Tara and Ilona came together to visit us this month for 2 weeks. We prepared what could be best described as a package tour of Kerala To cram into 2 weeks to see as much of Kerala and give a flavour of South India is difficultly and can only at best offer a brief flavor of what is a vast and complex State steeped in thousands of years of history. It’s difficult to make the best use of a short holiday. I think we got it right after much planning and help from the Great India Tour in Trivandrum and special thanks to R Mahash for his patience with us and in organizing the time table and transport It is best to limit site seeing into a manageable area with not to much travel . We managed this by traveling no more than 4 hours a day by car and completing our return journey to Trivandrum by Flight from Cochin. This proved to be an excellent tour of the region taking in some colonial history, fine hotels, experiencing the magic of traveling on a house boat in the backwaters and visiting the tea plantation hill stations. I would recommend this route to any would be travelers to Kerala.
Two hour drive from Trivandrum to Varkala . A popular beach resort mentioned in previous e mails Very similar to Kovalam but most hotels and restaurants on up a picturesque cliff overlooking a beautiful beach.
Four hour Taxi drive to Alappuzha (Alleppey), to meet the House boat. These boats were used originally used to transport crops, rubber and timber along the mass of inter-connecting waterways . This area is known as the Venic of India.An inspired british backpacker in the 60s had the idea of using them as a tourist attraction to see the Keralan backwaters now there are about 140 boats contributing substantially to the local economy.
This was the big surprise of the trip. Especially the standard of build of the boat Our house boat was one of two new craft owned by Evergreen Tours. The boat was fitted with all mod con complete with en suit bathroom, air conditioned cabins .There was a crew of 4. They Cooked our food and provided a fantastic welcome and service throughout the journey.
On our travel along the wide rivers we stopped at a Catholic church which was full to overflowing with worshipers celebrating Good Friday.
They were singing in the native language of Malayalam which being rhythmic tonal language had the effect of very moving, and beautifully sung hymn which echoed round the church yard and across the quiet back waters.
We bought some fresh water Shrimps down river from the church and gave them to the Boat Chef to cook for our dinner. These proved surprisingly, to be tastier than sea shrimps. The cost us about 6 quid for ½ kilo (special high price for tourist) they were worth it. I was criticized for being to tight to get a Kilo.
We moored up overnight.
Continued our journey after breakfast and for 3 hours, traveled over the largest fresh water lake in India piloted by a crew member shielding from the fierce sun under an umbrella. Our destination the, lakeside resort of Seascapes. Seascapes in Kumarakom was developed by the Government Tourist Board and is a little run down but clean and pleasant. The food was ok and there is a bird sanctuary adjoining which is worth a visit. There is plenty of interesting wild life to see
we returned the 1 kilometer journey back from the long walk through the forest of the sanctuary to the hotel via longboat after eating soft fresh coconut, this is a very refreshing and welcome treat after a long hot trek through the reserve.
It is was worth the visit to the Taj hotel next door to Seascapes for a reasonably priced and delicious dinner served in a pleasant surrounding.
I have only seen rain 5 times since arriving in India January. It is always accompanied with spectacular lightning. This we witnessed from the safety of the Taj hotel canopy while enjoying a delicious curry, cool Kingfisher beers and the sweet fresh air smell after the rain subsided.
Traveled to the Hill station Munnar which after 5 hours drive is situated at an altitude of 5000/6000 feet. We stayed at the Sterling resort hotel. The hotel has great views from the hotel room but was in need of some serious maintenance. Several rooms were out of service. This is a common feature of many older hotels in Kerala and is being addressed.
Like the last hotel at the lake side we found the facilities in the hotel next door better and the food was exceptionally good (Mahindra Lake View Hotel) This is often the case so economies can be made by using the posh hotel facilities while saving cash staying cheaper hotels.
Drove to see the town of Munnar and look at the tea plantations on the way. This was one of the most interesting days in the mountains.
We stopped by to watch tea pickers load their harvest on a truck to be transported to the TATA tea factory.
TATA Tea own nearly all the plantations, the mountains and all the accommodation of the tea workers. Munnar is a true remnant of ‘The Company’ town
The tea is picked by female workers mainly migrants from over the mountains in the nearby state of Tamil Nadu where work is scarce. The woman in fig 3 was cheerful and happy to talk to us and show us how she picked the leaves. The lower grade tea is picked using shears. She let us have a go with the tea clipper and was amused at our clumsiness.
The tea looks like the privets bushes we had in our Bolton Council house garden when I was a kid. (we made crap tea) The tea pickers wore a thick plastic apron to protect their legs from the rough bushes.
The women earn about a pound a day working from 5:30 am till 4 pm . The work is hard, notice the load on the lady below (fig 5) this is carried down a very steep slope to the wagon for loading.
The tea workers live in the fields in groups of TATA Tea Company Stone and tin roofed cottages close to their work fields.
Another worthwhile attraction is the British built hydroelectric dam at Munnar The first to be built in India which provides a recreational lake that has become a tourist attraction. The south part of the lake provides a picnic spot called echo point, because, well that’s what it does when you shout Bolton Wanderers across the water, like I did (must have been the heat)
There are herds of wild elephants in this area though we didn’t see any, Our driver warned us to beware of any single Elephants. Elephants naturally live in herds and the single elephant is usually an outcast from its herd and a usually rejected for it antisocial behavior and usually mad.
Never stand in front of one and it is better to run down slope to escape, because the elephant can’t run so well down hill, I felt only slightly reassured.
Many elephants are put to work in the Munnar forest region and we saw several while traveling along the mountain roads (fig 8)
Cochin is rich in the history of Dutch, Portuguese and British influence and there is many places where this is in evidence. Our first stop was the Bolghatty Palacehotel (fig 9&10) converted by the Keralan government from a Dutch palace. The Palace was built by the Dutch in the year 1744 and was taken over by the English for a while; it is situated on an island off the Cochin coast. It is now accessible by bridge. This was the plushest hotel we stayed. Unlike the other Government hotels we stayed in this was perfectly restored and well maintained.
Visited the island, Fort Cochin.
Santa Cruz basilica
This church was initially built by the Portuguese and demolished by the British when they took over Kochi, rebuilt in 1887. Then it was proclaimed a Basilica in 1984 by Pope John Paul II.
The house of Vasco da Gama, (fig 19)Brutal Portuguese explorer, famed for burning ships full of women and children .This is thought to be the oldest house on Fort Cochin island. It is now a Home stay (bed and breakfast)
Another strong influence around these islands is that of the Chinese, in the food and more visually, the ancient method of fishing in the shallow lagoons and from the shore using ‘Chinese Nets’ (fig 20)These structures are made from basic local materials, rocks, rope and bamboo. The rocks cantilever the nets and the fish can be bought as it is caught and then cooked to your liking at the quay side café
The island of fort Cochin is also accessible by a new bridge from the main land. The original bridge built by the British is now weak and restricted to TucTucs and Bikes only
There is obviously more to see in Kerala than you can see in two weeks. I hope this gives you a taste of the diversity and uniqueness of the state of Kerala we have had the privilege to enjoy. I hope in some way this Blog will help you to share this enjoyment with us.
Terry and Anita