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Responsibly yours / Gramam, Kochi

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If you have to showcase responsible tourism practices the way it should be – a collective effort – then frame this one. All the seafood, vegetables, egg, coconut, oil and fruits used in the homestay are produced locally ensuring benefit for the entire village. In the three-acre coconut farm surrounding the property no chemical fertiliser or pesticide is used; the kitchen itself uses biogas for its cooking. Whitewashing of the house is done with locally produced lime. Toddy – the local liquor – from fermented coconut or palm is promoted as the healthier alternative, which it is. Fishing being the mainstay occupation of the village, mechanised boats are discouraged in the backwaters next to the homestay. This is Gramam Homestay (Neduveli House) belonging to Jos Byju and wife Lyma in the Kumbalangi village in Kochi outskirts. Even the name ‘Gramam’ (meaning ‘village’) is evocative of the whole village than the homestay per se.

This sense of collectiveness, the community harmony, is necessary for the success of any responsible tourism initiative. Kumbalangi village was among the select locations where rural tourism initiatives were launched by the state tourism department back in 2008; the role played by Gramam (the homestay) here is a commendable one. The whole village which lines the ecologically fragile banks of the backwaters has realised that myopic, mindless development will be catastrophic and everybody seems to be well-versed in the basics of sustainable practices. That is not to say hospitality and tourists take a backseat. Here too, the whole village comes forward together to make you feel like king. Or god.

Guests residing at Gramam have the first say; you get to pick the juiciest lobster or crab or the biggest prawn before they are packed and iced off to nearby markets. Byju is the resident expert who will teach you to assess freshness from the red of the gill; Lyma will then explain the different preparations – curried or fried, spicy or with coconut milk. Her fish moilee (a gobsmacking preparation of fish cooked in coconut milk) and appam (rice hopper) are out-of-this-world. When it comes to curries, you might want to remind your hosts to go easy on the spice, though.

The responsible outlook is reflected even in the number of guests at the homestay any given time which is kept to the basic minimum. The Gramam includes two accommodations in the sprawling, sandy coconut plantation: The Cottage and the Lake View Room. The Cottage is right next to the backwaters and used to be an old coconut farm house which was renovated and converted to a homestay for those looking for privacy. The Lake View Room is a stand-alone wing of the main house itself where Byju and Lyma stay. Both accommodations have wide open verandas where you can while away a lazy afternoon. All the rooms are spotlessly clean and furnished with antique furniture, bamboo knick-knacks, western toilets and walk-in showers. The Cottage has a kitchenette with solar-powered water heaters and a fridge making it an ideal choice for staying with family.

Bearing tall testimony – quite literally as well – to the sustainable practices that make Gramam stand out is the 200-year old mango tree known locally as ‘Chandanakaran.’ The tallest tree in the whole village, everybody talks about ‘Chandanakaran’ as if it were a living person. Which you will also find, it is.

Practical information

  • Address: ‘Gramam,’ Neduveli House, North Kumbalangi, Kochi
  • Telephone: +91 484 2240278, +91 9447177312
  • Website / Contact email: www.keralagramam.com, info@keralagramam.com
  • Nearest airport / Distance: Kochi International Airport / 45km
  • Tariff: Both the rooms are double occupancy and prices start from Rs 3,500 onwards

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Facilities

  • Number of rooms: Two very spacious rooms with very large twin beds, well-maintained and kept spotlessly clean. Attached toilets come with western fittings and walk-in showers.
  • Air-conditioning / heating: No
  • Hot and cold water: Yes
  • Food/restaurant/kitchen: Lyma, Byju’s wife is the in-charge of cooking. She does a mean Kerala meal – a ‘thali’ which is an assortment of different curries, chutneys, pickles, rice and topped with dessert. You can also have your choice of fish or any other seafood which is the fresh catch of the day and have it prepared your way by Lyma. Washed down with Kerala toddy, waking up from the afternoon siesta can be a happy ordeal. Breakfast is also typical Kerala – puttu (steamed rice cake) and bananas or egg curry. On request Continental food is also served.
  • Telephone: Yes
  • Internet: Provided on request
  • Swimming pool: No
  • Child friendly: The homestay by the backwater is a perfect holiday spot to bring your children along. But make sure you book The Cottage as it has a bigger surrounding area and a larger veranda. However keep an eye on the kids for this accommodation is just a stone throw away from the backwater.
  • Credit card payment facility: No
  • Airport pick up and drop: On request

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Activities / Places to see / Things to do

  • Visit a nearby Kerala ‘nalukettu’ (typically a traditional house with a large courtyard) which is 350 years old where a family still resides and lights a lamp every evening at the ‘kaavu’ or sacred cove dedicated to the snake god.
  • Boat along the serene backwaters or take in a slice of the rural countryside on a bicycle.
  • If you are missing the sea, a visit to the Marari Beach is recommended – a quiet beach, not yet touristy.
  • Byju will be happy to take you to the fish farm nearby; it’s here you decide on your lunch menu most of the time. Pick the basics of shrimp and prawn farming too.
  • The homestay arranges special kathakali or kalaripayattu performances on request.
  • Cooking classes in traditional Kerala cuisine can also be arranged on request.
  • Hop into Fort Kochi – just 9km from Kumbalangi – for a visit to the famous Chinese fishing nets, Spice Market, Synagogue, the Mattancherry Palace, etc.

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