October 2023 | 1065 words | 4-minute read
Were it not for the tropical foliage, one might well imagine one’s self in the Scottish highlands, waiting for the Loch Ness Monster as one watches the placid waters of the lake nestling among mist-shrouded gentle hills.
Located roughly 85 km from the seaside city of Kozhikode, Wayanad is home to some of the lushest forested hills in the farthest tip of the Western Ghats. Pristine and largely unspoiled, the landscape comprises a series of rolling hills interspersed with deep valleys, gurgling brooks, waterfalls, mountain springs and lakes.
Located on a promontory jutting out into the lake-reservoir created by the Banasura Dam, the brand new Taj Wayanad Resort and Spa offers a 270-degree view of serene waters merging with mist-shrouded hills in a rhapsody of gentle blues and greens. With mindfulness and wellness forming the warp and weft of this tapestry and nature generously adding her own unique splashes of colour and life, this 10-acre earth-friendly resort is a picture of tranquility and serenity.
A stepped resort, built like a high-heeled shoe on a peninsular hill, it has waterfront cottages (some with sunken pools, some without), interspersed with carpets of greenery and the occasional, riotous burst of colour from clumps of hydrangeas, a yoga pavilion, an infinity pool and a block of 16 luxurious rooms offering untrammeled views of the lake-reservoir. Everywhere, local talent and local art and artifacts have been plentifully incorporated: the history of the Wayanad region has been beautifully demonstrated through line drawings on slabs of local slate along one wall, bamboo and carved wooden objects find their way on walls and niches as do carvings by local artists on an entire wall in the spa lounge.
Earth-friendly building practices, a sensitive use of natural topography, locally sourced materials including a profuse use of natural stones, timber, Kannur terracotta, and a vernacular design sensibility informed by the centuries-old heritage of North Kerala come together to make the Taj Wayanad Resort and Spa a place of plentiful dappled light and native colour.
Dotted about the property is a profusion of fruit-bearing trees: water apple, mango, custard apple, jackfruit, coconut palms, and trailing along the cottage boundaries are vividly-purple Morning Glory, Dutchman’s Pipe with its large, calico-printed flowers and many other varieties unique to these parts. In keeping with its earth-friendly ethos, cars are confined to the portico; thereafter battery-operated golf-carts ferry passengers to and fro. A semi-circular promenade skirts the outer periphery of the resort with the lapping waters being barely a hand’s width away!
Since food is a vital part of any such immersive experience, guests are spoilt for choice. There is the signature Southern Spice, reminiscent of the award-winning fine-dining restaurant at Taj Coromandel in Chennai which has successfully showcased some of the most iconic dishes of the four southern states.
The Southern Spice here replicates some of the most famous dishes found at its more-famous cousin in Chennai but the focus here is on its home state with 60 percent of the dishes on its menu being from Kerala and the remaining 40 percent from the neighbouring states.
With Chef Salin at the helm, food and nature come together. The emphasis is on organic, fresh ingredients. For his signature Moplah dishes, he believes in going right to the source to prepare dishes that are not too hot or spicy and are high in flavor. A great believer in taking home-style cooking to professionally run restaurants, Chef Salin takes pride in presenting fresh and light dishes that rely on the goodness of natural flavours. In his open plan kitchen, he proposes interactive cooking sessions with his guests.
The lake-facing grill, named Tropics, has live displays of the day’s catch, some local, others brought fresh from Kozhikode: an abundance of prawns, lobsters, mullet, pomfret, grouper that the guests can pick and have cooked according to their preference. The nautically themed bar with its conical roof, maritime influences and old brass telescopes that bring the outdoors indoors is a great place to relax over drinks and nibbles. With much of the seating being outside, the balcony offers panoramic views of the hills and waters.
The all-day dining is designed to evoke the waterfront experience and apart from the seafood specialities such as seerfish, surmai (known locally as aykoori) brings the world on a platter with live stations offering the best of international grills such as Norwegian salmon and Chilean sea bass.
Those looking for a lazy holiday, can unwind by the pool, visit the Jiva Spa for authentic Ayurvedic massages and treatments in consultation with an on-campus Ayurvedic doctor, loll about on the majestic carved wooden four-poster beds and look out at the scenic views and the endless play of sun and shade.
The more energetically inclined can indulge in a spot of rock-climbing on the waterfall in the hotel premises or a bit of zip-gliding (and the more hair-raising zip-cycling) across a natural dip in the hills and vales. There are visits, too, to the Banasura Dam nearby (Asia’s second-largest earth dam) and its vast reservoir as well as trips to the nearby spice gardens and coffee plantations. The hotel also organises trekking expeditions in the hills nearby as well as boating trips on the lake.
While it is still early days yet, the hotel’s General Manager, the young and energetic Saji Thachery, has many plans afoot to keep his guests enthralled. There is something in the offing for everybody: cooking classes, cycling, yoga and meditation with a singing bowl, master classes on wellness and healing using local best practices, village tour with village dining experience, demonstrations of local arts, crafts and cultural practices. The magnificent Edakkal Caves are a short car ride away as is the Soochipara waterfall and one of several tea plantations. Camping and hiking trails in the densely-forested hills facing the resort, bird watching, cycling, rapelling are some of the other options.
Rooted, local and mindful, Tay Wayanad Resort and Spa offers responsible tourism at its finest. The Taj’s commitment to the environment, the community, and local heritage is amply evident in this beautifully calibrated celebration of earth, sky and water.
Source: Taj Magazine, Vol 49, No 2, 2022