Lord no more, but charming, yes
Once upon a time, the only hotel that had `star' status was the Sealord. But then, it faced the sea (backwaters). Reclamation drives saw the Sealord receding into land, bigger hotels stole the thunder from it. JOHNY PAZHANILATH on this landmark of Kochi, which looks the same now
An earlier photograph of Hotel Sealord when the backwaters stretched right along it.
IT STANDS tall, imposing. Facing the azure sea, close to bustling Broadway, Hotel Sealord was once a veritable landmark of Kochi. In the early sixties, it was the only skyscraper in the city. For the present denizens of this fast metamorphosing, pulsating metropolis, the antiquated photograph preserved at the hotel lounge, would be stunning. The hotel had a picturesque water frontage with the surfing sea right at the entrance.
Remember the Malayalam hit movie of the 60's, `Anubhavangal Palichakal'? There is a song sequence, featuring the immortal hero, Satyan, in which the actor walks along the deserted Shanmugham Road, singing those famous lines `Pravachakanmaare Parayu... ' The scene shows the old face of Marine Drive.
"In those days, sitting in the lobby of Hotel Sealord, one could enjoy the sound of water lashing against the granite walls", recalls Mr. Pravesh Johar, son of the late Raisahib K.L.Johar who built the hotel 38 years ago.
It was the first centrally air-conditioned hotel in South India and the first to get the three-star status in Kerala. And when high-rise, concrete buildings were alien to beautiful Kochi, this hotel had the honour of being the tallest structure in the city.
Those were days when elevator technology was relatively unknown to Malayalis. There were many visitors to this multi-storied hotel just to take a ride on the elevator. It was simply amusing to be lifted from one floor to the other, just by the push of a button. The hotel had other firsts also to its credit. It was the first to employ women; at a time when working as waitresses must have raised many eyebrows.
For the upwardly mobile young generation and for those who have migrated to this fast growing metro, all this might seem quite puzzling. But old timers would still remember how majestically this structure lorded over that stretch of road.
The two-lane Shanmugham Road of today was then a narrow black streak, sandwiched between the hotel and the surfing sea. "The road was narrow and there was no land beyond its border", reminiscences Mr. Issac Peter, managing director, of Hotel Sealord. Hotel Sealord, with its strategic location and continental cuisine, backed by its live music band lured many globetrotters and business barons in the past. It had the amenities and facilities that matched international standards. No wonder then that this hotel had, on several occasions, hosted Mrs Indira Gandhi with their sumptuous banquets during her visits to KochiMany old timers, while recalling the nostalgic memories of old Kochi, admit that during the 80's Sealord's rooftop was the only vantage point in the city that could offer a bird-eye view of Kochi and her magical beauty in the night. Many used it as an ideal rendezvous to seep in the ineffable beauty of Kochi's famous backwaters. Sitting on its rooftop, many have enjoyed the addictive charm of Kochi, nursing a drink and savouring the continental delicacies offered by the hotel.
The images of Kochi that could be captured from this vantage point were in fact many and varied: the moonlight, the flickering silhouette of the Bolghatty Palace standing against a picture-book sky.
"Nowhere in Kerala did a hotel offered such a magical view of the night", claims Sealord's general manager, Raju Markose. For the music-loving Bacchus, Sealord also had yet another temptation, its well known music band. Once dusk settled, the hotel's bar attendants would open all the doors to its tipplers. The thunder of the live band that used to rock the hotel and its neighbourhood with its dazzling performance is still in old-timers' ears. No wonder, the hotel had been the cradle of some of the finest rock talents in India, like the 13 AD and the Exodus. "They all have been performing here before they shot into fame as the 13 AD band", said Mr. Markose.
Even today, the hotel has its music band called Antix, playing from 8 to 11 in the evening. A mute spectator of Kochi's azure sea, the hotel was ideally named as the lord of sea by its first owner, the late Johar. A Palakkad-based Army food caterer and one of Kerala's well known businessmen of yesteryear, Mr.Johar recognized the potential of good catering and the scope for hospitality venture in Kerala. Thus, in 1964 he opened Hotel Sealord. With no other star hotel in Keral, Hotel Sealord had smooth sailing until 1979, and fetched good business. But the labour unrest put a spoke in the wheel of its progress in 1980. Despite the best efforts from the authorities concerned, the hotel was closed for 565 days. The Johars were not interested in re-opening it. It was then that the Piravam-based Issac group came to the rescue of the sinking lord of the sea. The group bought the hotel in 1981. After renovation, Sealord was re-opened in November 1981. "Our rooms make each guest feel special," claims Mr.Issac Peter. The hotel has 39 centrally air-conditioned rooms, Sayanna, the rooftop restaurant, Princess's Room, a mutli cuisine restaurant, King's Court, the banquet, Queen's Chambers- a mini conference hall, and Golden Jug Bar, a place to unwind after a hectic schedule.
"Many times over the past twenty years, I've been coming to Sealord", says Coline Gribble, an Australian touristIndeed, times have changed. The face of Kochi too has undergone a sea change over the past 40 years, but Hotel Sealord seems unchanged, at least the outward appearance of the structure.
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