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Home Explore Soul of Kerala ( 2nd issue 2016-March-April )

Soul of Kerala ( 2nd issue 2016-March-April )

Published by info, 2016-03-29 00:53:44

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Letter from the

Managing Editor & PublisherHope everyone’s been doing well this New Year. We for 03 one are overwhelmed with the fabulous support re- ceived for the first issue of Soul of Kerala. There wereshortcomings yes, but mostly, positive vibes were shared thanmere negatives. On behalf of my team, a big thank you to allour readers! Coming back to the current issue, the request by sev-eral of our well wishers to continue carrying detailed storiesof offbeat destinations is what inspired us to carry on fromwhere we left. We have also tried to reduce our ad content,up on suggestion by a section of readers, though we hope youunderstand that being a privately run welfare publication, re-taining funds is crucial if we are to deliver you a product wor-thy of your time. Further, as we continue to translate our travel experi-ences of Kerala into useful readable content for travel oper-ators, organizers and travel enthusiasts across the world, wehope that the support from you, our readers, will continueunabated. Your feedback is most valuable to our vision of ex-periential travel, and we invite you to send the same to us [email protected]. After all, no two people can discoverthe same place in the same manner. It would indeed be wonderful to partake in your under-standing of Kerala, being as you are like-minded travel enthu-siasts who have experienced this beautiful State, as much aswe have.Till our next issue later this year, ‘nanni namaskaram’from every one of us at Soul of Kerala. Alen Tom Thomas Managing Editor & Publisher MARCH-APRIL 2016

EDITORIAL TEAM FOR MARKETING ENQUIRIESManaging Editor & Publisher : Alen Tom Thomas* The Soul Media (India) +91 9061017666, +91 9061015666Executive Editor : Kuruvilla Chacko Bejoy Zacharia (USA)Sub-Editor : Anjali Krishnan 001 636 4395855Special Consultant : Salim Pushpanath Treesa Mendez (CANADA) 0015879888902 (Deebee Publishers, Kottayam) Jim Kunjaria (Australia)Editorial Consultant : Geetha Alex 0061435944164Chief Designer : Joe Joseph Sanu Mangara Chacko (United Kingdom) 07939214293Chief Illustrator : Sahadevan P Amal John Thomas (Ireland)Illustrator : Mahith Menon 00353877743872Contributing Writers : Tess James Rincil Paul (SWEDEN) Thomas Mampilly 0046703614025Research Interns : Aparna Sankar S Nobin Philip (Saudi Arabia) Navin Koshy 00966506476434Photographers : Rohit Agarwal Prasanth Kumar (Dubai) Shan A Najum 0097155206697 Vishnu M Joshi Philip Jose (Doha)Legal Consultant : Adv. Dr. TK Kamal Jith 0097455178899E-magazine technical support : Hilton Paul Bibin Mathew (Kuwait) Sarath S 0096597232909 VOLUME 1 . ISSUE 1 KOCHI. VOLUME 1 . ISSUE 1 KOCHI. QUARTERLY. FREE COPY CORPORATE OFFICE: QUARTERLY. FREE COPY THE SOUL MEDIA PUBLICATION NO.74 GSS NAGAR,VOLUME 1 . ISSUE 1 KOCHI. QUARTERLY. FREE COPY NCC ROAD, AMBALAMUKKU, PEROORKADA POHOUSE BOATSITNAOTBPEORIUNVTDIEU2W0S1TS6R-Y17PPEMRRAOSRSOKPNATEENBTIOCNEOTPTLTURSTEITTENRUAND2VLDR0UKISMNE1S:6KAWTERR-RR1SKOA7YTELOYTAPPT’TASARERLHLORLEIYLNDSSYODDPOUESNTELN:A-CULONBOFTTXOE-COTSALUUHPILTENERT-ISWT2NAITOEO0DLHRR1UKAU6LVTSD-SIAT1E7RRWEYPKSREPORE*ATSRCROHSLEMPSESATAAATEORAR’AFMSCK*OUNLTIDEORTLHNOTNIDABYGGSIIINNOEMIDTOGTOPLASDKUORLIPOETNTTVNG-AIEOSOLNLFSKO-TCHAEL-EWSOTMRHRA*LKAERCDSESKTTHERT*OBETAAAADATOOIFRURIILMOTONGMREAAKPOIGIA’TILRDNSNNOALOGHGPTLYVSTSIEOIDOMUDNATES-RNORTBKOFELO*E*-SOSITCTODTMECIHHKAINAAPGEAIUGFRNLI-RROTWOEGOMAAOSVSPOINDLETTRNTIHLGOSDANTSARE Cover PIC: Jayaraj TP THIRUVANATHAPURAM-695005 HOUSE BOATS TOGURAMRORITAMWSGOBAMSRSUOTGASROIRWRISOUAMRWABISRMABTURN ROYALLY LUXURIOUS PH: +91 9061017666,+91 9061015666 In the vicinity of Chulliyar Dam at Palakkad District *responsible for selection of news under PRB ActHOUSE BOATS MASSIAVSESLYIVEVLEYSLYSMARKET TRENDS:TURN ROYALLY LUXURIOUS For any content related information or permission to access published matter for further use: [email protected] For any distribution related information: [email protected] at :AnaswaraPrinters, Edappally Raghavan Pillai Rd, Perandoor Junction,Elamakkara, Kochi, Kerala 682026 Ph: +91 484 240 9335All matter contained in this magazine is subject to copyright of The Soul Media. No content shall be reproduced, copied or used by any third party readeror collective group, in print or digital format, without due permission from the publisher.The Soul Media strives to achieve maximum accuracy in its reports. In the event of any factual error, readers are welcome to send in their feedback andpoint out the corrections. Published by Alen Tom Thomas on behalf of The Soul Media and Printed at Anaswara Printers, Edappally Raghavan Pillai Rd, Perandoor Junction, Perandoor, Elamakkara, Kochi, Kerala 682026, and published from KP-11/207,NO.74,NCC ROAD,AMBALAMUKKU, DIST-THIRUVANANTHAPURAM,KERALA. Editor: Alen Tom Thomas .04 MARCH-APRIL 2016

EditorialIhave always wanted to slow time down. But then, who doesn’t. A de- 05 lusionary wish it may be, but recently while backpacking acrossHampi, I stumbled upon a possible means to defy the universe!Historical on one side and unlike any on the other, Hampi is dividedby the Tungabhadra River. But more importantly, it’s one of thoseplaces where a Marley song, a good ol’ wood stove pizza for compa-ny, and mattresses for seats, can irreversibly slow time down for you.Three days there felt effortlessly long. And let me tell you, theyfelt really, really good.Back home, I kept thinking of the factors that have contributed to Hampi becoming a par-adise for tourists. After all, most tourists don’t spend all their time exploring the ruins, butprefer instead to just read a book, sip on beer, or roam around the plateau terrain. Havingtravelled quite a bit helped answer my doubts finally. That the secret to Hampi’s time-staticcharm is that as a destination, it doesn’t try too hard, to offer a mix of everything. Keepingit simple is the mantra.For within the town’s two-dimensional aura, where there lay past, it lay in its entirety; andwhere there lay modernity, it lay in the form of a utopian land of absolute freedom. And thatis what today’s traveller seeks. A complete experience, within his personal space of absolutefreedom!While working on this issue, we at Soul of Kerala knew that the heart of its content shouldbe all about places that keep things simple, by offering the luxury of one sight, one ambi-ence and one mind-blowing experience. The hardest part was finding them. The best partwas in discovering that they not just existed, but were being promoted by a mature brand oftravel-preneurs. Kakkathurathu, Rajakkad and Paniyeli, the three destinations covered inthis issue, are to me, pure paradise. And their founders, people who care more about travelexperiences than commerce. You need to spend time at each of these locales and soak inthe experiences, if you are to return, a happy traveller.On the B2B front, we have lined up interviews with some of the top names in the industry.You might find that their passion for building relations is just what your guests need whenyou send them over to this beautiful State. Meanwhile, for those looking to enter Kerala’stourism scene, our friends in the industry say that the scope for setting up service apart-ments to cater to Arab and domestic tourists is enormous.Considering the wonderful synergy between the new batch of travel-preneurs and the indus-try veterans, Kerala Tourism only stands to benefit from such opportunities. Kuruvilla Chacko Executive Editor MARCH-APRIL 2016

Letters to the Editor The magazine has great content, and I found the information regardingKovalam’s Surfing Club truly useful. To know that Kovalam was a true bluebeach destination makes me want to promote it more among travelers toKerala.- Goutham Hegde, Mumbai 2 5 Soul of Kerala has not strayed far fromits objective as a b2b travel magazine. Looking I have been to Cheruthurthy, and readingforward to more interviews with in- the article about the place brought back somedustry personnel, and insights into fond memories of my backpacking trip throughunseen destinations in the upcom- South India last year. It’s good to see such storiesing issues-Rekha Chatterjee, Kolkata of offbeat destinations, being portrayed in a home-grown magazine in an edito- 3 rial capacity of international standards- Julia McArthur- New Zealand For a magazine to portrayonly Kerala in its contents is a brave I simply loved the cover picture.decision. That it has achieved a cer- What a sight! What a sight indeed!tain level of quality in its very first Thank you for bringing out an averageedition speaks volumes about the Malayalee’s adoration of elephants rightpassion of the team behind it. As in your cover-someone hailing from the State, Iwish Soul of Kerala and its team, all 6Biju G Mahesh, Bangalorethe best in its efforts to promote Kerala tourism-Mathew J Varghese, Dubai For a magazine to portray only Kera-la in its contents is a brave decision. That ithas achieved a certain level of quality in itsvery first edition speaks volumes about thepassion of the team behind it. As someonehailing from the State, I wish Soul of Keralaand its team, all the best in its efforts to pro-mote Kerala tourism- Kathy Derby, Australia 406 MARCH-APRIL 2016


