As soon as the aircraft flew past the cloudbank, all I could see was the colour green below. Olive, jungle, lime and yellow – different shades of green that followed me throughout my stay in Kerala.
I was heading to Kottayam, known for its rubber plantations and proclivity for literature, to stay at the home of Jose and Mariamma Kuruvinakunnel, who open up their ancestral home to visitors under the Mahindra Homestay scheme. The Kuruvinakunnels have been welcoming guests into their home, Meenachil Enclave, since 2004 and are quite popular with visitors looking for a luxurious yet homely getaway in Kerala.
The drive from Kochi to Kottayam is actually one of the best parts of the trip. Kannan, was not the stereotypical reckless taxi driver and the car was filled with lively chatter about the towns we passed through and cultural commonalities.
After close to three hours, we entered the regal gates and winding car path of Meenachil Enclave. Lush, green gardens filled with flowering plants and quaint park benches lay in front of the house which, having been built at the top of a slope, rises majestically above the rest of the property. Once I stepped out of the car, the difference in air quality and noise between the city and this tranquil home was immediately apparent. The kindly couple warmly welcomed me into their centuries-old ancestral nalukettu.
Built mostly of wood, the house underwent a major renovation from 1993-98 and upkeep is an ongoing effort. The result is a splendid, palatial home filled with tastefully arranged artefacts and paintings, some created by the couple’s son, and others sourced either from the original home (like the ancient manichitrathazhu (ornate lock) on the front door, and the golden, gleaming headdress for temple elephants), or from other places around South India.
One of the most attractive features of the house, apart from the large swimming pool, is the central courtyard open to the sky, built in traditional style. I was lucky enough to be there at the start of the monsoon, and the sound of rain falling on the blue marbles lining the courtyard will always remain a cherished memory. The property is spread over 20 acres of farmland and is home to a menagerie of birds and animals. Cows, dogs, guinea pigs, a pair of Brahminy kites, poultry and other animals are housed in various parts of the property, and make for great companions if you love pets. The plantation forms the rest of the property, and within an hour of walking around, Jose helped me spot different fruit and hardwood trees.
It was soon time for tea, a favoured tradition in the Kuruvinakunnel household.During the stay, I looked forward to tea time, which was accompanied by long and endearing chats with the hosts about our lives and many other things over steaming hot cups of tea, and traditional snacks.
Mariamma, who has a background in home science, is definitely a star in my book. She won me over with her special dishes, which included fried bananas with ghee and sugar, chocolatey biscuit pudding, hot aapams with stew, organic passion fruit juice, and crisp puris with curry, all served in pretty dishes with well-laid out cutlery.
Guests are welcome to stay within the main home in one of two clean, air-conditioned guest rooms, which are beautifully furnished with dark wood beds and bronze busts of Greek goddesses, or in the rooms across a garden on the side of the house. A large, attached bathroom with a sunken tub, stocked with towels and other amenities, made my room much more inviting.
Familiar sounds filled the home through the day – phone conversations, talk shows on television, and the sizzle of deep frying from the kitchen. The convivial atmosphere created by the couple encouraged me to step out of my room and hang around, striking up conversations as often as possible.
I happened to land on a day when a State-wide bandh had been called, and so any plans to venture out had to be cancelled.
One can go on day trips to various places nearby, such as Thekkady, Munnar and Vagamon, known for their beauty and cool climes. I had the opportunity to watch rubber being tapped from the trees on the plantation and made into sheets to be sold – a process that fascinated the chemistry student in me.
Afternoons can be spent lazing on a hammock in the garden, or by getting an ayurvedic massage. You can also watch Mariamma cook her special dishes and take notes. A dip in the pool followed by a hot meal is perfect as well.
Despite the array of choices, I spent most of my time just walking around the property and taking in the sights. Bird-watching, fishing, toddy-tapping, and even helping out on the farm are some other activities available for guests to indulge in. Like the icing on the cake, it was certainly an enjoyable and safe environment for a single, female traveller like myself.
Best of all, you don’t have to fret about planning the itinerary. Mahindra Homestay will do it for you, from start to finish, at no additional cost. Just settle in for an experience that will remind you of home – in a brand new place.
What: A Mahindra Homestay experience
Where: Kottayam, Kerala
How to get there: Take a bus/train/flight to Kochi and drive down to Kottayam, about 3 hours away
For bookings call 1800-425-2737 or log on to www.mahindrahomestays.com