Sunlight through old wooden doors

Back to the basicsThe house and its premises offer a peaceful break from the bustle of the cityPhotos : K. Pradeep  

Green—in the pond, on the trees, in the undergrowth, on the pathway—lightens and darkens on the sun’s whims. Silence—still and deep—is at times broken by crickets and other insects and bird calls. At Kunnathuveedu these are the two prime things to look out for. And caterpillars. The floor and part of the front wall of the ancient mansion has been colonised by hairy caterpillars ( choriyan puzhu ). “They are harmless and just need to be ignored; they appear after a spell of rain and disappear soon enough,” informs M. J. Joseph, showing us around the property. Joseph is the director, South India Operations of Praxis, the organisation that has bought Kunnathuveedu, an ancestral house at Vaniyamkulam in Ottapalam and converted it into a heritage retreat called Tharavad.

Preserving ancient charm

Renovation took over a year-and-a-half on the 150 year-old-building, as the organisation wanted to preserve the ancient charm of the structure. So, the heavy wooden doors with wood and brass bolts have been left intact. “We have restored parts of the walls, the roof and the floor. The wood had to be replaced in the doors and the roof,” Joseph says. The floors are a shining black and red. “It is difficult to find people who still work with red/black oxide. But, we did not want to take away from the rustic appeal,” he says. Praxis, a development support organisation based in Delhi, acquired the heritage building and restored it, pitching it as a retreat centre where corporate groups or large families can have get-togethers or workshops.

The three-storied house, which once housed an enormous family, has large and small bed rooms, spacious corridors, giant stairways, a kitchen, a dining room, an ample courtyard ( nadumuttam ) and an attic—the perfect setting for a story to unfold. Local lore surrounding the house has a colourful appendix—the trapdoors and secret chambers in it offered hiding spaces for soldiers who were fighting against Tipu Sultan’s men. Tharavad is also one of Malayalam cinema’s favourite locations. From the Jayaram starrer Meleparambil Aanveedu to Mammootty’s Arayannangalude Veedu and more recently, Anjali Menon’s Manjadikkuru, directors have utilised the house and its premises to good effect. Around 60 films have been shot here.

Tasteful modernisation

Spread over eight-and-a-half acres, the property includes three natural ponds, two kulappura s (a room adjoining the pond) and a padippura (a gateway). The ponds have been restored and the one at the farthest end of the plot has been opened for public use. One of the highlights of Tharavad is that its attempts at modernisation are not in-the-face. The tiled roof has been retained and the rooms have been attached with toilets/bathrooms, without interfering with the structure of the building. Apart from eight double rooms, it has four single rooms and a dormitory. Not all rooms are air-conditioned. “With all the greenery around and great cross ventilation that has been provided for, even the summers here are generally cool,” Joseph says. Though it is ideal for 16 people to occupy on a twin-sharing basis, it can easily accommodate up to 35 people at a time, says Joseph. For a small group, of say three-four people, it could get a little lonely, Joseph warns.

Food is a simple home-cooked affair consisting of rice, traditional curries and chicken for the non-vegetarians. The caretakers would cook for the group which is staying, but the more elaborate meals would be sourced from outside.

A walk around the house is a Nature tour in itself, sort of a spa for the soul—making friends with bees and butterflies, trees and fresh earth. And the caterpillars, of course.

Vaniyamkulam is approximately seven km from Ottapalam. For details, contact: 0466-2226267.