CONTENTS34Pg COVERSTORYF iPnaraddiiseng Luxury takes on the form of a utopian experience Pg in Kerala’s new tourism wave 36-51INCLUDED Three destinations andMGHOOAUKISNEEFBOOOVARTEASR their promoters, who are changing the face of luxury tourism in Kerala. 52Pg08 MARCH-APRIL 2016

Featured Articles Professional guides to improve 58 services for heritage, adventure26 Employing digital marketing to improve occupancy rates, market travellers acquisition and brand credibility. Seafood Trail 70PgNew Property- Fragrant 18PgNature, Fort Kochi Interviews 62Shilendran M, CGH Earth 66Michael, Memories24 Fen Jacob, Bodhi tree India28 Jihad Husain, Gateway Malabar Multi-Cuisine Restaurant31 Monica Suri, Le Meridien 56Jose Mathew, Rainbow Cruises Guest Articles 74AP Jayadevan, Reiki Master86 Claudia Wagner, International 66Nasif M, Entrepreneur Tour Operator Short Trip Regulars 14Pg16 New Properties22 Investors’ Corner80 Upcoming Events 09 MARCH-APRIL 2016

RAJESH M VISHNU VGuest Service Manager - Sales Sales ManagerKeys Hotel, Kochi (a unit of Berggruen Le Meridien HotelHotels Pvt. Ltd) KochiAttention: Owners of existing hotels, resorts, homestays and tour & travel agencies, are invited tosend in details of their new appointments along with a hi-resolution picture of the individual [email protected], for featuring in the next issue.10 MARCH-APRIL 2016


News UpdateHappening KeralaI Water sports at Kochi Marina t’s been around for nearly half a decade now. But with the East African pirates effectively scuttling away prospective yachtsmen from international waters, and ultimately its mooring jetties, the Kochi Marinahas latched onto the latest fad among travellers worldwide to keep itself afloat: ADVENTURE SPORTS.Starting January, the vastness of the brackish-freshwater divide of the Kochi bay will be turned into a watersports hub, with speed boats and jet kayaks waiting to be deployed for use from the Marina. The requisiteclearances have been obtained by Ocean Blue Boating, the agency that operates and maintains the Marina.The inclusion of water sports is expected to draw in a huge chunk of the urban youth, residing in and aroundKochi. Jatayu calls on Kollam rock-climbing. There is also a plan to open up an Ayurveda centre in the subsequent phase. The Department hopes to get more visitors to visit Kollam district through such experienc- es, which despite its amazing offerings, remains largely un- known to inbound and domestic visitors to the State National Travel Trade Fairs 2015 – 2016 Kerala, a land of myths and fables, is If you are in the travel industry and looking for some nation- all set to welcome tourists to the Jatayu Na- al level exposure, here’s good news for you. Kerala Tourism ture Park, starting this January. Based in Ch- will be participating in the National Travel Trade Fairs to be adayamangalam, Kollam district, the nature held in various metropolitan cities in the country this year. park will be home to the largest bird statue Special subsidised rates are being offered by the department in the world bearing the shape of a falling for hotels with less than ten rooms, tour operators, Ayurveda Jatayu, the mythical bird that tried to rescue centres, houseboat owners, classified homestays and service Sita from the clutches of Raavan in the Hindu villas. Those interested can apply and if selected, make use of epic Ramayana. The sculpture measures 200 the Kerala Pavilion at the fairs. ft long, 150 ft wide and 70 ft in height. The nature park in itself will envelope beautiful landscapes comprising hillocks, valleys, cliffs and rock-formations spread over 65 acres of land. Cashing in on the opportunity this park presents, the Tourism Department is going all out to promote mythology, adven- ture and wellness tourism within the allot- ted space, with plans to open an adventure field with games like paint ball, laser tag and12 MARCH-APRIL 2016

News Update Road Shows to tap new markets‘Come one, Come all’, seems to be the new mantra of the Kerala Tourism Department. With emerging markets like Japan, China and Eastern Europe in their sight, the Department conducted road shows in these coun-tries in the month of October and November. There was even a percussion band playing the traditional Keralamusical instrument, Chenda (a kind of drum) at Trafalgar Square in London, much to the delight of the city’sresidents. The impact of these promotional activities is expected to be witnessed in the upcoming season. Thekkady, Wayanad get global recognition The hill station of Thekkady in Central Kerala, hasbagged the inaugural Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA)CEO Challenge 2015, in the second and third-tier cities cat-egory. The award, instituted by PATA, was announced inBangkok, and aims to support the winner to create a digitalmarketing campaign on a global scale with the $500,000 prize. Meanwhile, travel website Trivalgo named Wayanad,considered among the most beautiful hill destinations in In-dia, as the 9th ‘Best Value Index’ destination in the world, pro-viding high quality services in hotels with the best value formoney. Northern Malabar to fly sky high! For years, they have been the tail-enders of Kerala Tour-ism, relegated to the crumbs of the State’s tourism pie. TheNorthern Malabar districts, as Kasargod and Kannur are col-lectively called, had to face this issue, thanks largely to the lackof speedy connectivity with the main cities of Kochi and Thi-ruvananthapuram down south. But class cannot be kept afarfor too long. As destinations so spotlessly charming, it was,but just a matter of time before they hit the limelight. Andnow, with the Kannur International Airport all set to start itstrial flights this January and then commence operations fromSeptember 2016, this tourism circuit is expected to take theexperiential race to a whole new level. With much to offer, beit stunning beaches, old forts, traditional arts & crafts or sim-ply amazing food and warm hospitality, 2016 looks indeed, asthe time for North Malabar!MARCH-APRIL 2016 13

Quick Visit Text : Anish S Kumar Pics : Sreelal KM If you are looking for a quick break from can be intimidating in such instances, what the heat and traffic of your urban set- with its complete silence and occasional chirpyting, head to the village of Pooyamkutty near noises lighting up the path. Having a partnerKothamangalam. Situated along the Pooyam- to travel with makes the trek more relaxed. Akutty River, a tributary of the mighty Periyar, kilometer before reaching the waterfall, youPooyamkutty is just 75 kms from Cochin and will come across a small village outpost calledperfect for a road trip on a breezy morning. as ‘city’ by the locals. Here there are shopsTo reach the village, the final stretch needs selling refreshments, tea and other be covered by crossing the river. There is The last stretch leading to the waterfall, willa raft operated by the locals, which can help lead you into a sensory high, starting withferry your two-wheeler to the Pooyamkutty a dip in temperature, and the sound of thevillage. If you have arrived by car, you will falling water, and ending in the visual treatneed to find alternate means of transport on served by the waterfalls. The more adventur-the opposite bank. After crossing the riv- ous ones can trek to the top, where the viewer, the wilderness of Pooyamkutty is your of the water falling down is truly amazing. The sight presents the water falling into the cavity of small rocks, resulting in the forma- tion of small step-like crevices further down. (The writer is a marketing professional and a budding travel enthusiast from Kollam. He can be followed on first stop. Guided jeeps are available for rent, How to reach: with the excursion costing nearly Rs. 700. 70 kms from Cochin City enroute Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, The village has its many charms, notably a near Kothamangalam waterfall right in its centre, situated 5kms Suggested period to visit: from the rafting point. The road towards the October-May waterfall is concrete in some areas, but oth- Suitable time range: erwise it is a bit hard to overcome. Those on bike would do well to keep this in mind. Between 7 am to 5 pm You can find several fresh water streams along the way. Now these are a great source Essentials to be carried: of fun, their easy reach and shallow depth inviting you to dip your feet in the cold Towel, salt, drinking water, binoculars waters. Do watch out for leeches though. Carrying some salt with you will come in hand to ward off these vampire worms. The true sense of adventure while traversing this forested village though arrives when you chance upon elephant dung throughout the way, especially during a lonely trek. The forest14 MARCH-APRIL 2016

SM+919446221101/+91 97 473 35123 Email : [email protected] have one Bed Room to Six Bed Rooms Premium House Boats.In Six Bed Room House Boat, there is Conference Hall.In this we can accommodate 200 passengers at a time.MARCH-APRIL 2016 15

News Update Kadavil Lakeshore Resort, Kayalchira, Kainakary, Alappuzha Amenities: Restaurant, Ayurveda, boating, speed launch and canoeing. All rooms have private sit-out and are equipped with all basic amenities including wifi Category: Luxury Backwater Resort Room tariff: INR 4000-5000 PLUS TAX Contact: +91 477 2724411 Mobile : +91 80862 99971 / 72 /73 e-mail: [email protected] [email protected] Captain cabin Luxury backwater Resort, Thekkekara, Nedumudy, Alleppey Amenities: Restaurant, houseboats, canoes, Ayurveda (on-demand). The rooms are equipped with all basic amenities including wifi. Category: Luxury Backwater Resort Room tariff: INR 3000-5000 PLUS TAX Contact: +91 477 - 2705151, 2704151 Mobile : +91 - 8547304151, 9447604040 944725006, 9447197223 e-mail: [email protected], [email protected] www.captainscabinresort.com16 MARCH-APRIL 2016

News UpdateOrchid Highlands,Chithrapuram Powerhouse Road, MunnarAmenities: Restaurant, café, banquet hall, Ayurveda. The rooms are equipped with all basic amenities in-cluding wifi. Category: Luxury Hillside Resort Room tariff: INR 6000-9000 PLUS TAX Contact: 04844064777, 04865263331 04865263896, 04865263897 Mobile : + 91 702 52 50 704, 7025250704 e-mail: [email protected], [email protected] www.orchidmunnar.comCitrus Wild Corridor,Murikkady, KumilyAmenities: Restaurant, poolside barbeque, swimming pool, indoor games. The rooms are equipped with allbasic amenities including wifi. Category: Luxury Hillside Resort Room tariff: INR 9000-30,000 PLUS TAXContact: +91 4869 - 224414 / 224415e-mail: [email protected] MARCH-APRIL 2016 17

