April 2017

After 4 days in chaotic yet charming New Delhi, we chose to skip the big cities most tourists and bloggers focus on, and found ourselves traveling to Kochi, Kerala. There, a two-hour car drive from the airport, our first Indian sustainable luxury hotel was waiting for us: Vasundhara Sarovar. We got picked up at the airport by the hotel’s driver and two hours later arrived at the magnificent Vasundhara Sarovar. Kerala reminded me so much of Bali! A complete 180-degree transformation from New Delhi. No honking, no foggy skies, no people rushing through the streets. Kerala felt like a piece of sustainable heaven. Green islands, water covered by bamboo boats, palm trees, and narrow streets.  And our hotel….God our hotel! Nature embraces Vasundhara Sarovar entirely! From the lake and river behind it, to the herb garden with over 200 Ayurvedic herbs- which are used in the restaurant’s recipes and holistic spa- to the hotel's eco-friendly design, and their colorful morning flower offerings. This hotel is a wonderful combination of luxury and sustainability with 60 rooms designed with Mother Nature in mind using local and reclaimed materials, appliances that are energy efficient, natural and cruelty-free bath products, a boat made of bamboo and coconut fiber to take guests on a tour of Kerala's waters, and a restaurant with a vast variety of plant-based options.

Once again, my brother and I were welcomed with a necklace made of fresh flowers, a delicious fruit juice, and bindi powder for our foreheads. For our first day, we decided to enjoy the hotel to the fullest, starting with a mouthwatering plant-based lunch the hotel had prepared for us. Imagine a fusion of colors, culture, spices, art, and love. All the love, energy and smiles Indian Chefs put into the food they prepare! The restaurant was also worth admiring. It was decorated with huge old maps, old spices, coconut wood floors, and reclaimed pieces (like the umbrellas they used as décor). After lunch, we walked to the spa where we received Ayurvedic treaments. In case you haven’t heard of Ayurveda, it is entirely focused on healing the body and mind with the help of nature. Nature and nature only! The treatment I received was called “ Sirodhara”. It began with hand and feet bath and a 30-minute massage, and ended with the most wonderful mind relaxation through the technique of pouring natural oils directly into my third eye with a steady stream of decoction. After the treatment, I spent 10 minutes in a steam capsule completely made out of wood! To say that this Ayurvedic treatment was relaxing would be a total understatement. It was pure, beautiful bliss!

The next morning, right after an 8am breakfast, Shaji (hotel’s manager and our right hand!), gave us a tour of the hotel and all its magical corners. We walked around the herb garden, the villas floating on water, and the “Heritage” rooms that had been designed with reclaimed materials of 190 year-old royalty houses. Those were my favorite rooms! Imagine spaces built with handmade floors that were block-printed with the hotel’s own designs, doors and windows made of recycled old wood, and a rain shower in the middle of the room (how locals used to harvest rain during the monsoons). After the tour, we hopped on the hotel’s boat that slept four people and was entire built of bamboo, coconut fiber and recycled wood. (Talk about an eco-friendly yacht!) We had our own room with AC and a view of Kerala’s waters. That boat was our home for one night, and the staff made sure we felt completely at home! While the captain drove us to discover unique spots throughout Kerala, like the Toddy (natural alcohol made of Palm Tree sab) shops and local villages, the Chefs prepared the most flavorful dishes for us. They even taught us how to eat like locals. Their Sadhya dish left my brother and I in complete awe. It is a tradition in Kerala, India. A variety of 24-63 dishes served on a banana leaf and eaten with bare hands, of course. We tried twelve dishes, combining the rice with veggies, fruits and spices. From coconut to jackfruit, potato, melon and cardamon. After the meal, we drank what felt like a delicious soup, but is seen as a digestive drink in Kerala. It was a mouthwatering combination of tamarind, water, tomato juice, salt and other spices. We spent the entire afternoon sailing and witnessed the most magical sunset in the middle of rivers surrounded by green palm trees. And at night, we played board games and watched the full moon slowly illuminate everything around us. The next morning, the captain took us back to the hotel were our tour guide was waiting for us to drive us to Kochin, Kerala, a 2-hr drive from the hotel. There, we learned about the sustainability practices behind the coir production. Coir is the fiber from the outer husk (hairy fiber) of coconuts. In Kerala, threads are made of it and used to make carpets, jewelry, souvenirs, and clothing. That coconut fiber is even used to produce sustainable mattresses, bricks, insulating home walls, furniture, baskets, decor... You name it! People in Kerala are known for using as much as they can from what nature gives to them. They hydrate with coconut water and use the meat to create coconut oil to cook with, the husk to light the fire, the shell ("coconut wood") to create beautiful cooking utensils, and the rest of the husk to build homes from the bottom up! It doesn’t get more eco-friendly than that! After the tour, we visited the local markets bathed in essential oils, incenses, bohemian clothing and handmade jewelry. A perfect day, if you ask me!

The next morning, we said goodbye to this gem and found ourselves on our way to Pondicherry. A city not a lot of travel bloggers have written about, but one that is definitely worth visiting! Once again, I bought our flight tickets the night before and, after performing a little research, didn’t hesitate twice about it!

To know about Vasundhara Sarovar:

-Their lake is maintained with harvested rain water and used for gardening and flushing

-They use solar and wind energy

-They have an organic waste converter machine that transforms all waste into manure

-The restaurant runs on a “zero waste” practice (they produce less than 2 kilos of waste per day)

-The spa was completely built with bamboo

-The rooms’ floors were made with coconut wood

-The paintings on the hotel’s walls are done with vegetable dyes