Tuesday, January 03, 2017

At Home, Away From Home

The Kandath Tharavad homestay at Palakkad, Kerala, is a place to unwind and enjoy the company of the owner

Photos: Kandath owner K.S. Bhagwaldas; Prithviraj and Supriya  

By Shevlin Sebastian

At the Kandath Tharavad homestay in Palakkad, Kerala, Roy Peterson, 81, a retired psychologist from New York, leans back in his chair and stares into the distance. It is a tranquil environment: a rolling green lawn, leafy trees, the buzz of bees, and the occasional cawing of a crow. Added to this is a sense of history.

The house is 250 years old. Red oxide floors and wooden ceilings, doors, beds and windows, as well as an inner courtyard. But, on this particular November morning, Roy is looking glum. An English newspaper, lying on a low table in front of him, gives the hint: 'Win for Donald Trump'.

Yes, I am deeply disappointed,” says Roy. Smiling genially is Kandath owner, K.S. Bhagwaldas, 66. He has been running the homestay for 16 years now. His guests come mainly from Britain, France, Australia, Belgium, Switzerland and Japan.

In fact, Toshio Akai, a humanities professor at Kobe Gakuin University, has been coming for the past seven years. Asked about the charms of the homestay, Akai says, “Bhagwaldas's hospitality has introduced me to the slowly flowing time of rural Kerala, in which my body and spirit are able to have a profound rest. I relish the chance to do nothing. It allows me to be myself.”

Guests get immersed in the Kerala culture by visiting a basket-weaving village and the three-century old Palakkad Fort, going fishing and trekking, apart from day trips to the famous Lord Krishna temple at Guruvayur and the Kerala Kalamandalam arts centre. “The big difference, from other homestays, is that I accompany the guests,” says Bhagwaldas. “And since I have spent more than 15 years in the USA, I am able to establish a wavelength easily.”

Expectedly, the food is pure Kerala fare: appams, dosas, jackfruit, tapioca, rice and fish-curry meals. And, on some mornings, Bhagwaldas takes them to a nearby village called Ramassery. “It is famous for making a special type of idli,” says Bhagwaldas. “So, we go with tablecloth, napkins and glasses and lay it out and have breakfast with the locals.”

All this fun comes for a daily tariff, ranging from Rs 7,600 to Rs 12,600, depending upon the size of the room.

The Kandath Tharavad hit the media spotlight when it hosted the wedding of Mollywood superstar Prithviraj and Supriya Menon on April 25, 2011. “They were looking for a quiet place, and it was booked by Prithviraj's father-in-law, who lives in Palakkad,” says Bhagwaldas. “Prithviraj arrived with his immediate family consisting of 50 people. It was a very private ceremony.”

Meanwhile, most of the money that Bhagwaldas earns is plowed back into the maintenance of the house. It belonged to his great-great-grandfather Kuppevelan, an agriculturist. “Since it is a family inheritance, I have to ensure that I look after it well, for future generations,” says this father of two children. 

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

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