Philipkutty’s Farm. For me the odd name evokes a dreamy paradigm of south India—an arch of vermilion bougainvillea blossoms, the sheen of lake waters interrupted by a dugout’s narrow wake and, above all, the blissful silence, broken only by birdsong, the chatter of women washing clothes along the shore and the chants from a Hindu temple across the canal.
Such tranquility was what had led me and a group of friends to Philipkutty’s, after three rapid, event-filled weeks traveling in south India. Philipkutty’s occupies a good part of an island in the middle of Vembanad Lake in Kerala, a state on India’s southwest coast. Canals, streams, marshes and flooded rice paddies radiate out from the 80-square-mile lake, and together they make up the intricate brackish system Keralites call the Backwaters. In January, during the dry season, the temperature along the coast still hovers in the upper 80s and the air is heavy with moisture. This extraordinarily fertile area produces everything from commercial crops to a plethora of spices, including black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric and ginger.
Philipkutty’s, which grows coconuts, bananas and other tropical fruits, also operates a type of family-run inn called a homestay, in which guests live with the hosts. Five lakefront guest villas are built in a traditional Keralan bungalow style, with white stuccoed walls and verandas overhung with dark-red-tiled roofs. There are no phones and no television sets, just a quiet and seemingly effortless elegance. It was the perfect place for us to unwind and absorb all we had experienced. The family and guests dine together three times a day at a big, round table or in an outdoor pavilion, and these home-cooked meals were delicious.