Can you guess where I am writing this from the greeting? That’s right I’m in India, the southern state of Kerala to be precise, in what is believed to be India’s first and only fully eco-organic resort. I am sitting in a wooden shelter right beside the clear flowing waters of the Chalakudy River, with locals bathing in rock pools and eagles swooping down to catch a fish which are plentiful here. After an exhausting 11 hours in the air in total, being hit by the heat of India at Cochin Airport arrivals area, and getting my first glimpse of the hectic driving on Kerala’s roads, Rasa Gurukul resort came as a welcome surprise. As soon as I checked in I was whisked off to the traditional Hindu wedding ceremony of one of the resort’s chefs, and treated to my first banana leaf Keralan meal, eating rice, curries, chutneys, and dhal with my hands.
Cows, chickens, turkeys, emus and bullocks roam freely around the organic farms and manicured lawns of Rasa, but don’t worry, there is plenty of land for both people and animals to live in harmony, a total of 25 acres to be precise. Locals can often be seen tending to the endless rows of rice paddies, sugarcane plantations, coconut and banana trees, and a variety of other fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices scattered right across the resort. Every single piece of food eaten at Rasa is organic, with most coming directly from the farms every morning. The friendly staff are always trying to get guests involved in the farming and cooking process, and I even tried my hand at making steamed coconut kozhukatta dumplings filled with fried jaggery (sugarcane).
I met the founder of the resort, Das Sreedharan, a popular Indian chef with a number of authentically Keralan restaurants in the UK, who told me about a dream that he had, which resulted in him buying his first plot of land alongside the Chalakudy river, and several other plots of land over the following years. As a proud Keralan who had found success through his Rasa restaurants, and worked with numerous famous chefs including Jamie Oliver, Das dreamt about a resort that would preserve local farming traditions that are quickly disappearing, allow visitors to join in village life, and provide steady work for local villagers. What I think makes Rasa truly special is its commitment to training underprivileged locals to cook and farm Keralan dishes, whilst providing them with accommodation, a monthly stipend, a diploma, and a guaranteed permanent job at the resort after a year.
Throughout my time here I have tried to walk around every inch of the resort, but I just can’t – it is so vast! There are six Keralan-style cottages with uninterrupted views of the river, a huge traditional villa with views out across the river and Rasa farms, and a kitchen building at the heart of the resort. Das told me that he took inspiration from his late mother who was a great chef, and the kitchen building is like the mother of the resort, everything revolves around it. I have to agree with him. I find myself spending a significant amount of my time sitting in the dining room eating the countless Indian foods that are being made especially with my tastes in mind.
Every day I am treated to a freshly cooked hot breakfast of dhosa pancakes, idli cakes, and coconut chutney, lunch of curry, chutneys, rice and freshly picked fruit, plates filled with snacks, and a dinner of curries, rice, aloo and biryanis, all washed down with freshly blended papaya juice, flavoured water, and mint and lime tea with fresh organic sugarcane. What more could I ask for, really? The friendly staff are always asking if I want more food or drinks, they are always smiling and ready to talk about Keralan food, and they even let me taste some sweet sugarcane as it was plucked straight from the soil.
Located just an hour from Fort Cochin and its historic neighbourhoods, which can be explored best by the experts at South India by Car and Driver, hidden historic gems including the oldest mosque (Cheraman Juma Masjid – opened in 629 AD), synagogue (Paradesi synagogue – opened in 1568 AD) and church (St Francis Church – opened in 1503) in India, and the famous Chinese fishing nets in the Keralan backwaters, Rasa Gurukul offers an unrivalled location and unique experience. Inside the Rasa compound there is no traffic noise, no pollution, and no distractions. Car horn sounds have been replaced by the moos of cows, fresh air blows between the impressive architecture, and the food is completely safe to eat and guaranteed to be tasty, especially if you decide to join in the cooking, like I did.
So, what are you waiting for? Come and join me in the kitchen – I’ll make you some fluffy steamed idli rice cakes.