A grandiose palace in the wilderness of Thekkady

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There are some heavens on earth that can take your breath away. These ethereal abodes should not be visited once but time and again to imbibe their pure essence. Once such elysian spot is tucked away in the lust green forest of Thekkady in Kerala.

German professor Hans and wife Carey are regular visitors to this heavenly place for the past 4 to 5 years. Invariably every February they check into this spectacular facility and stay there for one month.

And they love to while away their time reading, writing, and listening to the chirping of birds. The couple is living the moment with some fresh air in the backdrop of an exquisite lake. Hans is an octogenarian and Carey is in her 50s, and the nature has laid out a romantic paradise for them.

Hans is at peace with this beautiful spot and says that it has given him a new vigour. A 3-month job can be wrapped up in just 15 days when Hans is at this heaven on earth. The list of regular visitors to this wonderful destination includes Malayalam actor Jayaram and Tamil actor Vikram.

And the sought-after magical abode on the lap of Mother Nature is Lake Palace, Thekkady in Idukki district. A 15-minute boat journey from the boat landing space near the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation's (KTDC) Aranya Nivas will take you to islet-like patch of land in the lake. But it is not an islet as the lush forest hugs the rear side of the land formation.

One should express gratitude to the Travancore royal family for putting in place some amazing summer palaces across the state as each visitor hopping on to these marvels of architecture is transported to a different era.

The summer palace in Thekkady, which is known as 'Edapalayam' palace, was built circa 1927 when Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, who was a minor, reigned under the regency of Sethu Lakhsmi Bayi.

Aswathi Thirunal Gouri Lakhmi Bayi, along with her family members, now visits the Lake Palace once in a year for two to three days. The royal family member shares a delightful experience she had with feathered friends long ago, with the Lake Place staff. A flock of birds used to come as 'guests' at seven in the morning and everyone in the palace was treated to a six-minute 'musical concert' by the warblers. And later they would fly off without a notice. But somewhere down the line, the birds stopped coming to the palace.

Lake Palace is in the safe hands of KTDC as the corporation is providing top-notch service to the guests and keeping the palace in good shape. You would only find smiling faces around once you check into Lake Palace.

Lake Palace only has six rooms with numbers – 11, 22, 33, 44, 55 and 66. Out of these, the rooms 11 and 22 were part of the original palace and other rooms were added later. When it comes to room with the best view, room 44 wins hands down. The panoramic view of the greenery and lake from the room is something out of the world.

The airy rooms have a whiff of history. In the front yard of the palace, a tree, which is part of the Ashoka tree family, stands tall.

Alappuzha-native Pradeep, who had been working at Lake Palace for 18 years, is a storehouse of 'Edapalayam' stories. At times he broods over whether he wasted his life on palace corridors. But Pradeep says that he only became richer by loving the nature, the flora and fauna and telling tales of wilderness to the guests.

"I am not a staff member but a sentinel of the forest," he notes.

Actor Jayaram, his family and relatives came to stay at the palace about 15 years ago, after his son Kalidasan essayed an award-winning role as a child artiste in 'Ente Veedu Appuvinteyum.' When night fell Jayram asked Pradeep to narrate a forest-related ghost story and the latter obliged. The next morning Jayaram told Pradeep that the ghost story had a telling effect on all his family members and relatives forcing them to sleep in one room.

Noted Tamil actor Vikram and his family have also been on the guest list of Lake Palace many a time.

There is also a self-proclaimed 'heir' to the palace – a tusker. The 35-year-old jumbo jumps the barricades and come to the palace premises and relish mangoes. The pachyderm is friendly with the staff and has never attacked anyone.

One can see 'Thampuran thuruthu,' a small islet, which is 40 m away from Lake Palace, and this piece of land can be seen only in the months of June and July. When the palace was under construction, the royal family members used to stay on the islet to oversee the work, and that might be reason why it is called 'Thampuran thuruthu.'

India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and daughter Indira Gandhi had also graced the palace with their presence.

Three hotels, including Lake Palace, in the Periyar Tiger Reserve is under the watchful eyes of Benoy Pukilethu Prabhakaran, who hails from Angamaly. The other two facilities are Aranya Nivas and Periyar House. He is also a nature lover whose passion is wildlife photography. Benoy is at his work desk even during this current lockdown.

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