If you’ve been following my travels to India on Facebook or Twitter, then you know that my fiancée Natalie and I began an unbelievable trip by flying from New York to Mumbai via Doha on Qatar Airways. We spent three days in Mumbai at the Taj Mahal Palace, then flew an hour to Hyderabad to spend three nights at the Taj Falaknuma Palace. To wrap things up, we flew to Mangalore via Bengaluru (Bangalore) to check out a brand new hotel.
Traveling to India
Tip: Be sure to print your travel itinerary beforehand otherwise you won’t get into the airport.
Security lines weren’t too long but they have separate lines for men and women. You can bring at least one bottle of water through. But the most ridiculous thing is that they tag each carry-on item you have, including your camera if it’s not in a bag! The security agent stamps the tag on each item and if you don’t have a stamp, they won’t let you on the plane … and they check everyone. I saw a guy get turned away with an iPad-sized briefcase and then I got turned away because I pulled my camera out of my bag after security and didn’t put it back in before boarding. I had to be escorted back to security to get a stamp. Good to know: I bought two sandwiches and two bottles of waters at BLR airport and it cost just $7.51 total. You have to love India for being reasonably priced.
Why stay at Vivanta by Taj in Bekal, Kerala?
Here are 10 good reasons you should stay at Vivanta by Taj in Bekal, Kerala:
1. The drive from the airport
When Natalie and I landed in Mangalore, the driver (which we’d set up with the hotel in advance), was waiting outside of baggage claim with a sign. He didn’t speak much English but he was able to communicate that our drive was 90- minutes (80 kilometers). It turned out to be two and a half hours because of traffic but we didn’t really mind since we were treated to incredible scenery and people watching. What’s really crazy is the amount of times Indians beep their car horns. It’s no exaggeration when I tell you that our driver beeped his horn at least 300 times as he passed cars, like he was in a video game. Anyway, I lost count of the honks eventually.
They don’t beep with attitude like they do in America – instead, everyone does the horn because there aren’t any lanes (if there are, they don’t use them). They do it to let others know where they are. They even encourage it as all the trucks have signs on the back of them saying “beep horn”. I promise: If you’ve never left America or have never been to India, you’ve never seen anything like this! The grand finale was when our driver laid on his horn behind a cop and then passed him! Natalie and I couldn’t stop laughing for hours. We joked that we should try that when we get home and video tape the cop’s reaction. Good to know: The hotel packs a light lunch with drinks for arriving guests so you have something to eat on the long drive to the hotel. If you want a smoother ride, there is a train you can take; Kasaragod Railway Station is just 15 kilometers from the hotel.
2. The property
Vivanta is one of Taj Hotels’ new boutique luxury brands. It’s one notch below their usual five star hotels. This Vivanta has 71 laterite-lined villas and rooms over 26 manicured acres that reflect the spirit of the sea and backwaters of Kerala. It’s located on the Arabian Sea and there is a good-looking beach nearby. Unfortunately, they don’t encourage people to swim there since the water is always rough. It was a real shame since the water is so warm, it would be like taking a bath. Running through the property is the Kappil River and they offer guest kayaks to explore.
3. The rooms
The rooms and villas are inspired by the design of Kettuvallam houseboats and inside they have Chitra Pothi art on the walls. Our villa had a private courtyard with a plunge pool, daybed, outside rain shower and soak tub. We used it day and night and every chance we could! In fact, I declared the outdoor shower the nicest I’ve ever experienced but that changed after our next destination, the Taj Exotica in the Maldives. The bed was comfortable as was the indoor bathroom. Each room has a flat screen TV with hundreds of satellite channels. They also have Wi-Fi but only one device can be set up per room unless you ask them to change that, which they did upon our request.
4. The views
If you have one of the rooms with a view of the backwaters, it’s not too shabby – especially while relaxing on your soothing day bed. Our view of our courtyard was special and even more so at night beneath the twinkling lights.
5. The food
We were told that if you travel 50 miles in India, the food and language changes. And the further south you go, the spicier the food gets. One reason is because spicy food cools you in India’s extreme heat. I didn’t know that, did you? The food at the hotel is very good. The resort has three dining options: Latitude Restaurant, Ivory Bar and a BBQ by the pool. Latitude is the main restaurant, which serves three meals a day and multi-cuisines. Our favorite meal was the “Sadya” lunch we ate in Latitude. We ate as the locals do, with our hands; instead of a plate, our meal was served on a banana leaf. It’s a special treat so you have to set it up in advance and the menu goes like this: sambaram, inji puli, kadu mango pickle, lime pickle, banana chips, sharkkara pratti, vellirikkai, kitchidi, pineapple pachadi, kerala rice, parripu curry, ghee, avial, sambhar, mixed vegetable thoran, chicken ularthiyathu, tawa fried fish, mooru, ada pradaman, banana rasakadalai, papadam, fried chili. I know – that’s a lot of food and you probably don’t know what any of it is but I can tell you it was delicious! We also enjoyed our meals out by the pool and the breakfast buffet, which has everything including regional Kerala cuisine, was tasty as well. One of the big draws will be when they start offering their signature Ayurveda lunch to spa guests.
6. Jiva Grande Spa
The spa is still not completed and they have a good reason – it’s 27,000 square feet! The spa’s director is Dr. Prasanna and every spa guest will get a free consultation with him and he will choose what treatments are best for you based on your consultation. Like the small world that it is, during our meeting we discovered that he and I had met once before when he was with the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok. To confirm this, I pulled up my archived article on Natalie’s iPhone. What a coincidence! One of the most interesting things to come out of our talk was learning that there are six tastes: sweet, sour, salt, bitter, spicy and astringent. An ideal diet should have all but predominately sweet (don’t get your hopes up because he said chocolate and stuff like it are not good). He also defined carbohydrates as sweets. The one thing I didn’t like about the spa was learning that the nice new sandals they offer guests get thrown out after each use. Most of the time, people use them to walk five feet – so I suggested that they should at least donate them to the poor and they said they would. We’ll just have to go back and do some undercover work to see if they do.
Allow Vishnu is the hotel’s gifted mixologist. He mixes signature Vivanta by Taj cocktails like: a white rum-based drink, which balances ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and clove with cool coconut water. Or you might want to try the South Indian Sangria with curry leaves, Cointreau, red wine and sugar syrup. But my favorites were there fresh fruit juices: watermelon, mango, kiwi, you name it!
Along with kayaking, the resort also offers boating, rowing, fishing and trekking. They will even pack a picnic basket to take to a spice plantation or historic fort. The highlight for me was being able to check practicing yoga in India off my bucket list. They offer one-hour daily classes outside in the early morning sun and the instructor is awesome.
9. Learning how to cook regional Kerala cuisine
They didn’t offer this until we arrived and asked for a class, but they were happy to arrange it and said they can do this for future guests as well. Their experienced chefs taught us how to cook Nadan Kozhi curry in the outdoor kitchen by the pool. It was fun to learn how to cook the dish but to be honest, I was more interested in eating it since it looked and tasted so good.
10. It’s a brand new hotel and an upcoming travel hot spot
If you like to get off the beaten track but don’t want to sacrifice the luxuries of home, then you should seriously consider this destination. The hotel only opened a few months ago and it’s the second luxury hotel to open up in the area. Unlike the big cities I’ve traveled to in India, here you don’t see slums and there is less poverty than in other areas in India. The people here seemed happy and they definitely were friendly as many waved to us as we drove by.
The backwaters of Kerala are also something to see. The hotel can arrange for you to get a flavor of them with just a 45-minute drive. The houseboat on our hour-long sunset cruise had a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and deck.
Another spot you will want to hit is the Bekal Fort, made of laterite stones; it’s just eight kilometers from the hotel. The views are spectacular as were the ones from the fishing boat-lined beach next to it. The Bekal Forts entrance fee is: Indians 5R ($0.09), International visitors 100R ($1.80) and 25R ($0.45) per camera.
Good to know
-The weather was described to me like this: Hyderabad is like a sauna and Kerala is like a steam room. The average high in Bekal is 38c (??F), which isn’t too bad but the humidity is between 85 and 89%, making it feel quite hot.
-There are two seasons: summer and monsoon (June-September). The coldest months are December to February when the temperatures range from 14c (57F) to 32c (89F).
-You can hear the call to prayer at dinnertime, which is a nice reminder that you’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!
Vivanta by Taj – Bekal, Kerala
Kasaragod, Kerala – 671319
Telephone: +91 467 661 6612