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Sunday, Oct 03, 2004


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Backwater idyll
They call the homestead Olavipe, `gift of the waves'. Set in the southern quarter of an isle off Kochi, the place is a lotus eater's delight, says SHEILA KUMAR.


Olavipe_ sending out a welcoming light.

FOR a structure supposedly risen from the waves, Olavipe stands rock solid, a sprawling manor in the old Kerala style, naalukettu, tiled roof, fretted gables, stone lions, gleaming woodwork, shining stone floors, all of it. It is the place where the Parayil Tharakan clan, a very large-numbered family by any standard, go to catch some R & R, to gather together their far-flung but close-knit kin on occasion, to celebrate weddings and births, to condole deaths and losses, and sometimes, just to get in touch with their roots. Olavipe is home.

It was just a matter of time before members of the clan would bring along friends, Indian and non-Indian, to partake of the particular pleasures that Olavipe afforded them. And then again, it was just a matter of time before the heads of the family put their heads together and decide to open up a part of the tharavaad house for guests on a homestay basis.

One of five homes
Olavipe, one of the five handsome heritage homes owned by the Tharakans, went onstream as a homestay, just a few months ago and there really has been no looking back. It has been a regulated stream of guests, largely hearing of the century-old house through word of mouth, coming to spend a few days at a place where all the clichés come alive. It really is far from the madding crowd, the surrounding palm trees do sway, murmur and rustle, and barn owls hoot softly into the night. Coconut plantations, emerald squares of paddy fields, the village temple and tank ... it's all here.

The long verandah ... gracious living, Kerala style.

The gentle lap of the Kaithapuzha's backwaters at the pier behind the ancestral house is a compelling magnet for anglers (the waters run thick with local fish), as well as those looking for a quiet spot to sit and read a fat book. And in the monsoon, along with birds which descend all about the jetty, comes the rain-stung breeze carrying with it a magic that insidiously winds itself around the place and the people.
Vanilla, pepper, arecanut, mulberry and cassava are grown on the estate. Prawn farming is active in season in the larger ponds and canals. The canals are also used for rearing the local delicacy, the pearl spot fish, karimeen.

Lots to do ... .
There is something for everyone. For those who take their lotus-eating seriously, there is the kulir kallu ( cooling stone) at one end of the house; elsewhere, there are hammocks and gallons of tender coconut water on offer. A ramble around the manor house built in the Indo-Portuguese style, yields its own pleasure. There is a magnificent turkey and some gaggle of geese in the yard at the back; the woodwork on the beams and frets, the wooden arra or granary, the delightful family prayer room with the mobile bar from a houseboat serving as altar — all of it calls for leisurely scrutiny. There is the archives room where the history of the clan, (traced over 250 years, with one Marquis, two Grand Chevaliers, three members of the Kerala Legislative Assembly, several senior government officials and social leaders amongst them), which is subtly, but inextricably, wound up with the social history of the area, is laid out for curious eyes, complete with correspondence of patriarchs long gone but not forgotten, photographs hoary with age, utensils belonging to another age (the lassi-maker is pure delight), a scrapbook belonging to the matriarch which details the achievements of different members of her large brood.

... the Gate House.

What of the guest who wants to do more than just chill out? On offer for the truly energetic is table tennis, basketball, football, cricket,boating, tree climbing, fishing, canoe rides, wind-surfing, walking on tracks, bicycles. There is a healing garden in the family farm where a plethora of herbs is cultivated; the village pond invites one for a quick dip; a crash course or two in a village craft await those so inclined. The village walk takes one past three churches built by the family and reflecting unique architectural styles, the oldest of which is almost two centuries old; past a lovely old temple, its nadawelcomingly open, a typical chai kada or tea house, with stacks of banana chips and rose cookies in the display window, and then, right down to the rippling water's edge where a boatman awaits to row one back to the family jetty. The "serenity cruise" at sunset, a slow boat ride in the gloaming through the Kaithappuzha's backwaters and through the lagoons surrounding the island, with the lights off the coast slowly coming on, is an unforgettable experience ... it's as if you are on an Indian gondola but you need to provide the singing, though!

... and the food
And let's not forget about the food at Olavipe. In fact, I suspect it could be the main leitmotif of a guest's stay at the homestead. This is Kerala cuisine at its spice-redolent best, cooked up by unseen hands in the vast kitchens at the back of the manor and sent in to the trestle table which serves as a dining table ... erachi (meat), meen (fish), fowl, all manner of seafood served in varied ways, appams, hoppers,idlisdosais, and specials like the Parayil duck roast and karimeen pollichathu, all topped with some of the famous chamandi podi, a coconut and dal powder that serves as a neat garnish.

Olavipe's eight bedrooms are homely, comfortable rather than stately, done up to meld with the rest of the homestead instead of standing out in any manner.

All through the homestead runs one firm, and tangible, thread, just as the matriarch would have wished it. Her sons and daughters are in no way desirous of seeing their still functional tharavaad home becoming the run-of-the-mill resort. Here, select visitors get to see how a Syrian Christian house functions, to meet the family, interact with them, exchange ideas with them, eat with them ... become an extended branch for a brief while. Which is why Olavipe is more an experience than a homestay; an enervating, rejuvenating and enriching experience.

Fact file
How to get there

  • Olavipe is 25 km from Kochi (Cochin), so a visit to the "Venice of the East" is pretty much on every visitor's list. Kochi has Nedumbassery, an international airport, a major railway junction and a sea port. National highways 17, 47 and 49 pass through the city, linking it comfortably with all other major Indian destinations. Another bonus is Olavipe's proximity to the fabled backwaters of Alaphuzha (Alleppey).
    For more details contact:
  • Olavipe Homestay, Thekkanatt Parayil, Olavipe, Kerala — 688526. Phone: 0484-2402410; 0478-2522255.;

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