Kerala – God’s own country. Kerala – One of the ten heavens of the world. Kerala – Travelers’ Paradise. We had heard all these catch phrases about Kerala and our time had come to experience this southern Indian state first hand. We took the early morning train from Bengaluru, called the Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-City Express at 6:15 in the morning, whose scheduled arrival was at 5 PM. The same train was to bring us back the day after next. We had a lot of time to kill during the 11 hour journey, and not a single moment was of boredom. Boy oh boy! What a train journey it was. There is a Delhi green, and then there is a Kerala green; and we soon found out the difference between the two. The thing is that it was July and the monsoons brought out the best sights in nature in the south. From the olive green fields to the bottle green Western Ghats underneath the great shape shifting rain laden clouds, with some of the mountain summits overshadowed demurely by the cloud haze, some of the clouds playing peek-a-boo, giving way to sun rays to peak through – our train ride entailed all such heavenly and blissful sights. It seemed so surreal, that we did not want the train journey to end. Sipping tea and chatting with each other and having knick-knacks to munch along the way, with the cool monsoon breeze and remarkable sights passing by – it was a perfect setting to plan for our trip ahead. We were mesmerized by the hauntingly beautiful Kerala before even stepping on it!
Being foodies we started researching about things to eat in and around Ernakulam by googling on our phones. The network was intermittent on the train, so we caught up on chatting, making plans and reminiscing about the many train journeys taken together, and growing hungrier with snatches of information that our hones gave us intermittently. When we finally landed in Ernakulam in the evening, it was raining hard and people were running around helter-skelter on the platform. Rains in India do this to people, but everyone was pleasant here, and smiling in their running around. Despite the rain, the station was surprisingly clean, a very welcome, albeit rare sight in India, and we also noticed that there wasn’t a single beggar in sight in or around the station. We knew that Kerala was an elected communist state and there was a lot of union-ism for getting taxi from station to the hotel. We waited on the platform for the downpour to slow down a little, and then walked out of the station. We hailed an auto after walking further away from the station. The elderly driver smiled a toothless smile at us. Thankfully, he knew English well enough to converse with us comfortably. We loved interacting with the locals on our escapades and this auto ride was no different. We gave him the address of the hotel we had booked, and off we went. On the way, he was full of stories from his childhood and how the city had changed as time went by; it was a fun ride, full of trivia that he peppered the conversation with, like how the petrol prices had risen in the last 35 years since he started driving the auto. It seemed like all too soon, we were at our hotel! Calm, nice and decent, the hotel had small but neat rooms with clean bathrooms, and fairly reasonable to boot! When it was time to pay the auto driver, I was shocked that for a ride of almost half an hour, he just asked for Rs 20. I mean, in Delhi it would have been at least over a hundred. We thanked him for his warm demeanor and the wonderful stories he had shared with us. He said that he would be happy to take us around town the next day if we were interested, and we happily exchanged numbers.
We took a quick shower and got out to stroll around the market next to our hotel. Going around the market place, we got familiar with what a local Keralite might experience on a day to day basis. Warm and friendly voices asking prospective customers to consider their offerings, and the entire bargain taking place in a pleasant way. Munching on some brilliant banana chips, we roamed around for some time, getting immersed in the local atmosphere. We came back to the hotel and found the manager at the reception, who asked us if we would like to take a backwater cruise the next day. We had planned on the same ourselves and looking at the option where they would pick us up straight from the hotel and the fairly competent prices, we happily said yes. And now, finally, it was time to order dinner. We had decided to have the dinner at the restaurant of our hotel itself. The hotel had a nicely decorated restaurant (which didn’t look pretentious or overly made-up) and the waiter was able to explain the menu in much detail. We decided on Koottu Curry with Kerala Parantha, Kadachakka Theeyal with mango pickle. It was absolutely delicious and we couldn’t resist ordering more Paranthas to go with extra Koottu curry, over eating our way to heavenly bliss. Before going to bed, we sat around the sofas in our room and browsed through the popular fiction books we had borrowed from the reception. We ordered light Nilgiri tea, a specialty of Kerala, to go with the books and enjoyed the approaching night.
