Don van de Pol
Travel Guide, Business Coach, Psychology Student and Hotelier
Don, a fellow Australian,and I were introduced by a mutual Danish friend who thought we should meet because of our India connection. I learnt that Don was married to Mini, and together they had embarked upon a decade long project to create a luxury home on Mini’s ancestral property in the small village of Muvattupuzha located under an hour from the Kochi airport. In what sounds like an episode of Grand Designs, they commissioned Bali based Australian architect and artist, Made Wijaya, to create a five-suite villa. Mini works in Corporate Law in Hong Kong and their two sons are studying in Melbourne, so they decided to open their spectacular tropical home to discerning travellers in 2015, naming the property Indian Summer House (ISH). I have so many happy memories of spending time there. Don and I have shopped for tonic water and other essentials at Lulu Mall , done early morning yoga in the garden at ISH, searched and found the Convent making banana fibre baskets, attended a gala performance of the Australian World Orchestra and much more. My all-time favourite memory, other than just enjoying the serenity at ISH, is catching a canoe to a local village where we visited Mohanan’s chai stall enjoying truly delicious chai and local banana fritters
Our conversation takes place In July 2020 during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
What were you just thinking of?
I’ll give you a list of literally the things going through my mind just now. Never have I had so many balls in the air and I feel gravity has shifted so some balls drop straight down, others keep going up to almost but not quite out of sight, and others slice to the left or right like when I attempt to play golf.
How and when we can see our children, our Australian family, our India family?
My mother recently passed away: when will we have a memorial? Should we wait? How does the rest of the family feel?
How can I keep my staff happy, healthy, connected and engaged in India?
How am I filling in my days?
Are these Zoom calls and webinars of real value or is everyone just trying to block out their own thoughts?
Should I be helping those less fortunate more?
I should be more grateful and less introspective.
I really need to start that essay for my new course.
Should I start advertising ISH domestically? Is it too soon?
What have I missed? …the list goes on all at once.
What are you doing for the rest of today?
I have enrolled in a Graduate Diploma in Psychology, so my day will be focused on that, intermingled with bits of all the above. We are currently living in Hong Kong and it has been really good here, however, a Hong Kong lifestyle is all about travel. My wife, Mini, would travel for work and I would join her sometimes. I would be in India a lot of the time and then trips to Melbourne to be with our boys. Now we have built a strong group of friends in Hong Kong that we hang around with on weekends looking for odd things to do and places to eat. Currently planning an overnight on an old sailing boat, staycation at a caravan park, hikes in the New Territories and maybe even a trip to Disneyland in Hong Kong.
How ‘real’ does the threat of the virus feel? Do you know any one personally who has contracted the virus?
It feels very real, as people in Hong Kong are very nervous of viruses and started wearing masks long before they were told to do so. Also, we are nervous for our older friends and family members. A friend’s father died due to Covid, our friend is in Hong Kong and his dad was in the UK. He wasn’t able to see him or go there. It was difficult.
If your own health and that of your family/friends is ok; then what is the greatest impact on your life (and on your work) of the pandemic?
Not being able to look after my team in Kerala. Kerala is as much home as Australia is and to not be able to be there to support the team and continue to build and expand our business is frustrating. Things take time in India and this is a delay we didn’t need. Before I left in February, we had two exciting tourism related proposals in front of us. But mostly I just want to give the team a big hug! I know there will be tears on arrival.
What are you looking forward to post pandemic?
Resuming our work in India. Meeting family and friends. Less noise in my head and more clarity.
Has there been anything positive from the pandemic?
Personally, without the travel it feels like university days when I met my now wife. In those days we would spend all our time together. Mini joined me in India for our last tourist season 19/20 and we hosted guests together and from then we haven’t had a day apart. It’s now six months later – we’ve loved it and made plans for the future, which we have never done before. In terms of India we have started a ‘Home Delivery & Catering’ service, which has been something I have wanted to do for sometime. And we have done this remotely with my team. This has created energy and enthusiasm around promoting ISH as the premier place for healthy, tasty meals in our town. We have involved all of our friends and relatives to help with promotion so everyone can be proud of having ISH in their town.
Is there an innovation (service, product, science, media) that you have been impressed with?
Chef Rajesh now runs a Zoom Cooking Class for past guests. We share the ingredients and then Rajesh directs their cooking in their own homes. There are always a lot of laughs on both sides and they get to share the meal with their families at the end.
What does your personal future of travel look like? When and where will you go first? What are you dreaming of?
Australia will be our first stop to see our boys. However, as a Covid initiative, we have as a family purchased an old empty van for my youngest son who needs an activity during lock down in Melbourne. He is going to fit it out as a Camper and we are all going to head out for a bit, light a fire and share food and stories in the outdoors. We all camped as a young family so looking forward to revisiting that. Although it will most likely rain and we will be in the van playing cards or just being a bit silly.
What are you finding inspiring now?
I am loving learning all about psychology and I am enjoying all of the reading and revisiting the early psychologists like Milgram and Asch whose studies you could not perform nowadays due to ethics. These guys made us all think, and they are still so relevant today. I like sharing my discovery with others and it creates new conversations and you find out more about people through these conversations.
What has made you laugh out loud most recently?
We have a friend from Bloomberg here and every time we get together, we have a huge laugh about the latest US political scandal. It’s good to have some comic relief on what is really quite serious!
If a reader would like to make a contribution, can you recommend a specific organisation/initiative that could do with the support?
Join “Friends of ISH”. This initiative is a result ofour many guests asking how they can help. So now Chef Rajesh at ISH prepares and delivers food one day per week to a local orphanage. Past guests who are interested help by funding the food cost. It keeps Rajesh busy, gives to our community and builds a lovely long-term connection with our guests. Learn more by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
India Summer House is now open and ready to welcome guests from within Kerala and, hopefully not before too long, from other states in India and visitors from abroad. Bookings can be done directly on the website or I am happy to help you plan a fuller India itinerary through the Love Travel Journey Service.