We have just left Kerala, and not without a bit of sadness. I daresay it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life, and it’s not without reason that they refer to it here in India as “God’s Own Country”. As my friend in Delhi told me, “South India is green… really green, not these dusty plants like we have here”. So I apologize in advance for the length of this post…
We started by picking up my 16-year-old sister, Kylie, from the Bangalore airport. We arrived around 4am, on a flight from Rajasthan that involved a terrible 6 hour layover in the Mumbai airport. Kylie arrived about an hour later, then we waited another 5 hours to board a flight to Kochi, and took a 1.5 hour cab ride from the airport to Fort Kochi. Exhaustion! We enjoyed our time quite a bit despite skipping most of the sights due to severe “heatardism” (as coined by Jeff, i.e., being rendered stupid as a result of high heat and humidity). The first day, we took an auto rickshaw tour for a few hours and saw a neat old spice factory, beautiful temples, and a big area in which all the hotels in the area contract people to do laundry.
We ate some lovely food, then dragged poor jet lagged Kylie out to a concert of probably the most sleep inducing music out there: sitar and tabla. Very enjoyable for Jeff and I, though – the two men had never played together, and did some amazing jamming with traditional patterns and beats.
The next day, we returned to the same interesting centre to see some Kathakali dance, a traditional form from this area with crazy makeup and a lot of exaggerated facial movements (ha ha, face dancing). Kylie had done a school project on the dance, so it was neat to see it in person.
After Kochi, we headed to Munnar. Jeff found a great tour operator on TripAdvisor, and he did not disappoint (for anyone going here, definitely look up Stanley Wilson in Kochi!). On the way, we stopped to see some elephants being bathed, to ride an elephant, and to see a spice and medicinal herb garden.
The Munnar area was an extremely welcome respite from the heat due to its higher altitudes, and is one of the more beautiful places in the state because the hills are covered with spice and tea plantations. The residence we stayed in was amazing – built into the hill in the middle of nowhere, with spectacular views of the vivid green hills and valleys. We met great people, ate like kings, and relaxed our arses off.
While in the area, we drove up to top station, the highest point in the Western Ghats (a group of mountains in Southern India), and visited the Tata tea museum. As I have a deep running passion for a strong cup of flavourful tea, I loved this part. We learned how tea is grown and processed, sampled an amazing masala chai, and learned about the cooperative that was formed when the tea company was sold to its workers and is now run from the bottom up.
On the way back to Kochi, we stopped to buy Kylie a saree, her current plan for her grade 12 graduation outfit. She found one that looked stunning, and was waited on by heaps of doting and excitable staff. I have a picture, but I think Kylie would rather I didn’t post it…
Next was the crowning glory of Kerala: the backwaters. Ahhhhhhh. Only this could compete with the beauty of Munnar. We booked the trip through the same tour operator as Munnar, and it was quality all the way. We were on one of only two boats in the area aside from local fishing and transport boats, and our boats were propelled by two men with long bamboo sticks rather than by motors (which made us feel like lazy asses). These two days were a whole lot of drinking in the sights of palm trees and slow river life, using the beaten up copy of “birds of India” to attempt to identify some majestic feathered friends (kingfishers and eagles for sure), and more relaxing and eating like kings. Cheap beer, fresh fish, coconut-infused Keralan-curry, the works. After one night on the boat, we also spent another beside the backwaters at a farmstay.
From there, we hopped a train (Kylie’s first!) to Varkala, a coastal town perched on beautiful red cliffs. We planned on a few nights here and then another few nights in another beach town nearby, but ended up with 8 gloriously lazy days in Varkala. We had a nice hotel with AC (much needed at this time of year) and a sea view, and had been told about a nice restaurant that we ended up visiting at least once per day for organic salads, fresh juice, good coffee, and no curry. I love curry, but was quite excited for the variety. This was a pretty touristy place, but nice for the availability of yoga classes, shopping for hippie goods, massages and pedicures, and swimming and boogie boarding in the massive waves. We all ended up with some injuries – boogie board rope burn, stomach bruising with possible internal bleeding, nipple pain…
A Varkala highlight for me was playing a show at the “Rock and Roll Café”. It went really well, I think people even came in to hear the music, despite the borrowed guitar that refused to stay in tune. We ended this night by joining a small jam down the street, with great people who were also great musicians.
Our final two days were spent in Bangalore, but I can’t say that we really got to know this city well. We wandered down a few market and shopping streets but didn’t do much “touristing”. Instead, we saw a Bollywood take on the Bond franchise: Agent Vinod was highly entertaining, even though it was mostly in Hindi and we didn’t always know what was going on. Kylie got to do some international mall shopping for her birthday, finding some incredibly cute clothes to take back to Canada. We ended with a great Kylie’s 17th-birthday dinner at a recommended restaurant – and the wait for the curry was worth it J