2011 India & Dubai – Kerala

We continued our way and now had arrived in an area called the Western Ghats. It’s a spine of mountains with tea estates and one of the finest wildlife parks in India. We snaked our way through the eastern reaches of the park, right to the top and on frequent occasions had beautiful views over the lowlands below us. We passed some waterfalls and also spotted the first monkeys. Bye bye Tamil Nadu…

Just after we passed the top we crossed into Kerala and arrived in Kumily, a small town next to the Periyar lake and wildlife reserve. Jackson had to report to the police and show that his permits were all in order and not much later he dropped us at our hotel. It was a beautiful place built on the slope of a hill and although we were very close to town it was quite peaceful. We enjoyed our first Kerala fish curry, a vegetable korma, fried rice and the local variation on naan. After that we spent some time at the pool and relaxed.

At 4:45pm Jackson picked us up again, I had booked a massage and Paul wanted to have his haircut. Kumily is one of the main entrance points to Kerala when you come from Tamil Nadu. It’s a small but bustling city full of shops, restaurants and homestays. It’s clearly aimed at tourists and somehow it brought memories back of Ubud in Bali as it breathed a very similar atmosphere.

Before having my massage we stopped at a spice shop where we bought several massalas (spice mixes) but then it was time to relax and enjoy my Punnagathi Kishi, an Ayurvada massage with oils and a mixture of herbs and spices. Dressed in nothing else but a loincloth first my head and neck got full attention after which I had to lay down on my stomach on the massage table and generous amounts of oil were poured over me. The massage was extremely relaxing and certainly felt good after the long car drive. After the gentle massage very hot pads filled with herbs and spices were tapped on my back, they were very hot indeed but once cooling down a bit the herbs and spices were rubbed over my body. Then it was time to turn around to give to front the same treatment, that was after I was woken up from the half asleep state I was in by then.

Totally refreshed and relaxed I returned to the front room were Paul and Jackson were already waiting for me. Paul had had a haircut and a very good job was done on that, not bad for a job that cost just over a Euro….

We finished of the evening together with Jackson at a small but lovely restaurant. The food (Paul had chosen a butter chicken massala whilst I had gone for grilled shrimps) was excellent but even better was the conversation with Jackson. We talked a lot of the differences between Indian and Western cultures. Jackson, who was born from a British father and Indian mother, knew a lot about it. His daughter and grandchildren live now in Australia and since he has visited her couple of times he experienced first hand how totally different the cultures are. It was a fabulous evening. Good food, a couple of beers and excellent company, what else could we wish for.

Next morning was another early rise. At a quarter to six we got our wakeup all, had a nice shower and headed to the wildlife park for a boat ride over lake Periyar. It’s a manmade lake, formed by a dam, which is used to generate hydro electricity.

The boat was full of exited Indians and for sure their enthusiastic talking must have been heard from miles away.

The boat ride was beautiful; the landscape with the low hanging layers of mist was absolutely stunning. We did not get close to much wildlife but have been able to see plenty of kingfisher, snakebirds, deer, wild boar, mongooses, and some Indian bison’s. Two hours flew by like nothing and before we realized we were back at the landing pier.

Time for breakfast Indian style, after that we had some time to relax at our terrace and then it was time for our next tour, a visit to spice and herb garden. There we were shown lots of local spices and herbs and were explained how they grew, their use for cooking but also the medical use of them. It was a very interesting tour, of course Paul knew most of the flowers we were shown but I had not expected anything else from him. It was an absolutely interesting tour, and it prepared us well for the large-scale plantations that we will be driving through the next day.

In the afternoon we walked through town and browsed through the numerous shops. There were plenty of them but as we had already completed our spice shopping there was not much else that we needed.

Jackson had joined us for the walk and we decided to go for a light afternoon refreshment so we ended up at the only bar in town. In he garden three little huts were placed where he enjoyed a couple of beers and each other’s company. Jackson told us a lot about the Anglo-Indian community, they do not belong to any cast in India but are well organized and represented in politics, both locally and national. Also he told is that Kerala is the only state in India which has an almost 100% literacy and no beggars on the street, a great achievement which should be an example for the rest of India. We really enjoyed the conversations with Jackson. At one point he also told us his first name was LLewelyn, a typical Welch name (pronounced as luwellen), so from that point on we called him by his first name.