New PropertyFragrant Nature, Fort Kochi A new addition to the colonial town of Fort Kochi, Fragrant Nature is set on the shores of the ArabianSea. A former East India Company office, it is today a work of art, culture and heritage.Text : Tess James Pics : Rohit Agarwal18 MARCH-APRIL 2016

Fort Kochi is no stranger to luxury hotels. In New Property fact, it’s a challenge for anyone to set up a newproperty that upholds the standards of heritage Fragrant Nature, Fort Kochiluxury already on offer. Fragrant Nature though,has just upped the standards of luxury accom- the hotel stands proudly renovated, with its tallmodation in Kerala’s most culturally awake des- clock tower announcing the time to the ancienttination. Perfectly complementing the colonial port city!town of Fort Kochi, this five star luxury boutiquehotel is art centric right from its entrance. Greet- Experiential Luxurying visitors at the lobby is a period Trompe L’Oeil Ambient light streams through the win-art work by two artists from England; welcomingenough to take you back in time. The hotel has dows in the ceiling and the sides, adding to the41 boutique rooms, each with a period setting, drama of the vintage colonial feel inside the ho-smoothly laced with contemporary artworks tel. The chequered tiles covering the floor giveand private balconies opening into the harbour. one the feeling of having walked into the court-An office of the erstwhile East India Company, yard of a colonial mansion of a bygone era. Right across the lobby an all day dining restaurant welcomes you with a wide spread international menu offering delicacies with an Indian touch. The view from inside the restaurant continues to remind you of a jaunt along the streets of past. A street side view is set up on the other side of the windows and a coffee shop is tucked in, to give it the feel of a walk-in cafe along the streets of Mat- tancherry. There are cycles, people walking, and enjoying a cup of coffee over a book; real life set pieces that smoothly add charm to the historical narrative playing inside the hotel. Prana, the hotel’s state-of-the-art Ayurve- dic Spa, blends in to the promise of an ultimate relaxing vacation. On the upper floors, an am- phitheatre, a swimming pool, plenty of cosy and small areas for relaxing, a pool-side bar and breathtaking views of the harbour await you. In short, the colonial resort architecture blends in well with the culture and history of the place. The design and elements additionally create thoughtful surprises in modernity and luxury for a traveller. You get to experience the desti- nation through the experiences on offer at the hotel, even without stepping outside. That is the vision of travel at the heart of the business of Fra- grant Nature Group of Hotels. Rooms All 41 rooms are tastefully designed with great care to provide the comforts sought by a modern traveller. The Royal Dutch Suite is the only Presidential suite room and lives up to its promise of high life, with private bedroom & dining areas, and an expansive large balcony. The five Ocean Blue Suites too allow you to en- joy the fresh sea breeze from their respective pri- vate balconies. The rest of the 35 Duke Chamber rooms overlook the sea and are no less in com- forts and modernity. MARCH-APRIL 2016 19

New Property The Place Fragrant Nature Fort Kochi is a striking- Fragrant Nature, Fort Kochi ly tall colonial palace set in Mattancherry, Fort Cochin, along an ancient spice trading Specialties route overlooking the harbour and fishing A specialty grill & barbecue restaurant, it boats just across the street. sees live music performances by local bands to Things to do suit your mood. Raw materials for the food are Walk along the culture and history infused sourced from the in-house organic brand Aroma streets of the ancient spice trade centre to Fresh. Aroma Fresh is the Group’s organic preci- know the melting pot of cultures that Fort sion farming wing with retail outlets all across Cochin is, even today. Net a fish or more South India. standing alongside fishermen on Chi- nese fishing nets. See the sun set along the Then there is Prana, the Ayurvedic spa, beaches as ancient Basilica, Jewish syna- which has four treatment rooms, an in-house gogues and churches lights up along with doctor and a personalised rejuvenating spa menu the temple bells. Take a backwater boat to rightly balance body, mind and soul. A large cruise, or pay a visit to the Indo-Portugese lounge area and juice bar is set inside for you to museum or the Dutch Palace. Shop for cu- relax even if you are not undergoing treatment. rios and trinkets on Jew Street or visit the markets to buy spices. Staff Services Fragrant Nature is committed to deliv- 24 hour room service, Car rental desk, Childcare service, Concierge, Currency ex- ering exceptional service catering to the well change, Disabled friendly, Doctor on call, seasoned traveller. The entire staff including the Laundry service, Masseuse, Multilingual General Manager, the chef, the service and sup- staff, Porter, Room service, Safety deposit port staff, form a team of enterprising individ- box, Yoga. uals with good exposure in catering to a global Facilities traveller. Air conditioning, Amphitheatre, All day dining restaurant, Ayurvedic Spa Pra-20 MARCH-APRIL 2016 na, Lounge bar, Coffee shop, Curio shop, Disabled facilities, Fitness centre, Jacuzzi, Meeting room, Outdoor parking, Organic Food, Rooms with water front view, Swim- ming Pool, Wi-Fi available in rooms. Locate Us Near SBI Calvathy on the Mattancherry Bazaar Road, Fort Kochi. Ph: +91 484 231 2333 [email protected]

New Property Fragrant Nature, Fort KochiInterview / Romeo JustinCEO, Fragrant Nature Hotels & ResortsWith five star properties in Thekkady and Kovalam, the Aroma Hospitality Group has entered the hal- lowed grounds of Fort Kochi with Fragrant Nature. Known to serve an organic and authentic experienceof each destination, the property in Kochi promises to be no different. The main team includes Mr. Sajeev PK, Owner; Ms. Annie Sajeev, Managing Director; Mr. Santhosh T Idicheria, Director - Business Development,and Mr. Romeo Justin, CEO.Taking time out from the hectic schedule of the Kochi property’s early days, Mr. Romeo discusses the visionthat binds the team together at Fragrant Nature: What are the core values that drive Fragrant Nature? We promise a taste of Kerala in every aspect; right from welcoming our guests, from styling of the placeand in serving them among others. Our aim is to facilitate a memorable experience of the place in food, cultureand design, with great value and emphasis on luxury and modernity. What is the type of clientele targeted by the management? And how do you market your brand? We have clients travelling in from all over the world and within India. Our international clientele in-cludes guests from Europe, Arab countries, South East Asia, North America etc. We believe in a strong onlinepresence and hence our website in itself guides a traveller to easily trust and identify with our core values. Wedon't just preach, we practice our vision, every day with diligence. In addition to that we are regulars at Inter-national travel fairs and have marketing representations in other continents. Over years we have built a strongmarketing wing, which has allowed the brand value to grow in its reach and in creating a loyal clientele base. What does 2016 hold for the Aroma Group? In 2016, the group plans to expand further with a resort in Mararikkulam, an Ayurveda Village projectin Kollam and towards more resorts beyond Kerala and India.MARCH-APRIL 2016 21

News Update Investment corner Pitching Tents.As Kerala opens up to attract a new generation of East European and Chinese travellers,the potential to set up affordable, clean and openspaces for backpackers and adventure travellerscarries with it great potential. Clearing up an un-used piece of land enroute major trekking or hilldestinations with ample space to pitch one’s tent,with astounding views and do it yourself conve-niences like barbeque grills and campfire for en-tertainment, is surely going to be a money spinner.With minimal maintenance, zero infrastructuralneed and everything on a pay-per-need basis,we can already hear the cash registers ringing.WRider Cafes. ith the frequency of biker and cy- cling groups to Kerala increasing, andhomestays opening up to welcome these bud-get conscious travellers, the potential to openup rider cafes alongside is something we foundworthwhile during our sojourns. Setting upsuch open cafes with free wi-fi and continen-tal treats lends scope to attract domestic andlocal guests too and let the place flourish as acentre of culture bonhomie. Ideal locations forthe same would be enroute popular hill desti-nations like Munnar, Thekkady and Wayanad.Urban cities like Calicut, Thiruvananthapur-am and Kochi are already in the grip of near-ly one such cafe mushrooming within its pre-cinct on a monthly basis. Perhaps, it is timefor the suburbs to carry forward the potential.2 2 MARCH-APRIL2016 23 MARCH-APRIL 2016

News UpdateHeading NorthwardNo one doubts the hidden yet enormous po- in the districts of Kannur and Kasargod. Present- tential of the Northern Malabar region. And ly, there are few luxury resorts in Kannur, whilenow with the international airport in Kannur the ones in Kasargod are limited to the Bekal Fortstarting its trial run, with full-time operations region. With gorgeous beaches and hill spots forexpected to begin from late 2016, avenues for in- company, there’s quite a bit of exciting opportuni-vestment in infrastructure and tourism abound ties for big and small entities to set their base here. Ayurveda Resorts Competition from neighbouring destinations may be an impending reality, but Kerala, be- ing the home of Ayurveda, will always have its distinct charm among inbound travellers. With nearly five new Ayurveda Resorts opening up every year in different parts of the State, and ex- isting boutique resorts adding a spa and Ayurve- da centre to their kitty, there lies no doubt that Ayurveda is the key to the future. The trend is expected to continue in 2016 as well, and with Northern Malabar opening up, there is a whole new region and its medical mysteries waiting to be tapped by the discerning entrepreneur. But even though demand exists, the challenge lies in providing Ayurveda in its most authentic form, without compromising on either the standards of service or beauty of the locale. MARCH-APRIL 2016 23

