In summers, when the water level in the Thekkady lake dips, the whole area looks like a realistic Western painting with the trunks of trees re-emerging. Suddenly, it gains the dimension of an animation film: a parade of elephants walking into the lake to quench thirst. How about if you get to see these scenes live, sitting on an easy chair in the veranda of an old bungalow?
'Amazing,' according to Elby Paul, a US Malayali who is in his native land Kerala where he is on a break from Chicago after his daughter has secured an MBBS admission. "You don't get this kind of a feel anywhere in the world," says the Illinois University professor, holding a cup of coffee that has steam billowing much like the mist around. Then, pointing at the meadows where spotted deer graze by the hills, he adds, "Just see this. Incredible!"
It's drizzling. Around the mansion it's all woods. No wonder the Travancore kings of a bygone era used to stay in this place when summer peaked along the plains. It is not just the climate, the nature around has always been so enchanting. So, between Thekkady and Mullaperiyar, they built a stone mansion at a verdant place beyond Edappalayam. Once kings ceased to be rulers and democracy set in, the royal structure became a tourists' bungalow. It takes only a 15-minute boat-ride from the lake shore to reach the entrance of the palace.
On reaching the place, Saji and Pradeep await guests as caretakers of the Lake Palace. Behind them are lawns that are divided by a flight of stairs that go up to the mansion. Its terrace area on the front sports the emblem of the erstwhile Tranvancore of present-day southern Kerala. The portico is semi-circular. Two more lounges exist on both sides. A longish veranda exists from the western end to the eastern room. The architecture gracing the eaves and wooden matrices supporting the roof is suggestive of royal eminence.
In the largely open drawing room, guests sit by the side of a window. It's now the office of the Lake Palace. With chandeliers hanging from the roof, it features portraits of later-generation members of the royal family, besides pairs of elephant tusk that symbolise their valour. The drawing room leads to the dining room, where guests are served food.
The bedrooms, total six, are all plush. Technically, they are three-star, with the eminent-looking almirahs, lamps, walls, and ceiling. Of the six imperial rooms, number 44 that opens its doors to the scenes around the lake is most favoured by the visitors. In the peak summer months of April-May, one can see from here herds of elephants walking down to the lake. One can also click images of the spotted deer that reach the place in misty mornings.
Deluxe Heritage Wildlife Resort. That is the name of the KTDC hotel offering a package of three days and two nights for tourists who can camp either in lake-view room or the premium rooms. There is the 'jungle holiday package' and the 'jungle monsoon package' that features three meals, boat-ride, and trekking. For those booking online, there is a 15 per cent discount, informs Abi Chandran, manager of the hotel.
The restaurant serves south Indian, Chinese, and continental food at the hotel that also has facilities such as money exchange, ayurvedic spa, and allopathic doctor's service. What's more, the WiFi connection in the island around the 925-sqkm tiger reserve forest (as declared since 1976) is so strong that Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages are as fast as in any metro city of the country.
Besides trekking and boat-ride, visitors can enjoy elephant ride, raft rowing, jeep safari, and a spice plantation tour. Overall, if the place was host to summer houses of the erstwhile British viceroys and governors, it is also because it looks like a slice of Europe.
How to reach
The boating centre at the Thekkady lake is 3 km away from Kumily town. From there, the Lake Palace takes 15 minutes to reach on a boat. Package 3 days 2 nights. Check-in time: 12 noon. For more details: www.ktdc.com