Kerala, India – 28th to 9th April
We disembarked the rustic train and took our first steps on ‘God’s own Country’. We had finally arrived in Kerala!
A state heaped with incredible scenery, captivating culture and mouth watering cuisine. Our two week Kerala adventure would consist of stops in five very different locations.
Kochi (Cochin) – Located in the north, we based our visit in Fort Cochin. An area renowned for its Chinese finishing nets, Christian churches, Dutch and Portuguese influences, Jewish settlement and small art galleries.
Munnar – Situated east of Kochi, it is famous for its spectacular views and luscious tea plantations.
Thekkady – South of Munnar, we were stopping here to visit the recommended Periyar Wildlife sanctuary in the hope of making a rare sight of Tigers and Elephants.
Alleppey – As we headed westwards towards the coast we were making a stop in Alleppey. Infamous for its vast array of houseboats and calming backwaters, this was a ‘must do’ on any tour of Kerala.
The ancient history of Kerala is a bit of a mystery. Buddhist legend tells that long ago, Lord Vishnu descended from the heavens in his incarnation. After slaying the evil kings 21 times, to repeal their force from earth, he did penance for waging the terrible war, and threw his axe into the sea. The area where the axe landed, Kerala rose from the sea, a land of plenty and prosperity.
It’s an interesting myth and while it is not conceivable to the atheist in me, there is speculation that Kerala was once completely covered by water. Archeologists believe that at one time the Arabian Sea extended to the foot of the Western Ghats and that Kerala emerged out of the sea as a result of either sudden or gradual earthquake activity.
Ancient Kerala occupied a unique place in the commercial world. The region’s cotton was a favourite in Egypt and the Phoenicians visited the coast around the same time to trade in ivory, sandalwood and spices. Nowadays Kerala boasts one of the highest literacy rates, lowest positive population rate and highest life expectancy in India. Production of pepper and natural rubber contributes to a significant portion of the total national output.
According to Census of India figures, 56 percent of Kerala residents are Hindus, 24 percent are Muslims, 19 percent are Christians and the remaining one percent follows other religions. It is a state heaped in cultural richness and a state where religious people live in harmony side by side. When in Munnar we even stumbled across a religious site where a Hindu temple and a Muslim mosque were constructed next to each other. This is something so simple yet very symbolic and striking.
Kochi (Cochin), India – 28th to 30th March
After arriving in Fort Kochi to only find our homestay was fully booked, we were whisked away to another property a few streets away. Called ‘The Pod‘ we had hit the jackpot. A brand new, purpose built homestay in a better location, with warm showers, clean rooms, free Wi-Fi and a kitchenette. Jackpot!
Owned my a welcoming local man and his Wife who was originally from Hong Kong, we had a quick introduction before he left to catch a flight to China to see her. We were left in the capable hands of his elderly and endearing parents who could speak no English but still managed to arrange laundry for us and ensure our stay was as comfortable as possible.
Our first stop was to see the Chinese finishing nets in action. Legend has it that the Chinese Fishing Nets were introduced in Fort Cochi by the Chinese explorer, Zheng H but no-one really knows their true origin.
Unfortunately the area surrounding the fishing nets was littered with rubbish and the beach in particular bared the brunt of the trash. Overlooking this rare sight in Kerala, we sat to watch the sun descend gently between the long line of working nets as the fisherman hoisted their contraptions up from above the splashing sea to inspect their catch for the day.
The surrounding area was covered with market stalls, selling an abundance of fresh fish, strange mementos, handmade kids toys, succulent street food and an array of juices and drinks. We opted for a local favourite, fresh coconut. I’m not quite sure we paid local prices though. Here’s another #TouristTwat picture for you all.
Churches established by the Portuguese are dotted around the area and Santa Cruz Basilica (one of eight Basilica’s in India) is probably the crowning construction. It was built by the first Portuguese viceroy, Francesco de Almeida, when he arrived in Kochi way back in 1505 and is one of the oldest churches in India.
