UNPACKING WELLNESS IN INDIA
Location: Brunton Boatyard, Calvetty Road, Fort Kochi, Kochi, Kerala 682001
Silence and greenness are all very well. But, sometimes, don’t you love a few days of urban relaxation? The buzz of people going about their lives, exploring down alleys, people-watching in cafes, seeking out the bars and music that locals enjoy? It’s especially good if your hotel is right in the middle of the hubbub so you can just stroll out when you want. Even better if it's waterside. Lazing on the lawns with your cuppa and a freshly fried pakora, you can watch boats of all sizes glide past to and from the port, and ferries criss-cross the harbour. Urban wellness might be the right fit for you.
Down in Kerala, Brunton Boatyard serves up the ideal waterside urban hotel in just the right-sized buzy location. The building is a transformed British shipbuilders' yard at Fort Kochi on Mattancherry Island, the historic part of Kochi-Ernakulum. The renovation is classy, every room overlooks the water, the food is great, the spa an essential stop, the staff fantastic. No surprise, then, that it’s owned by ‘cgh’, the trailblazing eco group which can run a deluxe discerning hotel while deftly recycling the water. Moreover, being at the very south of India there is no fear of being chilly in winter, unlike in the north.
As you potter about the surrounding lanes, you can feel that it was here that the port’s story began in biblical times. Locals traded lucrative spices grown on the hinterland hills with Arabs, Jews, Greeks, Romans, Chinese and more; today, abundant fresh spices await shoppers. Later, competitive post-Renaissance European traders arrived, also for spices. The Portuguese adventurer Vasco da Gama befriended the local ruler, the Zamorin of Calicut, setting a trend. The Dutch came next, keeping the Zamorin happy and making the Jewish merchants their allies. Then came the British who re-built the church and added a green for cricket and the deep-water port for trade. You can find the church, unrestored go-downs (warehouses) and fine merchants’ mansions. You can watch the balancing tricks of locals operating a Chinese fishing net and enjoy Kerala’s subtle fish dishes perfumed with coconut and gentle local spices - cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, green cardamom.
Perhaps hop in a tuktuk, or hire a bike, go off to explore more of Mattancherry. Find the newly-restored palace, confusingly called the Dutch Palace. Beyond that lie the merchants’ lanes (be watchful of dodgy ‘antiques’ in dollied up former go-downs). Seek out streets and prayer halls for every trading group - Jains, Brahmins, Marwaris, Marathis. And do take a ferry across to Ernakulum to shop at Jayalakshmee and visit the restored synagogue.
Kerala’s own strong culture shines through all of this - its subtle food, its elegance, its arts. See a demonstration of the death-defying martial arts, Kalaripayattu, and the exotic dance-drama, Kathkali. And consider coinciding with the cutting-edge international art fair, Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
Must-do wellness experience at Brunton Boatyard: pottering about the nearby lanes
Pottering a poking about turns up treat after treat in Kochi's various areas. Here in Ernakulum, determined leadership has triumphed in the renovation of Kadavumbhagam Synagogue. Find it lurking behind a plant centre and, in its entrance hall, the city's main goldfish dealer.
Each Kerala dish introduces new subtle combinations. A careful blend of gently grated coconut, turmeric, mustard seeds and ginger, given a zing with pinch of green chilli, flatters the freshly caught kingfish.
The Dutch Palace (actually a Portuguese building for the Kochi royals, later repaired by the Dutch) has 300 square metres of murals, plus some big panel paintings. With an exuberant and distinctive 17C style and iconography, they celebrate the Ramayana, Krishna's life, fearsome Durga, and more.
This wild bamboo sculpture taking over several trees was one of several hundred pieces of contemporary art filling historic houses and warehouses of for the four-month-long 2022-23 Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Never too early to start planning for the next one, 2024-24.
It's hard to miss silk in India. The most extraordinary, mind-popping weaves have been highly valued in India since at least the time of the Vedas, around 1,500BC. So, join locals to have some fun at Jayalakshmee multi-story silk emporium in Ernakulum. I defy you to leave without a bagful!
It really is time to start planning your Unpacking Wellness experience for 2023!
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