Back at the hotel I went for a little nap and Paul enjoyed watching the monkeys from the balcony. In the evening the three of us went out for dinner again, once again that turned out to be a lovely evening which all of us enjoyed a lot. A wonderful seafood mixed grill, a beer or two, nice company. This is what holidays should be about. You might have noticed that since our arrival in Kerala our adventures have totally changed, now that we have left the bustling cities of Tamil Nadu it seems we are enjoying a more laid back holiday. It is extremely green over here and we are thoroughly enjoying the sights, sounds and smells that nature has to offer.

We had enjoyed our little sleep-in that LLewelyn had kindly granted us. We did not have to leave until 9 ‘clock. A ‘sleep-inn’ until 7:00, shower, breakfast Indian style, a bit of relaxing at our terrace whilst we watched the monkeys and listened to the choir singing in a nearby Roman Catholic church, and we were ready to hit the road again. It had been raining during the night and thick layers of mist covered the landscape.

As soon as we left Kumily we found ourselves surrounded by cardamom plantations, every little suitable plot of land was planted with cardamom plants. In between we could see pepper plants grow. It was a beautiful ride, everywhere that we passed by we could see the most beautiful flowers; hedges of trumpet plants, bougainvillea, morning glories, Christmas roses, marigolds, just to name a few. It was like driving thorough a gigantic garden. A bit further on Coffee was grown, another example of how almost every plot of land has been used for agriculture. We were short of eyes to take in everything and enjoy the beauty that surrounded us. No wonder Kerala is called God’s own country and we had only seen a small part so far.

Then just as we came around another corner the landscape changed dramatically. Tea, tea, and even more tea… We had never seen anything like this before. As far as the eyes could see (and beyond) the slopes of the hills were covered with tea plants. India is the largest tea producer in the world and although Kerala is not India’s main center of tea plantations (These are Assam and Darjeeling) we could not help bet being impressed by what we saw. It still was another 40km or so to Munnar, our destination for today but LLewelyn told us the plantations stretched all the way to Munnar and beyond.

The road was narrow and meandered a way through the hills and around every corner we enjoyed to most beautiful views. I have not seen Paul many times shaking his head with an open mouth because of pure astonishment but this was certainly one of those occasions. His cup of Sainsburry’s red label will never taste the same. 

We had a short stop at a beautiful waterfall and a beautiful viewpoint and after that we continued our way through the landscape, Paul still shaking his head. Finally we arrived in Munnar, which is situated at the confluence of three rivers at a height of 1800 meters. It certainly was a lot cooler here, a relief from the heat in Tamil Nadu.

We had expected to have a hotel close to the center but could not have been more wrong. Uphill it went again and then on a very narrow road that followed the slope of a steep hill with tea growing at both sides of us. The road was so narrow we pleaded to LLewelyn to drive carefully as it was a long way down. We wondered how things would be handled in the case of oncoming traffic, as the road was hardly wide enough for one car… After about 4 kilometers we arrived at our destination, the Tea valley resort. A brightly orange painted group of buildings built on the slope, overlooking the tea plantations and the valley deep below it. Paul started to shake his head now more vividly.

Checking in was done fast and easy, we could not wait to see our room, oh well, more the view from the terrace in front of it. We were not disappointed… Hardly have we been at a place with a more breathtaking view than this, it took us minutes of oohhs and aahhs before we could get a grip on ourselves again.

Lunch was enjoyed at the restaurant where we revived memories of today’s trip. It came to no surprises that the food was heavily infused with cardamom, lots of fresh herbs and spices were used and although the chicken contained more bones than meat we did not complain. In the mean time it had started raining. Clouds slowly descended down the hills and the valley disappeared whilst we were looking. The rain became heavier and heavier so we retreated to our room, ordered two beers and relaxed (again). It kept on raining the rest of the afternoon, which was a good excuse for an afternoon nap.

We woke up after 7pm, still in time for dinner. It was a buffet, not bad but not that good either. As beers were only provided as room service we went back to our room and at our terrace we met one of the neighbors. A couple of beers, a nice chat ad before we knew it it was way beyond midnight.

In the morning sun was shining again. We had breakfast together with our neighbors, a really nice couple who lived in Mumbai. LLewelyn was already waiting for us so we headed towards the tea museum. The road towards Munnar was as breathtaking as the day before, Hill slopes fully covered with tea plants wherever it was possible to grow them, what a fantastic sight. Both of us were simply gasping all the way.

