Text and pictures by Barry Greville-Eyres
Disembarking at Kochi, on an in-bound flight from Dubai, as the only pale-face and Western international tourist amongst countless ‘commuting’ Cochinites was, surely, an indication that I was onto something very good! Early evidence of this was that whilst en route I was invited to share a packed dinner with a young Indian couple and although I graciously declined this offer (in favor of some quiet Kabul decompression time) this unbridled act of hospitality and generosity set the tone for a cracking 10/10 – and 10 sublime days in Kerala state.
|My Kerala at it's most vivid best! Little more to be said......|
|Chai in motion - color, charm, character!|
|Munnar under monsoon|
The fact that I was in the unique position to experience my own lonely planet in India – of sorts, was largely attributed to the fact that, timing wise, we were still in the throes of the monsoon and therefore off-peak tourist season. My driver and tour guide Ossey (contactable directly on email Oswald3344@yahoo.co.in) was superb company though and outstanding at his craft. He was particularly attuned to my ‘ridiculously misplaced,’ Westernized road safety standards and concerns when encountering, often head-on, the wild banshee, kamikaze-styled driving of his countrymen. I also had the exceptional experience of ‘cruising’ Kerala in the company of many domestic tourists from throughout India and as consequence of my paleness, mad-dog South Africaness and aloneness was afforded immediate ‘celeb status’ without song, dance or toss of a cricket ball. Of course, my cricket-speak/knowledge and status as an international civil servant cemented this standing.
|Lonely planet - India in the midst of a monsoon deluge on the backwaters of Alleppey|
Although exposed to a relatively narrow, socio-economic segment of the domestic tourism market, I was nevertheless impressed with their obvious pride and pleasure in all things Indian; their overwhelming wanderlust and environmental awareness/appreciation; and general friendliness and hospitality. All credit to the Cochin-based tourism company Lotus Destinations Pvt Ltd (www.lotusdmc.com) and Philip Mathew specifically for putting together a great packaged tour and itinerary that provided diverse yet intimate insights into people and places within Kerala State.
|Riotous profusion - freshly prepared ceremonial garlands|
Southern India’s jewel state, globally branded and affectionately known by domestic tourists as God's Own Country, deserves a resounding endorsement and did not disappoint. Whereas I prefer to let my ‘amateurish’ pictures do the talking, I’ve embellished the posting somewhat with some personal thoughts,WOW insights and experiences.
|Nilgiri Tahr browsing and minding his own business - Eravikulam National Park|
|Puzzle through this - maze or mosaic of manicured tea - Munnar estates|
Variety is Kerala’s spice for life – from a myriad of monsoon-watered falls to misty, montane hill station tea plantations to the beckoning and breathtakingly beautiful backwaters to the surfeit shades of verdant green to the wild and alluring ranges of the Western Ghats to handy hands teasing away gnarly knots to gateways for gastronomic discovery to incessantly sounding horns to the disarming, warming and genuine home hospitality – this is Kerala!
|All creatures small........|
|and large .... a Spotted deer|
|Backwater time - Alleppey - a relaxing early morning commute for most!|
Going native and off the beaten track – most certainly requires mental and psychological re-calibration particularly with regards to road travel and manageable distances between destinations. There is no such thing as a quick breeze along the autobahn or freeway – bargain on top speeds between 30-40km p/h on average to poor road conditions; take time to smell the curries and drink delicious roadside chai and Kerala’s famed coconut water; crank DOWN the volume on your hearing aid and let Kerala countryside and scenery seduce you.
|A pristine river system in the heart of the Silent Valley National Park|
|Master of disguise! Pompadour Green Pigeon spotted in the Silent Valley National Park|
|Another favorite icon that resonates many years later|
Going WILD! The tip of the adventure tourism iceberg – whereas the state has an abundance of protected areas (IUCN/UNESCO declared) and although generally accessible to the public they remain, seemingly and largely, a hidden treasure trove to hardcore adventure-based tourists – hikers, naturalists or others seeking to ‘lose’ themselves in a totally wild experience and geographical area. Land-use planning and zoning, in these areas, should seek to open multiple recreational opportunities including overnight hikes (guided or unguided) which should be the bare minimum. A hiking way network also facilitates primary, area access for other recreational options. Guided and popularized hiking in Silent Valley National Park or kayaking on the backwaters at Alleppey would be particularly appealing.
|Myriad of monsoon-watered falls|
|Fractured granite dome on the Kumaragiri Estate|
Kerala state bucks the system and is very far from the stereotypical India you commonly hear or read about. Banish previously held perceptions and open yourself to delightful discovery and a decidedly different experience. The state is progressive, prosperous and well administered. Open spaces abound; rural people are resilient and resourceful, healthy, productive and have struck a customary balance (premised on sustainable development) and appreciation for the bio-physical environment. The dominant demographic segment by age, the youth, is vibrant, colorful, hardworking, engaging and eager to learn – providing great hope for the future of India!
|Hard at work! A tea-picker trying to meet her daily target at the tea plantations near Munnar|
|Iconic Chinese fishing net off Fort Kochi|
Cuisine from Kerala is distinctive and exquisite – nuanced, scented, eye-catching, seasoned with such finesse and subtlety according to produce, condiments, culture and tradition and regional variations. In my experience - wholesome and healthy; fresh, safe and clean; never boring and always delicious. On our travels Ossey guided me to mostly ‘local’, family-oriented eateries where we shared many, memorable vegetarian dishes. Ossey also contributed significantly to my education, culinary or otherwise, whilst on our sojourn throughout the state and I have to extend thanks and appreciation to him in this regard. Similarly, I am now a lungi/dhuti convert (and will leave this up to the self-discovery, research or imagination of readers) and have, once again, Ossey to thank for educating me and refining my taste in this important area.
|Enjoyed - happily! Standard fare cruising Alleppey's backwaters|
|Fresh produce market - Munnar|
|Out of sweetness comes forth strength..... bush tucker|
Ayurveda and its associated treatments – with a legacy of 5,000 years of healing and rejuvenation through natural herbs, oils, massages and traditional treatment practices is almost guaranteed to provide one with ‘another or out of body experience.’ It’s also a perfect foil and counter-balance to arduous road travel, an over-exercised and stressed body and super-sparking synapses that simply need to be short-circuited or de-powered altogether.
|Mayura Ayurvedic Centre - Munnar highly, highly recommended!|