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God’s own country

September 25, 2010

Kerala is often described as God’s own country. It couldn’t be more true. Any God would happily settle in a place like Kerala and never want anything different.

Kerala is the perfect destination if you’re seeking some relaxation and rejuvenation, physical and/or for the soul. The 3 days we spent in Kerala was one of our best vacations ever! Our itinerary –

Day 1 – Fly in to Cochin. Morning stop for breakfast and museum. Drive on to Kumarakom. Check-in to Waterscapes Resort. Evening free to spend sight-seeing and relaxing. Night stay at the resort in Kumarakom.

Day 2 – Checkout from Kumarakom and drive on to Alleppey. Board our very own houseboat, meet the staff. Houseboat takes off, relax and enjoy the backwaters. Night stay on houseboat.

Day 3 – Cruising the backwaters on houseboat till noon. Checkout from Alleppey in the afternoon. Sightseeing at Allapuzha beach, museums, heritage and antique stores, enroute drive to Cochin airport. Fly back in the evening.

Day 1 – We took a very early morning flight to fly in to Cochin. We landed at 8AM and our guide/driver met us at the airport. We were soon settled into his car, hurtling down the narrow road towards Kumarakom. Our driver was a very soft-spoken soul with a pronounced Malayali accent. A hilarious incident happened when we were exchanging names and phone numbers. He told us his name was “Prameesh” and he provided his number and started spelling out his name so we could enter it into our mobile phone. He started with “P” “R” “A” “M” … “W” …. We stopped at “W” and looked up, puzzled. “W”? That didn’t seem right. So we asked him to repeat. And he says “W”. We were not sure what to do now. How could a name which sounded like “Prameesh” have a “W” in it? Maybe they spell names differently in Kerala. Maybe we heard wrong and his name was not Prameesh? Then a light went on in our heads. He was saying “Double E” and with his nasal Malayali accent it sounded exactly like a “W”. Gosh, we had a hard time keeping a straight face after this and I’m sure he must have thought we’re a pair of illiterates who do not even know how to spell a name properly. Haha!

Being up at 5AM does havoc to your appetite. Our growling stomachs were demanding food and right now! Prameesh promised to take us to a nice breakfast place. I was already salivating over all the appams and stew and fish curry we would no doubt be getting to eat! And the food in Kerala didn’t disappoint. Following the breakfast, both of us dozed off immediately in the back of the car for the rest of the drive.

Our plan for the day was to see a couple places of interesting places along the drive from Cochin to Kumarakom, and reach Waterscapes Resort by afternoon. Prameesh told us about this popular Hill Palace Museum maintained by the Department of Archaeology in Cochin.

We ended up getting there too early, they weren’t even open at 10AM! But no worries, when on vacation, there are endless opportunities like this one to just BE because one does not always have to be doing something or the other. We were the only ones entering the place when it opened up, so we pretty much had all the museums to ourselves. It was nice and interesting to walk around the gardens and see some of the exhibits. Very green with lots of banana trees and coconut trees and flowers everywhere. We saw a lot of beautiful paintings of the Maharajas of yore and some intricate sculptures and arts and crafts, remnants from the era of kings and queens inside the palace. There was also a deer park which had hordes of spotted deer grazing around in the early morning.

Back on our way to Kumarakom. Towns and tiny villages passed by in a flash. We saw men in mundus everywhere. Walking on the road, riding bicycles, even riding motorbikes with their mundus flying behind them for all it’s worth. The men of Kerala will never give up their mundu and rightly so! I’ve been told by very reliable sources (you know who you are) that the cotton makes for the perfect cooling attire to wear during the hot days and the freedom of movement and comfort is undoubtedly worth it!

Anyway, back to our story, as soon as we entered the resort, it immediately had a calming effect on us. The whole place was very quiet, one could hear only the rustling of the leaves, chirping of the birds and the gurgling sound of flowing streams all around. Our accommodation was a tree house! Well, it was a fancy room on stilts above a canal, but I like to think of it as a tree house! The resort is built right next to the Vembanad Lake and the View-point restaurant has some great views of the lake, with birds fishing for lunch and houseboats idly floating by. I believe there’s a bird sanctuary close by too. After a lip-smacking meal of coconut fish curry  and rice, it was time for a much needed afternoon siesta. We then went for a sight-seeing boat tour on the Vembanad Lake in the evening, and spent an hour just floating by on the backwaters and the lake, gazing at pretty reflections of the coconut trees on the water. Here’s our guide showing us around on the lake. He looks stoic and reserved, but when he smiles, it lights up the entire place!