Special Interview Travel OperatorText : Special Correspondent Pics : Courtesy Bodhi Tree India With experiential tourism being the buzzword in Kerala Tourism, Bodhi Tree India, a tour operatorbased in Cochin, has been at the forefront of offbeat tours for several years now. Promoters of authenticexperiential tourism, the team behind Bodhi Tree believes in a holistic approach to travel itineraries. FenJacob, Managing Director, Bodhi Tree India, speaks to Soul of Kerala on what makes young companies tickin Kerala, staying on top of the game, and a whole lot more about the Bodhi brand of travelling. ensure that our guests have an enlightening travel experience while they explore the vibrant Indian terrain. The entire team strives to market holidays, which along with their fun element, also have a positive impact on local communities and their culture. Fen Jacob How have you incorporated your past travel experiences into personalized packages New-age travel companies are redefining for your guests ?experiential tourism in Kerala. Do you agree ? After my Masters in Hospitality Management, IAbsolutely true! The new-gen travel companies started my career with a UK based travel com-like to think and do things out of the box. Usual- pany as one of their main travel planners. I wasly manned by young professionals, they are well involved in designing off-beat soft trek tours inconnected via social media and thus stay aware South India for our guests. I often led groupsof the latest updates in this sector. In fact, they from Europe and travelled extensively in Southhave tapped into all kinds of segments like tour India, staying and experiencing the warmth ofoperations, event management, incentive tours, each destination through the most suitable ac-destination management, property marketing commodation options available. This hands-onetc. The idea is to bring everything under one learning helped me design tailor-made pro-roof. grammes for our customers when I started Bodhi Tree. But even today, I try not to get com- What is the philosophy that led to the for- placent, making it a point to travel atleast oncemation of Bodhi Tree ? a year with groups, in-order to update myselfBodhi in English means enlightenment. As our about the tourist suggests, at Bodhi Tree India we work to In what ways do you think Kerala needs to stay prepared to handle the challenges posed by changing travel patterns among tourists worldwide ? Kerala today faces competition from neighbour- ing countries, and other Indian States. Address- ing this issue will require a high level of coor- dination and cooperation between government and tourism operators. Agents should take time out to listen to their cli- ents and really get to know them. They should24 MARCH-APRIL 2016

also offer customers the best possible itinerary Special Interviewfor a stress-free travel experience. Another thingneeded is continuous upgrading of visitor in- Travel Operatorformation services to provide guests with qual-ity,  user-friendly  and consistent  year-round  in- ones to utilise digital marketing techniques information. their practices to engage communities and make sure their customers had the best possible away- Which are the specific tourism sectors from-home will be targeting and which among them At Bodhi Tree, we too have jumped onto thehave the maximum potential to grow, in 2016 ? trend. We extensively make use of social me- dia platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp, Twit-We will be focusing on tourism in South In- ter, Quora, Instagram, Google+, and LinkedIn,dia, especially adventure tourism. There is a lot to get in touch with our clients for customisedof potential in developing specialised tourism personal assistance. We carefully analyse howproducts in Kerala. Also I believe the future of people interact with surrounding environmentsKerala Tourism lies in promoting the State as a while travelling. These insights help us to recog-viable destination among mid-budget travellers. nise existing customer needs and give travellers a memorable travel experience. How do you reckon the year 2016 is goingto be for the smart, young travel-preneur ? Mention three support mechanisms you feel the Kerala government needs to address in the coming year.Fen with tourists at Meghamala, near Periyar Tiger ReserveThough factors like recession, refugee crisis, Liberalise the liquor policy at least in tourismterrorism etc will have an impact on the global sector.tourism industry, India’s total tourism volumes Revise/subsidize tax structure for tourism andare expected to grow high, especially in medical allied services.tourism. Thanks in no measure to the increased Recognition for young entrepreneurs inspending by the government to develop infra- tourism.structure. Kerala as a state needs to be competitive, to en- Any advice for young travel-preneurssure that it doesn’t lose out to other tourist desti- from the State ?nations. However, a young entrepreneur shouldknow that irrespective of destination, a new idea Travel as much as you can, and frequently. It isand product will always get attention and be suc- the only way to gain and boost the confidencecessful, with the smart use of digital technology. required to sell your product or service. The first two years are going to be really challenging. Af- Talking of digital marketing, it is being ter that, if you’ve played your cards right, it willseen as a game-changer for the travel industry. be smooth sailing.How much of your growth story is because ofit ? MARCH-APRIL 2016 25Hospitality is one of the main industries affectedby digital marketing. Travel operators and ac-commodation companies were among the first

Guest Column New-age MarketingDby Krishna Kumar o you dream of running your property at a 100% guest occupancy rate throughout the year? Don’t just dream. It’s easier than you think, if you just know how to leverage the internet to your advantage in this digital age. And for that, as someone in the hospitality industry, you need to understand what works and what does not, whether on web or on a mobile application. Gone are the days when a traveller would solely rely on the advice of a travel agent to know more about a good hotel to stay while on the move. These days whether it is for business or leisure, travellers explore other chan- nels of information on good hotel deals and complimentary stuff. Where do they get these from? From good travel websites. The present day, tech savvy traveller searches online extensively for good deals. They go through trip advisor reviews, photographs, compare the rates with other hotels and find out which one suits their needs. Now in this clutter of digital information, how can you help your brand reach the intended segment? Use these tools, and things could get a lot rosier for you: Web Go mobile Responsive As per research 69% of travellers begin their search online using a mobile device. Is your website responsive (auto fit) to all devices, like mobile and tablets? If not, that’s the first smart step to take.  Design Is your website designed to create a wow factor? Hospitality businesses thrive on rais- ing the travellers' anticipation of comfort, luxury or feelings of indulgence. Do the visuals in your website create that impact? If not, be willing to spend on a good photog- rapher whose frames can create instant impact and curiosity in the minds of a traveller. Photographs of pleasant staff and property features, make the first impression holistic and attractive for travellers.  Storytelling What is the unique and interesting story you are trying to convey using the website? Or is it a plain functional website with the usual line up of boring details — like tariff, rooms and gallery with boring photos? A creative approach is what is most needed in the crowded marketplace to help your property story stand out amidst the noise and clutter. Create a good content with the unique story of the property embedded in it, and see the difference. Navigation Users come to the website and never return, 92% of the time! So it is imperative that you use analytical tools such as Google re-marketing tools, some free & some not, to trail them. Once you get access to them, create a follow-on campaign using email and social media. Many websites look like ordinary marketing brochures. You will lose customers' interest if you pursue such mediocre efforts. Explore an adventurous creative user experi- ence. Make a visual journey which can persuade potential customers to recall your brand. User experience of the website demands expert help. It is worth the time and money. Website speed optimization Get your website speed checked. It is an important indicator of how Google will treat your website and where26 MARCH-APRIL 2016

Guest Column New-age Marketingit will rank on the search list. As an example, just recall how many times you actually left a website because youwere too impatient to wait for it to load.  On-page optimizationWhile building your website, ensure that your agency does on-page optimisation which can help your SearchEngine Optimisation (SEO) efforts later.  Booking button and payment security At the end of the day, it’s all about the bookings and you want your potential customers to click on the ‘BOOKNOW’ button and proceed to payment. This is one of the hardest tasks. How to make them reach there dependson a combination of user experience, design and making the whole navigation easier. All this contributes to-wards building a level of trust with your potential customer. Thereafter, a proper payment gateway and websitesecurity is a must in making the process hassle free. One bad experience is enough to turn the customer away.Perhaps forever.SocialSocial media is powerful. But the secret to using it effectively and reaching out to your target audience lies inusing their lingo and adopting on an informal tone of communication. Creative campaigns catch attention oftravellers. The success of AirBnB and Oyo rooms lies in such eye-catchy campaigns on social media.  Facebook Fresh, well-designed and candid photographs make it exciting. This activity requires a smart and creative ap-proach. 3 posts per day to boost views are all that is needed. Include Facebook links in all communication,whether it be email signatures, emailers, front office stationery — everywhere. Let people see what you do. Giveextra discounts to people who promote your property on social media. Facebook's consistent activity buildstrust in your audience. Find interesting ways to communicate. Don't be boring. Ask guests to post photos.Thank them. Promote them. Let them share it with their audience. Make it shareable, not just promotionalcontent. Add a human touch. Visit well-managed Facebook pages, find examples — use it. Facebook promotesvideos you embed in it, than the YouTube links you post. Offer discount code to your audience. Make them feelspecial. Spending 3 useful hours a day on Facebook will do wonders for your brand within a few weeks. Twitter  Having a twitter handle is not enough. Post content. Follow people. Add them as favourites. Find influenc-ers, bloggers and social media celebrities. Use hashtags. Retweet things which favour your location, property,country or even humanity. Be neutral in sensitive issues. Promote. Excite. Share. Engage. Have conversations.Twitter is used by many customers for enquiry, complaint or testimonial. Acknowledge their efforts.  YouTubeYou must have a beautiful 2–3 minute video of your property. Invest in it. It creates a wonderful first impres-sion, nudging the potential guest towards making a booking. Or go in for low cost micro-videos. Have 5-6 suchvideos. Create a YouTube channel, subscribe to analytics, put proper descriptions and take the activity of videopublishing seriously. Use the YouTube link in all communication — emailers and social media. Let your videoagency get the best equipments for the shoot. Shoot only before 9 am and after 4 pm. Magic light is key forvideo quality. Show candid happy moments — make it in non-linear fashion. Show it to your well-wishers andtake their feedback to improve. This is worth the time and money. After all, the single most important digitalasset which matters to a travel property is its home videos, which tell the brand’s story.  Online reviews   Take the reviews which come in TripAdvisor, Zomato etc. as social conversations. Reply to queries and com-plaints as fast as possible. Be prompt, precise and friendly. Surprise them with goodies or complimentary stuff. (The writer is based in Kochi and is the co-founder and CEO of GreenPepper Consulting India Private Limited. He is atalent strategist and digital marketing evangelist for companies ranging from bootstrapped start-ups to global corpora-tions. Reach out to him on Twitter- @kkaction  MARCH-APRIL 2016 27

