Reminiscing, a Kerala Kaleidoscope, January 2006

#1 Jul 6th, 2011, 21:58
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#1
Part I: Poovar, Land’s End, Trivandrum

After an interval of more than five years, I have decided to write my Kerala Trip Report which is long overdue. Prompted by the recent visit of my niece (her first to India, wildly successful beyond either her hopes or mine), I wanted to reminisce about this, my own first visit to India, back in 2006.

Why Kerala? First and foremost I had read and heard so much about it from various friends, mainly yogis, who had been to Kovalam and/or Varkala, as well as the Backwaters.

Then one day, idly googling on the Net, I chanced upon IndiaMike. I read a lot and learned a lot and mostly kept quiet back then (I’ve been making up for it ever since it seems). Reading Lonely Planet I was much inspired by the stories of Theyyam in Northern Kerala, so much so that I took as my moniker for this site theyyamdancer.

A plan was gradually forming. My yoga teacher told me that it was easy to fly into Trivandrum via the Gulf and that it would provide not only a cheap flight but also a “soft” landing, away from the megacities of India. Another friend had told me much about the delights of the Theosophy Society of Chennai; so we decided on a whim to fly into Trivandrum and to exit India one month later from Chennai. My original plan was to spend one week in Poovar, to get our bearings and accustom ourselves to being in India (at last!); then we were supposed to visit North Kerala for the theyyam. But things rarely go according to plan…. so much the better as it turned out. We happened to meet a young couple in Poovar who had just returned from Havelock in the Andamans. After seeing photographs of Beach Number Seven, we abandoned our Plan A and replaced it with Plan B: a trip to the Andaman Islands. (Little known to us, our decision would actually have far-reaching repercussions, as we would make friends with somebody in Havelock who would inspire us to travel later on to Arunachal Pradesh, at the most distant end of India from Kerala.) But that is outside of the realms of this trip report! I am also getting ahead of myself here.

Thinking back to a mid-January morning, when we emerged into the brilliant sunshine, leaving Trivandrum airport behind us, being pleasantly overwhelmed by the colours, smells, sounds and sights which greeted us beyond the crowds of people who had come to greet their friends and family. We were met at the airport by Mark, owner of the homestay which was to be our base. “Friday’s Place” is set on several small islands in the Neyyar River, a short boat ride away from Poovar, near to where the river joins the sea. Feeling immediately welcomed and not undergoing any of the culture shock that I had been promised by family and friends, this was indeed a very gentle introduction to India.

The next morning, waking jet-lagged to the 4 a.m. blaring of calls to prayer from minaret, temple and church, simultaneously claiming their beliefs to the faithful, we smelled the jungle fragrances and heard the chatter of birds in the palm trees. Later we visited Poovar market where we bought fresh fish for lunch.

Another daybreak saw us and our hosts in their small boat, taking an excursion up the Neyyar River, where through the morning mist and the slight drizzle we saw kingfishers, picked fresh tamarinds straight from the tree, watched illegal sandmining, and waved to schoolchildren on the banks under the watchful gaze of cows having their morning bathe.

One evening we walked on nearby Vizhinjam beach and watched the sun go down before going to eat at the nearby floating fish restaurants in the river.

We took a day excursion to the point at Land’s End where the three seas meet, at Kanyakumari, also known as Cape Comorin. Our guide that day was missing a finger joint, lost in the tsunami. We witnessed the Tsunami Monument before taking the boat to the rocky island opposite to visit the Vivekananda Memorial, along with hordes upon hordes of black-clad pilgrims who queued politely. Inside the memorial, I meditated, feeling the special aura of the place. I know many people deride Kanyakumari as being over-commercialized and tacky, but our short visit was refreshing.

Another day we were fortunate indeed to see an elephant parade through the streets of Trivandrum. The waiting for the gentle beasts to arrive was long but it was worth it. The flower petals, the joyous mood, the merriment of the crowds, all contributed to the sense of festival. That day I had bought my first salwar kameez, and at lunch changed into it, feeling rather cooler and more relaxed.

