Recreating an authentic Kerala experience
The India Tourism Development Corporation pioneered beach
tourism when it secured India's place in the sun with its Kovalam Resort near
Thiruvananthapuram along Kerala's Arabian Sea shores way back in 1972.
Taj's Fort Aguada followed a few years later in Goa and in the 1990s, the Leela
Group brought in a more contemporary version of beach resorts there. Around
the turn of the century, the Casino Group (renamed CGH Earth) put Kumarakom
on the world map with its now famous Coconut Lagoon, with two new experiences,
cruising in the backwaters and living in transplanted traditional palatial homes
in rural Kerala known as the illams or homesteads. Paul John, son of a Karnataka
plantation and liquor baron (whose Original Choice is perhaps the best selling
whisky in South India), chanced to stay at Coconut Lagoon and fell in love with
Kumarakom. He hooked on to the idea of a beach resort and took over from where
CGH Earth left off.
The first phase of the Kumarakom Lake Resort was commissioned
in 2000 and the second in 2002 with a total of 51 distinctive villas representing
the region's architectural styles
Sixteen kilometres from Kottayam, Kumarakom, which was originally
popular for its bird sanctuary, is a picturesque island surrounded by the Vembanad
Lake with lots of streams and canals providing an ideal setting for a backwaters
experience through rice fields and fishing villages. It took John almost 18
months to find a piece of 25 acres, replete with 12 water bodies. The first
phase of his dream project - Kumarakom Lake Resort - was commissioned in 2000
and the second in 2002 with a total of 51 distinctive villas representing the
region's architectural styles.
prefers to call them cottages as, "they have been painstakingly assembled
from 40 age old homes in various villages in Kerala and assembled here".
Kumarakom Lake Resort, with 22 poolside villas, has an innovative meandering
pool 250 metres long, perhaps the longest in any resort. John describes the
villas as opulence and regality at their best - ceramic tiled floors, angular
lattice worked roofs, carved gabled fronts and tingling locks, wooden furniture,
oval-shaped mirrors, ceramic switches, murals depicting mythology - virtually
everything one would find in a traditional Kerala homestead.
More spectacular are the public areas. The magnificently carved door at the
reception has historical significance in its carved images of Parthasarathi
on horseback, of Lord Krishna with his gopikas. The 200-year old Ettukettu (eight-sided
mansion with two quadrangular courtyards) restaurant building was the ancestral
home of Edamana Kallamthat Gurukkal near Thiruvalla. It was gifted to the teacher
of martial arts from Marthandavarma, the Travancore Maharaja. Some of the finest
wood carvings are on the crossbars on the roof of the restaurant. The care with
which some of the structures have been transplanted has earned the holiday place
the official status of heritage resort.
With an investment of Rs 30 crore, the Kumarakom Lake Resort broke even in 2005.
Asked if he was happy with the returns from his investment, John said his true
satisfaction came from what he had succeeded in creating as an authentic Indian
(and Kerala) experience for visitors. He is now building an all-suites hotel
and plans to open it by February 2007. He also has his eyes set on Hampi.