Travel: Vayalar is a secluded haven encompassed by Kerala’s calm backwaters
Exchanging anecdotes over a glass of freshly-tapped toddy is the norm. Especially, if you’re inside a shaded coconut grove surrounded by wisened folk who seem to be natural-born storytellers. As luck would have it, that’s exactly where I was on a balmy Kerala morning—the picturesque Kuttanchal island.
I’d arrived at this thatched roof eatery mere hours after checking into my weekend getaway spot in Vayalar, Vasundhara Sarovar Premiere. However, what started out as a simple quest to sample the region’s famed madhurakallu took an unexpected turn.
After a few guffaws about the state’s current political climate, conversations around our wobbly wooden tables—lined with clay kallu pots and plates of spicy mussel fry—shifted to the subject of the 1946 Punnapra-Vayalar uprising. My mind raced as an elderly gentleman, whose eyes were on the cusp of moistening, began to recount tales of this once-troubled land.
Trees in the area riddled with bullet holes still stand as an alibi for his stories of atrocities committed against coir workers and revolutionaries hiding from Colonial forces underneath water hyacinths. It was only then that we noticed that he’d even left an untouched glass of the beverage aside, on an unoccupied seat.
The boat ride back to the lakeside resort was a quiet one. Everyone from my clique abandoned their original plan of jumping into the jacuzzi on the deck of our houseboat. The only sound heard, besides that of the bubbling bath, was the whirring of DSLR cameras. Particularly, when passing alongside Kakkathuruthu: National Geographic wasn’t kidding when it announced that this thickly-canopied isle is one of the ‘world’s best places to catch a sunset’.
Another factor aided the tranquillity of Vayalar’s waters: besides the occasional mussel diver, there were no other souls on the horizon. This is in stark contrast to what many of us have seen in vacationist hubs like Alappuzha and Kumarakom—where the rippling algae-green rivers are congested with gaudy houseboats.
Truth be told, this charming journey helped lighten the entire group’s frame of mind; there’s something innately calming about the rustle of palm trees.
Satiated after an extensive seafood sadya, complete with fish caught by the staff on board, I opted for a quick disco nap in one of the craft’s many fully-furnished, air-conditioned rooms. Counting sheep has got nothing on spotting birds as you gently follow the meandering Vembanad lake.
Upon reaching the eight-acre luxury property’s jetty, right before the twilight hour, our moods improved drastically. Primarily due to the scenic walk through a butterfly garden—situated near a 200-year-old restored heritage villa—to our floating cottage.
Light-hearted conversations with their vintage tea stall’s amiable cook, Mohan, also helped. While we sipped on cardamom-infused chaya and watched pigeon murmurations form over their private lake, Mohan chettan explained that Vayalar has transformed itself into a peaceful blue-collar village in the 70 years since the nation gained independence. After a long and insightful chat regarding the region’s principal attractions, he even rang up the concierge and assisted us in drawing up future sightseeing plans.
Following this day of excess, certain factions of my squad resigned to their cottages, which harbour a private jacuzzi. The rest of us lounged by Zephyr, the poolside bar, for a mini-sundowner party of our own. This isn’t just because their spectacular mixologist whipped up bespoke cocktails. We were attempting to build up our appetites as executive chef Abhilash T promised a seven-course naadan feast at his all-day diner, Mystic Spice.
And boy, did he deliver! From grilled masala prawns and string hoppers alongside creamy fish molee to parotta with a delicious portion of fall-off-the-bone mutton roast and veggie treats like vazhachundu thoran and matta rice. In true fine-dining style, the chef even incorporated a lemon-mint sorbet as a mid-course treat to cleanse our palate. As their beverage programme worked well with the fare, a fair bit of debauchery ensued.
Due to our prior appointments at the retreat’s spa, Upasana, the next day began earlier than most of us would have liked it to. Nursing slight hangovers, we trudged into the 5,000 sq ft rejuvenation centre that’s famous for its authentic Ayurvedic practices.
Operated by the award-winning Arya Vaidya Pharmacy—who has been at the forefront of the wellness industry for almost 80 years—their in-house doctor, Ajan S, privately consulted with each of us before designating customised treatments.
After the relaxing therapies, everyone chose to pace themselves as it was the last day of our mini-holiday. Some, visited the nearby International Coir Museum to pick up quirky souvenirs; others opted to check one of the world’s largest private collection of Swarovski crystals at the Revi Karuna Karan Memorial, and the rest of us took Mohan chettan’s advise and visited Marari’s pristine beach—all of which is a short drive away from the secluded haven that is Vayalar.
The writer was invited to Vayalar by Vasundhara Sarovar Premiere.