‘If there is a heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here’
Emperor Jahangir might have called Kashmir a heaven on earth but there are many versions of paradise and it is no exaggeration that the Spice Village resort was truly my kind of garden of Eden.
Spice Village is a part of the CGH Earth Hotels group. It is located in the village of Kumily, Thekkady in the highlands of the Idukki district of Kerala, India.
I was delighted to be a guest of the Spice Village resort during my media tour which was organised as a run up to the Kerala Travel Mart KTM2018 held in Cochin, Kerala, India from Sep 28th-30th, 2018.
We arrived at the resort at lunch time after a 5 hour drive from our earlier stay at Kumarakom Lake Resort.
Enjoy this paradisaical garden with me as I relive my memories of a resort that pleased me greatly in so many ways.
About the CGH Earth group of hotels –
Starting out in 1954 as the Casino Group of Hotels, the CGH Earth has evolved into a collection of hotels and resorts that stand for an environment friendly values, are inspired by nature, respect and safeguard heritage and bear a commitment to the local community. The abbreviation now aptly expands to Clean Green Healthy Earth and every one of its properties attempts to bear a theme related to the distinctive characteristics of the local region.
About Spice Village –
Spice Village is the representative of the CGH Earth in the highlands of Thekkady. Located in the tiny but spice rich village of Kumily, this 12 acre resort that came into existence in 1991, is designed to represent a tribal village with its cottages built on the lines of the tribal huts of the local Manan community … but of course featuring modern comforts within.
Environment sensitivity being the key focus of all CGH Earth hotels, the Spice Village too follows this ethos, with their commitment to the cause, making itself seen and felt in various ingenious ways that are truly endearing.
In fact they lean towards green to such an extent that it manifests itself everywhere, including their furnishings and even in the staff uniforms, which are an elegant shade of khaki green.
The logo of the resort is the rarely used Malayalam letter pronouced ‘iru’ (there is no suitable spelling in english to indicate the sound). This is the same letter that is used in the word Rishi.
It represents a desire to stay connected to the past while simultaneously progressing into the future, which is what the resort stands for.
The logo also forms the pendant of the welcome garland and is made of recycled paper.
The property has been the recipient of several awards including National Tourism awards, Kerala State Tourism awards, Green Globe award, awards from the Outlook group and even Pollution control awards in various categories related to environmental sensitivity and sustainable tourism.
In fact during our stay, they had freshly brought home the latest trophy which we had the pleasure of viewing as it basked in a garland of jasmine … The Green Hotel of the Year 2018.
There are a total of 52 cottages that are located amidst the many trees and plants that are widespread on the land. 47 are standard cottages and 5 deluxe.
The sun dappled rooms make for a delightful photo op as they peek through the trees in the early morning rays.
The building at the far end of the resort, looks straight out of a fairy tale, beautified by the ivy that clings to its stone walls and ensconces the exterior.
In keeping with the tribal and forest theme, all the cottages are thatched with elephant grass that is woven by the local villagers. The roof is redone every 5 years.
Earthy terracotta tiles line the floor and the rooms do not have air conditioning, the need for which is never felt due to the cooling effect of the thatched roofing.
The simple pine wood furniture in the rooms is fashioned from recycled old wooden crates sourced from nearby seaports.
Most of the material has been obtained from near by distances, thus enabling a lighter footprint on the already overburdened earth.
Herbal toiletries are provided in the bathrooms including an interesting body scrubber made from natural material.
All the doors have the endearing old fashioned latches and regular keys (not electronic cards) to secure the locks.
Standard cottages –
These are spacious with a large bedroom cum sitting area and a bathroom with shower cubicle. They also feature a small porch.
What I missed here was a full length mirror.
Deluxe cottages –
These are suites with a separate living room, a large bedroom with a elaborate 4 poster bed, a bathroom with a bath tub, a full length mirror, a large porch and a private garden with seating.
There are 2 restaurants and one bar on the premises.
The Tamarind Tree is the 130 seater multi cuisine dining option that serves the buffet meals of the day.