Side streets such as Princess Street and Burgar Street are host to small Art café’s and dainty coffee houses that serve succulent dishes and refreshing drinks. Considering it was 40 degrees and over 90% humidity, a stop off every few hours was essential unless we literally wanted to melt.
We stopped in a chic coffee place on Princess Street called Oys Café which I highly recommend. The iced coffee was like drinking liquid heaven considering the extreme weather. If your not a coffee fan then the mint slushy was a great alternative to the cold caffeine concoction.
The following day we left our homestay in the near unbearable heat and visited the David Hall Art Gallery. David Hall is a beautiful old Dutch bungalow that has been restored and has taken on a new life as a cultural centre with a gallery for contemporary art and an accompanying café.
With a history heaped with Jewish influences, a stop in Fort Cochin wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Jew Town. Home to a settlement of Jewish people who first came to the area in 1514 from Cranganore, it contains a Jewish Synagogue that was built in 1568, a pretty shopping district and a distinctively different architecture when compared to the other surrounding Fort Cochin areas.
Our next stop was at The Dutch Palace. Though the Dutch Palace has been named so, it was the Portuguese who built it. What the Dutch did was merely cosmetic renovation and repair. However, neither the Portuguese or the Dutch have used the palace. The palace was used by the rulers of Kochi as their Royal House and important ceremonies related to the coronation were conducted there.
That evening, while carrying out our common ritual of fishing Trip Advisor for the finest dining experience in the area, we stumbled across a local restaurant called Fusion Bay. We like to combine a mix of ‘off the cuff’ eating experiences twined with those we research a little bit more. This method seems to work well for us.
The restaurant didn’t appear anymore aesthetically appealing than the others, but with a quick glance at other punters plates I was enticed to go for fish wrapped in a banana leaf, cooked in a coconut based sauce and served with rice. It was sensational! It was a great meal to wrap up our short but action packed trip of Fort Cochin.
Munnar, India – 30th to 1st April
We left Cochin in the early hours of the morning, with our walking wardrobes strapped to our backs and with an air of apprehension for the six hour local bus ride that lay ahead of us. For around 90p each we could ride this elongated and oversized coffin to the dizzy heights of Munnar. When I say local bus, I mean it in its must truest sense. We were the only travellers crazy enough to dare this journey and with a driver that thought he was Lewis Hamilton twined with the audacity of James Bond, we were in for one hell of a ride.
Undertaking, overtaking, excessively honking and stopping whenever flagged down, it was an exhilarating ride. With no windows the humid air rushed against our faces helping to keep us cool. At times the bus was so overpacked that Dani had to sit on my knee. I don’t think this bus had a maximum persons limit let alone any seat belts. Slithering its way up the winding hills of Munnar like a slippery snake, we somehow managed to make it to our stop without a single crash. The credit must go to the driver, who’s somehow erratic driving seemed to work on the manic roads of India.
We left our space rocket come local bus and took a rickshaw to our homestay, Potluri’s Ganga Holiday Homes. Ran by the ever welcoming Pavan and his wife who is an excellent cook (her breakfast dosa’s were incredible), we were treated to home made family meals, a tour of his impressive home and an insight into his previous life in Chennai where he worked producing CGI for blockbuster movies such as ‘I Am Legend’ staring Will Smith.
After one nights sleep we were off to explore the luscious tea plantations and Munnar’s surrounding attractions but firstly we had to travel even further up the ever winding roads towards the stars.
The previous night we had shared our evening meal with a younger Indian girl from Chennai who’s name was Divya and she had invited us out for a tour with her driver. Divya is from a new generation of Indian women. In her early twenties, she is career driven, independent, travel hungry, confident, funny, well educated and a self confessed atheist. We explore the breath taking scenery all together.
For lunch we stopped off at a local roadside restaurant that was recommended by our driver. We shared a ‘Kerala Meals’ dish that consisted of a variety of small vegetarian dishes, rice, bread and a desert. It was sensational and at a fraction of the cost of a chicken madras at the local Raj curry house.
We then watched a local traditional dance called Kathakali. I can best describe this as a blend of over exaggerated fascial expressions and intricate hand movements. The face paint is rather striking as well.
“A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles”