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Dream destination

Prem Subramaniam writes on the many hidden splendours of Kerala, the place to be in the rains.

india Updated: Jul 30, 2008 19:55 IST
Prem Subramaniam

Flying into Kochi is an experience. You fly over lush green fields interspersed with canals and streams, fringed by coconut trees.

This is in consonance with the picture postcard impression created by the God's Own Country campaign, which catapulted the state to an internationally acclaimed tourist destination.

Kerala's growth coincided with Kashmir's decline around 20 years ago when terrorism replaced tourism. Funding a new airport Returning home Keralites from the Middle East, fed up of dealing with Mumbai airport, organised themselves to fund the new airport using a partnership model well before PPP became a catchword.

Soon Gulf Air and other Middle Eastern airlines were getting crew who could speak Malayalam to steal market share from the lazy monopoly of Air India.

The piquant situation of having full economy loads but empty seats in the upper classes led to promotions in attracting discerning travellers from Europe – with an attractive combination of upgrades to upper classes on economy fares.

Arundhati Roy's book God of Small Things winning the Booker Prize led to BBC documenting the landscape that inspired her first novel.

Around the same time Jose Dominic of the Casino Group redefined the meaning of a resort experience at Bangaram in the Lakshadweep.

Kerala's strong trade unions which had prevented the setting up of polluting industries meant that the state was clean and green, the two words used by Jose when rechristening his chain from Casino Group of Hotels to CGH Earth (Clean Green Hotels). Strong traditions Lawrie Baker inspired strong vernacular traditions of architecture. Jose was among the first to ask his staff to wear saris and dhotis with traditional tops, served local cuisine and presented aspects of Kathakali and Kallaripettai while the main thrust was on therapy through Ayurvedic massages.

With festivals like Pooram at Trichur in May and Onam and the Boat Races at Alleppey in August, Kerala is now a yearround destination.

On a recent visit to Kochi, having already stayed at Casino, Brunton Boat Yard and Taj Malabar on earlier visits, I tried out a village home just 15 km from Kochi. Welcoming smiles, personalised service and great food were its strong points.

Excursions to the early morning fish market built up your appetite for the sumptuous breakfast included in the tariff. Special connection And there's Koder House which has a special connection for me. I witnessed the last Jewish wedding there of the Koder family .

Of course now it is with new owners but they seem to have done a great job in restoring this boutique offering. Bolgatty Palace is a fine example of a state running a heritage hotel well.

The perennial favourite still remains Kumarakom where Coconut Lagoon has been joined by the Taj and the Kumarakom Lake Resort among others.

Quite a few new novels describe the Periyar Game Reserve and while their descriptions are very good, the place is even better. Head for the hills If by this time the humidity gets to you, you can head for the Munnar Hills. If you prefer being a beachcomber, you could head for Kovalam where Leela now runs the Kovalam Beach Resort.

But if you're a foodie you should head further north to Aziz Manzil, where Faiza Moosa can pamper you with Moplah food. Faiza's culinary skills have led to her being invited to France. Her husband's grandfather bought the old plantation house off Tellicherry from a Scottish planter.

Their guest list included the Duchess of Norfolk and Lady Cawdor. In case the names sounds familiar, you probably have read Shakespeare. But even without that you are likely to get lyrical.