Sterling Palavelli Godavari promises to offer a soothing vacay with all the COVID precautions intact
I have never really done a Google search to find when World Tourism Day is. This year, a forced seven-month holiday away from vacationing has made me nostalgic about travel and look up a trip I could do over a weekend. When I checked with Sterling Palavelli Godavari, which I visited during the pre-COVID times, I was told that they are fully geared up for the ‘new normal’. “No worry, you are on the banks of Godavari,” quips general manager of the resort, Yamala Srinivas Rao, while personally overseeing the arrangements.
How green is my route
The 80-minute flight from Hyderabad leaves you at Rajahmundry Airport and an unending affair with the river begins here. The river trails you across the two-hour drive to Palakollu giving you the double delight of not just lush greenery, but its reflections on the waters look beautiful too. Needless to say, the drive is so soothing that you might want to spam your Instagram stories with tales of the Godavari, India’s second-longest river. Palavelli is Andhra’s very own Alleppey with its serene backwaters, vast lakes and palm-fringed canals. When you visit Palavelli, you tend to feel that Kerala is highly overrated.
SMS in place
Sterling Holiday Resorts has tied up with Apollo Clinics to ensure safe and hygienic holidays through its ‘Sterling Cares’ programme. Ramesh Ramanathan, CMD, Sterling Holiday Resorts, says, “We spoke to a large section of our customers during the lockdown and were happy to note that a majority of them were eager to holiday at our resorts post-lockdown. They mentioned during our survey that hygiene and safety will be their most important consideration when taking a holiday. The safety and well-being of our guests are paramount. Our Sterling Cares programme, in association with Apollo Clinics, ensures you holiday safely with us.” The resort has also introduced holiday insurance, tech innovations such as QR code menus and has designed a new set of games and holiday activities keeping the norms of social distancing, safety and hygiene in mind. Every staffer in the resort is trained to follow the sanitiser-mask-social distancing protocols and the supervisor says he keeps reminding everyone about the new normal.
Even as the staff was briefing me about my river-view room, the breakfast and dinner timing, the magnificent central courtyard of the resort — a true showstopper — caught my attention. Filled with sparkling water, thanks to the sun rays playing hookey with it on that sunny morning, and hundreds of white and pink water lilies floating in the water teleported me into a Baahubali-like World. It wasn’t just a small pond for the guests to click pictures, but a gigantic one that holds together the 51-room resort directly on the banks of the Godavari. Every room has a view of the river outside the window or of the pond, but I would say the pond view is best. “The Water Lilies, aka Amazonica Victoria botanically, have its roots in the Amazon forest. The lilies have seven feet-long stems with leaves that are eight-feet in circumference. If Baahubali director Rajamouli knew the leaf could hold a newborn (which it does), I am sure he would have used it in his movie,” Srinivas quips. The lilies change colour across the day. I knew I had to spend a few hours in the evening just admiring their ability to change colour, not to mention selfies with every change. Is it the Mahishamathi kingdom kind of setting that makes the Telugus want to get married here?
“Sterling Palavelli Godavari organised its first destination wedding post-COVID-19 lockdown on July 29 and it was planned a month before the function. The wedding planning began only after the Andhra Pradesh government relaxed lockdown restrictions for hotels and resort and after sharing the government mandates/restrictions for guests. Since both the bride and groom’s families stayed within a 50 km radius from the resort, it was convenient for the guests to travel. As directed and approved by local government authorities, only 50 people were present for the wedding. There was a mix of in-house and non-resident guests attending the wedding functions. Subject to the room and event requirements for the wedding, access to multiple places in the resorts are granted. This is also determined by the size of the resort. At the recent wedding at Palavelli Godavari, the guests had booked all the rooms of the Pond Villa block, along with the wedding hall. But the access was granted to all the areas of the resorts. This allowed the guests to arrange small and multiple events or gatherings with private access during a specific time of the day across the vast six acres of green expanse and tropical settings,” explains the CMD about how they pulled off their first big event.
