Having seen so many beautiful advertisements on cable TV for God’s Own Country, a trip to Kerala had always been on my bucket list. No sooner had it been suggested to me, I jumped on the Kerala Tourism website www.keralatourism.org which by the way is extremely well laid out and has a lot of useful information for tourists.
I chose to fly with SriLankan Airlines as it was a direct flight and there are two flights per day from Colombo to Cochin which is now known as Kochi. The flight is one hour and twenty minutes and you really don’t feel it at all. I would recommend that you book an airport pick up through the hotel that you are staying with as like all Indian cities you are greeted by a bevy of taxi drivers asking if you want a taxi as soon as you clear immigration and customs.
Where To Stay
We stayed at Dunes Hotel on MG Road which is a new 3 star hotel – comfortable, spacious, clean and affordable. The staff were extremely friendly and their lunch and dinner buffets were extensive and priced at a modest INR. 399 per person inclusive of taxes. Even if you are not a city person I strongly recommend that you stay atleast one day in Kochin just to get a feel of the city and if not for anything to try out the amazing Pai Dosa which is absolutely first class.
We had the opportunity of eating dinner here on our first night in Kerala as it was the only place that was not shut after 9pm. They are open till 1am and serve a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dosas. A dosa that I had never seen on a menu before in South India was the Cashew, Ghee, Tomato, Onion, Garlic, Masala Dosa – this was an absolute winner and to anybody who might be passing through Cochin anytime soon, you have to try this. It is deeply indulgent but truly satisfies all your dosa cravings.
What To Do
There are quite a lot of things to do in Cochin apart from shopping – the thing about shopping in this city is that it has all the regular Indian brands like Westside, Fab India, Soch etc. but is isn’t half as crowded as all the other Indian cities I have been to. If you are someone like me who doesn’t like to go shopping you should just go to Lulu Mall and hang out there enjoy a cup of coffee and people watch. You can also enjoy the free wifi and catch up on some travel blogging if you wanted to. The key is to relax and enjoy your holiday and not get stressed by crowds, shopping or hunger pangs. The other thing you could do is book yourself a traditional Ayurvedic massage.
I would recommend a bit of sightseeing like the Jewish Quarter and the Paradesi Synagogue located in Mattancherry and The Fishing Nets and St. Francis Xavier’s Church where the famous Vasco da Gama is buried located within the famous Fort Kochi.
Tips While Sightseeing
You can also do some bargain shopping while inside the Fort for junk jewellery, books for as cheap as INR 150, sun dresses, beach wraps and slippers. The key is to bargain as the price of the same item varies from vendor to vendor.
I would recommend that you set aside two whole days for house boating and be ready to switch off – take a book and your music to relax and do not take your phone or other electronic communication devices unless it is to take pictures of the breathtaking views that you will encounter along the way.
We only had time for one night on the house boat due to work commitments and not realizing just how awesome the houseboat could be. Next time I will probably book two nights in the city and two nights on the house boat.
We did not quite know what to expect while houseboating and none of the blogs prepared us for what was in store. It was quite an amazing experience! We got on the houseboat and were served a delicious king coconut juice as a welcome drink which we drank quite thirstily as the drive from Cochin to Alleppey (Alappuzha) took about two hours as the roads were under construction.
When on the upper deck, we were constantly astounded by what we saw – everything was so beautiful, luscious and green. Reminded me a lot of Sri Lanka but there was a difference.
We anchored about an hour after we had boarded for lunch which was a delicious meal of rice, dhal, curd, fried fish, cabbage and coconut and ladies fingers with papadam. The meal was tasty and we thoroughly enjoyed it. After we finished eating we went back to the deck and we set off again in a different direction. I read while the others took a nap. It was really peaceful and a completely different way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
We anchored at about five in the evening and it was to watch the sun set a short while after. I was astounded – I sat for a good hour in the same position mesmerized by the beauty of the setting sun and the way the sky changed colour.
I sat, gazed, took pictures and soaked it all up. The others went for a walk while I stayed and watched the sun sent in the solitude of my thoughts thinking of all the things we take for granted including everyday occurrences like sunsets. I also made a promise to myself that I would come back and spend more time on a houseboat when I could take more time off from work.
We spent the rest of the night on the house boat on the lower decks in our rooms which are comparable to a basic bed and breakfast style room anywhere in the world. You just need to get used to the idea that you are actually on a small boat.
The next morning we woke up to some astounding sights of day break and a warm breakfast of idly, sambar and chutney. We were steered back to where we ascended the boat on the previous day and proceeded straight to the airport feeling refreshed and relaxed.
When To Go
The trip was totally worth it and I would recommend that you do book a trip to go to Kerala sometime soon and book upto a minimum of two days and two nights on the houseboat. The best time to go is usually between October to March but like Sri Lanka, the weather in Kerala is warm and balmy most of the year apart from the monsoon season. I really enjoyed my short time in Kerala and will definitely be going back to God’s Own Country to take in more sights.
NB: This article was written for Esteem Magazine and published in their May/June 2014 issue. All photographs are taken by the author; all rights reserved.