A charm­ing colo­nial boat­yard comes with a hint of old spice

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - ROOM AT THE INN Susan Kuro­sawa

THE bed is high and old-fash­ioned with a striped hand-loomed quilt and on the red-tiled bath­room floor stands a wash­basin the size of a laun­dry tub. There are tim­ber and rat­tan chairs, a tall ar­moire and a small writ­ing desk; it’s not a glam­orous room but it doesn’t need to be. The real at­trac­tions here are the har­bour­side lo­ca­tion and mar­itime views.

Kochi, in the south­west In­dian state of Ker­ala, sits within a uni­verse of wa­ter, and no ho­tel gives such an im­me­di­ate flavour of old Fort Cochin’s his­tory and sheer in­dus­try than the 22-room Brunton Boat­yard. They don’t build ves­sels here any more but you could cut away the crow-re­pelling mesh on your bal­cony and prac­ti­cally dive into one.

Set up by Ge­orge Brunton and his sons William and Jack in the 19th cen­tury as a ship­build­ing yard, this re­con­sti­tuted three­storey build­ing, with lime­washed walls and ter­ra­cotta-tiled roof, opened as a ho­tel in 1999 and it fairly hums with his­tory.

There are punkah fans cool­ing the long colon­nades, teak and ma­hogany spice chests that still smell faintly of cin­na­mon and cloves, rat­tan furniture and cab­i­nets of cu­riosi­ties. Por­tuguese mus­kets and Dutch maps point to the colo­nial his­tory of this fa­bled spice-trad­ing port.

A mas­sive red-flow­er­ing rain tree casts deep mul­berry shade over a cen­tral court­yard. A wa­ter­side pool is framed with palms and a bougainvil­lea hedge; ad­join­ing it is a jetty, gaily dec­o­rated with pots of gera­ni­ums, from which sun­set cruises (free for guests) depart daily at 5.30pm. Th­ese sail­ings pro­vide good an­gles to pho­to­graph the teak and bam­boo swing-and-sway Chi­nese fish­ing nets crouched like pray­ing man­tises be­side Vasco da Gama Square and rows of wa­ter­front ware­houses, the once grand repos­i­to­ries of tea, coir and pre­cious spices.

Near Brunton Boat­yard’s pool are white metal ta­bles and chairs on a groomed lawn and th­ese pro­vide an ideal perch for sip­ping fresh lime so­das or yo­ghurt lassi drinks and watch­ing the boats and fer­ries pass along the ship­ping chan­nel.

I spend a morn­ing thus en­sconced and see dol­phin fins dip­ping and pas­sen­ger fer­ries chug­ging by with names of the ilk of Santa Maria. A car ferry slides past car­ry­ing rows of auto-rick­shaws and im­per­illed Am­bas­sador cars, once the sturdy ve­hi­cle of choice for higher-ups but now over­shad­owed by Korean com­pacts and ele­phan­tine four-wheel drives.

In the side gar­den of the ho­tel is an Ayurvedic cen­tre where treat­ments ad­dress all man­ner of ail­ments, from stiff joints and back­aches to mi­graine and si­nusi­tis. The aim is cu­ra­tive, rather than con­ven­tional spa pam­per­ing, but a few well-priced beauty ther­a­pies are on of­fer, such as a face mas­sage with oils and a herbal-paste mask, which costs the equiv­a­lent of about $12.

Brunton Boat­yard is a mem­ber of CGH Earth, a well-es­tab­lished In­dian com­pany spe­cial­is­ing in re­sorts that dis­play ‘‘ min­i­mal in­ter­fer­ence with na­ture or the lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment, with­out com­pro­mis­ing on lux­ury’’. Most of its Ayurvedic re­treats and small ho­tels are in Ker­ala and the range in­cludes Co­conut La­goon by Vem­banad Lake in Ku­marakom (her­itage bun­ga­lows and private pool vil­las) and Spice Vil­lage in Peri­yar (bam­boo and ele­phant grass cot­tages in a plan­ta­tion set­ting).

Also con­sider a rice­boat cruise for a night or two around the back­wa­ters and bird-busy lakes of Ker­ala; it’s the per­fect book­end ex­pe­ri­ence to a stay at Brunton Boat­yard where one’s toes are all but dipped into the wash of the Ara­bian Sea. Susan Kuro­sawa was a guest of Aber­crom­bie & Kent.

Check­list

Brunton Boat­yard, Fort Cochin, Ker­ala, In­dia. Phone +91 484 221 5461; www.cg­hearth.com. Tar­iff: From 6000 ru­pees ($145) a dou­ble a night plus 15 per cent tax. Check­ing in: Guests from across the world, mostly in­de­pen­dent trav­ellers. Get­ting there: About 40km from Cochin air­port; air­lines such as Jet Air­ways fly daily from Mumbai and other main cities in In­dia. Wheel­chair ac­cess: Ground-floor rooms avail­able; a small lift up to top floors. Bed­time read­ing: TheMoor’sLastSigh by Salman Rushdie, partly set in Fort Cochin. Step­ping out: For a his­toric ram­ble in Fort Cochin, head to the old quar­ter of Jew Town, with its his­toric syn­a­gogue and an­tiques stores, and the Dutch Palace. Lunch be­side pink frangi­pa­nis in the de­light­ful court­yard cafe at Mal­abar House and have an af­ter­noon cuppa at the Tea Pot on Peter­celli Street. Aber­crom­bie & Kent of­fers ex­cur­sions in Ker­ala, in­clud­ing rice­boat cruises: www.aber­crom­biekent.com.au. Brick­bats: The food at the ho­tel’s His­tory restau­rant is a very odd mix of Por­tuguese, Bri­tish and In­dian flavours. (There’s bet­ter eat­ing at the Ter­race Grill, where fresh seafood is pre­pared with earthy spices, or even from the cheap room-ser­vice menu, which boasts ‘‘ munchies’’ and ‘‘ fairy eats’’.) The wa­ter traf­fic starts early: pre­pare to be wo­ken by toots and hoots. Bou­quets: A lit­tle foot stool is pro­vided to board one’s high four-poster bed; an au­then­tic sense of his­tory with no in­ap­pro­pri­ate flour­ishes; ev­ery room has a wa­ter view (those at the pub­lic ferry wharf end could be noisy).

Pic­ture: Susan Kuro­sawa

Bed above wa­ter: Brunton Boat­yard in Ker­ala hums with his­tory

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