Marari Beach—one of the cleanest coasts in Kerala—beckons you to loll on its sands, play beach volleyball, gorge on fresh catch from the sea, and lead a sustainable life at a luxe resort. By Gustasp and Jeroo Irani
On the way to Marari Beach in the district of Alappuzha in Kerala, an hour’s drive from Kochi, we spied a huge billboard advertising ‘God’s Own Optician!’ The optician obviously had a sense of humour. Not only had he employed a clever play on words based on Kerala’s moniker, God’s Own Country, but the advertisement also portrayed a huge pair of spectacles staring into space in an all-seeing way. Beyond the advertisement rose a grove of palm trees, lush and green.
Our chagrin at 21st-century marketing making inroads into this idyllic rural kingdom soon dissipated as the landscape swept past our car windows. Narrow country roads lined with red-tiled roof homes snuggling in the shade of fecund foliage, and village shops strung with plump yellow and red bananas wound onward to our destination, Xandari Pearl.
Our arrival at the resort, which spread over 18 acres, was reassuring. Not much had changed in the quiescent region, barring the cropping up of some homestays near St Augustine’s Church in the neighbouring Mararikulam village and a few luxury resorts.
Sensory bombardment and beachfront bliss awaited us at Marari. We were welcomed by a lissom Kerala girl in beige and gold-bordered Nasrani (Syrian Christian) attire who escorted us to our pearl-shaped villa. The 20-villa resort revealed its assets unabashedly in the course of our stroll—a glistening green fish pond rippling with marine life, a butterfly garden shimmering with the evanescent colours of tiny wings, a pool encircled by stands of coconut, mango, and cashew trees, a spice garden rife with aromas of cinnamon and pepper, and a farm with goats and the diminutive, endangered Vechoor cow, whose milk is valued in Ayurvedic medicine. Finally, we stepped into our spacious villa done up in shades of shimmering pearl-grey, light green, and a mother-of-pearl screen. Our abode, which came with a private plunge pool, garden, sandy sit-out, private dining area, and a hammock, called for a siesta.
However, we were urged to get to the beach where life carries on in its unsullied ways. The grass underfoot was gilded by a wan sun, typical of the monsoon, as we headed for the stretch of cinnamon-coloured sand fringed by casuarina trees and coconut groves.
Traditionally, fisherfolk’s homes in Marari are set back from the beach and all we could see were a few colourful boats that generally set out to sea at the crack of dawn (not too far out during the monsoon) to be back in the afternoon. Xandari Pearl procures the fresh catch of the day from its neighbours and imaginatively whips it up for guests at their crescent-shaped, thatched, open-sided restaurant.
During our stay, we frequented the beach where uninterrupted snoozes under green palms were aided by the sound of the waves lapping the shore. We relaxed, went with the flow, and watched the clouds scud past overhead. Here was a deep sense of peace, away from the cacophony of the cities. Time ceased to have meaning as we learnt to reconnect with the simple pleasures of life—the sight of local fishermen hauling in their catch or clambering up palm trees to snag a tender coconut. Multi-hued birds spangled the skies every day.
We discarded our mobile phones and footwear, and strolled barefoot on the sand, and hung out with the local fisherfolk who offered us tea and insight into their simple, sustainable lives. They envied our frantic pressure-cooker existence and we coveted theirs—so slow, rich, and fulfilled.
Later, in the softly floodlit restaurant, we had a lemony drink, spiked with lemongrass and stirred with a bamboo-shoot stirrer. The Xandari brand of simple, understated luxury is built on the premise that the protection of the environment is primary, hence their resorts are plastic-free. We savoured local delicacies, mantled in spices and often given a refreshing fusion twist—fresh seafood platter brimming with calamari, king fish, mashed potatoes, and broccoli florets; Kerala-style prawns with fluffy appams; innovative palate pleasers like steamed rice pancakes infused with saffron, coconut, and meat; baked cane jaggery yoghurt topped with prunes, and so on.
The next morning, we cycled to the grand 16th-century St Andrew’s Basilica, located six kilometres away in the village of Arthunkal. A service was in progress and the church, built by Portuguese missionaries, resonated with hymns even as a local whispered to us about a 16th-century fair-skinned vicar, Father Fenicio, who is believed to have possessed miraculous powers to cure the sick. The vicar died in 1632 and is considered the second apostle of the East. In 1647, the statue of St Sebastian, with arrows protruding from all over his bloodied body, was placed in this church. It was installed by the captain of a ship that stalled on the high seas and drifted ashore only when the beleaguered skipper promised to mount the statue in the closest church. The feast of St Sebastian, held in January, draws believers of all faiths as the saint is said to heal the suffering of all who turn to him. Traditionally, devotees of Lord Ayyappa returning from the holy shrine of Sabarimala stop to pay homage to St Sebastian at the basilica.
We were amazed to encounter something new and unexpected even in this sleepy refuge. Villagers told us about the famous Mannarasala Sree Nagaraja Temple, 32 kilometres away to the south of Alleppey, where snake worship is a popular cult. What makes the temple unique is that it has a revered priestess (women are banned from priesthood in the state). The lady has an almost mythical stature among her devotees and makes an appearance between 3 pm and 6 pm daily to bless them.
It is this quixotic melange of exotic cults, friendly people, and a rural ambience that makes Kerala a quiet and relaxing haven in the churning cauldron of the country. Back at Marari, our days slipped by, playing beach volleyball and indulging in hedonistic therapies at the state-of-the-art spa where we wallowed in Ayurvedic massages. Warm oil made of medicinal herbs was dribbled on our bodies and then rubbed in by a trained masseuse with soft hands. A spot of yoga and healing meditation in the late afternoon was followed by a cup of steaming hot milky chai from a mobile stall set up at the resort.
At the end, our only wish was that we could have lingered and spent more tranquil, barefoot days at this charming destination, letting warm sand slip through our toes, inhaling lungfuls of fresh breeze, and gazing at flaring sunsets that bled on the landscape and then suffused it with soft colours.
The nearest airport is in Kochi, an hour and a half away by road. You can board direct flights from major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Hyderabad. The airport enjoys good connectivity with many Middle Eastern and South Asian countries as well.
Marari has a few no-frills homestays and accommodation options. Set in thatchedroof buildings, Xandari Pearl is a 10-minute walk from Marari Beach (starts from INR 9,975/ USD 136).
September to May. The monsoon is pretty, but heavy downpours could dampen spirits.
Honeymoons, solo trips, and family getaways.
This is a seafood paradise—gorge on fresh, local karimeen fish in a zingy curry or baked over a coal fire, masala crabs, and prawn curry with rice or fluffy appams. The Kuttanad duck curry, while typical of the backwaters, is a must-try in this region too. The restaurants in the luxury hotels as well as homestays serve food fit for the gods, vegetarian dishes included.
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