Sunday, May 19, 2013, 4:07am
Introduction to Kerala, INDIA
Date travelled: 20th January to 4th February 2005
Tour Operator: Jewel in the Crown
After a flight of about eight hours, with a short stop in Bahrain, we arrived at Goa airport. We transfered by coach to the 'best' hotel in Vasco for an overnight stay before flying to Cochin the following day. I emphasise 'best' because the hotel in Vasco de Gama would be lucky to make a one star rating in England.
Cochin now known as Kochi is one of the most visited Kerala Backwater destinations. Cochin port is famous for its spices, exported to the west from ancient times to the present day. The Jewish Synagogue, Fort Cochin, The Matancherry Palace built by the Dutch and St Francis Church are popular tourist attractions in Cochin as well as the Chinese fishing nets in Cochin harbour.
We arrived in Cochin after a short flight from Goa and booked into our hotel before embarking on a walking tour of all the tourist attractions. In the evening we went to a Kathakali performance at the Cultural Centre. Kathakali is Keral's traditional dance/art form. We watched as they applied their makeup, which took probably the best part of an hour, before watching the performance.
After the performance we were expecting to return to our hotel when our guide asked if we would like to go to a local religious festival being held not far away. We jumped at the chance to join the locals in their celebrations and we were not disappointed when we got there. Drums banged, trumpets blew, and the people chanted - the noise was amazing. At least half a dozen elephants decorated beautifully in gold and feathers stood close by. We were in the middle of thousands of locals, all gathered to celebrate some religious occasion (never did find exactly what was being celebrated!). Luckily, Paul had his camcorder with him and when the locals realised he was trying to film these scenes he was gently pushed forward to the front of the crowd to get a better view of the festivities. That is something that would never happen in England in the same circumstances!
Alleppey, known as Alappuzha, in Kerala is surrounded by waterways and canals and is therefore also called the "Venice of the East." Alappuzha is also known worldwide as a center of the coir industry. Coir is made from the rough outer husk of the coconut. The fibers of the husk are processed and woven to make useful items including packaging material, boards, mats and brushes.
Fringing the coast of Kerala and winding far inland is a vast network of lagoons, lakes, rivers and canals. Travelling the backwaters is one of the highlights of a visit to Kerala. The larger boats are motorised but there are numerous smaller boats propelled by punting with a long bamboo pole. Along the way are small settlements where people live on narrow spits of reclaimed land only a few metres wide.
Kottayam is a beautiful Kerala backwater destination. This historic town is also famous for many churches and temples and for its role in the history of Kerala. The beautiful Vembanand Lake and its associated backwaters border Kottayam district on the West. There are hill ranges to the East and the Ernakulam district to the North. Kottayam is located in an area of great natural beauty.
The next day we travelled to Alleppey to meet our very own houseboat, our accommodation for the next two nights. Made completely of wood and natural materials our house boat comprised of a double bedroom, a small bathroom with shower & toilet, a small sundeck and came with two oarsmen and a chef, who had their own facilities at the rear ot the houseboat. For the next two days we cruised the backwaters travelling between waterside villages, rice fields and coconut fringed banks and getting a wonderful look at daily village life. As sunset approaches, the anchor is dropped and the traditional lanterns lit, the perfect end to a perfect two days.
After two days of bliss we disembark our houseboat and travel to Periyar through the Western Ghats, a sharp contrast to the coastal areas with an abundance of tea, rubber and spice plantations including coffee, cocoa, cinnamon, pepper, cashew and clove. On arrival we check in at the lovely Spice Village hotel, our base for the next two nights. The following day we visited the local spice plantation full of heavenly aromas and vibrant colours, where we purchased rather a lot of spices, cashew nuts, coffee and tea. Later in the day we took a cruise on the tranquil Lake Periyar, the watering hole within the Wildlife Sanctuary to spot the wildlife in their natural habitat. We saw otters and several species of birds, wild boar, but sadly, no tigers!
Our last day in Kerala saw us stopping at Kumarakom on the shores of Lake Vembanand en-route, for lunch at the fabulous Coconut Lagoon backwater retreat hotel. After lunch we travelled back to Cochin for a one night stay at the Casino hotel before leaving Kerala the next morning for a one week stay at the Cidade de Goa in Goa.
** Information on the travel pages was correct at the time of publishing. Passport & Visa information applies to UK citizens.