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Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Tranquility of Kumarakom

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From Vivanta by Taj Malabar to Vivanta by Taj Kumarakom you can take a boat. Close to an hour either way, we decided to opt for a drive considering we were doing a backwaters boat trip the same evening.I’m glad we took the drive because it was wonderful to see Aditya’s photograph featured on one of the small shops we passed. Part of an old Peter England campaign, he was smiling down at us! Super cool!

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Great start to the day , the day was going to get even better. In the midst of a slice of green heaven the Vivanta by Taj Kumarakom almost merges in with the surroundings. Small quaint cottages banks of Vembanad Lake , private sit outs, bicycles to get you around the property…this property bring s you back to nature but still keeps in mind the luxury needs of it’s guests.We were welcomed in by Prince the F & B Director who we’d previously met when we had stayed at the Vivanta by Taj Maldives. We were famished , so grabbed a quick bite and headed to our rooms. The property is enormous so I’d recommend borrowing a bicycle from their bicycle shed and traveling around the property whenever you need to. It’s fun, it’s relaxing and you get to explore the entire property.

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Our cottage was beautifully furnished and tastefully decorated. With  a massive bedroom, lovely sit out and even an outdoor shower- ‘luxury rustic’ became the way I defined the hotel and my room.

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A quick nap later we were off on a gorgeous cruise amidst the backwater. The mangrove plants had made it difficult for the boat to come to the hotel so we took the boat from just across the hotel and marveled at the expanse of the lake which merged into the sea while the sun set.

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Prince knows me and penchant for romantic dinners and so a table was set with a special menu created just for Aditya and I on the banks of the lake where we could listen to some live music and eat undisturbed surrounded by just gorgeous swaying palms and listening to the fish as they leapt about in the lake below… The dinner was superb. The chef here is EXCELLENT so definitely come prepared with an appetite! The food is marvelous!

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The lake is lit at night thanks to the local Kerala women who are hired by the hotel to light up the lake at sunset…With gorgeous divas the lake looks so auspicious and divine in the night as you walk by the banks!

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The following morning after cycling to breakfast we fed some of the ducks and watched as the turtles came to feed on the banks of the lake. I fed a few and I must confess I had never really thought of turtles as hungry or greedy! Cute, very greedy and very friendly…this was a wonderful experience.

Our trip to Kumarakom was short, romantic and an idyllic relaxing getaway. Far away from the madness and noise of the city we found peace, calm, cycles and ducks 🙂 and had the perfect short break!

Cost-:$300 onwards but remember with very limited rooms… book well in advance… They tend to ALWAYS be full up !

Best Times to Travel-: November to February has great weather… we did Valentines day at Kumarakom and we had a pleasant, slightly chilly evening! Perfect!

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The Vivanta by Taj Malabar

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Set amidst luscious palms with a magnificent view of Cochin harbour is the glorious Vivanta by Taj Malabar. The heritage wing awaited us and in true Kerala fashion – without any fuss – we were shown to our room. Soon enough all the senior hotel members arrived- all to say hello to my father, a frequent visitor and suddenly after my Dad made the introductions- Aditya and I were also welcomed , in true Taj fashion , as family!

The rooms are modern, spacious and comfortable. The Heritage rooms with their gorgeous view of the bay and the balcony’s are easily the best rooms in the hotel! We quickly freshened up and headed to Pepper, the all day restaurant for lunch! The buffet was wonderful. I am not a fan of buffets, but this buffet had not only a wide selection but the taste of the different cuisines was also authentic- a refreshing change from buffets which often either have a limited selection , or only focus on one type of cuisine.

What I loved about this hotel was also their tea service which happened every evening where tea, cakes and some snacks were offered to all their guests on the lawn while you could watch the sun set in the bay. This is complimentary and from tasty, strong south Indian coffee, to coconut water, green tea and even the cappuccino – they give you your choice of beverage and always have some tasty snacks. after a long day of sightseeing this was always a high point in the evening!

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And then ofcourse there is the Jiva Spa. With it’s traditional Ayurvedic massages and services- this Jiva Spa looked after the wellness of the guest completely. A session was not just limited to an hour. The session consisted of a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor, treatments, massages and a follow up. It is not surprising therefore that people from across the world come here for 10 and 15 days for weight loss and wellness Ayurvedic programs at the Jiva Spa.

