There are some sounds you must like before coming to Kayal Island Retreat. Rustling palms, chirping birds, and the song of the cicadas. But, most of all, you must like the sound of your thoughts, because that will be the loudest of all. Perched on the banks of Vembanad Lake, Kayal Island Retreat is a meditative space.
It’s located on Kakkathuruthu – the island of crows – named after its former inhabitants, just a half-hour drive (22km) from Fort Kochi and a 10-minute ride on a powdery blue canoe from the Kudapuram Jetty. Though the island is now home to 300 families, many of them farmers and fisherfolk leading the simple life (though most of their offspring now hold day jobs in the city), this bite-sized boutique resort feels completely isolated. This is the sort of place where the cell phone signal is iffy at best, where cloudy skies create dramatic reflections on the lake, the green verges on fluorescent, and staying in means ticking off all the books on your reading list. In short, it’s where you go when you want to disconnect and recharge for a bit.
Two years ago, founder Maneesha Panicker turned this abandoned former artist’s residency on the backwaters into a luxury retreat. Rooms are decorated with cute curiosities and black-and-white photographs of the locals, and have outdoor bathrooms that are roomy enough to rain-dance in. But don’t hole up inside – the lush village deserves exploration. Head out for winding strolls and you’ll observe locals going about their day. If you’re lucky, you might spot the toddy tapper high up in the tree, or the fishermen building dykes around natural fish farms. Follow the path behind the retreat to the island’s singular grocery shop and stop off for a jeera soda – possibly the only purchase you’ll make while you’re here.
Instead, you’ll spend days on the woven chairs overlooking the lake, taking in the sublime view and marvelling at the odd neighbour floating past in a sari blouse and skirt, catching fish with her bare hands. Each day a local makes pit stops to every home to pick up each family’s catch and pays them for their efforts. Wake early one morning for a canoe ride (included with your stay) along the lake, through winding canals swathed in green and wider expanses, and past paddy fields and brightly-painted local homes with boats in matching colours. If you’re adept at recognising birds, there are a quite a few to observe in addition to the ubiquitous crow.
Look out for elegant cranes and brilliant blue kingfishers. Follow your boat ride up with an hour-long morning yoga session and, once you’re limber and ravenous, make your way to the waterfront dining area for a hearty breakfast of something local – spicy kadala (chickpea) curry and swirly idiyappam (rice hoppers), or boiled kappa (tapioca) smeared with crushed chilli and shallots in coconut oil. The resort prides itself on its simple, home-style cuisine and the produce it uses is fresh and largely organic. Lunches and dinner, more often than not, include the day’s catch and are usually communal, so you can have conversations with other guests if that’s your thing and, indeed, if there are any others.
GREAT FROM: Bangalore, Ernakulam, Trivandrum
GREAT FOR: Pulling a disappearing act
WHERE TO STAY
Kayal Island Retreat: Accessible only by boat, this is a small property, offering four cute rooms, two large and two cosy and two communal areas to relax in. The amenities are few but the staff is warm and accommodating.
WHERE TO EAT
Meals at Kayal Island Retreat are bountiful, homestyle and a necessity, as there aren’t any options on the island itself. Expect Kerala specialties such as avial, pachadi and thoran, plus fabulous fresh seafood caught by local fisherfolk. Inform them in advance that you’ll be joining them for meals. Kudapuram Toddy Shop by the pier on the mainland sells karimeen (pearl spot) fried to perfection and fluffy appams to go with glasses of toddy – a heady fermented brew. It’s best visited for lunch on arrival or departure.
There’s not much by way of shopping here unless you count the tiny stall selling veggies, toothbrushes and locally-bottled jeera soda. Follow the path behind the resort.
WHAT TO PACK
Clothing in light fabrics, plenty of mosquito repellant, a light pullover for the night
CLEAN LOO GUIDE
It’s not a terribly long journey, so use the airport facilities.
The island is peaceful and safe, but be cautious around the water.
First-aid is provided at the resort. The closest medical facility, Moham Hospital in Eramalloor, is a 10-minute boat ride and a five-minute drive from the mainland jetty (00-91-478-2564376). For major medical emergencies, it’s best to make your way to Ernakulam.
Kids will love the boat rides and the open play space. Don’t forget to pack their favourite books or games to keep them occupied.