Bekal was the hub to dominate and then defend the Malabar coast. That's history.
Cut to the present, and the once serene village in Kerala's Kasaragod district is soon becoming a prominent wedding destination in South India.
People from outside the state and abroad are spending crores of rupees on conducting weddings at Bekal, which holds a prominent spot in Kerala's tourism circuit. The town witnesses two to three big fat weddings every month.
Wedding groups, including the bride and groom, land at the Mangalore International Airport and drive down to five-star resorts in Bekal. For the next two days, the town witnesses splendorous weddings hosted by spending crores.
The newlyweds make a mass entry to the reception, sailing through the lake. A Kerala-style sadya – or feast – and fireworks lighting up the night sky add to the grandeur of the wedding celebrations that go on for a couple of days.
Kasaragod is happy, too, as North Indians and foreigners choose Bekal, where the lake flows into the embrace of the Arabian Sea, as the location for their dream wedding. The grand events contribute generously to the district and Kerala's coffers.
What is a destination wedding?
Simply put, a destination wedding is tying the knot outside the hometowns of the bride or groom. Arrangements for such weddings are made months in advance.
The preparations begin by booking rooms in Bekal's two five-star hotels to accommodate the relatives, friends, and colleagues of the couple. Mostly, the rich North Indian families hold weddings in this picturesque village in Kerala's Kasaragod district.
The celebrations continue for two to three days. The reception and the main event, the wedding, are organised at the poolside, beachside, or the helipad. A houseboat cruise and cultural events, too, add to the splendour. Each wedding is attended by 100 to 300 guests.
Minimum expense: Rs 1.2 crore
Each grand wedding festival, attended by 100 to 150 families, will cost Rs 1 crore. Boarding and lodging for two days alone will cost Rs 80 lakh. Decorating the venue and holding cultural events add another Rs 20 lakh.
Other arrangements, including logistics, further push the expense up to Rs 1.2 crore. It could even stretch to Rs 2 crore, depending on the purse of the wedding party and the luxuries they choose. Event management companies plan and organise the wedding reception and cultural performances.
Mostly the wealthy from North India chose Bekal as the venue for their weddings. Couples from Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, and Himachal Pradesh, too, have tied the knot in this coastal town.
Several families from Australia, Singapore, France, the US, and Sri Lanka, too, chose Bekal for holding wedding receptions last year. The next big wedding is on April 23, when a couple from the US will tie the knot at the Taj Bekal Resort & Spa.
The resort hosted 16 grand weddings in 2022, the hotel's Operations Manager Siju Nambiar. On average, two weddings a month is normal.
Lake, sea and sand
There have been several instances of families choosing Bekal after initially selecting locations in Goa or elsewhere. Bekal's USP is that one could enjoy both lake and sea in one place. And it has made Bekal a prominent destination wedding hub.
The lake and sea make the perfect background for wedding photoshoots. Destination weddings which were earlier confined to Kovalam and Kumarakom, have now made a grand entry to Bekal.
Kasaragod gains from weddings
The helpers accompanying wedding parties are accommodated in homestays in and around Bekal. Homestays are often fully booked whenever the town hosts a grand wedding.
Chenda melam (performance by traditional percussionists) and other cultural shows are integral to these weddings. It generates revenue for Mohiniyattam, Bharatanatyam, and other artistes. Local taxi operators, florists, and photographers, too, directly benefit from such grand events.
The couples arriving at the reception by boat amidst a floral shower from above is one of the major attractions. Fireworks, an auto-rickshaw ride, a display of Kerala's traditional art forms, a performance by percussionists, and a reception at the helipad make Bekal a destination wedding hub.
The newlyweds posing for photographs in traditional Kerala attire is also part of the wedding.
Wanted: Priests also
Some wedding parties bring their priests and religious scholars. For others, the event organisers arrange priests locally. Those wanting English-speaking priests mostly make the arrangement themselves. For Gujarati weddings, priests are brought from that state.
Must: Kerala-style feast
A traditional, sumptuous Kerala spread is integral to the wedding. The resort ropes in more chefs to prepare the feast. Students pursuing food craft courses in the district also become part of the cooking process. Some wedding parties insist on having their traditional dishes. On such occasions, chefs from their respective states are flown in.
Coming soon: Airstrip at Periya
Rajasthan and Goa are two states that host the most number of destination weddings. A lack of direct air connectivity is a major roadblock in attracting wedding planners and parties to Bekal. Guests are often reluctant to take the long ride to Bekal from the Mangaluru International Airport at Karnataka's Bajpe.
Implementing projects like an airstrip at Periya (also Periye) could attract more guests, Assistant Manager Alan Pradeep of Bekal LaLit Resort opined.
Another challenge that Bekal faces is the inadequate number of rooms to accommodate guests. The Taj and LaLit resorts together have only 113 rooms (75 and 38, respectively). Some planners book rooms in both resorts to overcome the inadequacy.
The Taj is developing its second property in Bekal. The upcoming Taj Selections will have 150 rooms. It is expected to be operational by this year-end.
The construction of the Bekal Resorts Development Corporation (BRDC)'s two resorts has been put on hold. Making these two resorts operational would address the shortage of rooms.
A lost opportunity
"Bekal was considered to host the G20 summit recently held at Kumarakom. But a lack of an adequate number of rooms made Bekal lose the opportunity. Tourism in Bekal will get a facelift once the airstrip at Periya and the national highway become operational. The coastal highway, too, will help Bekal. The government is in the process of completing the works of BRDC's resorts."
- Shijin Parambath, Managing Director, BRDC
Employment opportunities galore
"Local entrepreneurs are benefiting from the destination weddings hosted by the upmarket resorts. They are also opening up employment opportunities. Being a logistics firm based in Bekal, Mangaluru, and Kannur, we are also gaining from destination weddings. So are the local taxi operators."
- TV Manoj Kumar, MyTrip Guide
The novelty factor
"People are exploring new locales other than places like the familiar Goa. Bekal has a huge potential to attract guests since it has not been explored much as a tourism destination. A clean beach and lake add to Bekal's potential. I am sure Bekal will host several more weddings in the coming days."
- Shivangi Gupta, Director of Sales, Taj Bekal Resort
MICE tourism destination
"Bekal could host several grand weddings after two of the six government-planned resorts became operational. If the remaining resorts, too, are opened next year, Bekal will certainly become a MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) tourism destination between Kochi and Goa on the country's west coast."
- Saifuddin Kalanad, Bekal Tourism Fraternity
A new hub
"Bekal has both a lake and sea and an estuary. It is developing into a destination wedding hub. Bekal is transforming itself into a destination that provides a memorable and matchless wedding experience to couples."
- Lalit Mundkur, Resident Manager, LaLit Resort & Spa Bekal
Benefit to the common man
"Ordinary people, too, are benefiting from the grand weddings since those attending them purchase Thalangara topi (a traditional, handmade cotton prayer cap of Muslims made at Thalangara), Kerala saree, etc., from the local market. The future of Bekal and Kasaragod is in destination weddings."
- Lijo Joseph, Secretary, DTPC