We woke early the next day and hogged on the Appam and Sambar meal for breakfast in the hotel. The bus which was to take us to the back waters was right on time, and we happened to be the only Indians on it. The driver said it would take around 45 minutes for us to reach the place from where we would get on the boats. Some of the foreign nationals were from Australia, some from Israel and others from the UK, all coming together, like us, to experience the divine Kerala. In no time, everyone had a feeling of bonhomie with everyone else. Shared adventures and shared dreams often do that, and I have noticed that we often make great friends on journeys we take! The ride was smooth and on our way we saw interesting sights, like a mosque built with fusion architecture and resembling a temple. We were able to see the backwaters from a distance, and were amazed at the stillness of the water! We got down of the bus, and our house boat for our half day cruise was waiting for us. With his flamboyant welcoming style, the captain of the boat, wearing only a lungi greeted us aboard. The view of the backwaters from the shore was mesmerizing. We sat on the comfortable seats, which were like cane chairs attached permanently to the base of the boat, and were off. Soon, we were surrounded by water on all sides, and our boat caused ripples in the peaceful, still water as it floated at a languid pace. The serene calm of our surroundings consumed us fully, and we were soothed into tranquility. The whole experience of floating peacefully was something magical, and it quietened all the people on the cruise, and we felt that we could simply spend the remainder of our time just gazing into the overwhelming surroundings. Eventually, though, we reached an island which had some dwellers on them, and as we found out, whose earnings come from selling jute ropes. An old lady showed how jute strings were made, and also invited us to partake in the strange rolling of the strings to make ropes. We also got to experience their local blend of tea. We played with the adorable pet goats for a while, and then got back on our boat. Our next stop was after an hour of rowing at the languid pace. It was the island where we were to be served food. It started to drizzle a little as we got off the boat, and under the thatched roof, we sat down for some hot lunch served on huge banana leaves. It consisted of puffed boiled rice with Avial and Kadala curry. These were accompanied with some brilliant pickles, curd, banana chips and papad. Simply cooked, the food was just what we needed after the tranquil boat ride. Post the lunch, we enjoyed a boat ride in the island’s back alleys of water in smaller boats. We traversed the lush green environs which were divided by water channels. The ride was absolutely mesmerizing, with trees from opposite banks reaching out and entwining above our heads like old lovers, lush greenery just dripping from every nook and corner, the water still and mysterious, like it held many secrets within its shallow depths! This was a window into another life for us. We wondered what it would be like to live here for people who would have discovered these islands and back waters for the first time. It was with these wondrous thoughts that we climbed the house boat took us back to where we began. This time, I also got the opportunity to row the boat. More than rowing it was to push the floor back with the long bamboo stick to push the boat forward. It was simple enough, I got the rhythm of it quite easily, feeling pretty proud that I was single-handedly able to move this boat with more than a dozen people on it so effortlessly! The water stretched as far as the eyes could see and caressed the horizon; the sight is vivid in front of my eyes as I write this. All too soon, we were back to our hotel, speechless by what we had just experienced. Hubby suggested we should marinate in a round of Ayurvedic massage for the perfect end to this sublime experience, and I couldn’t have agreed more. The various Ayurveda massage signs had been titillating me ever since we set foot in Kerala, and couldn’t wait for it!
Ayurvedic massages come from Kerala. We reached the massage studio, a highly recommended one according to a few blogs, paid for the massage and read the pamphlet as we waited for our turn – “A variety of Ayurvedic techniques are applied in the Ayurvedic massage to work along the energy channels of your body in a synchronized manner to restore the flow of vital energy, Prana, where it has become blocked. Lymphatic stimulation with ayurvedic herbal oils help squeeze out toxic accumulation from the channels of the body. Warm oil is the best remedy for Vata which is governing energy for healthy body and mind, The massage initiates deep healing within cells.” Performed by the masseuses who had more than 10 years of experience giving Ayurvedic massages, my massage began with warm herbal oils. A deeply relaxing kneading and pressing of the back made the body absorb the healing properties of the oils. She then commenced with the actual massage which concentrated on specific muscle and points on the back. Slowly the focus spread on each and every body part and the stress reduction technique detoxified us completely.
We walked back leisurely from the massage studio to our hotel, with a spring in our steps! We were light headed by the experience and were caught in a spell of the place. Our bodies felt limber, and like years of rust had been cleaned away from our joints! What an enthralling day we had spent, and it was only a day in God’s own country. We ventured into a restaurant on the way which offered authentic Kerala cuisine. We, after a meal or two of a particular kind of cuisine, usually tire and go back to our comfort food (north Indian or even fast food) to break the monotony on our travels, but the food of this land was simply amazing, and we didn’t tire of it at all! As expected, were gratified with the Pavakka Kichadi, Vegetable Masala Puttu, Kaalan, Vendakka, Spinach Coriander and Curryleaves Dosa. It was the happiest meal of the trip, and we headed back to our beds with fully satiated stomachs, minds and bodies. We slept early that night, so as to catch the early morning train back to Bangalore.
Just a little over one day in Kerala touched our spirits indelibly! The greenery, the people, the serene water, the food, the sheer simplicity of life – Kerala unwinds your body, unravels our mind, and brings you to your most natural self!