Many days were spent being lazy and just sitting around talking and eating fine Keralan food.

Finally we decided to continue on a jaunt up to the Western Ghats…..


(to be continued)
Last edited by theyyamdancer; Jul 6th, 2011 at 23:42.. Reason: Repetitions !
#2 Jul 6th, 2011, 23:12
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#2
Part II: The Western Ghats

After a short Madurai interlude visiting the unbelievably majestic Sri Meenakshi temple, we were on our way uphill to the Western Ghats, clutching onto the seat covers as our driver, Giri, attempted to emulate a Formula One driver. He asked Mr. Theyyam for advice on how he might become a racing driver, but our minds were on the twists and turns of the mountain roads!

The cool air of the upper reaches was welcome after the stifling plains. I could hardly believe the richness of contrasts in the scenery. From the rice-growing plains of Tamil Nadu, from the coconut palms of Kerala, to the rose gardens of Kodaikanal, and later on the tea gardens of Munnar, my mind's eye still sees it all very clearly.

Monkeys gambolled at the roadsides begging for biscuits. I am ashamed to say that we gave way to their demands. I cannot recall all of the details of the journey but I can still remember the sharpness of the air as we disembarked in Kodaikanal. Our destination was a cottage surrounded by rose gardens where lawns descended to the vistas of Coaker's Walk. When we awoke next day, however, the mists had cloaked the scenery and we were suspended in cloud. Later we strolled around the Kodaikanal Lake and were perplexed by the too-numerous offers of a ride when all we wanted was a walk. I have fond memories of Kodai. We ate extremely well at the "Two Tibetan Brothers" restaurant, where I sampled momos for the first time. I also learnt how to say Tashi Delek!

It was our last morning in Kodaikanal when Giri showed up with a puppy in tow. What are we going to do with a puppy? He had bought the dog for his child back in Poovar, but we still had several days journey ahead of us! So we put puppy in a box, inside the car, and hoped for the best. The journey had just become more crazy.

Leaving behind the cool mountain air, we plumetted to the holy town of Palani. As we looked around the myriad pilgrims I was astonished to see a man with pierced cheeks, foaming at the mouth. I was quite frightened at the time. We continued our route steadily towards Munnar. We spent our first night at the most welcoming Spring Dale Resort in Devikulam.

Our next destination was Pothamedu, just outside Munnar, where we stayed at the Olive Brook for several nights, including Republic Day. We walked up to the Top Station and met some Greek tourists there. The resort at Pothamedu was situated in a cardamom grove and amid coffee plantations. I had never seen either of these growing before!

Soon, too soon, it was time to begin our descent towards Cochin...
#3 Jul 7th, 2011, 00:11
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#3
Keep going, TD. How do you remember details from 5 years back? :-) Regarding the monkeys, are you sure you were *ashamed* to give in to their demands? They don't give up too easily, you know.

I have never been to Kerala and Karnataka, planned and canceled too many times.
#4 Jul 7th, 2011, 00:14
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#4
How do I remember details? I kept a diary! I have written and re-written this travellogue so many times, it is engraved in my mind.
#5 Jul 7th, 2011, 00:16
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#5
Aah, a diary! What is that again? :-)
#6 Jul 7th, 2011, 01:16
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#6
Excellent trip report. Waiting for the next part.

Ronak.
#7 Jul 7th, 2011, 01:51
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#7
5*

Do you have pictures to go with the report, Theyyam?
#8 Jul 7th, 2011, 11:44
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#8
Thanks for your appreciation, Ronak and Darklord.

Pics are slightly problematical as it entails scanning old negatives. I am working on it, but don't be surprised if none are forthcoming. I will try to put some in my Photo Gallery later if possible. (Actually those pics have been scanned before, just prior to a computer crash, and perhaps they are better that way, as they are not very good.)

The next episode of this very belated travellogue concerns Cochin, also known as Cochy.