Today however we were out of luck, the tea museum was enjoying it’s weekly day of rest and so we found ourselves before closed doors. Oh well, one can’t have it all. Instead we were brought to the Mattupatty dam, which also turned out to be a major point of attraction for local tourists. Small stalls selling all sorts of things we certainly could do without but were of great interest for the locals. It was fun watching them browsing the kitsch that was being sold. The environment once again was breathtaking.

Next stop was echo point, another site surrounded by merchandise stalls. It was possible to take an elephant ride over here but as we had already done that before we opted not to.

On the way back to Munnar we stopped at th Kerala Forest Development Cooperation’s floriculture centre, that was beautifully taken care off. It goes without saying that Paul knew most of the flowers but at the times I tried to impress and told Paul the name (only after I read the name on the sign) Paul just nodded his head and told me the Latin name. One never wins this game with him…

Lunch in town was fabulous, Beef strips with grated coconut in Kerala style, a wonderful south Indian chicken curry, and all the usual side dishes. Yummie!!

On the way back to the hotel we were hold up as the harvested tea was just being collected. The catch per person was being weighed, then thrown on a big pile in the middle of the very narrow road and then put in bags and stored on a tractor. I could not have wished for a better photo opportunity.

By now it was almost 4pm and it started raining again.  Thick layers of clouds came rolling over the hills towards us, another magnificent sight. The layers of hills further towards the horizon became lighter and lighter, it was pure magic. Being at almost 2000 meters height in the hill stations of the Western Ghats we had more or less expected rain in the afternoon and that was exactly what we got. Not that it bothered us, it was just part of the experience. Also it was a good opportunity get our travel story up to date, relax and repack a bit.

Like the morning before the rain had stopped. As soon as we woke up we opened the door to our terrace to let in the breathtaking view. The hills in the distance were still covered by mist tat would be burned away by the sun in the next couple of hours. We did not have time to watch that spectacle though. It was only 06:15am and we had a long way ahead of us. Next destination was Pallakad and the trip to there would almost take us 6 hours.

The first part of the trip gave us more breathtaking views of the tea plantations around us. The roads were still meandering and slowly we continued our way to the plains. As soon as we left the higher regions the tea plantations vanished and were replaced by cardamom, pepper and coffee. Once we arrived at the plains we passed trough numerous villages and small towns. It was much busier over here, and so was the traffic. We took the ring road around Thrissur and witnessed a terrible accident over there. With the way the traffic is in India we were really surprised we did not see more of them but somehow everybody seems to find it’s way through the chaotic traffic. One just drives where there is space on the road, overtaking left, right or just in front of a bend of the road is common practice an you really need nerves of steel to take part of this. Fortunately there was a 4-lane highway the most part from Thrissur to Pallakad so thing got more sedate, sedate in an Indian

Of course we did not come empty handed as we had lots of presents for him from our aunt, family and good friends. It certainly made our luggage lots lighter. Father Philip had been expecting us and was excited about our visit. He had an extensive lunch prepared for us by his helper. Fried fish, vegetable curry and other local specialties, it tasted wonderful.

Father Philip is an enthusiastic and warm man. First we were shown the church, which he lives next to. It’s a small and simply decorated church; the people from his community caringly prepare the floral decorations. Bright colors are being used and Jesus on the crucifix is placed in front of a large wall painting, which so well captured the hilly area we had travelled through.

There was more to be shown but for that a ride into the hills was required. Father Phillip drove us there in his jeep. First we passed a man made lake and a big dam, after that we entered a nature reserve. With the father being a well-known person we were waved through the gate and then we went steep uphill. We enjoyed some breathtaking views again over the lower plains and the lake. Higher up we were in the middle of tea plantations again. We made a short stop at a tea factory where father Philip bought tea and cardamom for the Vorage family and us, a wonderful gesture. He told us that though tea was planted here it was still part of the nature reserve and in the evenings elephants, wild boar and deer frequently visited the plantation.

We arrived at another small community where the second church was located where Father Philip instructs the congregation thee times a week. Over here a community of 100-150 people attends the masses, most of them work at the tea plantations and live in the area with their families.  Opposite the church was St. Mary’s hospital where three sisters worked. We were friendly invited by them for a cup of tea and local delicacies.

After we said goodbye to the sisters we made a short walk to enjoy some of the views. A leech bit both LLewelyn and myself. I was lucky and noticed it straight away and got rid of it, poor LLewelyn noticed it much later after which the leech had already been feasting on him.

On the way down we were extremely lucky and spotted a wild elephant close by the road. Back at St. Thomas church we enjoyed another cup of tea with Father Philip and had a nice conversation with him.

