We wondered quite what to expect when Charmaine suggested a homestay in Cochin. We need not have worried, the Francis Residence was lovely Mr Francis and his wife Rosie were charming and our room was beautiful.
Cochin has been occupied by the Portuguese, Dutch and English and all have left their mark. The first afternoon we did a tour of the city with an excellent guide visiting St. Francis Church where Vasco da Gama was initially buried, Mattancherry Palace built by the Dutch, the Jewish Synagogue ………. ending up by the shore to see the amazing Chinese fishing nets and then returned to have a cookery lesson and assist Rosie to cook us dinner.
The second day we walked along the shore near the Dutch Cemetry visited the amazing Kerala Folk Museum and several art galleries where the Kochi Muziris Biennale exhibition was being housed. We rounded off the day with a Kathakali Performance and a superb meal at Malabar Junction.
Day Three and we are off on our tortuous 5 hour drive up into the into the Western Ghat Mountains for our two night stay at the Wildernest B&B in Thekkady just outside the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.
It was a real treat to visit Abraham’s Spice Garden as seen, the day before our holiday, in the re-run of Monty Don’s Around the World in Eighty Gardens. It surpassed our expectations and in our private tour Abraham showed us a wide range of herbs, flowers, trees and medicinal plants, numerous varieties of banana and pointed out many of the birds flitting around his garden.
The Kerala Martial Arts show in the evening was incredible with swords and long sticks swirling around, amazing leaps performed including dives through flaming hoops. We had an excellent dinner in the Cardamom Garden restaurant near our hotel.
Our visit to the Periyar Wildlife Reserve took us along the side of Lake Periyar and through ancient woodland. Our guide, Sanjeth, was very knowledgeable and during the three hour Soft Trek we saw a variety of herons, egrets, cormorants, Bee-eaters, drongos, warblers, barbets and babblers. There were lots of monkeys – the precocious Macaques as well as numerous more reserved black and Nilgiri langurs. We heard the famous Giant ground squirrels, but sadly didn’t manage to see any.
After a quick lunch we were off across the border into Tamil Nadu for a bullock cart ride. Brenda took her turn at driving the cart under Alex’s direction and Arun pointed out lots of different plants, crops and birds as we made our way through the countryside. We stopped at his aunt’s house to see her two baby goats and passed a herd of buffalo grazing in the water meadow. On our return to the Wildernest we sat on the balcony watching the fruit bats in the nearby bamboos fly off into the jungle to feed.
Day Five We descended back to sea level to join our Rice Boat or Kettuvallom at the jetty in Kumarakom near Allepy, part of the Lakes and Lagoons award winning fleet. We met our Captain, Joss, chef Biju and the Captains mate. After a short cruise we moored at the water’s edge for lunch and then spent the afternoon relaxing on deck watching cormorants, herons, egrets and Brahminy kites dive for fish. We passed dozens of pink headed moorhens strutting about on water lily leaves and huge gatherings of tiny ducklings. We moored at 5.30 and had a fascinating walk between paddy fields and past village houses. The local people were clearly fascinated to see us and gave us friendly waves and smiles. The sunset was spectacular and the evening meal superb. How could tomorrow surpass today? The gentle rocking of the boat lulled us into a deep refreshing sleep.
Day Six After breakfast we set off through narrow waterways, across lagoons, once again enjoying the peace of Kerala’s beautiful backwaters. Being Sunday, we passed throngs of smartly dressed villagers making their way to one of the many churches along the water’s edge. We stopped at Kalloorkad village and visited St.Mary’s Basilica. The church was founded in 427AD in the Archdiocese of Changanacherry. The current building is cool and beautifully decorated.
The captain, Joss, described lunch as a feast- he didn’t exaggerate! Served on a banana leaf by chef Biju, we had mango pickle, carrot and coconut, banana and coconut, mango chutney, mixed vegetables, rice with pineapple yoghurt, poppadums and fish.In the afternoon we passed through more narrow waterways, past tiny islands and rice fields
Everyday life is focussed on the waterways and we saw people, shopping, washing clothes and their dishes in the water and generally getting around in canoes. The wild life was amazing and we have never felt so blissfully at ease and thoroughly pampered.
Days Seven and Eight we stayed at Punnamada Backwater Hotel. We had a charming traditional style villa, but with all modern conveniences. We were introduced to the lovely idea of the ‘bath garden’ – a partially outdoor room for showering. We swam, watched a coir-making demonstration, had afternoon tea and Indian snacks on the lawn and went on the sunset cruise on the backwaters near the hotel. All of these activities were included in our B&B package. The meals were delicious, the staff very friendly and courteous. Our final evening was rounded off by an amazing thunderstorm and torrential rain which we watched from the comfort of the restaurant.
Our last two days were spent at the Marari Beach Hotel, part of the CGH Earth group which has a strong regard for the environment. Our luxurious thatched cottage in the gardens was surrounded by specimen trees, carefully labelled and inhabited by a delightful variety of birds.
We went for a guided tour of the butterfly garden a bird watching walk through the extensive grounds and organic kitchen garden.
We made the most of our final chance to swim, take afternoon tea on the lawn, sit in the sun and read and relax before returning home.
Our over-riding memory will be of the lovely, smiling, friendly people that live here the amazing scenery and the wildlife. Kerala really justifies its claim to be ‘God’s Own Country’.
Let me arrange your holiday to Kerala….and you could have a wonderful time….such as this!