Ask me about luxury travel and I will go- nah me and luxury travel? I am not a luxury traveler. Recently I went to Kota Kinabalu with Silk Air and Sabah Tourism Board.
I was showing my daughter some pictures of the beach and she asked, “so mama where is your tent?” And that is my true identity. I am happiest in a tent when all I need is to open the flap and get immersed with nature! But then my kind sponsors put me in business class throughout the trip, both on Singapore Airlines and Silk Air.
When I look at the hotels I have stayed at it includes Holiday Inn, Hilton, Le Meridien, Marriott, Grand Hyatt, Levi Spirit Villa, Kumarakom Lake Resort, Suryagarh, Khyber, Taj Safari and many more. And yet ask me about luxury and I would go bah. I have been to spas, I have used indoor heated swimming pools, I have had whole speed boats to myself, I have had whole house boats to myself, I have had pillow covers with my name embroidered on them.
A long time back, before we adopted Chhavi, Seshadri and I used to do all the trips and treks (well almost all) together. But as we would mostly trek, somewhat difficult treks, the pattern broke down when Chhavi came in our life. We now closely coordinate our travels so that one of us is at home with her. I remember asking him on one of those treks from long ago, “So how come we never go to resorts?” He almost pleaded with me, “We will do all that once we cannot walk, till then let us trek.” And I agreed.
But then blogging happened to me. Ten years back it was a different world out there. There was no engagement with brands. Travel blogging was very small community and everyone knew everyone else! There were hardly any FAM trips. In 2005 what about Twitter ‘influencers’, it was not even launched!
There is something about blogging that got me hooked. I have kept at for the past ten years! Slowly sponsored trips started happening, first within India and then abroad as well. That is when I started getting acquainted with luxury.
Now the question is with two earning members in the family till the recent past, why would we not stay in luxury hotels on our own? Well we are the kind of the family who likes to get out every month, if possible twice every month, with whatever permutation and combination we can weave in. It could be Chhavi and me, Chhavi and Seshadri, sometimes all the three of us but never Seshadri and me alone. For that we need the kid to grow up! And if someone is getting out every month that costs money. Now only if we would be content to take two vacations a year, I would coax Seshadri out of the tent.
He was once telling me of a common friend, who asked his partner out to a five star hotel because she was upset. I retorted, “You will have to do that next time, you are giving me ides!” Pat came the reply, “you anyway go and stay in one such place every month, what is the novelty for you?”
So here I am with a split personality now, part of me firmly identifies with budget travel and other part of my brain tells me to stop being apologetic about my luxury trips. So, this post is more of a note to self, telling myself to start enjoying my luxury trips. A few are coming up in the next few months!
I went to attend the inaugural Belmond Hotels media event at The Imperial in Delhi. There is an interesting story behind how I went to the event but I will leave it for another day. When I did a search about the company what caught my immediate attention was that they operate the Orient Express! I was smitten and I was looking forward to the event.
I reached at the venue on time. The staff at The Imperial was really courteous as they guided me to the venue Daniell’s Tavern. Belmond representatives from Russia, Asia, South America and Europe were there. There were four tables in four corners and we could go and talk to all the ‘corners of the world.’ I had a long chat with Asni Muharam, director of sales and marketing, from Bali. For the event he was representing all the Belmond properties in Asia. He knew all the properties well. When I asked him which one was his favorite he told me I was asking a trick question!
After a long chat with Asmi I went to have a chat with Maritza Montero, regional director of sales and marketing, from Peru. It was her first trip to India. She asked me if I had been to Peru and I told her I wanted to but it is so far away and the airfare deadly expensive. She took me through all her beautiful properties in Peru. I then went to hear about the Italy properties with Elena Lamanna, area director of sales, for Italy and Mallorca.
I was at Elena’s table when Andea Filippi, executive director worldwide sales started his talk. He took us through some of the impressive properties of the hotel! He mentioned that the company was earlier know as Orient Express but they rebranded as that name didn’t adequately capture their entire portfolio. He also talked about the mega renovations the company took in the recent years. Then it was time for the lucky draw for the media. The first prize went to a girl sitting next to me. It was two nights in Bali for the winner. Elena said, “This is the lucky table.”
Then the second prize was announced and sure enough, I who never won even a pencil in a lucky draw, ended up winning four nights of stay with Belmond in Peru. Now you can imagine my situation! I have won four nights with the ultimate in luxury brand, Belmond, in a country which is on the wish list of every traveler! I told the girl who won the first prize with a laugh, “I don’t envy you!”
But the trick is I only won the stay, I have to figure out a way to reach there! Basically I need to figure out the airfare. The vouchers are valid for a year. I can only say I am going to give it my best try and see if I can reach Peru.
When I was leaving the Kumarakom Lake Resort, I told Sanjay, “thank you for such a wonderful holiday, it was so beautiful, it was almost unreal!” Since then I have been wondering why I enjoyed my stay so much! I actually closed my eyes and the reasons started popping up one by one. I wrote then all in the random order as they emerged in my thoughts. And that is what I share with you today.
