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Bolgatty Island and its Hotel – Kerala, January 1999
This follows on from Train to Cochin where we at arrived by train at Cochin and taken a rowing-boat ferry to Bolgatty Island and checked-in at the Bolgatty palace hotel.
We had made a reservation at the Bolgatty Palace hotel, ‘the oldest existing Dutch mansion outside Holland’. It didn’t look or feel much like a Dutch mansion. I’d told the man on the telephone that we’d arrive by 5pm. We got there at 4.30 and he immediately knew who we were, seeming in a way somewhat disappointed to see us. Possibly he had promised to room to someone else on the assumption that we would not turn up.
The Bolgatty Palace
The Bolgatty Palace, it seems, was being rebuilt, and the only rooms were on circular huts in the garden, of which there seemed to be just four. The man had been holding one for someone until 5pm in case we turned up, and we did.
Inside our pod, which was known as the ‘Honeymoon Cottage’, was a circular bed with sheets that opened at the centre, ie two single sheets and bedcovers meeting at the centre. Why?
We went and sat at a table by the lake for a drink. Just one other table was occupied, by an Indian man and his girlfriend both dressed in western clothes. By his dress, his supercilious snarling look, his height and the fact that he conversed with the waiters in English, we guessed he was a Hindi-speaker from the north, who clearly saw himself as sophisticated. He and his girlfriend were eating what Indians who fancy themselves always seem to choose from the menu when they want to appear chic: a plate of chips with tomato ketchup.
Bolgatty Island
We decided to take a look around the island and to our surprise found it heavily-populated. Our rowing boat had taken us to a park in which the Bolgatty Palace was located. It was a very Indian park, with piles of rubbish everywhere and a handkerchief of grass, a lake frontage, and a café; in fact because of Bolgatty Palace, two cafés. People came from the mainland on a ferry and paid a rupee to enter this park, take a stroll round the litter, and then take the ferry back again.
The public ferry cost 50 paese, one fiftieth of what we paid for the rowing boat, and pulled in at a jetty no more than 100 yards from the rowing boat’s one. We could have got that instead.
Outside of the park the island was a mass of tiny streets and houses, with the inevitable sound-system blasting Indian pop music down the main street.
Dinner at the Bolgatty
Back at the hotel we took a cold shower – no hot water in the hotel – then went down for dinner.
We decided to eat inside as there were a lot of mosquitoes about. No one else was in the dining room of plastic chairs and tables except for the staff; three of four of them watching the telly.
They found us a table under the fastest-turning of the ceiling fans, turned off the telly, and sprang into action, presenting us with a menu. After we had perused this for a bit a man came up to us and said: ‘Please may I make a suggestion. Our speciality tonight is a speciality of Kerala, with prawns’.
OK, let’s go for it, nothing on the menu looked that appealing, mnostly it was chips with tomato ketchup.
The prawn dish was superb. An upturned pot of beautifully-cooked rice surrounded by a ring of prawns spiced mildly with a masala, a mix of spices. Surrounding this were vegetables: carrot, celery, peas. Good choice.
We slept that night in our circular bed, under a circular mesh canopy in which some flies had been trapped over the generations by the blast from the ceiling fan overhead.
The story continues with Ferry for Breakfast.


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