Part III, Final Part, Cochin

The road from Munnar to Cochy was interminable, especially the last stretch through Ernakulum, but eventually we arrived in Fort Cochin, which was to be our home for the next few days. Apart from enjoying the quiet of Fort Cochin, away from motorized transport, we had a tricky task ahead of us - purchasing air tickets to Chennai -> Port Blair -> Chennai - for the next segment of our trip which was totally improvised. At our hotel (the somewhat grandiose and overpriced Malabar House) where we spent our first two nights, we enquired for help with booking flights and were sent to a travel agent. Many happy visits later (I digress) we were the proud owners of round trip flight tickets to the Andamans after having been initially told "it is impossible".

Once this task was completed, we could set off sightseeing in Fort Cochin.

We walked through the spice markets up to Jew Town; visited the amazing Mattancherry Palace, with its frescoes, depicting scenes from Indian legends; went to see the Synagogue, beautifully preserved with its blue and white tiles and chandeliers; met one of the few surviving Jewish residents in Cochin; spent hours browsing at the Idiom bookshop.

Our favourite bolthole in Fort Cochin was the Kashi Arts Cafe. Surprisingly (perhaps not surprisingly!) we met a couple of young girls who had also been on our flight from Bahrein to Trivandrum, and chatted with them over the excellent masala chai.

Sauntering around the fishing nets and taking advantage of the plentiful Kathakali performances were moments of joy.

One day we boarded the boat to cross over the bay on our way to Cherai. I was a bit surprised to see the segregation of male and female passengers. On the bus to the beach at the other side, I understood the wisdom of this method, since it was extremely crowded.

The beach on the other hand was mainly deserted. I wonder if it is still?

******

What were the main attractions of Kerala, other than the scenery and the wonderful food? The people of Kerala, charming and helpful, who went out of their way to make our stay a memorable one. The language, Malayalam, with its melodic sounds and inimitable rhythms. The contrasts between the lush jungle, the green tea gardens and spice plantations, the wild beaches.

Kerala remains in my heart.
#9 Jul 7th, 2011, 13:08
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#9
Thanks for an excellent trip report.

Kerala also remains in our heart (me & wife) as this is the place where we went for our honeymoon way back in December 2002. Although that was more of a luxurious kind of trip as is the case in most of the honeymoons. We went to Kovalam, did some sight seeing in Thiruvananthapuram (We went to the now super famous Shree Padmanabhswamy Temple - I remember I had to wear a lungi), then to Alleppey backwaters & house boat, Thekkady, Carmelia Heaven, Munnar & Kodakikanal.

After our honeymoon trip we always wanted to go to Kerala again preferably during monsoons. We have all planned it up for this August for 10 days. Let's see if we can visit as just recently one of my employees suddenly left the job & I am stuck up to do his work as well as mine. Hope we can make it to Kerala for the boat race which is on 13 th August.

Ronak.
#10 Jul 7th, 2011, 13:40
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#10
Wondering at first what an elephant's memory it must be to remember details of a trip five years later - reassured later that it was a human brain. Nice write-up.

Two issues are very baffling here :

1. yogis migrating from the Himalayan caves to Kerala
2. thought previously that you were very fond of Bengali culture and people and anything even distantly related to Kolkata - now found the same kind of appreciation for Keral(a/ites) - not sure who's the true love and who you flirt. Didn't someone say that even god doesn't know what goes on in a woman's mind.

Anyway, sorry for the distraction - it was indeed an excellent travelogue.
#11 Jul 7th, 2011, 14:20
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#11
ap bhalo to jagat bhalo



[translating, as per Rules of IndiaMike, "if you are good, everything appears good to you", Bengali Proverb]



Many thanks for the comments!
#12 Jul 7th, 2011, 14:37
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#12
Changing my mind about the photos, as is the female prerogative, here are some selected pics from Kerala 2006:

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#13 Jul 7th, 2011, 14:41
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#13
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Last edited by theyyamdancer; Jul 7th, 2011 at 15:43..
#14 Jul 7th, 2011, 15:08
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#14
Nice ones.
#15 Jul 7th, 2011, 15:59
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#15
These photos are taken in the Western Ghats:

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