Friday, August 19, 2016

A Paradise In The Middle Of Nowhere

The Quiet island resort, near a branch of the Periyar river, Kerala, radiates silence, tranquility and natural beauty

Photos of the resort by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian

At the village of Paniely Poru, 55 kms from Kochi, a bus is waiting for me. It has the words, ‘The Quiet’, painted on its sides. On a cloudy May afternoon, driver Manish Varghese sets off on a winding, narrow, mud-baked road through the Malayatoor forest. On both sides there are rubber, jackfruit, mahogany and teak trees. The ceaseless buzz of crickets can be heard.

On good days, you can see elephants, wild boar, peacocks, and rabbits,” says Manish, as he navigates the bus over a smooth rock surface, which is part of the road.  

After five kilometres of a bumpy ride, we reach the edge of a branch of the Periyar river. There, two young men, Sanjay and Vijay, are waiting on their boat. Soon, we are going down the river. Both use bamboo poles to guide the boat. There is a gentle ‘slap-slap’ sound, as the water hits the sides. The greenery on the banks dazzles the eye. Slowly, the all-round silence begins to seep into me. The constant buzz of thoughts slows down.  

After a while, the boat stops at an island. I step off and climb a series of steps to reach 'The Quiet – By The River'.  

At the top stands Anil Kurian, the managing director of the Paniely Poru Hotels and Resorts Pvt. Ltd. “Welcome to paradise,” he says.

At first glance, apart from a grassy lawn, with plants and coconut trees, and an infinity swimming pool, you can see stone and wooden cottages with sloping roofs.

Anil leads me to a wooden cottage. The rooms are dark, cosy and pleasant. And there is a story behind the wood. For a long time, a family in the town of Cherthala had wanted to sell the 130-year-old wooden frame of their ancestral house. But no matter how much they tried, they could not do so. “In fact, their great-grandfather had made a prediction: since the house had been originally on an island, it would only go to another island,” says Anil. “And that was what happened. We bought it, dismantled the frames and set it up again on our island.”

When the resort was set up two years ago, Anil noticed a lot of old stones lying on the property. So he decided to use it to make the stone cottages. And inside each room, there is a mantelpiece made of the same stones. “It has a cooling effect,” says Anil. The bed, table and chairs are made of teak wood. And when you step outside, there is a small verandah, with low wooden armchairs. It is a relaxing setting. “You are in the middle of nowhere,” says Adela Drgova from Prague.

Indeed, one is. At one side of the resort, there is a cove, which is shielded by trees, and has a mini waterfall. “It is a natural jacuzzi,” says Anil. “Guests are encouraged to sit below the waterfall, to enjoy a shower. Most of the visitors spend hours in the water. In fact, we have put up floodlights, so that they can use it in the night also.”

Other activities include trekking, visiting a vegetable farm, and a one-hour boat ride at night. “We use a torch to light up the water,” says Anil. “Sometimes, large fishes come to the surface, and we can see them because of their glinting eyes. Manish, who is a local, is an expert at spearing fishes and lobsters.”

Once the catch is brought ashore, the chef CJ Mathew sets up a barbeque on the shore. The fish is cooked and consumed immediately. “Guests are also provided fishing rods, so that they can catch some fish on their own,” says Anil.

Apart from the fish, The Quiet provides local Kerala food. “This includes jackfruit, rice and sambar, beans and spinach,” says Mathew. “We make it with very little spices, to suit the foreign palate.” Interestingly, the resort grows most of these items, as well as the spices, like black pepper, on the island. “So there are no pesticides in the food we provide,” says a smiling Mathew.

Apart from Westerners, there are guests from other parts of India, apart from local corporates, who avail of day-packages on weekdays. But the surprise is that there are regular visitors from the Arab countries. “They love to come during the monsoon season,” says Anil. “When you live in a desert area, the rain is always a miracle.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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