In true Travancore tradition
Taking nearly 12 years to build, Kollams first five-star
property, The Raviz, on the banks (literally) of the famed Ashtamudi Lake in
south Kerala, is an epitome of traditional elegance, a paean to the history
of Travancore and an environmentalists delight. By Steena Joy
location of The Raviz Kollam on the banks of the serene Ashtamudi Lake has a
vast historical importance. The first documented history of Travancore of the
eighth century happened across this lake. The property is located in an ancient
fort area, which was one of the strategically located islands earlier connected
to Thevally by a pedestrian wooden bridge, and to Mathilil by a narrow strip
of land. The historic fort and a palace built with laterite and roofed with
palace tiles (the traces of archaeological remains of these structures and remains
were available till around the 1960s) was earlier occupied by Venad rulers till
the roadways developed, making Thevally more accessible by road and waterway.
Urban designer and heritage conservator, Prof Eugene N Pandala,
who is also the architect of The Raviz Kollam, points out that it was during
the time of Colonel John Munro, resident of British India in Travancore, that
a palace for the king was built in Thevally, and a residency built for the British
residents in Ashramam. Thereesapalli (Thevally) sasanam, the first available
documented history of Kerala during AD 774, a copper plate with an inscription
announcing tax free benefits to the Christian settlers of Manigramam in Thevally,
by the then rulers of Venad, was discovered just across the lake. Kottayathukadavu,
was a prominent local boat jetty with a connecting ferry till the Thevally Bridge
was built in 1966.
I am of the opinion, that any architecture should definitely
have a cultural continuity in terms of style and relevance to have a lasting
impact. The more it is connected to the history of the region and to the context,
the more shall be the relevance of the expressed spaces. The Raviz has an architecture
style derived after a lot of research. In 2000, when I started the project,
the contemporary style of architecture was to do buildings with structural glazing.
However, my client Dr Ravi Pillai, owner of The Raviz, gave me all the freedom
to choose a style, which would last forever, says Pandala, who is also
the co-convener of the Kerala Chapter of INTACH.
Speaking on the kind of research that went into conceptualising
this hotel, he adds, Being an important historical site, my research was
linked to the history of the cultural and natural heritage of this region. I
had little information readily available, but went round the historic places
that influenced this region with the modest documentation we had.
The property offers an experience, a journey through the natural and cultural
heritage of the Veenad, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English and the Travancore
kingdoms, which had a strong presence in the ancient historic port town of Quilon.
|The T S (Travancore Sheerthala) Canal, build in 1880,
is a linkage of lakes and estuaries of Travancore. This canal was the main
water transport route from Trivandrum to Sheerthala, Cochin and beyond till
1950s, this was the main trade route specially to transport spices and grains
to the ancient port of Kollam. The government has now taken initiatives
to revive this Canal heritage. The ancient port of Kollam visited by the
historic travellers, is sited to have been near Velliman in the bank of
Lake Ashtamudi, and when the ships became larger they could not access lake
Ashtamudi due to the shallow draft at Neendakara, earlier known as Nalkonda,
and hence the port was shifted to the Covlam (Kollam) later
on known as Quilon.
The Ashtamudi lake is an ecological hotspot. So in this project,
Pandala decided to do up the landscape a bit differently. I had no second
thoughts as to what to plant. The local species of flowering plants, fruit trees,
the plants, which attracts the birds, and the nectar and host plants to invite
the butterflies, the ground cover and all the plants chosen for the landscaping
were sustainable without the use of any form of pesticides.
The site by itself is a lateritic formation, and the local stone was laterite
so the natural option was to use it. The incredible possibilities of laterite
boulders to create hideouts and improve safe breeding for fish and crabs, and
the use of waste laterite pieces over fibrocement landforms to create water
bodies are all what makes this project a unique ecological journey. I chose
to plant trees including mangroves, which were endemic to this region,
|Ashtamudi Lakes importance claims to be dated
to the days of the Phoenicians and the Romans. Ibn Batuta, during his 24-year
sojourn in the 14th century, is reported to have mentioned about the Quilon
port as one of the five ports for Chinese trade. Ashtamudi Lake is known
as one of the prominent hotspots of biodiversity comparably undeveloped,
with few buildings. It is an integral part of the Kallada River basin. The
Kallada River originates on the Kulathupuzha hills near Ponmudi and travels
for 121 km, and then drains into the Ashtamudi Lake. This lake listed as
a Ramsar site has amazing surprises of nooks and corners. The blue coloured
and clean water of Ashtamudi has many species of flora and fauna endemic
to this region. The well-connected water bodies are rich reservoirs of food
(including fish) and thousands of migratory birds, representing over 30
species, visit this water body.
The lobby of The Raviz is designed to continue the tryst with nature. The centre
of attraction is a snake boat filled with all kinds of spices (Kollam is known
as a centre for spices) complemented by ancient looking fans near the front
desk turning slowly on mechanised rollers.
The porch is a difficult implementation of the roofing done in the radiating
rafter style of the Travancore region. It is complicated, costly and the
knowhow to implement this roofing rafter system is disappearing. All these long
rafters are without any joints: that was the traditional rule, Pandala
elucidates. The timber used in the structure was mostly traditionally cultivated
timber. Jackwood and Anjali wood were used commonly for building the auspicious
elements of the property like the front porch.
The Raviz is a project where Pandala has used natural building
materials as far as possible with no reservations about using glass and concrete
wherever it was necessary, but to the minimum essential. Local artisans, craftsmen
and masons were engaged to implement the project. Wherever possible, we
have used bio fencing and plants to build barriers. Our philosophy was mainly
to construct using reusable building techniques, he states. The plot on
which The Raviz now stands was originally a fish processing factory which was
not demolished but integrated into the design of the hotel.
One of the reasons why The Raviz took 12 years to build. The project was also
delayed because it happened in two phases. The first phase was completed in
2004. Then when the adjoining land was purchased, Dr Pillai decided to expand
the property size to include a capacious convention centre, more rooms and a
spa. Also, the design was so intricate with lots of detailing to the timber
craft, that it took a long lime to implement.
But it was well worth the wait. The project is unique because it gives
us a profile of the natural and cultural heritage of Kerala for many historical
centuries. I have a passion for conservation of our natural and cultural heritage.
When I was given the brief for The Raviz Kollam, I knew that here was an opportunity
to express my version of how a sustainable tourism project can be implemented,