Located in Kerala, Kottayam sits at the foothills of the Western Ghats with the waters of the Vembanad Lake lapping its other end. Rubber, tea, pepper and cardamom plantations occupy a large part of its physical and economical terrain.
Kottayam experiences a hot and humid climate throughout the year. The cool and pleasant climate from September to March makes it the most welcoming period of the year. Monsoons hit this region between May and July and present an ambience that is quite different from the rest of the year.
Church spires and peaks of temples peek out amidst palms and paddy fields. Houseboats, snake-boats and motorboats meander through its backwaters carrying people, animals and produce. Kottayam is enough off the trodden path to embrace a mood where the tick-tock of the clock ceases to be relevant.
A Place Like Home
The Meenachil River bends, turns and then moves along on its path; the Akkara House is located on this bend. Six acres of nutmeg, pepper, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and other local produce surround this rustic Syrian Christian family home. Built more than 150 years ago, this traditional Kerala house was converted into a homestay a few years ago.
A large dining room is the core of the house. Family portraits on the walls and generations-old mantelpieces recall the times when the family would have gathered around the dining table at mealtimes. Period furniture and more handicrafts collected over the years line the corridors. On its own each narrates a small scene of the house’s history. The guest rooms are simple and comfortable. Like many traditional Syrian Christian houses, Akkara House too is built around a large open courtyard with steps leading to the river. A Kerala snake boat has been laid on the grass for repairs while another bobs at the riverbank waiting to ferry guests to the village across for an Ayurveda massage or shopping in the market.
In turning into a homestay, Akkara House has not undergone many modern cosmetic changes. Thus while the amenities ensure modern comforts, its soul is still that of a family home.
An Insignia Of Faith
The Kottayam Cheriapally aka St. Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Church is one of the oldest churches in Kerala. Intricate wooden sculptures of St. Mary and angels on the church walls and murals of biblical and non-biblical theme in the sanctum sanctorum inspire worshippers. A Hindu-style oil lamp over the baptism basin and the huge stonewall around the church compound, fitted with traditional oil lamps much like Hindu temples add a unique touch to this church.
Testing The Waters
Rice, coconut and other commodities would be piled into them and one or two men would dip poles into the water and guide them through the Vembanad Lake and along the backwaters. Faster transport options phase out that purpose of the kettuvallams and forced them to find another reason to exist. Today, these barges glide through the Vembanad Lake and the backwaters, with tourists who want to experience traditional living with modern comfort. They have fully furnished ensuite bedrooms, a sundeck, kitchen and a living cum dining room. The décor varies from traditional cane and wood furniture to the contemporary. They are made of eco-friendly materials like bamboo mat and coir. The kettuvallams provide the ideal vantage point to enjoy the Kerala panorama.
Coconut finds its way in almost everything here. Coconut fibre is used to manufacture coir, which is then fashioned into various objects. The markets of Kottayam are lined with shacks all selling coir products ranging from mats and bins to footwear and furniture. Sometimes left in its original tan colour and sometimes, dyed bright red and blues, the versatility of this natural substance is on ample display.
Text By Himali Kothari