Of banana flower and the fish dish
The chef prepared Arati Puvvu Vepudu (Banana flower fry) and Vankaya Chappidi Chapala Iguru. The former is a delicacy that even veteran Andhra cooks find hard to cook as the banana flower needs to be unwrapped and cooked in a unique way or else you end up just mashing it up. “We believe that the food that you can taste in local homes is the ultimate homage to a region’s cuisine and we have home chefs visiting us regularly to replicate the same taste,” says the resort manager G Munireddy. Hot rice, ghee and banana flower sauteed and cooked in a clay pot with secret ingredients was indeed a finger-licking Andhra delicacy. We all know how Bengalis buy only ‘fish that smile even when they are dead’ for their Sunday cooking. In Andhra, they buy fish that’s dried only under sunlight which falls on a bed of grass picked up from the mangrove, sugarcane fields. “The fish gets an added flavour when it’s dried that way,” says the chef. This fish dish is going to convert even hardcore Bengalis into fans of Andhra Chapala Iguru. The dish was spicy and tangy. Don’t miss this while you are here. Weekends are about alfresco-dining as home chefs prepare authentic Andhra cuisine in clay pots and firewood stoves. Incidentally, this is the only Sterling resort where the Pulasa fish is served. A customer opted for this delicacy for Rs 7,000 recently.
Lotus pond and the Manduva logili
The only place you should be after a heavy rice-rich Andhra meal is the Andhra heritage block which opens up with a Manduva Logili that reminds you of the fort entrances of yore. “The Andhra arugu is a tastefully sculpted wooden structure embellished with colourful floral rangolis. As the languorous heirloom swings rocks back and forth, I feel like Shivagami Devi in Baahubali. Blame it on the royal setting of the heritage block. Day one ended after a post-dinner walk alongside the river bed and soaking in the Godavari’s sights and sounds. “Rest well as we have an action-packed day tomorrow. At Sterling you get to holiday differently,” promises Srinivas, as his staff hand us over a pamphlet with the next day’s programme.
Here the staff believe that you must not waste even one minute without absorbing the riverine traits. The resort plans a detailed itinerary which gives everyone a feel of the Godavari and the entire ecosystem around it. “Rajamundry is called the Rice Bowl of the country and we want everyone to understand how this magnificent crop grows to give us these divine-tasting pearls,” Srinivas adds. Trousers that you can fold up till your thighs and an adventurous spirit are all that you need to get into a sink-in paddy field. First-timers better hold hands or even embrace the strong women who will lead you into the sludgy farm and help you plant a few into the wet mud. Now, that’s a photo-op for sure. Post this effort, the rice tasted even more divine, and for obvious reasons.
Soon after this is a sweet treat in the form of a visit to the jaggery farm nestled amidst the coconut groves. Did you know that sugarcane juice is boiled for a few hours, cleaned, and then poured onto trays to give you organic jaggery? A colouring agent is added later to make it look attractive for the supermarket display. That was indeed a ‘jaago-rey’ (awakening) moment for me. Activity number three was a quick temple darshan to Pancharama temple, 10 minutes drive before we dashed off for lunch.
Post-lunch was about watching the cockfights in Godavari district. “This is like Jallikattu, except that it is with roosters and nobody gets injured,” says Puliraju, who simplifies it for us. He tells us that there are breeds like Nemali, Abras, Samala which are truly fighter cocks and their asking price is `2 lakh upwards. Sankranthi in January is the only time the Kodi Pandalu are allowed and happen and preps for training the roosters begins 15 months ahead. Did you know that the roosters need 30 gm vitamin tablets every day to stay robust and aggressive?
Last, but not the least
There is no other better way to fall in love with the Godavari than taking Sterling’s special boat, some 10 km into the river to get a feel of the water body. The hotel can arrange for breakfast, meals or high teas for a corporate group. The meals are timed with the sunrise or sunset or with sparkling afternoons for best results. We also got to stop at the Ramaayalanka island for a bit. It indeed was paradise with lush greenery around, the reflection of the palm trees in the water as the boat chugged back to the land. Don’t miss the sunset here.
Good night, god bless
Day two ended with a dinner with Andhra specialities and their very own dessert called Junnu, made from the milk of a cow which has given birth to a newborn. The turndown service had a piece of Rajamundry’s famous Mavidi Tandra (Mango jelly) and of course scores of sweet memories. As you bid goodbye to the river, you can just whisper, “I shall be back soon.”
The writer visited Sterling Palavelli Godavariin January 2020. Stay for a night: Rs 5,000 upwards for a classic room.