Luxury hotels and luxury resorts are run by innkeepers, passionate men and women who know they are running the theatre of a hospitality experience. One difference between a hotel and a true resort is that the boss of a resort, usually called the General Manager, or GM, is there, at least on and off, at weekends.
These are busy times, whereas in a central city hotel top management may disappear after lunch Friday and not reappear until Monday. Some GMs, by the way, have inflated titles, like CEO or SVP or President but the gal calls a spade a spade. Someone who runs a hotel or a resort is therefore, to GirlAhead, a GM.
There is nothing nicer than knowing the GM is human, and meeting the other half. At Peninsula Chicago it was great to talk trekking with ‘Mr’ GM, the husband of GM Maria Razumich-Zec.
In Kerala, I met Rinzin Khanna, the shaven-headed Sikkimese wife of Afghan-heritage Samir Khanna, GM of Vivanta by Taj – Bekal, Kerala. Rinzin Khanna, also a former hotelier (she met her husband when both were working in Kathmandu), keeps herself busy. She lives in the hotel. At dawn the Khannas have a wakeup in the form of a private yoga session and then she prepares her kids’ food before she has her own breakfast.
She has adopted stray animals, dogs, cats and turtles, and houses them, walks those that can walk – the turtles live in a fountain – and knows all their characteristics. I am told they are fussy eaters so she cooks for each of them, separately. I guess I am a fussy eater, too.
On arrival at Vivanta by Taj – Bekal, Kerala, I am greeted with glasses of coconut milk, and watermelon juice. I am told that the chef has prepared a wedding lunch, but I pass. In the Latitude restaurant, I eat something simple and watch a group of 11 guys, on an executive retreat, eating their ‘wedding lunches’, five courses known as sadya, hand-eaten dollops of chicken, fish and rice, on a banana leaf.
Quick story on Bekal, pronounced BAY-kal, almost like bagel. Its straight north-south coastline, with lovely sand (but dangerous currents) was always bordered by smallholdings growing nothing much other than coconuts.
In 2004 local authorities got together and spent a fortune reimbursing these smallholders to move elsewhere, to more lucrative livelihoods. The result land was bundled, and leased to hospitality developers, who cleverly had to finish projects by a specific time.
Vivanta by Taj – Bekal, Kerala, owned by a Mumbai company, therefore opened March 2012. Landscaping of the resort’s 25 acres is by Madhu Wijaya of Bali Landscape and, indeed, you do feel as if you are at Jimbaran.
There are masses of decorative ponds, some with koi, and greenery, including banana and coconut trees. Of course being India, there are enough Ganesh statues to match the world’s real-elephant population. They are outside the entrance, at crossroads and by the entrance to your room or villa.
The architect, who has also done the interiors of the 73-room resort, is Nick Juniper, of Ground Kent Architects. A big long rectangular main pool has various rooms, like Latitude and the bar and the gym, leading off it, and then there are curving walkways.
Buildings are all whitewashed, though many decorative roofs and roof extensions are coconut fibre, shaped like upside-down fishing boats. (Actually, says Samir Khanna, there are two layers of coconut, with plastic in between, so after particularly heavy monsoons, as in mid-2012, only the top layer has to be replaced.)
The coconut palms live about 45 years, bear their fruit and die, but nothing is wasted. Trunks are used for timber, leaves for this distinctive roofing. Kerala people are very resourceful: they use bark from another tree, the padimugam, to flavour room-temperature drinking water and colour it bright pink – drink this and it is brilliant for your digestion, I am told.
But Kerala is one of the centres of ayurvedic and natural health tourism, anyway. There is a whole page on the health aspect of strawberries in today’s paper, the English language one (they publish dailies here in nine different languages).
Kerala has India’s highest literary rates, at 93.9 percent, but sadly since 96 percent of the population speak, and write, the curlique-like Malayalam, that is no help globally. Here in this luxury resort, however, the staff speak excellent English.