BY ROYSTON ELLIS
A resort set on an island in a Kerala backwater called the river of flowers and managed by the Sri Lankan hotel group, Aitken Spence, sounded perfect for a few days relaxation. The flight to Trivandrum took only 45 minutes, immigration and customs at the airport were swift and smooth, and within 20 minutes of arriving in India I was in a hotel car bound for the Poovar Island Resort.
The drive from the airport is along a highway lined with shacks, suburban villas and yards stacked with antique doors and window frames, before deteriorating to pot-holed rural lanes. A boat with an outboard motor was waiting at the small Poovar jetty for the slow chug along the Poovar River (named after the red flowers that used to float in it) to the resort. The boat had to be driven slowly so as not to churn up too much wash that would capsize the fragile wooden canoes piled high with sand being punted up river from the beach.
The thundering of huge breakers crashing on to the distant beach announced that we were getting close to our destination. The resort really is on an island, located at the mouth of the river just four kilometres from Kerala’s border with Tamil Nadu. The first sight is of 16 ‘floating cottages’ each one built out of local timber and palm thatch on a raft of cement that bobs up and down with the tide. In a sales brochure they would be described euphemistically as ‘romantic’ instead of ‘rustic.’
The main accommodation is in a warren of compact cottages accessed by boardwalk raised above the marshy garden and set in 24 acres of tropical parkland. Exotic trees abound but mostly the vegetation is free range. Eagles, owls and pretty river birds enjoy the gardens while crows lurk for pickings from the tables of guests breakfasting on their verandahs.
The social centre of the resort is a large swimming pool between the reception and dining villas. The pool is a wonderful meeting point for sun-bathing Britons on all-inclusive package holidays and Indian families taking a winter break from the cold north. I had been staying three days before I realised there is a second swimming pool (and restaurant) in the secluded Ayurveda Village of 12 cottages, popular with Europeans in search of treatment as well as wellness therapy.
The meals served in the garden or on the verandah of the main restaurant, and prepared under the direction of a Sri Lankan executive chef, Krishan Rupasinghe formerly of the Neptune Hotel, Beruwela, are resolutely Indian inspired.
I indulged in Masala Dosa for breakfast, Kerala style Mutton or Malabari veg curries for lunch and fragrant river fish and deliciously subtle curries for dinner. The hotel’s CEO is R. Sritharan, formerly of the Tea Factory and Bandarawela hotels, who brings a touch of old style Sri Lankan hospitality and charm to the resort.
I spent my days strolling in the park, visiting the resort’s newly opened tailor shop (I was the first customer) where a young man made me a linen safari suit in 24 hours, and reading on the verandah of my premium grade room.
This was on the ground floor of a four-roomed Kerala style mansion furnished with a rattan theme but with flat screen television and tea/coffee maker. The wow factor was the huge bathroom with Jacuzzi and a rain shower in a glass cabinet with secret access to an ornamental walled garden hung with a profusion of potted plants.
There was no pressure to do anything at the resort, which was what I wanted. Of course, I could have taken a backwaters cruise, gone bird watching, practiced yoga, or tried ‘Padabhyangam’ rejuvenation massage. But the most memorable moment was when I left the resort by boat at dawn as the sun rose and created mystical silhouettes out of the trees overhanging the enigmatic waters of the river of flowers.
As seen on Sunday Times – 27 December 2009
Media Release – 29 December 2009