No fan, no hot water, no toilet paper, no attached bath, no menu, no boundaries, no ‘Fridays Place’, no fun! Strange attributes for Kerala’s most unique and little known eco lodge cum home stay called ‘Friday Place’ secluded on the Neyyar backwater at Poovar Island in the south of the state. Friday Place is the brainchild of Mark and Sujeewa Reynolds, a fusion of all things British and Asian. They came too Poovar originally to pioneer the first seaplane service in India. This was not to be and, having constructed their quarters, a bedroom and bathroom, in timber and thatch, the concept of an eco lodge homestay came about.
Over a five year period Friday place has grown organically into what we see today. Great effort has been made to ensure zero intrusion on their wetland habitat. No trees have been cut down and, in fact, the planting efforts of Sujeewa have created a rare microcosm of flowering shrubs and fruit trees amidst the coconut palm. This is the domain of a myriad of flora and fauna. In one acre of previously flooded palm garden this paradise has taken shape with just four bijou cottages available to guests. The cottages are well spaced for privacy with balconies looking out onto the landscape of river and canals. Built with British precision by local skilled carpenters under Mark’s watchful eye, they are a beauty to behold and evoke Kerala’s past with a contemporary twist. All electrical power is from a solar system, drinking water is made by reverse osmosis, and bath water comes from the river after passing through a novel coir filter. Low density building ensures the sewage treatment plant is not stressed and the fish swimming in the out fall canal are testament to the efficacy of the system. Despite the lack of the usual amenities, a slow but steady stream of tried professionals from Europe and India, have discovered Fridays place and value its tenets of quiet, beauty and privacy. These are individuals who have grown beyond the resort experience and are often seekers of an alternative way and value system. At Fridays place they are cared for and cherished as members of an extended family.
The most recent project to be completed is the ‘tsunami house’. This grew out of the need to build a water tower to store sweet water while preserving the aesthetics of the site. At the same time, there was a need to tackle the problem of tsunami-proof building. The result is a building, the first of its type in India and possibly the world, which will withstand the force of a tsunami wave or storm surge. This has been achieved through a hydrodynamic profile which allows a wave to pass by in laminar flow. In addition, the mass of stored water makes the building incompressible and it cannot implode as would a traditional brick structure. With an eye to making the benefits of this technology available to others, it has been constructed entirely from local materials and largely by semi-skilled labour. The external cantilevered steps, together with the internal spiral staircase, were cast on site and the upper wooden structure uses bamboo ply from Kerala. The capacious four-poster bed is structurally integrated with the roof truss matrix, another first. Mark hopes that others might follow his ideas and will make the design parameters freely available. Constructed by local masons and carpenters it stand as a symbol of ingenuity, traditional architecture and Kerala craftsmanship. Princess Gouri Parvathi Bayi inaugurated the tsunami house.
Mark and Sujeewa have vociferously campaigned for increased environmental awareness which until recently has been sadly neglected. Happily the Kerala Government is now taking a new stance in line with their wish to be seen pursuing a policy of Responsible Tourism’. Poovar Island and the adjacent Neyyar river comprise an important wetland resource which is possibly the cleanest in Kerala. Already it is threatened by a total lack of ground water resource, as evidenced by two major hotels having to import water, presumably to the detriment of others. In addition, increased growth in hotel room numbers has stretched sewage treatment plants beyond their working capacity, resulting in polluted outfall compounded by laundry effluent. It is hoped that Poovar Island could be awarded wetland status and further building curtailed or at least that, from now on, proper pollution controls will be seen to be implemented.