Unfortunately we had to carry on, the people at the home stay had already called twice as they were expecting us for dinner. By now it was raining heavily and therefore it was not easy to find the way. LLewelyn had to ask directions several times but then the phone rang again and it was agreed to meet at a junction and we were led the last part to the home stay.

On arrival another surprise awaited us, the home stay was located in a 200-year-old country house with beautiful small courtyards. It breathed a lot of atmosphere. The owner welcomed us and together we enjoyed our late dinner and some beers. Our bedroom was cozy as well and in spite of being in separate beds we slept very good.

Next morning we had breakfast together with the owner again after which we said goodbye and were on the road again. We had another long drive ahead of us and as we had passed most of the road already we enjoyed listening to our iPods and dozed away a bit.

Mid afternoon we arrived in Kumarakom where we stayed at the Backwater Ripples resort. Once again a beautiful place where it was good to relax. We enjoyed a late lunch and wondered around the resort. Today was Diwaly, the festival of lights and although it is not celebrated in Kerala as much as in the rest of India everywhere small oil lamps were placed which created a magic atmosphere.

In the evening we went to the charcoal restaurant where we enjoyed a fabulous mixed seafood grill. As all the other people in the resort had opted for the buffet in the restaurant we had the place for ourselves. After dinner we sat out at the lakeshore and witnessed some of the fireworks that were lit in order to celebrate Divaly. Nice to be seen but nothing compared to two years ago when we witnessed Divaley in Jaisalmer, Rhajastan. Still it was a very romantic evening and both of us enjoyed the atmosphere and each other’s company. With no one around we were able to relax the tranquility of the evening.

What better way to start a day than have an ajurvedic massage… I had booked myself for treatment at the Vedasparsh Ayurvedic center at 8am. The treatment started of with one hour of an Abyangam revjuvenation massage. My entire body, including the head and face was massaged with traditional techniques whilst medicated oils were used. The massage was much, much better than the last one I had. Soft music was playing in the background and I had to lie down on a traditional wooden Ayurvedic massage table. It was shaped in a special way so the richly used oil did not pour on the floor. This time I had no chance to fall asleep as the massage was very thorough and pointing at several pressure points on the body. It was supposed to increase the blood and lymphatic circulation along with perspiration and I could certainly feel the effects. After the massage I underwent a Sirodhara treatment that was more focused on relaxation. Whilst my eyes were covered with a wet cloth warm oil was gently poured over my forehead for about 30 minutes. With the soft music in the background I certainly became even more relaxed than I already felt. It was a great experience followed by a quick shower. Then an herbal paste was used to remove excess oil from my body. Still I could smell the spices for hours after.

Totally refreshed I went to see Paul again and have breakfast together. Not much later we checked out of the resort and had a short drive to the jetty where we boarded our houseboat. It looked as beautiful as on the pictures we had seen and we were convinced of two romantic days ahead. The boat owner welcomed us and we had a brandy together, that in spite of the fact that it was just noon. After that we said goodbye to him and LLewelyn and we were ready to sail off.

We left the channel and headed to a large lake. There lunch was served whilst we enjoyed the surroundings. It started to rain heavily now but as we were in a sheltered area we could not be bothered. The monsoon this year seems to linger on a bit longer than usual but with only showers in the afternoon we were not that worried. After lunch rain stopped and we sailed on passed the shorelines. More houseboats were on a similar course and every time we passed or encountered one the passengers were enthusiastically waving at us.

We passed some small villages and it was great to see the locals during their daily routines. It was a fabulous ride, to be honest we had done a lot of driving the last couple of days and were a bit fed up with that. Being on a houseboat was a welcome change, so much more peaceful than spending hours in a car.

By the time it was 6pm we moored on the side of a small channel, time to prepare for the evening. Things also progress in India and almost everybody is carrying a mobile phone and so did our shipper. We decided to make good use of the phone and asked him to order some beers in a nearby village. That was delivered about 30 minutes later. It started raining again but we could not have cared less. The beer tasted well and we were enjoying the atmosphere.

Dinner was served a bit later and after that we enjoyed a nice evening with both the crewmembers. It was so peaceful and quiet, what else could we have wished for…. An early night perhaps?

An early night most of the times means an early morning, and so it was, the both of us were right awake by 6am. It was the perfect moment to get of as the channel where we were moored was covered in thick layers of mist, what a beautiful way to start the day. Breakfast was being served and shortly after we were sailing on the backwaters of Kerala again.