With an eternity pool that almost dissolves in to the bay and in the midst of the swaying palm trees and silence of nature- it’s easy to get lost in the magnificence of Kerala, the beautiful serenity, the meditative calm and the glorious beauty of God’s own country.

It was good to be home.

Best Time To Travel-: Winter… else Kerala does get very hot during the summer… December , Jan and Feb are ideal unless of course you are like my husband and love watching the glorious Kerala monsoon in June and July where the trees come alive…. (but you can do little else!)

Cost-:$200 onwards. But remember HERITAGE ROOMS- and you MUST TRY THE JIVA SPA!

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The Hill Palace, ChottaNikkara Temple and Tripunithura Temple… the Princess Diaries continued!

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And then it was off to the Glorious Hill Palace- a place where both my fathers parents (both of them were cousins) had been born and raised and where the Maharaja had lived from 1914- 1932. My grandfather who unfortunately I never met was born 1921 and my grandmother who died at a very young age (and who also I never met 😦 ) was born in 1926 at the Hill Palace and my Father is lucky to have photographs of them playing together and growing up together in this beautiful, beautiful palace!

I had been really waiting to see the Hill Palace and I was right. It is indeed one of the most magnificent palaces I have ever seen! With layers of Gardens and fountains in front, the Palace , at one time must have stood out as a glorious white swan amidst a lake of green ! With a deer park (huge) which still have beautiful deer and with several building nestled among the lush greenery- the Hill Palace is easily one of India’s most glorious and most underrated palaces. After visiting it, I hope to write to the ministry and I will try and restore my family’s old home to part of it’s former glory. It seems only fitting. It seems only fair.

The Palace is looked after well, considering their obviously limited finances. The Government employees are proud of the Palace and the wood seems to be polished regularly and care has been taken to preserve all the incredible paintings, jewelry and artifacts. But with an entrance fee of Rs. 20, it is difficult to even keep a Palace of this size clean- so restoring it to it’s former glory is impossible. Sponsorships and Funding must come in and we should try and preserve this proud testament to India’s glory days.

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The gardens are now but shadows of what they would have looked like. Where the would have been 50 trees, there is now one aged weed and where there would have been brightly coloured flowers there is one token bush. The fountains are dry and chipped…. A new coat of paint and landscaping would easily restore the gardens to their lush beauty.

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I entered and immediately i saw my Family Crest carved beautifully in wood. The Family Crest is everywhere – on the top of the Hill Palace,in different rooms, etched in glass everywhere! Immediately we were click happy and I asked to get some photographs taken.

DSC04416In most parts of the Hill Palace, photographs are not allowed especially in the Crown room and where the Jewellery is stored- but because we were family- a wonderful government historian proudly took us around to rooms that hadn’t even been opened to the Public yet; showing us artifacts they were restoring and rooms that would soon be open to Public.

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Another interesting thing to note…is like the Taj Mahal in Agra, you must walk thru this Palace barefoot. The Palace is kept clean and the tiles are original and is wonderful to walk on the cool flooring and marvel at the care and attention that had been taken when this palace was built. It was also so far sighted of those that constructed the palace to choose the right materials for the Palace. Even in the humidity and heat of a Kerala afternoon the floors were cold and the windows kept a steady stream of air passing through. With out air conditioning , we were still able to walk a few hours without even breaking a sweat!

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And so it was off to the Crown room! And we saw the crown and the throne and the room where the Maharaja would conduct his daily business!The Palace in itself has several buildings with the traditional centre courtyard. The women, families and children would live and play in the other buildings. I’m assuming a simple game of hide and seek could run a couple of days with the amount of space this exquisite Palace has! 🙂 Unfortunately those building have yet to be restored and sadly some of the of them are being used as administrative offices and the rest of them just left vacant.

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Achan (Dad in Malayalam) and I posed in front of his great grand father picture (The Maharaja of Cochin) and  I know I was dreaming of being a Princess and roaming this beautiful Palace as my home.

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I was snapped out of day dreaming with the stunning light emanating from the rubies and emeralds and the room where all the jewellery and armor is stored. And then we wandered off to see the carriages … beautifully kept and a wonderful memory of a simpler, grander time!

