Singer Anju Joseph’s well-crafted rendition and energy-oozing colloquies endeared her to hundreds of Malayalam music lovers. And travelling like music is close to the heart of this talented vocalist. On the occasion of World Heritage Day, which is observed on April 18, Anju goes gaga over her cherishing experience of stepping into the history-laden Bolgatty Palace, a gold-standard heritage hotel of Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) on Bolgatty Island in Ernakulam district.
The Dutch Palace in Kochi
Ernakulam is home to numerous heritage buildings including palaces and traditional ‘kovilakams’ (stately homes) that are steeped in rich legacy. Travellers come in droves to the sprawling Bolgatty palace, which was constructed by the Dutch in 1744 against the backdrop of enchanting beauty of the nature. The palace, replete with scores of historical tales, is one of the favourite destinations of Anju. The Bolgatty palace is more of a captivating heritage building rather than a regal edifice.
The palace, which was taken over by the British from the Dutch, is a luxury hotel under KTDC. Tourists love to spend time at this fabulous resort that boasts of many facilities including honeymoon cottages and golf course. The Bolgatty Palace is the oldest building constructed by the Dutch outside of Holland. Interestingly, the Dutch government even now provides assistance, including financial help, for the preservation and upkeep of the age-old palace.
Fear of the lakes
“Though I like to travel a lot, I still have a fear of the lakes. The lakes would transport me to the days gone by and there is story behind why lakes are not my cup of tea. When I was studying in Class IV, there was no bridge connecting mainland to the Bolgatty Island and one had to rely on boat service to reach the palatial building. Once while boarding the ferry to the palace I slipped and fell into the lake and that created a fear in me for the waters. Though I got a shock of my life on that day, I went to the palace and enjoyed its antiquity and charm,” says Anju.
All those memories flooded back when the singer visited the majestic palace recently.
Centuries-old bell and mural painting
As one steps into the historical building, an imposing bell hanging from a chain can be a jaw-dropper for you. This bell was known as the ‘complaint’ bell in the days of yore. ‘Ring the bell’ is the term used to denote if someone had to air a grievance with the British administrator. Another thing that catches one’s eye is the aesthetically pleasing mural painting.
Many changes had been made to the palace over the years as part of the preservation process, but certain portions of the palace’s roof still have the ancient look with mural paintings adorning it. Moreover, one can also find many items that belong to the royal family. It may be noted that number of invaluable antiques are preserved at the Hill Palace at Tripunithura in Ernakulam district.
Room used by Manmohan Singh
The heritage building houses four rooms, which are named after four Dutch painters, for the travellers. Though the rooms were give a makeover by moving away from original style, the regal imprint is still present in this retreat. Out of the four rooms, the ‘Vermeer’ one has a claim to fame as it was once occupied by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his visit to Kerala. The bed and mirror, which were used during the British era, are still intact in this room. The sun may be blazing outside during the summer but one can sit comfortably inside these rooms without the help of a fan or an air conditioner. One can also soak up the beauty of the placid lake from the rooms of the Bolgatty Palace.
Both domestic and foreign tourists flock to Bolgatty Palace to get a feel of staying in a place surrounded by royal paraphernalia. But some travellers have eerie tales to share like hearing sounds and screeching in the night. Probably people might have been hearing footsteps of people walking on the upper floor as this is an age-old palace.
Fresh water at a depth of two feet
A striking feature of Bolgatty Island is the availability of fresh water in abundance. Though the island is surrounded by lake, the groundwater is less saline and fresh and potable water could be found after digging just two feet. The Bolgatty Palace has two wells – one outside the palace building and one inside the kitchen area of the royal edifice -- and the water from the kitchen well is used for cooking purposes.
The 250-year-old tree
The unparalleled charm of the Bolgatty Palace is augmented manifold by scores of trees, greenery and lake that are surrounding the historical building. It is noteworthy that certain trees are as old as the palace itself and one of the mahogany trees is 250 years old. The grand old mahogany tree with a perfect canopy stands tall on one side of the palace to the glee of the visitors. The tree is so huge that it takes six persons to wrap their hands around the trunk of the tree. This tree like the Bolgatty Palace has shared screen space with many film artistes in numerous movies.
Story behind the name ‘Bolgatty’
There is an interesting, rather funny, story behind the name Bolgatty. Long ago, foreigners came to stay at the hotel and they were teeing off on the golf course. While playing they lost the golf ball and enquired about it in English with the local residents who knew only Malayalam. The natives told the tourists in Malayalam that ‘ball kattil poyi’ meaning ball is in the thickets and it is said that by repeated use ‘ball kattil’ became Bolgatty. Though the authenticity of the story is doubtful, the tale is pretty interesting.
Skeletons found on the premises
The Bolgatty Palace is a repository of fascinating historical tales. Chempil Ananthapadmanabhan Kankumaran, known as Chempil Valiya Arayan, was the trusted lieutenant of Velu Thampi Dalawa, the prime minister of Travancore Kingdom during the reign of Avittam Thirunal Balarama Varma.
Chempil Arayan was instrumental in launching an attack on Bolgatty Palace, which was then the official residence of British Resident Colin Macaulay, in the dead of night after reaching the island in a traditional coracle. History chronicles that the British Resident and his family members escaped from the palace through a tunnel during the attack. The lightning attack launched by Chempil Arayan is considered as the first uprising against the British rule in the annals of history. The skeletons found on the palace premises are considered to be that of those who were killed in the daring attack.
The Bolgatty Palace is a storehouse of gripping tales and if you are itching to have a regal stay and enjoy the pristine beauty of lake then this centuries-old palace is the right place for you. “No matter how many times you visit the Bolgatty Palace, there is always something new shrouded in antiquity waiting to be explored by the visitors,” says Anju.