Special Report Interview Text : Special Correspondent28 MARCH-APRIL 2016

Special Report Interview or long, Malayalees have been allured by the charm of the Middle-east. The Dubai Shopping Fes- tival and other family destinations in the UAE are big-time tourist hits. But in a newly accelerat-Fing trend, Arabs are now coming over like never before. In search of cooler and greener pastures,they find the luxury and ambience of Kerala as perfect for their summer getaway experience. From afew hundred in the mid-2000s, to tens of thousands last year, the Arab leisure traveller segment todaycomplements the State’s off-season period. And the upswing owes it to all to Mr. Jihad Husain, Man-aging Director, Gateway Malabar Holidays who has been advocating Arab tourism since 2005. Withoffices in the Middle East, Bangalore, Colombo, Calicut and Cochin (H.O.), Mr. Husain, who hailsfrom Farook in Calicut, knows what it takes to make the usually reserved Arabs feel at home in Kerala.In a discussion on Kerala Tourism’s search for newer markets, he talks of the need to preserve poten-tially huge existing markets, making available tourist-friendly services for all kinds of guests, and therising competition from Sri Lanka. Think Arab Tourism. Think Gateway A lot! We kept records of our past guests, and didMalabar. How have you grown since inception? direct to client marketing from 2010 onwards. The extensive use of Facebook, Instagram, Snap- We began operations in 2005, and in the chat, Twitter and other social media platformsfirst year of operations managed to bring in just helped us reach out to Arabs, who contrary toa dozen or more Arabs to Kerala. The infrastruc- popular beliefs, are very, very tech savvy. Weture of the kind that we see today did not exist popularised Kerala through social media influ-back then, and so the initial years were chal- encers and used the positioning of brand Keralalenging. By 2010, we were bringing in over 200 to our advantage.guests. In the past year, our bookings have goneup to over 8000. The demand has been phenom- What do you think of the government’senal, but we cannot afford to think this trend will plans to tap into newer markets?continue, since the market space is very compet-itive with other destinations too trying to get I believe our biggest market lies in the Middlehold of the Arab market share. East. Why do we need to look to Japan and Chi- na, which again need specially trained guides and One big challenge of hosting Arabs is staff, when the Middle East is located so muchtheir preference to experience new places, al- closer to us? There are daily multiple flights inbeit within the familiarity of their culture and and out of Kerala’s airports, and our connectivitylanguage. How did you get around this? with the neighbouring States of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka provide possibilities for an amazingRight from the start, we ensured that all our staff tourist trail. I think we should tap into this po-were well versed in Arabic. We even trained the tential equally.staff of the hotels we had tied up with to conversein Arabic, and had menus and other hotel col- What is the biggest segment of Arab tour-laterals translated into Arabic. Today, as you can ist arrivals?see, every major and new hotel has atleast onestaff member on their rolls who knows Arabic. Leisure tourists are the biggest segment as of to-And while usually, the need for Arabic speaking day. The mid-budget travellers prefer Munnarstaff is limited mostly to the monsoon months, and Thekkady, while the high-budget ones optthe deployment of such basic tourist friendly for destinations which have luxury accommoda-measures have resulted in Arabs coming over tion facilities. In that count, Cochin, Kasargodwell past the regular holiday period. and Kumarakom with its many luxury boutiques is ideal for them. Did digital marketing have anything todo with your growth? MARCH-APRIL 2016 29

Special Report How wary are you of the rise of Sri Lanka as a tourist destination? Interview Sri Lanka is very tourist friendly, and in terms What are the services we need to provide of service, there is a lot we need to do in Kerala,to attract them? to ensure we don’t lose out to them in the longIn terms of service, there is enormous scope for run. Arabs find Sri Lanka as an engaging desti-interested entrepreneurs to set up service apart- nation, and while we do good business throughments in popular tourist destinations. Arabs, our Colombo office, we are hoping more tour-come as families, and they don’t really experi- ist-friendly measures like visa-on-arrival andment with cuisine. While we have tied up with easy documentation processes are put in placehotels like CGH Earth to provide packages with by the Indian government so that the tourist ar-food included, opening up service apartments rivals do not suffer the ones found in Indian metros, will en-tice them to stay for a longer duration. There areguests who come for 14-40 days, and renting outapartments, with all amenities will be a betteroption for them. This will also benefit those whocome for medical services. What is your plan for 2016?We wish to go pan-India this year, and take ourArab guests to North India as well. At present,20% of our business comes from non-Arabguests, mostly Europeans, and we hope to raisethat figure this year.30 MARCH-APRIL 2016

Special Interview Monica Suri, GM-Le Meridien KochiArguably Kerala’s most consistent performer in the premium properties category, Le Meridien Kochi is on a path of reinvention. Anyone who has visited the property in the last 12 months would agree. The service, the team and even the celebration of culinary offerings, are all being given a spin to make it atruly world class premium 5-star property. The hotel’s present General Manager, Ms. Monica Suri, is headingthis change. Working on improving the current model into a more efficient one, she has over a decade of expe-rience in human resource and international hotel management. She has worked in Tanzania as a corporatetrainer for a set of six hotels and was also the first woman to take charge as Hotel Manager at Westin SohnaResort, which she helped transform into a leading hotel with consistent achievements on RevPAR, marketingand energy conservation, thus resulting in one of the highest GOP contributions.In an online interview with Soul of Kerala, she talks about her work ethics, balancing professional obligationswith her personal life in an unfamiliar State, and the campaigns she has introduced to keep Le Meridian Kochirelevant in these times of stiff competition.MARCH-APRIL 2016 31

Special Interview MICE has always been the key to sustainability in this highly dynamic yet evolving industry, and Monica Suri, GM-Le Meridien Kochi thankfully around 46% of our Business is MICE. We are doing better YOY & capturing new mar- As someone who is coming from a differ- kets and industries vertical, whether it be Large ent demographic background, what has been Conventions or Exclusive Board Meets, from lei- the most exciting aspect of the State that has sure groups to incentive based bookings. worked in your favour? Kerala Tourism has been bagging sever- Let our dreams outgrow the shoes of our al awards now. But stakeholders of the indus- expectations. It was this thought which drove me try feel that the sector is really slowing down. to God’s Own Country. But honestly speaking, What are your views on the same? I had no apprehensions at all, as being in con- trol of one’s life and having realistic expectations Though Kerala recorded growth when about our day-to-day challenges are the keys to tourism figures in many other states declined, stress management, which is perhaps the most this year bookings have been below expectations. important ingredient to living a happy, healthy Economic crisis in countries like Russia have and rewarding life. affected tourist arrivals. The rise in airfare and High literacy, dynamic growth of inventory, the difficulty in booking tickets on connecting expansion of CBD at Kakkanad, new Airport flights from the Gulf regions to Kerala have also terminal, upcoming city Metro, are all key in- affected the sector. dicators that Kochi is gearing up for the fu- What upset the industry’s calculations was the ture. Demand-Supply dynamics are still at play fallout among domestic travellers. The closure of though, which is now an expected phenomenon bars altogether kept travellers from other states in hospitality sector globally. But the really excit- away from Kerala. Several corporates moved ing thing about being in Kochi is nourishment their conferences and seminars from Kerala to of your inner peace, immersion in local culture, Goa. and understanding of the city’s vibrant pulse which owes its origins to the centuries old arrival What are the measures/alternate mar- of Europeans and other worldly influences. kets in place to ensure that your business is Since living in metro cities can be an efficiency minimally affected by market fluctuations? burner, it is important that we experience Na- ture, have meaningful social conversations, bal- In the wake of the fresh initiatives taken by ance work life equation, explore wellness and Kerala Tourism, we are exploring new markets spiritual peace. Kochi provides for all of this. in China and Sri Lanka. Aggressive campaigns Something which has not worked in my favour that target potential travellers in big traditional is finding a suitable International School for my markets like UK, France and Germany are al- daughter. ready in full swing. What makes Le Meridien Kochi a class What are the unique campaigns/mar- apart from its competitors? keting strategies you have incorporated in the growth story of Le Meridien in the last year? Le Meridien Kochi has been the market leader for the last 14 years among five star prop- We introduced the Farmer’s Market Con- erties in Kerala, and is the State’s most exclusive cept, which targetted family groups with every- MICE address. Our MICE market share is 21% body getting the chance to be engaged in afford- higher & RevPAR 53.2% higher than the com- able shopping, grape stomping and world class petition. Ours is a unique product spread over Brunch while sipping on the Wines of World. 25 acres of amazing greenery & backwaters, with Another interesting food campaign we have 75% of hotel area landscaped unlike modern tall been conducting is the “New Day-New Cuisine” glass & steel buildings. This gives guests an op- Concept, wherein our Executive Chef will show- portunity to conduct World Class Meetings in case ten cuisines in ten days. To make Sundays natural surroundings. Le Meridien Kochi takes more exciting, we have also introduced the first pride to be able to witness the finest and larg- lobster brunch in the city. We are also working est conferences till date, which is a testimony of consistent services being rendered to global travellers.32 MARCH-APRIL 2016

on bringing innovation into the “Wellness” seg- Special Interviewment. Monica Suri, GM-Le Meridien Kochi We also conducted meaningful socialevents like Funbrella which had school kids basic amenities such as drinking water, wellpainting umbrellas, engaging visually challenged maintained and clean waiting rooms and toilets,musicians to perform in our hotel, and even par- first aid and wayside amenities such as lounge,ticipating in a run forthe Heart Care Foundation. cafeteria, and parking facilities, among others. Also, it has to be noted that Kerala is losing out How do you reckon the year 2016 is go- to the island nation of Sri Lanka in the MICEing to be for Kerala Tourism? Also mention segment, especially with the recent Supremeprojected growth rate of your property as com- Court verdict upholding the State’s liquor policy.pared to 2015. What do you think of the present state ofWe are hoping for the best, with new arrivals tourism policies in place?from emerging markets. We project a min 5%growth over our current year GOP. The present state of affairs will lead to a situa- tion where only five star hotels can be built in Mention three support mechanisms Kerala. This will make Kerala lose its inherentwhich you feel the Kerala government needs to charm as a homely and unique destination. Theaddress in the coming year, so that your busi- job opportunities in the tourism sector will alsoness gets a boost? be affected because of this policy, as the industry provides one out of four jobs in the state.There is a greater need for strengthened road andrail network, development of more expressways, Kerala is known to have a very mundaneand tourist-specific routes to improve connectiv- night life. Your views on the same, and how toity to various locations across different regions. improve it.Amenities available enroute and at various tour-ist locations need to be improved. These include Government should take initiatives to pro- mote nightlife in Kerala. At the same time, steps should be taken to ensure women’s safety during late hours. MARCH-APRIL 2016 33