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After a quick stop at the Deer park , I sadly said farewell to a new Palace I had just seen but which seemed so familiar to me….! I will come back. I must restore it.

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And then it was off to the famous temple ChottaNikkara. Legend has it that my great, great grandmother Parukutty Nethyar Amma ,got married very young. Like all young girls, she wanted many things. Her husband, said to her that if she wants so much, then she should perhaps ask the Devi and so she did. She prayed for fame, fortune and prayed with all her heart. When the Raja abdicated , she was at the temple when the Priest asked her whether she had moved to her new house- the Palace. She went home, to find that her husband had just been named the first Maharaja on Cochin State. The temple is beautiful. With great amount of faith, I went and prayed. I was so proud to just be able to walk the space my great great grandmother had and be able to share some of the faith she had!

No photographs are allowed in the temple.

And then finally we ended up in the Tripunithura Temple where the kings came after their coronation. Interestingly ,in Gurvayoor the Krishna idol is standing, in Tripunithura – he is sitting and when you go to Trivandrum, he is lying down!The temple has a massive courtyard where the elephants were brought and made to stand! We were overjoyed to see one hungry, very naughty elephant troubling his Mahout as the evening set on this PERFECT DAY!

From Hill Palace, both these temples are very close by and MUST SEES!

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Prayers in Kerala and imagining my Royal Past :)

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The next day it was an early start and off to Guruvayur Temple. The temple was a good 3 hours ( and a little extra ) away from our hotel and it was important that we got an early start.The presiding deity in the Garbhagraha (central shrine) is Mahavishnu and is supposed to be over 5000 years old! The temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna. The temple has an enormous following and is very holy and was one of the main reasons for my trip. The rules of the temple are strict.

  • You must be Hindu
  • Men must wear mundus and go bare chested.
  • Women must wear skirts or saris or salwar kurtas
  • No shoes or footwear is allowed
  • No photographs allowed!( so the one below is off a website!)

The queues are enormous and the time you get to see the deity(the darshan) is very short. But with the amount of faith this temple has among devotees – the lines are never too long and the Darshan always special!

And then it was off to Thrissur where my father was born. My father had spent several years in Thrissur and our Tharavad (ancestral) house was in Thrissur. It was wonderful to relive some of his memories.

We got to see Ratnavilas a palace that my great-great grand mother – Parukutty Nethyar Amma built and lived in after her husband died! My mother had also visited and lived here after her marriage and i too had visited as a baby! Now unfortunately it had been sold to a hotel but even then you could see perfectly beautiful wooden staircases and gorgeous windows- remnants of an incredible time gone by! My parents spent time reminiscing about Ratnavilas and there were so many fun anecdotes and incredible memories- I wished that I’d been a little older when I’d visited just to share some of the history!

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And then it was off to the Town Hall built by my great grandfather V.K. Aravindaksha Menon who was the second son of the Maharaja and Chief Engineer of Cochin State. The building from the outside seemed almost as good as new and we were very delighted.

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The famous Vadakunnathan Temple is in the middle of the huge Thrissur Circle which has a diameter of a mile. The temple is very powerful and dedicated to Lord Shiva.The statue of Shiva is in the form of a huge lingam and is not visible. It is covered under a mound of ghee, formed by the daily prayers with ghee over the years. A devotee looking into the sanctum can now see only a 16-foot-high mound of ghee embellished with thirteen cascading crescents of gold and three serpent hoods at top. Legend says that Tipu Sultan while he was invading Cochin State tied his horse in front of this temple not heeding the curses and warnings of the priests. As he did so, news came to him that his capital of Srirangapatnam (near Mysore) had been invaded by the British. He left immediately heading back to Mysore and was killed in battle.

Driving thru Thrissur you cannot but help notice the statue of my Great great grandfather the Maharaja in the middle of a busy junction and despite the fact that there was no way I could get out from the car(the roads were that busy)- I kept clicking and clicking!

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A quick bite and a lot of shopping later , we headed back towards the hotel happily tired and very nostalgic.

I know I wish I’d been born during the Maharaja’s time. I think I’d be a super Royal :)!

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