The ride from Mundakayam to Kottayam has been a long one, and the extra leg to Kumarakom and beyond to the Garden Retreat is more tiring still. There's been a big BJP-orchestrated strike so shops have been closed across the State. By the time I get to the Taj Garden Retreatt mid-afternoon, what I really want is to check in, shower, and get a cold drink. What I don't want is to be kept waiting at the gate by the surly guard, in the afternoon sun. I have provided him with the reservation printout which he has stared at but clearly not read, and my UK passport. Then he calls his colleague to the gate who looks at the same, and then he walks slowly with it to reception. After this I am admitted.
This is, apparently, because they are worried due to the strike. How many BJP strikers are turning up with UK passports, on touring bikes covered in luggage is a good question but YOU CAN'T BE TOO CAREFUL.
Once in, the resort is much what you would hope for, huge number of staff, pool, bar, spacious rooms with power hungry wide screen TVs. There's bath, showers, minibar wifi.
Personally I didn't enjoy my stay here. I think I'd been spoilt by some very friendly places and so although there was a lot of staff attention here, it felt very polite but impersonal. My room was spacious but not an ideal setting - up a flight of stairs above what seemed like the laundry block and overlooking the pool. So if a view of overweight Westerners slowly broiling in the Keralan heat is your thing, ask for room 105.
The good thing about the Taj Kumarakom is that for those who want to exist thus, they can have a vignette of India without leaving the resort. A small paddy field, and garden show how local things are grown; there's dances, food, music. A small boutique shop. And all pristine and tidy. It is quite well done and I understand the appeal. I don't want to quibble about price and if it represents "good value." It's not why people stay at the Taj Garden Retreat and it would be a stupid discussion. Suffice to say that many people would think of it as money well spent, and I guess I am just not one of them.
Likewise, we won't even discuss the resource impact and I am sure the Taj is working hard to minimise its impact on the local environment.
But as the first hotel I stayed at on this tour which wilfully did away with the ubiquitous bathroom "hose" arrangment in preference for toilet paper, it seems a strange way of demonstrating eco credentials. Likewise, organising speedboat trips so the sunset boat tour was marred by a loud power bost cutting across the view.
I went on the morning "bird watching" tour where a disinterested hotel employee walked us in to the reserve, spent twenty minutes walking us along a path until we came to some boats, and then suggested that for 100 rupees a head we could carry on the tour by boat. As birdwatching tours go it was a new low.
The grounds are not huge but the hotel provides bikes to get around more easily; many of these were in a poor state - bent pedals etc, and not nice to use.
I may have ordered badly off the menu in the evening but the "village stew" was a small number of pieces of overcooked chicken in a thin coconut sauce, and was a great disappointment.
The view, however of the artificial lake within the grounds lit up at night is very beautiful.
On balance, I was glad to leave the Taj Kumarakom, and I probably won't be going back. For me there are places where I can get a greater reward for less money. It will be a different reward and there are many for whom the Taj Kumarakom will be the "right place." For me it wasn't; it felt wasteful, artificial and too hedonistic. As I write this I am staying at another hotel up the road. There's fruit bats flying in to the garden to eat the apples. I can walk to the lake edge and have an uninterrupted view. I had a stupendous lunch, and in the stroll outside I met so many friendly local people I was quite overwhelmed.
In fairness, I didn't complain directly to the hotel - but did reply to the Taj's online review. The General Manager took the time to respond directly, and also refunded a proportion of my stay cost in light of my comments. So I can't fault the management for their attentiveness or responsiveness.
Likewise, I stayed in the Taj Mumbai later on and experienced the heights of service which I would associate with the Taj group.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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