Secluded Beaches And Lip-Smacking Malayali Fare In The Seaside Village Of Mararikulam
Kerala is no stranger to tourist throngs. Scan an India guidebook at any second-hand bookstore, and Kerala is likely to be the most weathered section (along with Rajasthan}. Its emerald backwaters, palm-fringed cities, and manicured tea plantations are the stuff of Instagram legend. It’s great for the state’s economy but travellers in God’s Own Country are often faced with an annoying problem: Too many other tourists!
That’s not a problem in Mararikulam. The sea-side village (about an hour’s drive south of Kochi} is blissfully free of travellers, or so it seemed on the morning we strolled over to the beach after break-fast. There wasn’t a footprint in sight, except tiny little ones made by groups of crabs and seagulls going about their morning routines. Mararikulam is a spectacular beach, a snaking strip of sand wedged between deep-green backwaters and the Arabian Sea.
The only signs of human habitation were welcome ones: a hammock tied between two coconut trees and a shack (four wooden poles and thatched roof} shading three beanbags. It’s the sort of setting that prompts the spontaneous booking of air tickets, preceding a long weekend.
Marari Villas is designed to provide guests maximum privacy. The resort combines the perks of renting a bungalow with the advantages of checking into a resort. Each of its five villas has its own housekeeper, chef, and manager to make sure guests have everything they need. Then there’s Olga and Rupert, the chatty Russian and Brit couple that run this place. They arrived in India six years ago on holiday, and were seeking change and looking to shake off the monotony of their lives. They fell in love with India’s fierce spirit, spent the better part of the next year scouring the country looking for the perfect place to start a resort, and finally, smitten by balmy nights and tempestuous monsoons, settled on Kerala. Their enthusiasm for their new home is infectious, and they’re always happy to help plan excursions to villages in the area, boat rides cruising the backwaters, and even day trips to Kochi. But most guests, they say, prefer to spend their time taking dips in the ocean, snacking on plates of fried prawns, and sipping tall glasses of chilled coconut water.
Marari has two inland villas: Hibiscus and Or- chid, that are a few minutes’ walk from the beach. Each has a plunge pool and sunbeds, surrounded by a private garden where meals are served. We ar- rived late at night from Kochi to find a candle-lit dinner set up in the garden, with bowls of prawn curry, rice, pappadams, and avial, vegetables in a coarse coconut gravy. In our room were shelves of novels and DVDs of movies and television shows. A phone connected us to the manager, should we have needed anything else. I could see why guests who arrive here find no reason at all to leave this bubble it is ideal for a secluded couple’s holiday.
The larger accommodations (Palm, Bougainvil- lea, and Lotus) are bang on the beach, but on a strip of shore that few locals visit. The villas are designed like vacation homes, with kitchens, dining areas, and living rooms that blend contemporary touches with antique wooden furniture. Bougainvillea, the most handsome of these cottages, has three bedrooms, a central courtyard, and a living room with couches, a re- frigerator, and a flat-screen TV that’s perfect for movie nights with the fami- ly. Palm, on the other hand, has an airy lounge area that opens to the beach, which might be better suited to a large group of friends. Then there’s Lotus, which has a yoga deck on the roof, for the peace-seeking traveler.
Food is definitely among the re- sort’s highlights. Our breakfasts were light fruit, banana crepes with honey and sesame seeds, and cups of strong, south Indian coffee just the sort of meal we wanted before a swim. Lunch, on the other hand, was far more elaborate. Marari’s fiery toddy shop meen (a no-coconut fish curry) with kappa (boiled tapioca, traditionally served in place of rice in homes around the state) would have met the approval of my snootiest Malayali relatives. Plus, there were plates of beef fry, bowls of coconut-flecked stir-fried veggies, and piles of pappadams. We barely made it back to the sunbed outside my cottage, spending the rest of the afternoon staring into the ocean, and trying to decipher the few snatches of Malayalam I overheard when a group of fishermen hauled in their catch. Around dusk, when the sun’s fury had mellowed, we went on a catamaran ride on a perilously small vessel that drenched us in minutes. Faced with what seemed like no other alternative, we happily abandoned ship, jumped into the ocean and floated on our backs while the captain of our catamaran watched in amusement. It was the most spectacular view of a sunset I have ever had.
Marari Villas is in Mararikulam, a beachside village about 72 km / 2 hr from Kochi airport and 48 km/1 hr from Ernakulam Junction (South) railway station. The hotel organises pick-ups and drops from Kochi, the airport, and station.
Marari has five spiffy villas, some for couples, and others for families of six or more. Hibiscus and Orchid are both a short, pleasant walk from the beach. Palm, Bougainvillea, and Lotus are on the beach, better for those seeking ocean views. Marari also has Ayurveda, family, and romantic packages. Booking the entire villa is not mandatory; double room reservations can be made in larger cottages ( www.mararivillas.com; 2-person villas and double rooms from Rs. 9,000-17,500 depending on the season).