Day 2 – Up early the next morning, K went for one of the things Kerala is most famous for – an oil massage – and he declared it was totally amazing! Who wouldn’t want to feel like well-kneaded dough, right? Ahhhhhhhhmmmmm. After a breakfast at the Viewpoint restaurant of some authentic Kerala cuisine, including idli and appams and sambar, yum jaggery coconut steamed in rice flour and steamed sweetened bananas (guaranteed sugar overdose for the rest of the day!), we had to say goodbye to Kumarakom. However, we were really looking forward to the houseboat experience! Prameesh took us on to Alleppey where we got into our very own houseboat, named the “River Queen”. How grand!

The houseboat staff were getting ready to head out and they were busy gathering provisions needed for our stay, so we walked to a nearby temple where some intense drumming was going on, accompanying the daily aarti. Young swarthy men stood with drums in front of the idol and beat away at it with such intensity and speed, we felt ourselves drawn into the fervor of the priest and devotee. Back on our houseboat, we met all the staff, they were extremely nice and soft-spoken. They left us to ourselves to enjoy the views, although throughout our stay, they would come regularly to check in and make sure we had everything we needed. K and I settled in on our comfortable jute chairs on the deck (living room area) and took in all our surroundings. A houseboat is literally a house  on a boat. With a kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms, living area, everything. There was even a TV and some DVD’s there, but I don’t know who on earth would ever want to switch that on?!

The staff cook all meals fresh on board in a tiny kitchen at the back, we could soon hear and smell the lunch preparations going on. Lunch was truly fit for a king. Several different types of vegetable preparations, fried fish, chicken curry and fresh fruits (delicious pineapple!). When on a houseboat in Kerala, there are only two things one can and should do. Eat and Relax. What a blissful way to spend the day! In the evening there were banana fritters and hot sweet tea. Once we settled on the deck, we didn’t budge for the next few hours. The houseboat glided along gently through the backwaters, making no sound. We just sat there in silence and peace. A few more hours later it was time for dinner! More yummy veggies, chicken, fish and lentils. Gosh, in writing all this down I am realizing that this is all we actually did on the houseboat – eat and relax and eat and relax- but we really wouldn’t have wanted to do anything differently. To offset all the overindulgence, we decided to “exercise” ourselves at steering the houseboat later that evening. It was very nice of Captain Bincy to allow us to sit on the deck with the wheel and pretend to ourselves that we were captains too. Yes, steering a wheel does burn calories!

Day 3 – Nobody should miss a sunrise on the backwaters! There was a field next to where we docked, so we got off the houseboat and strolled down to the meadows of verdant green, a thin veil of fog was lifting from the trees as the sun rose higher and higher. We saw people up and early starting their day and going about their daily business. A man came by on a small boat, selling newspapers. A ferry started up on the other side of the canal, bringing over people to our side of the village. A man jumped in and swam away, we assume to the other side, and likely because he didn’t want to wait for a ferry? I’ve heard that mundus dry very quickly. Another man was high up in a tree, gathering toddy. A wizened old guy came out of his house and entered a tiny 8 by 8 shop and settled in to sell his wares – biscuits, cigarettes, candy, paan – to whomever would pass by.

It was all so reminiscent of simpler times, simple pleasures and a unhurried, relaxed pace to life, and so addictively different from our own hectic days. We were reminded of our visits to the villages where our forefathers grew up, when we would go to meet our aunts and uncles and cousins who had settled down in the village. Fond memories of summer vacations spent with cousins, plucking cashew fruits and berries (jambul) fresh off the tree and walking barefoot in the fields not caring about getting muddy and bathing in the cool crisp water from the well. Precious memories of a time that are hard to come by again.

As the sun rose higher, we gorged ourselves on coffee and idlis and sambar. It was time to head back to meet our driver Prameesh who was eager to show us the beaches of Kerala and take us souvenir shopping. We bid adieu to our crew on the houseboat – Captain Bincy and others – and drove on to Allapuzha Beach. It was a warm sunny day, perfect for strolling along, with icecreams in hand. Vacations make one hungry, yes! Prameesh showed us around a few of the downtowns, Heritage Museum in Cochin where lovely bronze statues, beautifully painted vases and spice souks awaited us. Wandering through these alleys, we ended up buying too many souvenirs (as usual) to take back home.

Memories of Kerala will stay with us forever. Especially the genuinely nice people with their open welcoming smiles and  soft-spoken accented English. Especially Prameesh (with the double-E and not W) and Captain Bincy and crew. And of course, the beauty and serenity of the backwaters and the peace we felt will always remain with us. I hope we can make it back to Kerala again soon and spend more time getting to know ourselves and God’s own country better.


From → India, Kerala

  1. Urvi permalink

    Very nice description. Using this post to plan our trip in Feb. 🙂

  2. Urvi permalink

    I love your travel writing and pictures. Will be using your blog as a guide in the future too. We will be staying at Waterscapes, though we are going to do Munnar in the same trip too, will keep you posted.:)

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