COVER STORY Text : Kuruvilla Chacko Pics : Rohit Agarwal, Vishnu M Joshi, Shan A NajumKerala is a personality. And a charming one atthat! over a year old, these properties have been builtA personality which is an inspiration to a global by Individuals who have travelled the world, aretraveller, an encouraging sight of envy to other not afraid to experiment, and are willing to bringnational destinations, and the pride of those who to light largely unheard of destinations..have lived and breathed its plurality. As luxury The three destinations of Kakkathurathu, Ra-takes on numerous layers elsewhere, in Kerala it jakkad and Paniyeli featured in this cover story,has stayed true to its original intention: of be- are as much about the respective destinations,ing priceless. Of being a kind of feeling wherein as they are about their promoters. Spending justthe very nature surrounding one can take on the one day at either of these destinations will yieldform of a silken cushion. And of creating mem- nothing other than a temporary sense of elation.ories, wherein the very smile of a welcoming Rather, the slow and continuous process of be-populace can take you on a discovery of life, as coming one with nature over a period of time, isit once was. what is required if you wish to discover for your-Presenting to you, the new face of Kerala: LUX- self the hidden luxuries of these destinations.URY, as it is meant to be. Simple, laid back and So come home to true luxury as Soul of Keralacut-off from the rumble of regular touristy cir- takes you on a journey from the nostalgic back-cuits. waters to the whispering streams, the adventur-And adapting to this new face of the State’s lux- ous forests and the myth laden hills, comprisingury offerings are three destinations, each repre- the personality that is Kerala.sented by three young properties, founded by Everyone is invited.equally passionate travel-preneurs. Just a little MARCH-APRIL 2016 35

COVER STORY Rajakkad The multi-layered landscape of Kallimaly viewpoint With views to die for, and zero commercialisation, Rajakkad is a throwback to the good old days of pristine Munnar.36 MARCH-APRIL 2016

COVER STORY Rajakkadclockwise from top (The reservoir, iron bridge, the rocky streams crisscrossing Rajakkad andadventurous trekking trails) ( )Lone may be the woods Literally meaning the forest of the kings, you Lone may be the water would not find it on a regular tourist map. Rath- Lone may be my travel er, it is a destination unexplored; raw and brim- But Lone I am, never feel so ming with adventure. The route leading to the village is accessible, coming downhill from Ad-There are places that often a time, make you a imali, if you are driving from Cochin, and in-poet. And then as an afterthought, invite you to tercepting the Munnar-Kattapanna route. Fromlet go, watch the clouds and immerse yourself in here, reaching Rajakkad is easy enough.the tranquillity up ahead. Once you reach the village centre, follow theMunnar may be the undisputed king of Kerala road towards the region’s only resort, Ragama-tourism. But 40 kms off its busy town square, ya Resort and Spa. While driving along the lastnear the silence of an old hanging bridge, lies mud stretch leading to the resort, the hills arewhat could possibly be its biggest and best kept bound to capture your attention at the Kallimalysecret: the village of Rajakkad. view-point. It is only natural, to want to pause, MARCH-APRIL 2016 37

COVER STORY Viewpoints Calling The best thing about Rajakkad is the many Rajakkad vantage spots it offers to admire the breathtaking get out of your vehicle and enjoy the green hills. views. If you are a backpacker, a solitary traveller And it is here that is revealed, the hidden lux- or in a wolf pack, Rajakkad provides a comfort- ury of Munnar’s suburban hill town. For upon able environ of silence amidst the hills. alighting from the vehicle to get a thorough view, We started our exploration of the region with a the sudden sight of the water from the nearby drive to the lower catchment area of the nearby dam crisscrossing the contours of the hills, adds Ponmudi Dam. Now, be informed that this is a a different dimension to the view in front. As is pure off-road experience, which starts down- rightly put forth by Mr. Pratap Nair, General ward from the edge of the Ragamaya Resort. Manager, Ragamaya Resort, “This is a view so Guests can avail of the resort’s jeep, while those beautiful that it makes you fall in love with Rajak- coming from outside would be advised to bring kad, and you instantly drop all plans to explore in an expert driver and a powerful four wheel any other part of Munnar.” He should know so! drive vehicle, preferably a jeep. The drive is vir- Having lived in Munnar for the last several years tually a steep affair, with boulders, mud ridges as the principal of the Munnar Catering College, and vegetation hampering easy accessibility for he decided to shift to Rajakkad just for the view a regular SUV. Even the powerful Land Rover is he gets to wake up to every day. no match compared to the Indian jeep, to tra- The panoramic view of the majestic green hills, verse the boulders, if the words of our guide are snaky blue water and the calm white sky is so to be trusted! exquisite in its combined form, that it is hard not To get a feel of the terrain, one can also trek to exclaim, ‘Oh, my God!’ down through a less rocky route, used by local And this one view is being bet upon as a game villagers. The drive down is an edge-of-the-seat changer in traveller circles here as one enough to experience and takes you to the catchment area, catapult Rajakkad into the league of most excit- where those wanting a cold dip can jump in for a ing destinations in Central Kerala. And with it, swim in the crystal clear waters. On the opposite the beautiful Ragamaya Resort into the league of bank, the tip of the ruins of the former village top boutique resorts in Kerala. Welcome to the centre, half submerged under water is still visi- new luxury of Idukki district. The luxury of a ble. Our guide, a native of Rajakkad, showed us spectacular view! from afar the ruins of a theatre where his grand- father used to go watch movies in the past, be- : Mr. Pratap Nair, GM, Ragamaya fore they re-settled to Rajakkad. Resorts, and a great host to his guests Guests to the resort are taken around the catch- ment area in a wooden canoe for a full tour of38 MARCH-APRIL 2016 the expanse. When the water level is down, pro- vision can be made to conduct a campfire on a boulder a little away from the forest. Surrounded by the hills on one side, the ruins at a distance and the forest on the other, this is one experience that will not be easily forgotten. The drive back to the resort is even more adren- aline pumping, what with the boulders threaten- ing to throw you off the road any moment. Of course, with an expert driver by your side, it is but like a ride in the park. The drive and the visit to the nearby naadukaani churam thereafter, from where both sides of the hill can be viewed, need to be undertaken before the sun rises to full force. It is warm outdoors, from late mornings to early evenings, and it is

advised to best spend the time relishing the su- COVER STORYperb dishes prepared by the resident chef of Rag-amaya, or reading a book in the cool of your bal- Rajakkadcony. The entire resort overlooks the view seenearlier enroute, and it is easy to stay transfixed ture lover’s delight, with nearly 23 inbound fieldon the beauty in front as the sun hovers above activities. A must visit spot, one can try a handand finally sets right between the hills. That you at driving Polaris ATVs around its rocky track,get to see all this from the comfort of your balco- engage in a game of paintball, practice archery inny at your own pace is a luxury beyond compare. a specially designated archery ring, and be partThe resort also has a fully equipped Spa and of amateur and semi-pro level rock climbing andAyurveda Centre, housed in a renovated 100 military drills. A lot different from the run-of-year old heritage home. the-mill amusement parks, Rock Hill is, accord- ing to Mr. Nair, designed as an adventure park Treks and Heritage for corporate team building sessions, as well as After a day of enjoying the luxurious set- for tour groups from schools and colleges.ting of Ragamaya, take time out to explore the The park has been built and is managed, byrest of Rajakkad. Trekkers can expect a gala time, the promoters of the Ragamaya Resort.with Rajakkad offering numerous trails, includ-ing one to Chokanmudi, the second highest Ideal for :peak of the region. Families wanting to experi-ence the region’s offbeat culture can head out for Backpackers, families, honeymooners,light walks through some famous heritage spots heritage loversof Rajakkad. The Ponmudi Dam, which has notturned into a commercial tourist getaway yet, is Best period to visit :an ideal place to spend the morning. The nearby September-MayIron Hanging Bridge built by the British to con-nect the region with the route leading to the port Suggested duration :town of Cochin, still stands tall. Over 75 years 3 night, 4 daysold, it is bordered by a hillock, which towers overthe bridge. The civil structure crosses a stream Things to dointerspersed by rocks with marks of cuts andbruises left behind by the flowing water. Sit back and enjoy the view. When you want a break, go trekking, explore the dam and its Instructors demonstrating an activity at surroundings, visit hermit caves, indulge in Rock Hill Park Ayurveda, cycle to the village and partake in There is also a muniyara (hermit cave), 10 adventure activities like ATV rides and mili-kms from the resort which can be accessed by tary drills at the Rockhill adventure park near-vehicle. The region in and around Munnar has by.several such centuries old caves built into theboulders, and which were used by sages in the Route Mappast as a place to dwell and meditate. Due to timeconstraints we weren’t able to visit the muniyara 40 kms from Munnar. For those arriving fromnear Rajakkad, though we did make a quick visit Kochi take a turn after Adimali towards theto the State’s first adventure park, Rock Hill. Munnar-Kattapana route, and from there fol- Spread over 25 acres and situated a little low the signboards leading to Rajakkad.over 5 kms from the resort, the park is an adven- Contact Ragamaya Resort and Spa is the only resort in Rajakkad at present. For bookings and enquiries contact +91-4868-253500. Address View Point, Kallimaly, Off Munnar - Thekkady bypass Road, Rajakkadu, Munnar - 685 566. Kerala, India  MARCH-APRIL 2016 39

