“ Address: Ramakkal, Idukki, Kerala, India „
Sometimes you can't help but wonder why when you find yourself in a very strange place, a long way from any attractions or much in the way of habitation. Such was our feeling when, after a long day in the car, we rolled up to the Windhaven Resort in the tiny village of Ramakal. The village has two attractions (though I use the term quite loosely) ; there's a great big hill with a statue on top and spectacular views (if it's not raining) and you can follow a small trail to see the footsteps of Ram (he of the Ramayana) in some rocks. Other than that, it's hard to understand why we spent over an hour in the car to get to this place from the perfectly pleasant town of Thekkady and the same time going back the next day. Our travel agents, makemytrip.com, mostly did a great job of putting our itinerary together but sending us to the middle of nowhere for a second rate hotel wasn't their finest achievement.
We passed the hotel before we arrived because our driver took us up the steep hill to the viewpoint before delivering us to the hotel. This turned out to be a wise move because the clouds rolled in as we stood on top of the hill and everything disappeared as we watched. When the cloud isn't in the way you can see for miles looking out over the border between Kerala and the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. The border is one of more than just geography - Kerala is the predominantly Christian state with a history of being run by the communist party whilst Tamil Nadu is a majority Hindu state typically appointing members of parliament who are ex-film stars. The Tamils are associated with tea picking and Kerala is covered in tea plantations. That's a very simplistic summary but the two states are quite different.
~A Haven from the Wind~
If the hundreds of windmills nearby are anything to go by, the Windhaven is well named. The hotel is a pristine modern building painted in an attractive shade of orange. The gardens have play equipment for children but other facilities are somewhat limited. There's apparently a tree house bedroom but we didn't spot it. We were thrilled to find wi-fi access, and not so thrilled to find that despite having the password, we just couldn't connect. For check in I had to spend a few minutes filling in a pretty exhaustive registration form with all our passport details and visa info - despite the fact they'd already taken our passports for photocopying. We were offered a glass of cold orange drink and then taken up to our room - the ominous Room 101.
Our paperwork told us that we'd got a room that was graded 'luxury' but checking on the website, I realise that we got upgraded to the hotel's only 'suite' which should cost about £8 a night more than the 'luxury' room. There are 'deluxe' (i.e. standard) rooms, 'luxury' rooms, the 'suite', the tree house and some multi-occupancy rooms with 6 or 10 beds for groups or large families. Room rates vary according to both the room type and the food 'plan' you want - they mysterious Indian CP / MAP /AP scheme which never fails to baffle me. CP is 'continental' plan which I think is B&B. MAP is 'modified American' plan which I think is half board and AP is American Plan which is probably full board. But I may be wrong so please check what's included in any 'plan' before you book an Indian hotel.The rates are very reasonable - ranging from about £25 for CP in a deluxe room up to £60 in the tree house with all meals.
~A room decorated by the colour blind~
We were led upstairs to our room by a porter and delivered to a room with one single bed propped against a wall, a large wardrobe and two armchairs, a small flat screen television on the wall and a full sized fridge in the corner. The floor space was massive but I wondered why we had just one small bed. My husband spotted the door in the corner of the room and headed through to reveal the proper bedroom - a standard sized double with a conventional Indian ultra-hard mattress and just one bedside table. The bedroom was a bit of a squeeze compared to the acres of spotless tiled floor in the sitting room so I did wonder if the architects had rather mis-planned the layout. The bright red bedspread was fairly garish but nothing compared to the curtains which consisted of shiny textured salmon pink drapes with a deep cerise flouncy pelmet with zillions of tassels. A door opened onto the balcony which looked out across the valley and where there was plenty of space to sit.
Talking of sitting, back in the sitting room area of our 'suite' we soon discovered that the distance from the arm chairs to the tiny television was sufficient to ensure that only those with hawk-like vision could actually see anything. With my short sight I was doing well to see the television set, let alone what was on it. It was all rather immaterial though since the power cuts happened so frequently that we didn't bother with the television. I tried to charge my laptop from the socket where the fridge was and had to construct a complex support of books and bits and bobs to get it the plug to stay in the socket.
The bathroom was another inspirational mishmash of colours with a proper bath and shower, a loo and a sink unit. Several parts still had their original wrappers in place so it looked pretty funny. The hotel had clearly gone way beyond the normal call of duty with soaps, shampoo sachets and proper real toothbrushes. It was a shame they'd forgotten the towels and that everything in the bathroom was completely soaked. I assume a rain storm blowing in the wrong direction had come through the mesh window and soaked the loo and the toilet roll. I got my emergency tissue stash out of my bag and decided not to bother asking for a new loo roll.
~What else can you expect?~
There are no fancy facilities here. According to the website, there's a meeting room for a few dozen people though it's hard to imagine too many companies choosing this for their 'off site' needs, there should be a massage centre though we saw no evidence of it, and there's a computer in reception which guests can use. There was a restaurant offering a 'take it or leave it' buffet and - given that there's nothing else for miles around - we of course took it. Dinner was due to be served at 8 pm but took an extra half hour because there were multiple power cuts to interrupt the chef's progress.