Slowly the sun burned the layers of mist away and while that happened a beautiful landscape unfolded before our eyes. The channels were covered with waterhyacynths, and we were manoeuvring between them. Children were going to school, a good opportunity to hand out some pens for which we got we got big smiles in return. On the shoreline we saw women doing the laundry, men fishing, small boats passed by, as well as plenty of houseboats were we were greeted with enthusiastic waving.

It was time to cross the lake, we passed several resorts, including the backwater ripples where we had stayed one night. Both of us put our Pods on and enjoyed or music. Happiness is the road from Marillion gave me some moments of Goosebumps and ultimate happiness. I must have sat in the sun with a big smile on my face and looking at Paul he was in a similar state of mind. Totally relaxed, totally happy, it was fantastic see the world pass by and do nothing at all, what a wonderful feeling.

With all that water around us we could not resist a swim of course. The water was quite warm and it was a welcome refresher from the heat of the day.

At one point the shipper asked me if I wanted to ride the boat, oh well, if he thinks it’s safe why not, another experience for my memories. Paul said I looked really professional but I had my doubts 😉 Once we crossed the lake we arrived at the channels of Allapy, a small town. The boat was moored on the side and lunch was being served. As usual it tasted very well.

I can go on and on about how relaxing and wonderful this trip was but that would either make you jealous or bored, and neither is my intention. But it is relaxing and certainly we enjoyed every moment of it. A trip on a houseboat through the backwaters is one thing certainly not to be missed.

Early evening we moored at the shore and the boat was made ready for thee night. To make the day even better we witnessed a stunning sunset. Slowly but surely the sun disappeared behind the palm trees and then night fell.

As soon as the night had fallen it was invasion of the insects. Thousands of them were flying and crawling around, it was a horrible feeling. Everywhere we could feel them and although the deet protected us against mosquito bites it did not temper the enthusiasm of the other flying creatures… We had to black out the boat in order to get rid of the majority of them before we could have dinner. Fortunately at that time a short but intense shower occurred so most of them did not return.

6:30 the next morning we were fully awake, had showered and were enjoying our first cup of chai (tea) for the day. We were enjoying the magnificent views over the backwaters for the last couple of moments. After breakfast we sailed back to the backwater ripples resort where we met LLewelyn again, loaded the car and hit the road once more.

Dinner…. King prawns covered in massala and then grilled, fish steamed in a banana leaf, naan, and… beer. Heaven had descended on earth, the perfect ending of a more than perfect day. We relaxed even more, Paul was reading a book (as by now he had run out of them, fortunately we had loaded some on the iPad) and I worked on our travel story. The day starts early in India but it also ends early. Not surprisingly we called it a day at a time that most of you will refer to children bedtime.

We arrived in Cochin around 1pm and after we had checked in at the hotel and had lunch we decided to go for a little treat. I had my goatee trimmed and shaped again and both of us enjoyed a relaxing facial. I don’t know how any layers of cream and oil were used but it certainly felt good. The facial ended with a face-mask and once that was washed of we looked years younger, well, sort off…

After lunch I found a sunny spot and enjoyed an afternoon nap. Once I woke up we were crossing the lake again and as an added bonus I had gained some colour. There was so much to be seen. We stopped close to a stall where fresh king prawns were being sold. Sounded like dinner to us so we could not resist to buy some which our cook would prepare for us later on the evening.

By 4pm LLewelyn picked us up as we were going to the old part of Cochin and visit his cousin Clarence, wife Marlene and their beautiful daughter Candy who was enjoying her last weeks of being single as she was going to be married by the end of the month. We received a very warm welcome and it did not take long before we were in a lively conversation. We had some good laughs together and it did not take long until we felt we knew them for much longer. It was the most heartwarming experience. In the evening there was a small ceremony that we witnessed. On the month of October a statue of the holy mother is brought to several houses for prayers and tonight LLewelyn ‘s cousin’s house was selected for the honor. Marlene had prepared some floral decorations and made sure all candles were burning. It was a short ceremony with some prayers whilst a whole group of devotees was waiting outside in the pouring rain.

After the ceremony was finished dinner was being served, wonderful Indian home cooking prepared with much care and love. Needles to say it tasted wonderful but even better was the company we were in and the conversations about all kinds of topics we had.

As LLewelyn had enjoyed a couple of drinks as well he stayed with his family but they had arranged an auto rickshaw for us that brought us back to our hotel for a god night of sleep. Although the houseboat had been nice the bed was to small for us, and the mattress to thin and very hard, so it was great to sleep in a comfortable king size bed again.