COVER STORY LuxuryRajakkad is all about the view It was a chance visit to the Kallimaly viewpoint that changed the way Mr. K George John, a former advertising honcho, perceived luxury. Having travelled across the world as Chairman & Managing Director of TBWA\India, his love for the view from Kallimaly led him to canvas support from friends and family to build the beauty that is the Ragamaya Resort and Spa. Though building the resort presented its fair share of logistical challenges, for Mr. John, the fulfilment of his passion lay in setting up a fitting tribute to the luxury that Rajakkad had opened up before him. In a chat with Soul of Kerala, the Managing Director of Ragamaya Resort and Spa, talks of his vision at challenging the stereotypes of the hospitality sector, his transition from adman to hotelier, and his pet project- the Rockhill Sports Adventure Park. When you first visited Rajakkad in 2009, what made you decide that you had finally found your destination? The view! Nothing else. I was out looking for land to build a summer home, preferably a cottage, some- where away from Munnar. The land consultant brought us to this narrow patch of area, near the Kallimaly viewpoint, not sure if we would be interested. But the multilayered view of the hills and the water crisscrossing it, took my breath away. I decided then and there that if we were to build something for the future, it had to be here, despite the challenges the terrain posed. How many directors are presently part of Munnar Ridgetree Residences Pvt Ltd (the company floated to run Ragamaya Resort)? When did they get involved in the project? At first the plan was to have just one cottage, which would double up as my summer home. Then it oc- curred to me that there was potential to develop the property as a resort rather than a homestay. We decided on building two cottages, and soon more family members and friends were interested in the locale. Once we got started, we had finalised plans for six cottages, which then increased to twelve, and finally to twenty, as of today. There are currently eighteen shareholders, with roughly each investing in one cottage, and four of them are on the director board.40 MARCH-APRIL 2016

COVER STORY RajakkadAs a former adman, how difficult was it to get accustomed to your new role? Actually, having held the top job in a global ad company gave me the chance to travel to different places,stay at the most luxurious properties, and see for myself the world class standards in the hospitality industry.So I think my previous job helped me quite a lot. When i visited Munnar initially, though it was a place ofwhich I had high expectations, I couldn’t find any boutique resort in the early 2000s which provided world classfacilities to its guests. Also my visit to the Kallimaly view point changed my perception of luxury. It becameall about the view after that. And this was aligned with our vision of Ragamaya, in that it should be a leisureboutique resort with world class interiors, and one fit to be called a traveller destination. That we have becomesynonymous with the hill town of Rajakkad is the result of our efforts. What is the kind of clientele you target to Ragamaya? We mostly target the European crowd, particularly because they believe in spending several days at onedestination, are eager to be part of the local culture and are willing to explore the surrounding region. But since2015 was our first year of operations and the European market was going through a dull phase, we broughtdown our off-season rates to attract new markets. This though did not pan out too well for us in terms of brandpositioning. As someone who believes that it is better to maintain our premium status even during off-seasonrates, I personally feel that a property looking to hit it off with premium spenders needs to position itself as onethroughout the year. Running at an occupancy rate of 50% with premium guests is better than running at70% occupancy with mid-level guests. We will be sticking to this belief from next season onwards. Tell us more about the newly launched Rockhill Adventure Park. The site of the park is where we had initially planned the resort, before we stumbled upon the Kallimalyviewpoint. Rockhill Park is spread over 25 acres, and is home to over 20 adventure activities. Trainers andadventure experts from Himachal have been roped in as staff members to guide adventure lovers visiting thepark. We are not targeting families, but serious adventure lovers, and corporate groups, schools, colleges etc,who can make use of the facilities for team bonding sessions and group fun. Rockhill is not an amusementpark, but an adventure park. There is considerable difference between the two, and being a new concept inKerala, it will take time for people to get used to it. But regardless of commercial returns, we will keep it run-ning till the right crowd discovers it. The resort boasts of a sky pool overlooking the valley’s beautiful view.MARCH-APRIL 2016 41

COVER STORY LUXURY IS ANKakkathurathu ISLAND TO YOURSELF With no sight of cars, land grabbers or modernity, the discovery of the Kakkathurathu Island has brought to light a timeless frame of Kerala, thought to have been lost forever.42 MARCH-APRIL 2016

( )The boat rowed straight COVER STORY The boat banked right The boat circled around Kakkathurathu Only to rest, at a place all mine times to showcase Kerala’s brand of experiential The poetry simply continued to accom- travel in a pattern of unmatched raw luxury. Thepany us on our sojourn. For in our next des- 70% plus occupancy rate that it has garnered intination, the hills had given way to the placid its very first year of operations, that too amongbackwaters. Backwaters that envelop an island the premium traveller class, stands testimony tosituated 15 kms from Cochin city enroute Alap- its firm grounding.puzha, where a work of pure artistic excellence ischanging the dimension of luxury tourism. The The Island’s Ownwork of art in mention is neither a resort nor ahomestay in the conventional sense. It is, in the Maneesha’s love for the arts, especiallywords of a starstruck explorer like me, some- performing arts and contemporary art is some-thing more extraordinary. For it carries within thing that helped her match an entire property,its ‘open’ walls and distinct easy-going persona, to the culture of a sparsely inhabited yet abso-the jubilation and cheer for a traveller that finally lutely safe and welcoming island. Having studieda property has redefined luxury in the context and lived in the US gave her an understanding ofof Kerala Tourism. Set in a corner of a finite- what the foreign traveller sought upon visiting aly spaced island village, cut off from the din of traditional destination such as Kerala. Her travelthe national highway on the opposite shore, it company Silk Route Escapes specialises in expe-is home to Kerala as it once was. Indeed, Kay- riential tours and it was her first entry into theal (meaning ‘backwater’), the luxury boutique field of Kerala Tourism. Having overcome thehomestay of travel enthusiast Maneesha Pan- initial challenges of being a single woman trav-icker is not a forced space. Blending effortless- el-preneur, she set her sights on her long stand-ly into the natural ethos of the village holding ing dream: a bed and breakfast homestay. Thatit, Maneesha’s work of art, as she likes to call it, it transformed into a boutique homestay is theis perhaps the most exciting property in recent fortune of the village, which has adopted her as much as she has them. Having been in the package tours industry for over 5 years now, Maneesha’s idea of luxury is simple. Make the experience count.Sights and solaces of Kakkathurathu MARCH-APRIL 2016 43

COVER STORY a brush to paint; and enjoy the calmness by the side of the backwaters. Her ideKaaktkoathtruaranthsuform the property at Kak- The village atmosphere gets to you by the first kathurathu, (meaning ‘island of crows’), used for evening, and before you know it you would be residential artists’ programs till then, into one happier lazing around in the personally curated that spoke for the island itself took nearly two property and the easy-going nature of the village, years. Logistics, like in the case of building other than heading out to neighbouring tourist spots off-beat properties, was the main challenge here in Cochin or Alleppey. After all, with an entire too. With no bridge to connect with the opposite island of less than 3 kms radius to yourself, who bank of the river, everything had to come in via needs a shared city? boat. An ardent follower of typical Kerala architecture Ideal for : and design styles, Maneesha’s belief in minimal- Honeymooners, retired couples, leisure ism, led her to personally curate the construc- travellers tion, artwork, and heritage value of her property. Best period to visit : Her understanding of the arts (she tried her hand August-March at selling artwork in the US, after resigning from Suggested duration : a high paying job with a global cosmetics com- 2 nights, 3 days pany), is to be seen in every nook and corner of Things to do the property. Even the tiles used for roofing the cottages were dismantled from dilapidated old Sit by the backwater all day long. Or go aristocratic Kerala homes and re-strengthened fishing, take a canoe ride at night, have your before being used at Kayal. dinner in the middle of the backwaters, learn That she managed to find such an exclusive is- to climb a coconut tree and enjoy homemade land, of which neither tourists nor tour operators Kerala delicacies had a clue about, shows her understanding of changing travel patterns. Yes, Kakkathurathu is Route Map your typical backwater island. There are scores of 20 kms from Cochin City. Take the turn islands in the Kuttanad and Cherthala belt which may feel similar, but it is its confluence with the towards the Eramalloor Ferry on NH 47. Once property that has made it unique, and a stand- there, the blue boat of Kayal will pick you up. alone destination. The absence of bridges means that you will find only cycles and a few mopeds Contact on the island. The ferry is the only way to reach Kayal Island retreat is the only place the island. There are also old grocery stores sell- ing candies, and sodas like in rural Kerala of providing accommodation on the island. For yore. None of this has been built to attract the bookings and enquiries touristy crowd. Rather, all this has always been contact +91 773 600 0989. the way of life for this village. In Maneesha’s own Address words, the entire village feels like a big backyard, KAYAL ISLAND RETREAT giving you the freedom to stroll around and ex- Door No. VIII/265-A plore rural life in complete privacy. Kakkathuruthu, Eramalloor, Alleppey, Kerala, India. 688534 The Village The island is dotted with several ponds for organized farming of fish and shelled seafood, while sights of rustic rural life such as coir mak- ing, fishing, coconut climbing etc are activities you can engage in at your convenience. Manee- sha arranges walking tours for guests, with tod- dy tasting and village experiences as part of the walking tour. But more than anything, the best thing to do here is to sit back, pick up your fa- vourite book, or if you like to indulge in the arts,44 MARCH-APRIL 2016

