It wasn't the only reason we liked the hotel -- the location, the food, and the services were all too good to ignore.
I loved staying at The Leela. With the coveted 2009 award for excellence from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences under its belt, a private beach, efficient service and good food, our stay was as effervescent as it promised right from the start.
The Leela is coming up in a big way in many other cites as well, I understand. With the attitude on display that I witnessed, I think they will come out well.
The God’s House and the Puthenmalika Palace MuseumAfter being locked for almost two centuries, 20 rooms of the palace of the erstwhile ruler of Travancore, Maharaja Swathi Thirunal Balarama Varma, were opened for public viewing in 1995. However, 60 others remain in a state of disarray and are therefore, obviously, closed. The palace has a narrow door from one of the rooms that took the king to the Padmanabhaswamy Temple of Lord Vishnu. Even today, the time from 7 a.m. to 7.30 a.m. is reserved for the 100 odd family members and descendants who stay at Trivandrum.
The palace and the temple are both architectural marvels. The temple can only be visited by wearing a mundu (Indian loin cloth) for men and a sari for women. I opted out, while my family hired a piece each for 15 bucks and had merriment with God in his own house. I don’t believe in God but let me guess, if he is anywhere around, Kerala sure would be a good choice for him to stay.
The palace is spread over an area of about 22 acres and has in its rooms a dazzling display of Belgian crystals, Italian mirrors (with silver backs, not mercury, we were told by the guide) and Chinese gifts. The palace has a frieze of 122 wooden horses on its exterior, and is therefore also called the "palace of horses".
Inside, the palace floor is still original. Smooth and cold under the feet, it was made more than 200 years ago using charcoal, limestone and egg white. The ceilings are mostly wood using teak or rosewood only. There are beautiful mirrors and paintings, using vegetable dyes that still look as good as new.
The king who completed the palace, and got 200 workers to toil for four years, could live only for one year in it and died at the young age of 33. The dance rooms, the conference halls, the meeting rooms, the puja (prayer) rooms are now all quiet but bear testimony to the organized threshold of a king who was understandingly loved as much by all.
Kulpreet Yadav, the author of this travelogue, can be contacted at his blog www.anindianfiction.blogspot.com
View Kulpreet's photos of Kerala that accompany this travelogue: Kerala Travel Photos.