The northern tip of Kerala has been history’s favourite battle ground. Here can be seen the 17th century Bekal Fort built by Sivappa Nayaka of Bednore. Tipu Sultan, the British, the Dutch and the French all fought battles here at various stages. Now it has become a premium tourist destination, with the inauguration Taj’s new spa resort in the shadow of the fort six months ago.
It is an unlikely place for a super premium resort to come up. The small town of Bekal, 50km from Mangalore, is virgin territory. Bekal and surrounding areas are dotted with some of the most magnificent temples, enriched by myth and legend. The sleepy town lost its historical importance as the neighbouring town of Kasargode to its north and Calicut to its south got caught up in the Gulf boom. Villas and jewellery shops dot the narrow highway that lead up to Karnataka. New money easily gobbled up bits of history and myth. The flourishing business here: duplicate and fake passports.
The story however is changing. Premium tourist traffic to the area is increasing, bringing the town alive to its own possibilities. The Lalit and the Taj together now offer more than 100 premium rooms. Both the resorts position themselves as cheaper and maybe better option to the traveler looking at something other than Goa which is only eight hours away by road. Bekal is an hour away from Mangalore which is connected by flights to Goa.
“Bekal offers a good alternative to people looking at Goa where most resorts are cluttered and mushroomed,” says Samir Khanna, general manager of Taj Vivanta’s Bekal resort. Bekal has the Goa feel to it and the beaches there are largely unexploited, rather lonely and very few who come dip into the sea. Out of Taj Vivanta’s 24 properties, five are now in Kerala, making the state Taj’s favourite hunting ground.
As a destination Bekal has been a sleeping giant with immense possibilities but no real value because Goa was always there a little further up and who would bother to come to a small town with no brand value? Things started changing after the Kerala government formed the Bekal Development Corporation to give a spurt to growth in the region.
The corporation acquired land in the area and then auctioned it. The 25-acre property, now managed by Taj, was bought in the auction and developed by Mumbai’s Khanna Builders at an estimated cost of Rs 180 crore. When complete it will be the biggest spa destination in the south, considering that the Jiva spa will have about 20 villas by the bank of the Kappil river which flows through the property bordered on the other side by the beach.
The Taj at Bekal could be rated as one of the best designed properties in India. Balinese sculptures, Ganeshas and Garudas, made with white cement and stone and shipped in from Indonesia, are a stunning feature of the landscaping. Australian architect Nick Juniper, of Grounds Kent architectural firm of Perth, gave it that unique blending of the local and middle-eastern style by placing the Kettuvallam (country boats) roof atop every villa. Middle-eastern influences like domes are also used and the blending achieved here is remarkable.
It is not easy for Kerala to bridge the gap with Goa very soon. The first evidence will come during the peak season, towards the end of the year when Bekal will emerge fully drenched and fresh from the monsoon. A Goa regular who looks for another place to get away and spend some almost fully secluded time (internet signals are weak, hooray!), will find Bekal a great option even this summer.