Monday, May 30, 2011
Floating in style down the backwaters
Interior designers Benny and Lucy Zachariah make luxurious houseboats, which ply in the scenic backwaters of Kerala's Alleppey district
By Shevlin Sebastian
From the outside, the ‘Rajdhani’ looks like any other houseboat in Alleppey. But when you step inside, you will draw your breath in surprise. The wooden floor is honey brown in colour and is gleaming.
“We have imported Merbau wood from Brazil,” says interior designer Benny Zachariah. “Merbau lasts a long time and is a strong wood.” The 450 sq. ft. living room has a bar, with a curved top at one end. Liquor bottles are placed on a glass shelf behind it. Below the bar, there is space for a mini fridge.
At the centre, there are four armchairs placed around a table. “The table is made of teak and has intricate designs,” says Benny. “These have been custom-made.”
The ceiling has a teakwood veneer and several brass buttons pasted all over. The lights, bunched together, to give the impression it is a chandelier, has been imported from Kuwait. At one end of the living room, it opens out onto a sun deck.
“Foreigners like to strip down to their bikinis and do some sunbathing, especially those who come from cold countries like England and Norway,” says Benny.
The houseboat has a length of 105 feet and a width of 17 feet. “Most houseboats have a width of 14 feet,” says Benny, who has designed eight of them. The height is 9 ft, two feet more than the norm. And so, the ‘Rajdhani’ is one of the largest boats plying on the backwaters of Alleppey.
In order to get more space, Benny did some innovations. “Usually the hull tapers from the centre to the tip,” he says. “But for this particular boat, I made the sides run parallel, like in an Airbus plane, till it suddenly meets at the tip.”
There are two bedrooms, of 150 sq. feet each, with attached bathrooms. The bedrooms are luxurious, with Victorian style beds, wood panelling all over, and a writing table at one side, with a LCD TV at the other end. Interestingly, despite it being air-conditioned, a fan has been mounted on the wall.
“Many foreigners are tired of air-conditioning, and prefer natural breezes,” says Benny’s wife Lucy, an interior designer, who assists him. “So they open the windows and switch on the fan.”
The door of the bedroom is in the Kerala tharavad style with a brass latch made of an intricate design, which is known as a Manichithrathazhu.
At the end of the boat is a kitchen with modern appliances like a hob and a hood. There are several cabinets, and a granite kitchen top. “Sometimes, foreigners prefer to do the cooking themselves,” says Lucy. “At other times, there is a cook who makes Kerala-style dishes.”
Incidentally, the boat is owned by Thomas Chandy, an MLA. “My brief to Benny was to make a boat that looked like the inside of a five-star hotel, and he has succeeded in doing that,” says Thomas. “Many of my guests have shown their appreciation.”
His visitors include members of the royal family in Kuwait, where Thomas runs several schools, Saudi princes, and many state ministers. “In fact, former Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden spent a night, and expressed his delight,” says Benny.
Since Thomas also owns the high-end Lake Palace resort, at Alleppey, which is also designed by Benny, residents can hire the boat at Rs 25,000 for a night.
For those who have not been on a houseboat plying in the tranquil waters of Alleppey, this is an once-in-a-lifetime experience.
(The New Indian Express, Chennai, Delhi and Kerala)
at May 30, 2011