Interview Maneesha Panicker, Founder, Kayal island RetreatThree years ago, while scouting sites in the countryside to set up her new office, Maneesha met Anoop Scaria of Kashi Art Cafe fame, who offered her a piece of land he owned on an islandenroute Alappuzha. Having always been interested in the outdoors, Maneesha visited the site. Herlove for the island of Kakkathurathu was at first sight. Before long, the energetic, young woman en-trepreneur who had previously worked in New York had made up her mind. She didn’t just want tobuild an office here. The island, for all its rawness, was meant to be showcased to the world. A yearof operations later, Maneesha’s Kayal Island Retreat is the talk of the premium segment global ex-periential traveller. In a freewheeling chat with Soul of Kerala, Maneesha talks of the challenges shefaced as a single woman entrepreneur in Kerala, sticking to her work ethics and her future plans. From marketing of Indian handicrafts in using my understanding of the contemporarythe US to running a travel company special- art industry. Our transition into a hospitalityising in boutique tours to now owning a bou- company with Kayal was a natural process andtique homestay. How has the entrepreneurial an effort to move up the value chain, with each ofjourney been for you so far ? my earlier business bringing me a step closer to realising it. If not for my failures and past experi- I had been involved in marketing Indian ences, Kayal would never have been this uniquehandicrafts and contemporary art in the US. a property.Though I learned a lot about the arts during thattime, unfortunately, the venture failed. Unde- What has been your idea of Kerala so far ?terred, I tried to find out what I loved best. Also I find Kerala to be one of the most luxuri-I wanted to combine my knowledge of New York ous destinations in the world. And by luxury, Iand my home State of Kerala. That is how Silk mean the range of experiences it offers. Travel-Route Escapes came into being. We initially con- lers who come to our State have already seen lux-ducted art tours in Kerala for inbound travellers, MARCH-APRIL 2016 45

Interview heartedly, seeing my genuine interest in keep- ing the village life undisturbed and vital to the Maneesha Panicker, Founder, Kayal island Retreat existence of Kayal. On a personal note, I would also like to see easier mechanisms in place, andury in its most ostentatious form in the West. better sensitisation among government staff, toWhen they come here, they wish to see a new aid anyone wanting to set up a new property inface of luxury; one that connects them with the way they don’t get to anymore backhome. At Kayal, our work ethics right from What is your concept of luxury ?the start has been the same. To showcase Ker-ala as it is, with its experiences, with its lo- I don’t believe in ‘on-the-face’ luxury. Forcal people, culture, language and traditions me, the rawness of a destination is what inspireskept authentic. We have never encouraged an experience of luxury. Guests too feel the slowany staged activities. This idea of a naturally paced, down to earth yet comfortable ambienceexperiential State has worked for us, and our of Kakkathurathu as a form of luxury they don’tguests keep coming back for more. get to experience in five star hotels anywhere in the world. We aim to be a traditional player pro- Can you give us an example of what these viding services in western style. Like how ourluxury experiences are, which you talk about ? food is all Kerala cuisine based, but out bedding, showers, interiors etc up the quality scale. For example, instead of just taking gueststo a Kathakali experience, we encourage them to What do you enjoy most about runninggo backstage, interact with the artists’ and learn your own property, on an exclusive island suchdirectly. We also tell them how to interact with as this ?villagers and encourage them to visit the homesof villagers on their own, take part in local tradi- First of all I get to reinvent luxury traveltions and see for themselves how rich and devel- my way. That in itself is a big reward. Then thereoped the life of a villager in Kerala is. are advantages like meeting interesting people from across the world, and mutual exchange of As a single woman, have you faced mas- ideas with them. Also since either my mother orsive challenges while building Kayal ? I, are always present on the property, the whole effort feels more homely than commercial. Challenges are there everywhere. As awoman, yes, sometimes when construction usedto get over by nightfall, it was difficult to getback to the boat waiting for me. But the villag-ers, despite their initial apprehensions on seeinga woman in charge, have supported me whole-46 MARCH-APRIL 2016

COVER STORY Paniyeli The silent forests of Paniyeli are an adventure lover’s delightLiving in harmony with all kinds of wildlife and rural folklores, Paniyeli is more than just a pretty spot for themighty Periyar River to pass through.MARCH-APRIL 2016 47

COVER STORY due to the regular formation of whirlpools, slip- pery rocks and strong water current. But the rol- Paniyeli licking river itself is undeniably magnetic. While the poru is indeed beautiful, and a ( )The travel took me far must-visit spot, those wanting to experience The travel took me close some woody adventure would do well to explore Adventure I did seek the sites around it. And that is where the charm Peace too I did get of Paniyeli lies.When we drove over from Cochin to the rela-tively unheard of village called Paniyeli some 50kms away, we were told by a few that it offerednothing for the long duration traveller. As peo-ple who believe that tourists get what they hear,and travellers get what they want, we decided to follow our instincts instead. And boy, how right Surrounded by forested environs, it was in them we were! that we felt the motive for further exploration. While it is something to enter a village, knowing Chasing the mysticism that surrounds most vil- that its serene forests and their inhabitants watch lages in Kerala, we decided to go deep into its over you, it is an altogether different feeling to forests in search of temples visited by villagers know, that in that very locale, birds, wildlife and and often by dangerous wild elephants as well. vegetation are protected, conserved and revered We were camped at the Whispering Waters, a with the same dignity given to humans. And that luxury boutique resort adjoining the gushing watching over us all, is the Periyar River, which Periyar. Located centrally, the resort is an ideal plays its perpetual magical trick at the head of the village, the very reason why this place is pop- ular among day tourists. Situated a little after Kothamangalam, Paniye- li’s most popular tourist spot is its ‘poru’ (poru meaning fight in Malayalam), a spot where the Periyar divides into three minute streams, cut- ting through rocks, only to rejoin and flow down through the village. Getting into the river, even where it is at its shallow depths is not advisable,48 MARCH-APRIL 2016

place to pitch tent and explore the wildlife of COVER STORYPaniyeli and its surroundings.The news of a female elephant having just giv- Paniyelien birth to a calf had scuttled away our plansfor a night safari, though the adventure con- ing better than retiring to your room at the resorttinued in the morning to the Sree Dharma in the evening. Watching the Periyar brush pastShastra Temple, which was located inside the mangroves and seeing the forest on the oppositeforest reserve. An off-road trip, the forest path bank an easy way to spend the hours.was laden with fresh elephant dung as well asthe strong musky scent of an elephant lurk- Instances of wild elephants crossing the river areing nearby. The guide drove slowly, knowing several, and it can be a treat to watch the beastsvery well that at very close proximity stood a make their way towards the barricade erected bywild elephant, unseen to our eyes, yet watch- the resort. But worry not. It is a safe sight of ad-ing and observing our moves. The feeling of venture.high adrenaline was mixed with fear; but thenagain, what is adventure if not feeling the rug- Early mornings are best spent in the resort, whatgedness of nature up close. with the sunrise being an exceptional sight, ris-The forest was unusually calm, thick and wel- ing above the river in front. It is an ideal loca-coming. Sights of broken branches and tram- tion and time to do yoga and meditation. Afterpled vegetation are common occurrences, and breakfast, explore the other touristy spots in aone can easily spot recently made elephant radius of 10 kms around Paniyeli. One can vis-corridors along the path. A thorough explora- it the deer park, which is more of a rescue andtion, coupled with some intimate time in the rehabilitation centre for deer and stags foundforests can take an entire day, and there’s noth- stranded or injured in the forest. A well main- tained natural spot, it borders a mild tropical forest, and is home to several varieties of the horned and spotted deer. Then there is the Ko- danad elephant sanctuary, where in the morning, mahouts bathe elephants in the river. A favourite among inbound travellers, the experience allows you to get very close to domesticated elephants, and enjoy the sight of the stream lapping against the elephants’ thick skin.Ideal for : If you are into bird watching, keep aside an en-Honeymooners, group travellers, leisure tire day to explore the nearby Salim Ali Birdtravellers, adventure seekers Sanctuary, where expert guides can take you on a day long excursion deep into the bird sanctu-Best period to visit : ary. Learn more about birds and partake in si-August-March lently watching numerous avian species. The trip is a must do for an ornithologist.Suggested duration :2 nights, 3 dayss Contact Whispering Waters is the best place to stayThings to do when visiting Paniyeri. For reservations,Walk the river trail towards the ‘poru’, trek route details and other tour itineraries,through the forests, visit temples bordering for- contact: +91 7034030390/4842847959.est reserves, learn rubber tapping at the resort, E-mail: [email protected] on an off-road drive, and visit nearby ele-phant and bird sanctuaries. Marketed and managed by: Mr. Johnson JosephRoute Map Sisal Wellness & Hospitality (P) Ltd55 kms from Cochin City. Go towards Vengoor Ph: +91 4846406403after Kothamangalam. [email protected] MARCH-APRIL 2016 49

Interview MG Mathew, Director, Whispering Waters Resort the Paniyeli we grew up on” From left: MG Mathew, Isaac MM and George MMTales of long lasting friendship are always an enduring read. And to see old friends come together to erect a monument of love for their hometown is even more heart-warming. The Whispering Waters, Paniyeli’s solitary luxury boutique resort and a fine one at that, is the tribute of fourchildhood friends to their native village. The idea was to build summer homes for each on a commonplot of land by the banks of the Periyar River. This singular idea of a summer home grew into a col-lective concept of nature based hospitality; an inspiration that led the four friends, MG Mathew, IsaacMM, George MM and George Karamattom, to develop the Whispering Waters. And today, a yearsince operations commenced, the promoters have returned to their childhood; basking in the privilegeof being able to showcase the hidden value that Paniyelli provides beyond just the ‘poru’. In a candidtalk with Soul of Kerala on a breezy evening, MG Mathew, revels in their idea of luxury as a synonymfor nostalgic charm.50 MARCH-APRIL 2016

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