1. Are you sure you want to talk about all this?
When I reached the resort I was somewhat tired. Even though it was a 8.10 am flight, I had to wake at 5.00 am. The flight to Kochi was via Hyderabad. Then there was metro construction going on in Kochi so it took us a lot of time to get out of the city.
But I am so used to working on the trips that I automatically start asking questions. Asa Abraham, the PR manager asked me, “are you sure you want to talk about all this? We will discuss it tomorrow.” After a while when I again slipped into the questioning mode she firmly told me, “you relax, you must be tired.” And I was bundled off to a sunset cruise and then after an early dinner to my room. That really set the tone for the rest of the trip!
Ask anyone at the Kumarakom Lake Resort for how many years they have worked with the property and chances they would tell you something like 10 years, 15 years, 7 years or so. People work there for a long long time. And that reflects in the way they treat guests. My guess is that the resort keeps the employees happy, and the employees, in turn, keep the guests happy.
3. Heritage villa with a pool or when I had the whole pool to myself
I had a luxury heritage lake view villa with an attached plunge pool. In other words, I had a whole private pool to myself that was enclosed within the four walls of my villa, an ultimate luxury for me. I could take a dip in the pool at midnight if I wanted. It was also a first for me. In fact on this trip there were many firsts and there were many having the whole things to myself!
4. Having the whole houseboat to myself
Even though I have been to Kerala before, it was my first time on a houseboat. And then I had the whole big houseboat for myself. I went on a lunch cruise. Chef Deepak and his team prepared a lavish Kerala meal for me accompanied with a beer! My first experience on a houseboat has been out of this world! The weather was awesome and I hardly ever budged from the deck!
5. Having the whole canoe to myself
Before going on a houseboat I went on a canoe ride through the backwaters. A canoe can enter narrower canals than the big houseboats. On my ride, early in the morning, you guessed it right, I had the whole canoe to myself. I sat on the chair for the first fifteen minutes. Then I asked if I could go sit at the front of the boat? When I was told yes, I remained there, firmly sitting on the front of the boat for the rest of my journey! It was a fabulous trip.
At lunch and dinner in the main restaurant, they had 22 bottles of pickle! Need I say more? Well, I will say a little more, we had a staggering variety of South Indian food but they made sure that there were continental and North Indian food available as well. In fact the buffet was so nice that I never ordered anything out the menu!
7. Prince Charles’s Room
Prince Charles celebrated his 65th birthday at Kumarakom Lake Resort. I was told that for his entire team 20 rooms were booked in all. He and the duchess stayed at the presidential suites. And the room is actually fit for royalty! Among other things, it has its own private infinity pool!
8. The Infinity Pool
That brings me to the common infinity pool. My room was the closest to it and I went for swimming every day. I have decided that if I have a pool access and if I have time, I am going to work out on my trips! Otherwise there is no chance of me ever getting fit! And it helps to stay motivated if the pool is set in such scenic surroundings!
9. Beautiful Backwaters
You can view the Vembanad from the various corners of the resort. It is a befitting backdrop to a very beautiful resort. In fact while I was swimming in the infinity pool, I could see local fishermen go past in their boats!
I asked people how old was the resort? They told me it opened in 2000. So I concluded that it was 15 years old. And yet it looked much older and that puzzled me!
When I met the owner Mr. Paul P John he mentioned that his team bought many old Kerala houses, dismantled it piece by piece and then many such pieces were used to build the resort. The main restaurant was the house gifted to the martial arts teacher of the King of Travancore. I then understood why the place looked much older than 15 years!
The resort is constructed such that it gives the feel of being in a backwater village with coconut trees, water lilies, bridges and canals. You will find hammocks and benches to sit and relax! You can go fishing within the premises itself with Kavi, who was happy to teach even the smallest kid!
12. Meandering Pool Villas
Even though I did not stay in a meandering pool villa I loved what I saw! You would step out straight from your room to the meandering pool and go where ever you pleased! I was told that the families and kids loved it. But I was happy with my own private pool!
13. Ayurvedic Massage
Ayurmana the ayurvedic spa at the resort is a bliss. I went in for a rejuvenating massage and it was truly that, one hour of complete rejuvenation!
14. Towel Art
The first day I had two swans in my room. They were beautiful but I was alone. But the next day I had good company, there was this perfectly relaxing towel art on my bed! That completely blew me away! I even clicked a silly selfie with it, I liked it so much! It exactly defined my holiday.
15. Open Bathroom
Most of the accommodations (except houseboats and luxury pavilion rooms) have semi open bathrooms. The shower was close to the pool, enclosed by the four walls but no roof. And I loved it too.
So this is a short summary of my stay at Kumarakom Lake Resort. I of course have much more to say!
PS. I was invited by the Kumarakom Lake Resort on this luxury holiday!