What I loved about the food was that there were always a few dishes at every meal, that utilized the ingredients grown on the property. The element of the local gave a very unique touch to the fare. We had mixed vegetable soup, fresh pomelo salad, cucumbers and carrots, winged bean fritters, desserts with guava, jackfruit and passionfruit, pickles made from kokum and other fruit and many other items that used home grown produce.
A blackboard keeps the guests updated on current ‘farm news’ and also indicates what dishes are being served at that meal, using their garden ingredients.
Spices being the star of the show in ‘Spice’ village, there is an emphasis on cooking with fresh herbs and spices and there is an ever present array of jars of honey that are infused with pepper, ginger, garlic and even fruit like jack and pomegranate.
After a chat with the Executive chef Jerry, I learnt that they are so very conscious about what they serve and aim to use as few refined ingredients as possible. There is an exclusive use of wholegrain in all their breads and breakfast pastries. No refined flour (maida) is used even in their cookies and other tea time bakes. They also use millets and other wholesome grains in their dosas and other Indian breads. Jaggery is encouraged as a sweetener and there is minimal use of white sugar.
All meals here were an absolute delight and there was always something unique to look forward to.
Everyone’s favorite dessert was the sun dried Kerala banana, naturally sweet and delightfully chewy and present at every meal.
The meals are accompanied by live music at night. The mellifluous notes of the resident flautist, fills the air with the strains of the flute through the day.
The 50 Mile Diet is a smaller restaurant that operates only during the high season. The uniqueness of this is that it serves fare made from ingredients that are sourced from withing 50 miles (80 km) of the resort. This focuses mainly on organic, local and healthy fare.
The Woodhouse bar is named after the first forest ranger of Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, A W Woods who was a notable personality and was even considered to be responsible for creating the sanctuary.
The current bar was actually his residence and the property was bought from his family.
The walls are covered with glimpses of his life and times in the form of several framed ancient and well preserved photos, including one of the good ranger himself who continues to gaze down at the proceedings with a rather stern expression. The saloon bears a colonial aura, enhanced by the large billiards table that occupies most of the space.
Environment sensitivity –
The resort adopts various means to achieve a high level of eco-friendliness and commitment to the local community.
There is minimal use of plastic.
Glass bottles are used in rooms and filled with purified water.
Dust bins are lined with cloth bags instead of plastic.
There is no air conditioning in the cottages and the thatched grass roof ensures that it is not missed.
Recycled, handmade paper is used in all their communication including notepads, data forms and even the welcome garland.
Pens fashioned out of paper are provided in the rooms.
Solar panels provide most of the power to the resort.
Chemical free and herbal toiletries are provided in the bathrooms.
100% natural pest control is resorted to, including mosquito breeding water traps.
Vegetables and other cooking ingredients are bought from the local housewives, local vendors and also from their own staff who are encouraged to grow them, free of chemical pesticides.
The organic farm on the property grows a lot of produce that is used in their kitchen.
They perform their own composting.
There is no usage of chemicals in the Swimming pool.
And what I found most fascinating were the drinking straws that were actually tiny hollow stems of bamboo from their garden, which were carefully sliced into straw lengths and served as a one time use.
And when I am enraptured I usually break out into poetry 😀
Titled – Light at the end of the straw tunnel
Do you fear for Mother Earth’s plight
That all the plastic will choke her tight ?
Do such musings give you a fright ?
Can you see a solution in sight ?
In a noble bid to make things right
Spice Village contributes its mite
As I witnessed with sheer delight
Bamboo straws in the drinks that night
These hollow reeds from nature’s site
Make one less plastic straw to fight
The problem may now seem infinite
As we clutch at Straws with all our might
But change from within, we must ignite
With simple ideas, we must unite
Take tiny steps, to make big things right
And at the tunnel’s end, there will be light !!!
Features and Facilities –
Trees and plants – the resort has a commendable variety of fruit trees, spices and flowering plants that drove a fruit lover like me, crazy with excitement. Jackfruit, mango, kokom, mangosteen, figs, langsat, loquat, cherries, guavas, chikoos, pomelo, cocoa etc can be spotted.
They grow spices like ginger, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, all spice and basically everything 😀
Several flowering plants add color to the garden and attract butterflies and bees.