When we realised we had a bit more time to kill before dinner we decided to go and chat to the people in reception to try to collect our passports and ask for some towels because there hadn't been any in our room. The lady owner was confused and eventually said "Oh, you want extra towels?" - I explained, we didn't want extra, we just wanted some towels because we didn't have any.
Dinner was a small buffet of vegetable rice, vegetable curry, jeera potatoes, a chicken dish which we avoided and some 'crispy veg' which had confused us because it was classified as 'non-veg'. The penny eventually dropped that it contained egg in the batter which made it 'non veg' in the Indian definition of vegetarianism. The food was very good but the choice wasn't very exciting. As far as we could make out there wasn't any alcohol available though the waiter seemed overjoyed to sell us a couple of bottles of Fanta. The waiters fussed over us with vigour and plenty of enthusiasm which was sweet but rather odd.
According to the hotel's website, "We have a very spacious and luxurious restaurant where we serve all kinds of food as per your choice (Indian, Chinese, English, continental & American). We have a chef dedicated for English food and we serve full English break-fast round the clock." Our experience suggests that they failed on just about every promise in those two sentences. There was no choice (other than 'eat it or don't'), the food in the buffet was all Indian and if there was an English food chef, he wasn't there. They also say that their restaurant offers views of the mountain but again, you'll only get the benefit if you go in summer since the mountain is invisible after dark and in the rain. I have to suspect that November wasn't a time when they were providing full service. The hotel was probably busy for Diwali and Christmas but most of the business would be in the summer months.
~Words of Wisdom~
You cannot fail to spot that the hotel has lots of inspirational phrases framed and hung on the wall. Over dinner we were suitably inspired by the thought that "Winners don't do different things but they do things differently" and our room carried the words "When you are good to others, you are best to yourself" - wise indeed and well worth remembering though perhaps not what you expect on your holiday. Tony went out with the camera to photograph his favourites which seemed to please the lady downstairs - I hope she never realised he wanted to taunt a few colleagues with them when he got back to work. During his photo taking he met a gentleman and his son on the stairs and got into a long conversation. The man couldn't believe that foreign tourists had rolled up in such an out of the way place and interrogated him about why we were there, where we'd been, pretty much our entire life histories.
Eventually after dinner and after the second time of asking, a chap appeared with towels and proceeded to spend several minutes doing origami with them on the bottom of the bed so it was clearly worth the wait. Our views were excellent - when it stopped raining - and once all the kids had gone to bed it was pretty quiet in the hotel with no noise from outside except for crickets and other chirpy things.
~A new day~
Breakfast starts at 7.30 but when we went down it wasn't really ready and the guys said it didn't start until 8.30 but they could do toast and hot drinks for us and then they added eggs to our options. Since that's all we wanted anyway it wasn't any big deal that the breakfast buffet wasn't available. An Indian family weren't quite so impressed when they turned up a bit later and had quite a major row with the receptionist when they were due to leave. This hotel clearly can't deal very well with running things to the client's timescale rather than their own. They were lucky with us - we had nowhere to go and we weren't in a rush so it made little difference what time they fed us, but I can imagine for anyone with time constraints it would be horribly frustrating. Our shower had only cold water but I'm not sure why and we didn't interrogate them. I suspect that it might have been due to the use of solar panels to heat the water since the previous day had been wet or overcast for much of the time so maybe they just didn't get enough heat.
Checkout caused no problems and the bill was 590 rupees (about £8) for dinner and drinks the night before. I tried to access email on the reception computer but had to give up because it was blocking google which seemed like a pretty extreme thing to do. We went outside whilst the unhappy Indian family had a bit of a fight about the bill because we didn't want the owner to be embarrassed about us witnessing it, but when they were done we headed back inside. Our driver had gone missing and returned to the hotel in a really stinking temper. He was furious that there were no driver 'facilities' available and that he'd not been able to get breakfast. He was late to pick us up because he had to go off and find somewhere to wash in the village and had waited an hour for a bathroom to use.
Keeping in mind that you really can't stay at the Windhaven without transport, they really will need to fix the problem with driver facilities. Shijo was in a foul mood all day after the hotel's lack of facilities meant he was late to get us and I guess he probably had to sleep in the car which can't have been much fun. Since his employers booked the place he asked us to please complain about the hotel when we sent our feedback forms.
My recommendation would be to not stay here unless you have a pressing need to be in Ramakal as the location is very isolated. It's probably better to go in the summer and I can imagine that if you live in a noisy, hot Indian city, this place might seem like paradise. For us it was a nice enough building, everything was absolutely spotless and our room was fine. The staff tried their best but there's not too much they can do about the power problems or the weather. Check before booking whether the restaurant will be fully open and whether they have improved the situation regarding driver accommodion. Otherwise I would recommend to stay in the town of Thekkady, 40 km away where there's lots to do.
Countryside Hotel near Thekkady.