Totally refreshed we were ready for another day. Just after 9 the local guide joined us once more and we headed again towards the old city of Cochin.

First stop was a launderette where use amounts of clothing were washed by hand, dried and then ironed. All was manual labor and I thought Paul got a seizure after seeing the amounts of laundry that had to be done, in comparison our weekly load is modest, very modest. Fields of clothes were drying in the sun and each single piece was coded to identify the owner.

Next stop was the Dutch cemetery that was founded in 1724. It was amazing to see some of my own country’s history so far away from home. We drove on through the narrow streets of old Cochin, better known as fort Cochin, to the waterside to see the Chinese fishing nets.

Huge nets were lowered into the water and were balanced out with huge rocks as counterweights. In total they had a weight of almost 1000 kg and it took a minimum of 5 men to operate the net. We were not under the impression that a lot of fish was being caught and raven were eagerly waiting to steal part of the catch. Every day the nets are lowered and raised between 150 and 200 times.

Not much further fishermen had set up many stalls and were selling fresh fish, prawns and other seafood that they had caught earlier that day. It was a lively environment and we enjoyed it a lot to stroll around in this area.

Of course a guided tour could not be complete without a visit to an arts emporium, shopping time with other words… First we browsed through the large collection of furniture, wall decorations and big statues. All was well made but ehh, not our thing. Neither were the carpets and it took us quite some effort not to be drawn into a carpet making demonstrations and extensive display of carpets. Seen it, done it, got the T-shirt… Next department please. Now here were some beautiful pashima’s on display. Indian style shawls made of Kashmir and pure silk. Very beautiful, feather light and wrinkle free. Not cheap though but as we had not seen similar quality until now and our time in India was running out we bought some for ourselves and some presents as well.

Finished shopping we continued the tour to the Jewish synagogue. In former times there used to live a huge Jewish community in Cochin (most of them traders) but now there are only 5 families left with 9 members in total. Every Friday the Sabbath is being celebrated in the synagogue.

On our way back to the car my eye fell on a beautiful leather briefcase. I had already been looking for one for a while but had found nothing yet that totally pleased me. This one certainly did, beautifully crafted and at a fraction of the price of what I would have paid at home for a briefcase of similar quality. Sold!

Next place on our sightseeing tour was the Dutch museum. Some more history… Although it is called the Dutch museum it is actually built by the Portuguese as a gift for the ruling Maharaja. A gift that was meant to make up for some temples that had been destroyed in the area.  Many years later the Dutch conquered the maharaja, destroyed much of the buildings and took control of the remainders that is now known as the Dutch museum. Although the place looked like nothing special from the outside the inside was a different story. Beautifully crafted timber ceilings, most detailed fresco’s on the wall, it was amazing. The museum hosted a large collection of paintings and ceremonial items used in the time of the Maharaja’s. Very interesting to spend some time.

Last stop of our tour was the St. Francis church. The remainders of Vasco de Gamma were buried here. As with a lot of buildings in this area they have changed ownership during the years. Portuguese, Dutch, British and then Indian. Because of that a lot of different influences were to be seen. On one side there were a lot of Dutch tombs from the 18th century onwards, it took me some time to decipher the old Dutch inscriptions. Quite a few of the tombs were for young children who died in a short time frame, most likely due to a cholera epidemic. Te other side of the church was reserved for Portuguese tombs, all from an earlier timeframe.

We said farewell to our guide and headed back to Clarence and his family. Marlene had prepared a wonderful lunch with pork vindaloo and beef roast,  typical Anglo-Indian dishes. This time we had brought our laptop and iPad so we could show some pictures of our house and garden in both winter and spring. As these seasons are not known in India all were amazed by the beauty and Marlene was especially impressed by the variety of flowers and colors. 

We spent another nice afternoon with the family and time flew by far to quick. Of course one of the topics was the upcoming wedding of Candy and her fiancée Duke. Although it’s a relatively small wedding for Indian standards the guest list still had 500 people on it. Spontaneously 2 people were added to the list but we had to apologize, as it was totally impossible for us to be back in India by The 29th of November, something that was regretted both by us as well as our friendly hosts.

By 5pm LLewelyn and Clarence brought us to the Cochin Cultural Center for a Kathakali show, the traditional Kerala Dance art. Whilst we were enjoying the show the rest of the family visited church. The actual performance did not start until 6:30 but an hour before both actors entered the small stage to begin their transformation. Make-up was carefully added to their faces and slowly but surely the characters of the play took form.