Organic farm – a 2 acre farm that grows seasonal vegetables and herbs that are used in the resort’s restaurant.
Drinking water bottling plant – where rainwater is purified and filled in sterilized glass bottles for drinking purposes.
Wi Fi – available throughout the property.
Ayurveda and Spa –
With a qualified Doctor in charge, there are treatments that are suggested as per individual needs. 16 types of traditional treatments are available and there are 4 treatment/massage rooms. Their massages are based on the Kalaripayatu system, where 2 masseurs simultaneously perform synchronized massaging.
Yoga and pranayama sessions are conducted every morning.
Tiger club – Which does not refer to a place where tigers meet to socialize over a drink 😀 but is an experience and interpretation center which houses all the paraphernalia related to the Periayar Tiger Reserve and where 30 minute, repeat running slide shows can be viewed to get an idea about the activities one can explore in the wildlife sanctuary.
Swimming pool – is unique in that there are no chemicals used whatsoever and the water is purified by a process called oxidization, resulting in water that is as pure as mineral water.
The other features on the property are a Boutique shop that sells local handicrafts, Effluent treatment plant, Solar panels etc.
Pepper Vine – is a very informative 30 minute walk around the property that takes place at 10am and 4pm, where the in house naturalist will lead guests around and explain all about the plants, fruits and herbs. He also takes the guests to the organic farm, demonstrates paper making, explains about their water bottling process and gives an idea about all the eco friendly initiatives adopted by the resort.
Cultural show – a 45 minute performance showcasing traditional dances like Bharathnatyam, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam etc performed by local artistes. It was quite amazing to watch the Kuchipudi dancer perform with her feet confined to the rim of a brass plate, with a rhythmic pattern referred to as the Tharangam.
Cooking demonstration – a 45 minute demonstration that is themed around cooking Kerala dishes using spices. The chef cooks the dish while the naturalist explains the role of the particular spice that is being used. Guests can give their mail ids in order to receive the full set of recipes.
Handmade paper – Make your own paper with the help of the friendly staff who show guide you through the process. Old newspapers are soaked and pulped in a grinding machine. The pulp is poured through a net where the moisture is strained out. The remnant is pressed using a heavy weight and dry leaves are sometimes embedded into it to form a pattern. This is then inverted out and left to dry. Once dried the leaf is extricated, leaving behind a sheet of paper with a pretty design.
Girish our guide, presented us with our own sheets of handmade paper with a pressed leaf design, a treasured gift indeed.
Some of the other activities available are badminton, tennis, basketball, cycling etc.
My Experience –
Personally I was happy to just walk around among the plants and trees and revel in nature, trigger happy with my camera. I was very lucky to be able obtain a shot of the resident Malabar Giant Squirrel that was engrossed in decimating a large ripe jackfruit while his more diminutive cousins stayed sensibly on the side, waiting for the big guy to have his fill before they went in for their share. Many thanks to Sebastian from Spice Village for pointing out the fella to us.
A flock of Guinea fowl also inhabit the place and the restless birds take some chasing before photos can be obtained 😀
The village of Kumily and its surroundings hold a host of options for the tourist, which include a visit to the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, tea plantations, spice gardens, rubber estates etc.
One can also watch classical performances like Kathakali and Kalaripayatu and there are shows at various centers in the town.
Kumily itself has a lot of interesting shopping options for lovers of spices and local crafts.
Read more about all this in detail in my next post Kumily, Thekkady – Things to do.
Getting there –
Spice Village is 145 km from Madurai Airport and 190 km from Cochin International Airport.
The nearest Railway station is at Kottayam, 107 kms away and Kodai Road, 123 kms away.
Pre paid taxis would be the most convenient way to get to the resort from these places.
There is also a bus stand at Kumily 1.5 km away, that connects to a few important cities.
Booking and contact –
+91 4869 302555
+91 484 4261711
On this trip I was hosted by the Kerala Travel Mart Society and partnering hotels, as a media invitee and I thank them for the hospitality. My narration is based on the inputs I received from various sources as well as my personal experiences.
Sep 22nd-29th, 2018