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1 - 15 November 2011  
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In true Travancore tradition

Taking nearly 12 years to build, Kollam’s first five-star property, The Raviz, on the banks (literally) of the famed Ashtamudi Lake in south Kerala, is an epitome of traditional elegance, a paean to the history of Travancore and an environmentalist’s delight. By Steena Joy

The location of The Raviz Kollam on the banks of the serene Ashtamudi Lake has a vast historical importance. The first documented history of Travancore of the eighth century happened across this lake. The property is located in an ancient fort area, which was one of the strategically located islands earlier connected to Thevally by a pedestrian wooden bridge, and to Mathilil by a narrow strip of land. The historic fort and a palace built with laterite and roofed with palace tiles (the traces of archaeological remains of these structures and remains were available till around the 1960s) was earlier occupied by Venad rulers till the roadways developed, making Thevally more accessible by road and waterway.

Eugene Pandala

Urban designer and heritage conservator, Prof Eugene N Pandala, who is also the architect of The Raviz Kollam, points out that it was during the time of Colonel John Munro, resident of British India in Travancore, that a palace for the king was built in Thevally, and a residency built for the British residents in Ashramam. Thereesapalli (Thevally) sasanam, the first available documented history of Kerala during AD 774, a copper plate with an inscription announcing tax free benefits to the Christian settlers of Manigramam in Thevally, by the then rulers of Venad, was discovered just across the lake. Kottayathukadavu, was a prominent local boat jetty with a connecting ferry till the Thevally Bridge was built in 1966.

Cultural continuity

“I am of the opinion, that any architecture should definitely have a cultural continuity in terms of style and relevance to have a lasting impact. The more it is connected to the history of the region and to the context, the more shall be the relevance of the expressed spaces. The Raviz has an architecture style derived after a lot of research. In 2000, when I started the project, the contemporary style of architecture was to do buildings with structural glazing. However, my client Dr Ravi Pillai, owner of The Raviz, gave me all the freedom to choose a style, which would last forever,” says Pandala, who is also the co-convener of the Kerala Chapter of INTACH.

Speaking on the kind of research that went into conceptualising this hotel, he adds, “Being an important historical site, my research was linked to the history of the cultural and natural heritage of this region. I had little information readily available, but went round the historic places that influenced this region with the modest documentation we had.”

The property offers an experience, a journey through the natural and cultural heritage of the Veenad, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English and the Travancore kingdoms, which had a strong presence in the ancient historic port town of Quilon.

History of Kollam

The T S (Travancore Sheerthala) Canal, build in 1880, is a linkage of lakes and estuaries of Travancore. This canal was the main water transport route from Trivandrum to Sheerthala, Cochin and beyond till 1950s, this was the main trade route specially to transport spices and grains to the ancient port of Kollam. The government has now taken initiatives to revive this Canal heritage. The ancient port of Kollam visited by the historic travellers, is sited to have been near Velliman in the bank of Lake Ashtamudi, and when the ships became larger they could not access lake Ashtamudi due to the shallow draft at Neendakara, earlier known as ‘Nalkonda’, and hence the port was shifted to the ‘Covlam’ (Kollam) later on known as Quilon.

Ecological experience

The Ashtamudi lake is an ecological hotspot. So in this project, Pandala decided to do up the landscape a bit differently. “I had no second thoughts as to what to plant. The local species of flowering plants, fruit trees, the plants, which attracts the birds, and the nectar and host plants to invite the butterflies, the ground cover and all the plants chosen for the landscaping were sustainable without the use of any form of pesticides. “

The site by itself is a lateritic formation, and the local stone was laterite so the natural option was to use it. “The incredible possibilities of laterite boulders to create hideouts and improve safe breeding for fish and crabs, and the use of waste laterite pieces over fibrocement landforms to create water bodies are all what makes this project a unique ecological journey. I chose to plant trees including mangroves, which were endemic to this region,” he explains.

Ashtamudi Lake

Ashtamudi Lake’s importance claims to be dated to the days of the Phoenicians and the Romans. Ibn Batuta, during his 24-year sojourn in the 14th century, is reported to have mentioned about the Quilon port as one of the five ports for Chinese trade. Ashtamudi Lake is known as one of the prominent hotspots of biodiversity comparably undeveloped, with few buildings. It is an integral part of the Kallada River basin. The Kallada River originates on the Kulathupuzha hills near Ponmudi and travels for 121 km, and then drains into the Ashtamudi Lake. This lake listed as a Ramsar site has amazing surprises of nooks and corners. The blue coloured and clean water of Ashtamudi has many species of flora and fauna endemic to this region. The well-connected water bodies are rich reservoirs of food (including fish) and thousands of migratory birds, representing over 30 species, visit this water body.

Sustainable style

The lobby of The Raviz is designed to continue the tryst with nature. The centre of attraction is a snake boat filled with all kinds of spices (Kollam is known as a centre for spices) complemented by ancient looking fans near the front desk turning slowly on mechanised rollers.

The porch is a difficult implementation of the roofing done in the radiating rafter style of the Travancore region. “It is complicated, costly and the knowhow to implement this roofing rafter system is disappearing. All these long rafters are without any joints: that was the traditional rule,” Pandala elucidates. The timber used in the structure was mostly traditionally cultivated timber. Jackwood and Anjali wood were used commonly for building the auspicious elements of the property like the front porch.

The Raviz is a project where Pandala has used natural building materials as far as possible with no reservations about using glass and concrete wherever it was necessary, but to the minimum essential. Local artisans, craftsmen and masons were engaged to implement the project. “Wherever possible, we have used bio fencing and plants to build barriers. Our philosophy was mainly to construct using reusable building techniques,” he states. The plot on which The Raviz now stands was originally a fish processing factory which was not demolished but integrated into the design of the hotel.

One of the reasons why The Raviz took 12 years to build. The project was also delayed because it happened in two phases. The first phase was completed in 2004. Then when the adjoining land was purchased, Dr Pillai decided to expand the property size to include a capacious convention centre, more rooms and a spa. Also, the design was so intricate with lots of detailing to the timber craft, that it took a long lime to implement.

But it was well worth the wait. “The project is unique because it gives us a profile of the natural and cultural heritage of Kerala for many historical centuries. I have a passion for conservation of our natural and cultural heritage. When I was given the brief for The Raviz Kollam, I knew that here was an opportunity to express my version of how a sustainable tourism project can be implemented,” he concludes.


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