Niraamaya Retreats Backwaters & Beyond, Kumarakom is a window to the Best of the Backwaters, from rare village experiences and engagement with the community, up-close-and-personal, to cruising these emerald green waters and discovering the history of Kumarakom which is, interestingly, linked to a British family.
Kumarakom, a cluster of little islands on Vembanad Lake in Kottayam district of Kerala, is fabled as a stunning backwater destination. The complex labyrinthine backwaters are peppered on both sides with villages and farms, temples, churches and mosques, bazaars and coconut plantations.
On the banks of what is India’s largest lake stands one of the destination’s newest retreat, Niraamaya Retreats Backwaters & Beyond, Kumarakom. The retreat, a curated collection of 27 luxurious villas and suites, is set within acres of lush tropical gardens with enchanting views of a silent, stunning panorama dominated by emerald green foliage and the brilliant sapphire of the lake. It is suffused with world-class amenities but in the ambiance that truly pays tribute to the surroundings. Classical Kerala architectural-style villas are a window to the world of authentic experiences and the best of the backwaters.
The Niraamaya Retreats’ Experiences
Vembanad Lake, 96kms in length and 14kms wide, is not just one of the longest in India but also one of the largest water reservoir in Kerala. The lake, laced by a network of canals, meanders through an intricate maze of villages and fields. While residents and tourists traverse the humungous lake and canals on canoes, traditional houseboats or kettuvalam (kettu means ‘tie down’ and valam means ‘country boats’), once used to ferry people and bags or rice and other produce across the lake, are now largely to cruise the green-blue waters for pleasure. The beautifully outfitted kettuvalams, complete with a living space, dining area and a bedroom, can be hired for either a day or more. Onboard, you can read a book, catch your own meal and get the boat staff to cook the fresh seafood, and witness the sunset on the gentle waters. The air has a languid feel to it: palm trees, balmy weather and a placid Vembanad.
Bespoke Authentic Experiences
Niraamaya Retreats Backwaters & Beyond, Kumarakom offers several bespoke authentic experiences that allow guests to glimpse the village life and engage more closely with the community and the culture. It is Kumarakom as you may have never experienced before. Learn how to climb a coconut tree using a modern contraption made by Kerala’s Coconut Development Board. The modern machine has eased the physical pain of climbing the tall tree and also ensured that women join the force of coconut tree climbers in the state.
The canals-networked villages are home to some of India’s best artisans and craftsmen. Learn how to make ropes and mats from coir (the outer husk of the coconut). Kumarakom’s coir makers are now collaborating with contemporary artists to create art out of this hardy material. They will tell you that the mats they have weaved for centuries are so flexible that you can fold them into a small package, put them in a bag, and take them along with you when you are off for a family picnic and just need something to spread on the ground.
The experiential includes walking through farms that abut the villages and learning how, traditionally, farming was being done in this region as well as little known details about the red rice that Kerala grows and consumes in large amounts. Drink a cup of tea with traditional boat makers and experience how they craft the canoes and houseboats using ancient techniques of boat building with materials such as Anjili (jackfruit) wood and coir for tightening the wooden planks. The village life experience also introduces guests to the art of screw-pine mat and roof weavers.
During the experiential, the retreat team will
set up an encounter with the toddy tapper while he collects fresh toddy and offers it to guests. A jaunt to the neighbouring duck farms in the season is also a must-do.
Birding in Kumarakom
The verdant Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, on the eastern banks of the Vembanad Lake, is a short drive from the retreat. On a leisurely walk through this green haven, guests will have an opportunity to learn about its history. It was once a private estate belonging to the Baker family. The credit for developing both Kumarakom village and the bird sanctuary goes to Englishman Alfred George Baker, who the laid the foundations of the Kumarakom village and the bird sanctuary by reclaiming 500 acres of wetlands from the Vembanad lake during the 1840s. Later, Baker’s descendent, Henry developed this bird sanctuary—acres of lush wooded land home to a host of migratory birds, especially in winters, is a birder’s paradise, from the endemic flycatchers, herons, parrots, waterfowl and owls to the migratory Siberian cranes. The sanctuary abuts the village home in some places and on the walk, guests can stop for conversations with local fishermen plying their boats early morning, or watch while the village wakes up slowly to the rhythm of nature.
The villages are also home to the practitioners of south India’s oldest dance forms—the ritualistic dance theatre, Kathakali and Mohiniattam, one of the eight classical dances of India. The retreat can organise performances and interactions with the artists, including a trip to watch the Kathakali artists put on their elaborate make-up and their splendorous costumes that can take hours to put on.