January 25 2012
When travelling to Kerala’s backwaters, people typically head for a couple of nights on a houseboat to bathe in the full experience. Like so many, I had been entranced by the vivid descriptions of everyday life in this lush, green world of waterways and paddy fields penned by Arundhati Roy, who described it so evocatively in her book, The God of Small Things.
However, a conversation with a well-travelled Parisian friend persuaded us to choose a hotel rather than one of the houseboats converted from traditional rice barges. “Go on a boat for the day,” she advised, “but find a hotel by the beach at Alleppey – it’s unspoilt, beautiful and not a bit like built-up Kovalam.”
We quickly settled on the Raheem Residency, a heritage hotel with just 10 rooms, lovingly restored by Bibi Baskin, an Ayurvedic enthusiast and former Irish television and radio presenter. It boasted a swimming pool, Ayurvedic spa and rooftop dining, and according to one guide book, it’s “the only top-end place in Alleppey worth considering”.
Our arrival followed a hair-rasing two-hour night-time journey from the airport, punctuated by beeping horns and near collisions. So to be given Batija, a deluxe room – with a pitched, dark wooden roof, air con and a cooling fan, furnished tastefully with Keralan antiques and a bed sprinkled with petals – certainly helped soothe my shattered nerves.
The next morning, a breakfast of fresh fruit followed by a cheese and tomato omelette compounded my theory that south Indians are up there with the French and Spanish when it comes to cooking with eggs. In between mouthfuls, we listened to the thud of bat against ball as groups of young men played cricket behind the hotel.
This boutique hotel overlooks an unspoilt public beach that’s enjoyed by colourfully dressed local families flying kites and enjoying camel rides, boys playing football and bathers swimming fully clothed. With modesty an issue, we were advised to swim in the hotel pool. Our days there rotated around sleeping, reading, Ayurvedic treatments, watching geckos scramble up trees, and cooling down in a pool that, on most occasions, we had all to ourselves.
Bliss. No wonder that, out of season, Raheem Residency is used as a venue for writers’ retreats.