Kathakali is an ancient and very complex dance art which takes about 14 years to master. Every face muscle is being controlled and used as well as the eyes to form 9 of the basic facial expressions. Hand gestures are being used for the Alphabet in Kathalaki language. As said it takes 14 years for the actors to master the art but we are convinced that it takes equal time for the audience to understand exactly what was going on. For us it was way over our head. The first part of the show was a demonstration of the 9 basic facial expressions and some of the hand gestures.

The second part of the show was an excerpt of the full story, which is performed over several nights. 30 minutes was good enough for us to get an impression and Paul even managed not to fall asleep this time. It’s an impressing art to see, especially the control over the facial muscles are worth observing but for most westerners this expert is more than enough as, in spite of the narrator’s introduction and a printed version of the storyline, it is difficult to follow the plot.

After the show LLewelyn and Clarence picked us up and we went back to the house for a pre dinner drink. Paul and I had invited the family for a dinner in a restaurant of heir choice. Frank their nephew who was staying with them had also arrived earlier the day and he joined us as well. Of course we kept on talking too much so we really had to get going by 9pm. The restaurant was well choosen and we enjoyed a mixture of south Indian dishes. We had such a good time together that he hardly realized time was going by so quickly.

The waiters were getting a bit anxious to close the restaurant and go home so we paid the bill and left. At the Jackson family’s house it was time to say goodbye. The last two days had been absolutely amazing and we can hardly express what a fantastic welcome we had received by this lovely family. Certainly moments we will cherish forever. Leaving them felt lie leaving old friends and we certainly hope to get back here one time. Farewell with the ladies was done in Dutch fashion (three kisses on the cheeks) and from the men we got a warm hug. Then it was time to go but we kept waving until they were out of sight.

It had been a long but very fulfilling day and we arrived at the hotel just after midnight, which for India standards is like in the middle of the night. Tired but extremely happy we felt in a deep, deep sleep.

Next morning it was time to pack again, it was time to go to our next destination Kollum, Although it’s only 110km away from Cochin it took us over 4 hours over a very busy highway to get there. The highway we had been driving on was extremely busy as it’s one of the main highways connecting to north of Kerala to the south.

We checked in at our 5 star luxury hotel at the beach. The reception and room were perfect, at closer inspection the rest was a bit run down. The rooftop swimming pool was empty and the restaurant with a view… oh well, the view was still there but the restaurant had closed down. There was an infinity pool at the beachfront but that was not very inviting either. We had a drink in the Marco Polo bar and lunch at the restaurant at ground floor. After that we decided for an afternoon nap.

Early evening me met LLewelyn again and went for a stroll through the small city of Kollum. Lots of shops and stalls were setup for evening shopping. It was a busy and entertaining city and it was much fun to look at the activities.

The three of us decided it was time to join the local community for a drink and looked for a bar. The first one we saw did not look very inviting at all so we moved on to the second bar. Lots of people (men only) were drinking mainly booze, it was a bit of a grotty place but Paul and I enjoyed it a lot as this is certainly a place which will not see many tourists. Neither did we feel unsafe at all so we would have not had a problem staying there for a drink and see how the locals entertained themselves. LLewelyn was less comfortable bringing us to this place, something that one of the waiters had noticed. He recommended a different place that would be more suitable for the white skins…

The ‘more suitable’ place was located in a hotel used for local businessmen. It was a bit better but still pretty dark and loud. We found ourselves a table and enjoyed some beers. It was good fun and although LLewelyn was still shaking his head we were having a good time and felt totally safe in this place. Paul went out for a cigarette and when he came back he told us he could not believe it he was encountered with an indecent proposal… hmmm, thought these things don’t happen in India… We were just laughing about the whole situation and it was great fun observing the local people (once again, men only, it appears women don’t go to these places.

By the time we left the bar, which actually was not that late, at 9pm the streets were more almost deserted. The big crowds had gone and there were few people left, most of them tidying up and closing their stores. Back at the hotel we still read a bit and then went to bed with a wonderful view from the 7th floor over the Arabian sea.

Next morning we drove to Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala. It was only 70 kilometers and took us just over an hour and a half. We checked in at our hotel after which we had some time to relax and have lunch. At 14:30 we met our local guide and we started the sightseeing of Trivandrum. Our guide explained that we had chosen a bad day for this, one of Kerala’s ministers had passed away and Kerala had declared today a public holiday, due to which most places we were supposed to visit were closed.

First we drove through one of the better areas of Trivandrum where a lot of Art Deco style houses were to be seen. Also we saw several government buildings, most of them housed in old colonial buildings. First stop was the art museum, which was also close today, but we had a nice stroll in it’s surroundings and the botanical garden.

After that we went to see the summer palace of one of the former kings.

Kerala knows a mixture of religions, 54% is Hindu, 2 Percent Muslim, 19 Percent Christian and 1% without religion. Unlike in other states of India the people from the different religions live in harmony with each other. A good example is that one square a Hindu temple, A Muslim mosque and a Christian church can be found.

Next stop was the fort, the oldest part of the city. Although only parts of the walls are nowadays to be seen there was enough to be explored. First was the Sri Anandapadmanabhasvami temple. Yet another beautiful temple and this one has recently become world news as a big treasure of offerings had been discovered worth 22,3 billion dollars in gold! In 6 secret chambers of the temple collection of antique jewelry, antique gold coins, diamonds, rare stones, golden crown, and gold vessels had been found making it the richest Hindu temple in India. Needless to say security was high and we were only allowed to make pictures from a distance.

Located next to the temple was the  Puttan Malika palace, residence of the Maharajas of Travancore who moved here in 1790. As the palace was private property it was not closed so we could have a look inside at the wonderful collection of royal possessions. The building is a wooden built structure and each of the 20 rooms we visited had a different style of roof, most of them of teak or rosewood and with impressive carvings. Especially the rooms at the first floor were delightful. A music room and meeting room had a nice view over the garden, though from the outside people could not see who were in it.

The last stop of the day was a tailor. With Paul getting his new job I had promised him a new suit and so a tailor had to be visited. Paul selected a nice woolen fabric after which measurements were taken. Paul was just a big shocked when his waist was being measured, a result of the good Indian food perhaps? Tomorrow late afternoon we have to go back for the first fitting after which the completed suit (and an additional jacket Paul wanted) could be picked up. As we will be in a beach resort not to far away from Trivandrum it’ll be an easy taxi ride.

This was our last evening with LLewelyn and we wanted to give him a good send off. Unfortunately all the bars were closed (once again) due to the public holiday, which crossed our plans a bit. We had dinner in a simple restaurant but the food was absolutely delicious. Paul had prepared a nice thank you letter for LLewelyn, which was handed over as ‘the list of complaints’. It also contained a tip for him and he was visibly pleased. It was a shame we could not have shared a couple of drinks together as we had wished him a better send off then just a meal in a restaurant. Oh well, this is Kerala and we have to stick to the rules. Apparently they are followed more strictly than in Tamil Nadu where creativity was used to avoid the rules. Although it still was early we said goodnight to LLewelyn and returned to our room. There I worked once again on the travel story whilst Paul read a book.

A good night of sleep, breakfast and once again we were on the road, this time to our final destination, Poovar Island Resort. A last glimpse of Trivandrum and we were on the way. We passed through little villages and large coconut plantations. It was a beautiful ride.

LLewelyn made a stop at Kovallum beach where we witnessed fishermen deploying and retrieving their nets. It was very interesting to see and another good photo opportunity. We walked a short stretch over the beach and saw the Kovallum lighthouse. There were a lot of restaurants located over here and I remember staying here for one night 12 years ago when I was on my way from the Maldives to Nepal.

We arrived at Poovar resort around 11 O’clock. Well, not the resort particularly but the jetty from where we were brought by a small boat to the resort. It was time for our final goodbyes to LLewelyn. He had become a great friend the last two and a half week and we had spent some great moments together. A final photo, a hug and then we sailed out of sight.

Rain was pouring down by now whilst we sailed over the backwaters. It did not take to long for us to reach the resort and we could already see the floating cottages where we would stay. Hopefully the weather would be better the next two days so we could get some tan.

We checked in at the resort and were brought to our floating bungalow, a beautiful bungalow with a wonderful view over the estuary and the beach behind it. I booked a massage for the afternoon and we relaxed a bit before lunch. Rain had become less by now so things were looking good.

And things were good the last couple of days. We did nothing but relaxed at the pool, I had my daily Ayurveda massage, we enjoyed the good food and some kingfishers. The most hard part was working on our tans by the side of the pool.

Needless to say we were extremely relaxed by the time we were ready to go home. This was the perfect ending of a perfect holiday. We were now ready to go home though things went slightly different than planned…

Go to the unplanned bonus of our trip, Dubai