DESTINATION KERALA

By Alankrita Anand (PR Co-ordinator)

 

 

 

 

Coconuts and palms, bananas and spices, backwaters and beaches…and more coconuts (even ayurvedic ones!). The name Kerala itself is derived from the term kera meaning coconut in Malayalam. God-bestowed gifts aside, this South Indian state takes great pride in having achieved a very high literacy rate. Legend has it that Parasuraman, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, stood on a high point in the Western Ghats, threw his axe far into the sea and commanded it to recede; it did and the land that emerged dripping from the waters became Kerala. On that note, let me take you across Marvelous Malabar.

Where God resides…

Our first stop is Kochi- one of the earliest places in India to host European explorers and settlers. A progressing modern city yet one with a rich Portugese and Dutch legacy…it houses India’s oldest surviving church, St. Francis, 500 year old Portugese houses, one of India’s oldest Jewish settlements and also Vasco da Gama’s original resting place. A major attraction at Fort Kochi (the Portugese settlement area) are the Chinese fishing nets along the seaside, an important imprint of ages of overseas trade which is still carried out in great volume from the Kochi Port. You can take a launch ride from Marine Drive and see the massive ships from a close distance and also the ruins of the Bologatty Palace. Fort Kochi, with its antique shops and little home-stays, the Jewish Synagogue and the Dutch palace and the fresh seafood from the Chinese fishing nets, has a most warm and resplendent old world charm and is on every tourist’s itinerary.

Inside St. Francis, guess who?

Moving on, let us now go to the hillside. On points across the Western Ghats are the little hill towns of Munnar and Thekkady and others. These hill stations are known for their high quality spices, their manicured tea gardens and wildlife sanctuaries that are home to exotic and endangered flora and fauna from the gentle Nilgiri Thar to the Giant Malabar squirrel and if you are lucky, you may get to see the Neelakkurinji blossom that blooms once in every 12  years! The lakes and dams like Periyar and Mattupetty offer cruises and thrilling speed boat rides on their pristine waters amidst scenic hills and chilling winds. For the more adventurous ones, the Kerala Tourism Dept. has guesthouses and tents inside the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Go ahead, spend a night or two with them large felines.

 

Boats cruising through the Periyar Lake

And on to Kerala’s world renowned blessings- the backwaters and the beaches. Those extensive stretches of beautiful backwaters lined with tall coconuts bending low and the vast expanse of the Prussian blue sea will make you feel that you’re indeed there- in God’s own country, at bliss. If you are looking for an overwhelmingly luxurious experience, look not at 5-star resorts. Welcome aboard your chartered cruise- the traditional Kerala houseboat. Fear not, despite the traditional thatched exterior, the interior is furnished to suit the most modern of tastes and is fully equipped with air-conditioners and telephone showers and 32” LCD TVs… The icing on the cake being a three-member crew at your service with the cook dishing out hot delicacies from the kitchen. And do not be surprised if you see a rowing boat selling catch fresh from the Arabian Sea and in case you’re out of supplies, soft drinks and knick-knacks too. Here is one ‘hotel’ where you decide your dinner menu and if the Captain permits, try your hand at the sailor’s wheel! The Kerala houseboat is sheer indulgence.

 

Luxury on the Vembanad Lake

Another backwater cruise worth trying is the motorboat ride on the Neyyar River to Poovar Island where the river forms an estuary to meet the sea. Poovar’s literal translation is ‘golden sand’ and that is precisely what you find there. After cruising through a few miles of mangrove forests where the trees literally meet over your head and birds that fly down all the way from the freezing north, you approach the golden sands. Cross over 30metres or less and lo! You behold the clear blue sea, its massive waves crashing on the golden shore, its saline spray on your bewildered face. A river on one side, a sea on the other… Truly God’s country complete with a church on the isle!

 

I see the golden sands yonder

Trivandrum’s famed Kovalam Beach (including the Samudra Beach, the Hawah Beach and the Lighthouse Beach) is known for its Prussian blue sea and its rocky shore and is lined with a number of seaside resorts and eateries. Initially a fishing village, Kovalam developed into a major tourist destination with the efforts of the royal family of Travancore. At the beach, you may bask, bathe, swim, dream and simply laze around but be careful and do not let the mighty waves take away your beach bags and sunglasses. With the sound of the waves in the backdrop, let time slow down. It is all that we need on a vacation.

While in Kerala, do taste some of their traditional cuisine- be it seafish tenderly cooked in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves or rice pancakes of different varieties. For fresh sea-food, I suggest the Fort Kochi beach- the ‘ You buy, We cook’ system where I was told by one person, “One rounding, full cooking!” (Take one round of the beach area and your dish is ready.) And also take back some garden fresh spices for your kitchen back home. Kerala is known for its age old dance forms of Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Theyyam and many more, a Kathakali performance should be a must on your schedule. So should a relaxing  60 minutes massage. Before you go there for a blissful new year holiday, here’s that one word you will hear throughout Kerala- Ayurveda!

 

 Dinner fresh from the sea

 

A 15kg costume, a 3hour long make-up and an energy-filled performance

 

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