Celebrity hideaway - Luxury Travel Magazine
|By: Pam Grout, Issue 49 Summer 2012|
|ASTONISHING NATURAL BEAUTY AND A RICH CULTURE ARE JUST A COUPLE OF REASONS CELEBRITIES FLOCK TO THIS WELLOFF, SOUTHWEST STATE OF INDIA. IT IS ALSO THE BIRTHPLACE OF AYURVEDA AND THE HOME OF ETERNAL YOUTH, ACCORDING TO PAM GROUT. HERE ARE SIX REASONS TO JOIN THE STARS AND HOLIDAY IN KERALA.|
One month after finishing her sold-out Circus tour, American pop star Britney Spears made plans to celebrate New Year’s Eve on an exotic spice barge in Kerala, India.
Paparazzi swarmed and rumors circulated: She’s enjoying her children after a long tour. She’s meeting up with Bollywood choreographer Sandip Soparrkar. In the end, neither Spears, nor her two young sons, nor choreographers of any kind were ever spotted in Kerala. Score one for much-deserved privacy.
Cut off from the rest of India by the Western Ghats mountain range, this magical strip along the Arabian Sea has became a popular vacation spot for the A-list partly because it is such a great venue for a disappearing act. The fact that it’s drop-dead gorgeous doesn’t hurt either.
Here are the six most compelling reasons to believe that the person behind the Foster Grants (sunglasses) on a Kerala chaise lounge might just be your favourite celebrity:
|1. Kerala’s mighty 500-mile coastline is dotted with blindingly-white beaches laid out one after another like a pearl necklace. |
|Pristine beaches are a draw anywhere, but in Kerala they stand out against rich, red soil and lush green tea and cashew plantations. And since even idyllic beach life occasionally needs a bit of mental stimulation, Kerala’s diverse population and ancient cultural and|
religions traditions, still practiced with great fervour, provide lots to do during beach towel down time.
Take Sir Richard Branson, for example. Even though he owns his own Caribbean island, his own African safari lodge and his own airline which can take him anywhere he wants to go, the man behind the Virgin brand recently chose to vacation with his family in Kovalam, a popular Kerala resort with a trio of crescent moon beaches. Unlike Britney who wanted to remain anonymous, Richard Branson wrote a rave review about the unparalleled pampering his family received at the Leela Kovalam, a five-star, cliff-top resort with panoramic views of Kovalam’s shoreline.
|2. Kerala is the birth place of Ayurveda. |
|Although this ancient, herb-based healing art has finally hit the mainstream, its 3,500-year-old roots began in this southwest state of India. Needless to say ayurveda, known as the science of life and youth, has a powerful pull for youth-conscious celebrities who flock here to detox and purify. Practically every upscale resort and spa has at least one ayurvedic doctor on staff, easy to find in a country with more than 2,000 ayurvedic hospitals and even more storefront village pharmacies.|
But perhaps the granddaddy of them all is Kalari Kovilakom, known as the Palace of Ayurveda. Located in Kerala’s Annamalai foothills, where a 10th century prince came to cure himself in the region’s natural springs, this lavish palazzo was built by an heir of his ancient Vengunad kingdom. And, yes, it has all the royal trappings you’d expect of a 19th century palazzo: gorgeous teak-columned hallways carved with gods and goddesses, marble floors, polished and fragrant with lemon grass oil, herb gardens and walking paths lined with mango trees.
But make no mistake. Guests to this palace/ashram are on a serious mission (minimum stay is two weeks), willing to forego alcohol, meat, caffeine and other vacation frivolity to start their lives over again. A radical purification treatment known as pancha karma becomes more bearable with evening performances of kathakali, a traditional performance of dance, martial arts and theatre. Go in January and you can even take part in the Aaratu Festival where rows of Kerala’s temple elephants, clad in bells and silk caparisons, line up for the yearly salutation to the temple’s mother goddess.
|3. Kerala exists in many centuries at once. |
|When Bombay and Calcutta were nothing but small fishing villages, Kerala was an important trading stop for the Phoenicians. Ivory and pepper arrived in ancient Rome via its shores. It was from here, the meeting point of three oceans, that Chinese ideas and goods first spread west. Cardamom, ginger, turmeric and pepper were all brought here from far-off empires, which in turn introduced coffee, rubber and cocoa to its shores.|
|4. Kerala’s labyrinth of waterways provides ringside views of the untouched and otherwise inaccessible.|
|With 29 lakes, 44 rivers and lots of canals, lagoons, inlets and estuaries, Kerala is magical when explored by boat. In fact, many of the old rice and spice barges, humbly made of jack-wood and held together with coconut fibre, have been converted into floating palaces. Some are three stories high with sundecks, multiple living rooms and karaoke lounges.|
Even the simplest kettuvalam, as they are called in Malayalam, the local dialect, meander their way through Kerala’s backwaters past 500-year-old temples, rural hamlets and spits of land where wrinkled women smoke coconut husks as their grandsons cast bamboo poles. Silence is interrupted only by the swoosh of egret wings or a coconut falling into the water.
|5. It has a network of impeccably fine resorts. |
|One of the most prestigious, winning the title of India’s leading resort three times, is Kumarakom Lake Resort. Set on the banks of Lake Vembanad, its 25 lushly-landscaped acres have 51 teak cottages, each of which is a different transplanted home from a local village. Even the resort’s exquisite Ettukettu restaurant, once the home of King Marthanda Varma’s martial arts guru, was dismantled in its entirety and reassembled - pillars, carvings, paintings and all - by master craftsmen. Ayurmana, the resort’s oil lamp-lit spa, is the reassembled 200-year-old mansion of a renowned ayurvedic master, Chathamangalathu Mana.|
|6. 13 wildlife sanctuaries and two national parks.|
|Protecting picturesque landscapes and even rarer species, these sanctuaries have Nilgiri tahr, lion-tailed macaque, atlas moth (the world's largest), elephants, sambar, flying squirrels and India’s shyest residents: the tiger and leopard.|