First five days in Kerala, South India

Three different time zones in two days and a half. We were having dinner at breakfast time in San Francisco, breakfast at dinner time in the UK and taking some naps all day long in the plane.  At last, we lost the notion of time. Finally we arrived at Mumbai at 3:00 am Indian time and Sabrina requested mac and cheese. It was a mac and cheese disguised in penne pasta with melted paneer on top. Tricky to travel with a picky eater! Anyway, not too much to do in Mumbai, except we walked 100 miles from the hotel with no specific destination. The street was incredible filthy and busy. There were noisy tuks tuks everywhere. We didn’t make the same mistake we did in North India last year… get into a tuk tuk and ask for a “quick city tour”. I don’t recommend this type of transportation at all, it is very unsafe. The entire street was a nightmare to walk so we decided to go back to the hotel. It was nice though to see coconut palms along the way.

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Five hours later we boarded a Disney plane in our way to Kochi. So cute!

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Kochi (Cochin) is one of India’s largest ports and a major naval base. The influence of the Chinese, Jewish, Arabian and European cultures is evident in Kochi and its people. Kochi hosts the oldest church in India, 500-year-old Portuguese houses, the famous Chinese fishing nets, a Jewish community whose roots go back to the Diaspora, synagogues and mosques all tell the fascinating story of Kochi as a harbour town.

Pushing Sabrina’s umbrella stroller was challenging due to the rough paths with pot holes all over the pavement. While walking by the harbor we saw the famous Chinese fishing nets. Operated from the shore, these nets are set up on bamboo and teak poles and held horizontally by huge mechanisms, which lower them into the sea. They look somewhat like hammocks and are counter-weighed by large stones tied to ropes. In our way to the Dutch Palace (Mattancherry Palace) we stopped at the St Francis Church which is the oldest Church built by Europeans in India and is where Vasco de Gama , a Portuguese explorer was buried.

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Please note that in India you are required to remove your shoes in most temples and churches. If you are a bit fussy like we are; there are two ways to deal with this uncomfortable situation: keep one pair of socks for every temple you go and once you are done, discard them. That’s what we did in our first trip to the North of India. We called them temple socks. Choose a dark color such as black, blue or brown so you don’t have to see the residues of dirt floors. Another option we did in this trip was to purchase disposable socks that we wear on top of our socks. You can get them on Amazon. They are called Disposable Anti-Skid Shoe Cover. You get 100 of them in a package. We looked a bit odd, but as we know…. the locals have a twisted sense of clean. After all, most people’s shoes would be cleaner that the temple floor. And yet we have to remove our shoes because of the notion that our dirty shoes may dirty the temple. Ridiculous!. Anyway, everywhere you travel you must feel safe and comfortable in all aspects.

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When visiting temples and palaces you might need to pay for taking pictures and using video recording. It is 20-25 Rupees(0.401 US Dollars) for camera and 100 rupees (1.60 US Dollars) for video camera. However you are not allowed to take any picture at all inside some temples and palaces. We couldn’t take any pictures inside the Dutch Palace for instance.

That evening we saw a Kathakali Dance show. Kathakali is a traditional dance form, depicting Indian legends (Ramayana and Mahabharata). The dancers are dressed in very colorful and elaborate costumes. Their faces are painted to depict various characters of the se epics. This dance has a lot of facial expressions and brisk, yet articulate body movements. Unless you are well acknowledged of India history, art and culture you might find this type of dance a bit static and dull. It is like taking a 7-year-old child to an opera concert!

On the third day, we got up fairly early to experience the best South India can offer: a trip on the backwaters of Alleppey, Kerala in a houseboat or “kettuvallom”. Sandwiched between the sea and the hills this labyrinth of shimmering waterways stretches from south Kochi down to Kollam. Views change from narrow canals and dense vegetation to large lakes with open vistas and bright green paddy fields surrounded by coconut palms, mango and banana trees. The houseboat cruise is simple but comfortable with a fully equipped bathrooms, A/C rooms and of course lots of geckos.

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Later that day we took a small canoe and sailed across narrow canals. The views are amazing because you have the opportunity to contemplate snapshot of rural Keralan lifestyles (people bathing, washing clothes, swimming, fishing) which are otherwise hidden from the outside world. It seems to be a huge contrast of rich and poor natives when you see their houses. Some nice, well-built, stylish houses, others on the other hand are just big blocks of mud put together with no proper windows or doors. Actually in the whole South India you can notice two different worlds living in one big place: Palacial mansions located right next to extreme poverty and squalor.

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The next day we disembark our lovely houseboat and drove 140 kms to Periyar. One of the most interesting national parks in the world, Periyar boasts of an artificial lake spanning 55 sq km. It is at the lake that the elephants of Periyar come and you can feast your eyes on herds playing in the water. There are other animals too at the park lake leopard, wild dog, barking deer, mouse deer, squirrels but the main ad in my life (after Peru).

The road trip was one of the roughest I’ve ever had in my life (after Peru). The roads are chaotic careless drivers overtaking on both sides, restless bikers trying to beat the heavy traffic, eager pedestrians trying to cross the roads whenever they find a dangerous gap and other type of pedestrians (cows, goats, monkeys) walking along side the road. Nobody has the right of way except the first one who breaks the law. It is funny because there is a sign saying speed thrills but kills but no one takes into consideration.

After 4 hours of motion sickness we finally arrived at the Spice Village Resort. The resort sits 2000 feet above sea level in the Western Ghats, with stunning views out over the hills. Nice friendly staff. The cottages are clean, comfortable and spacious. They offer a great range of Ayurveda services. It was here were we spent an unforgettable Christmas evening with Christmas carols and presents. Fantastic food!

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Early morning on the 24th December we took a boat ride around the artificial Lake Periyar. This was suppose to be an incredible way to experience the Periyar Wildlife sanctuary but we were fairly disappointing because we couldn’t see any animal except for a couple of wild pigs. There are an estimated of 700 elephants roaming these forests and from time to time they come out to drink some water but we were told by the locals that it is more likely to see them in the afternoon when it is hotter and they are thirstier rather than early morning. There is a jungle trek option too but it is very restrictive by the local government.

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Elephants are one of the main attractions at Periyar National Park. Sabrina couldn’t miss her favorite adventure in our trips. Elephant ride! We opted for the Elephant Junction located in Murikkady (30 minutes drive from the Spice Village). It is a very busy place so I suggest you book at least one day in advanced, unless you don’t mind waiting 2 – 3 hours. There are many activities you can do with the Elephants from riding to washing with the elephants. The views are stunning! It is a journey through spice gardens, hills draped in lush greenery and washed in fresh spice scented air of Cardamom, coffee and pepper. I highly recommend at least one hour ride to experience the panorama of the hills. The staff is very helpful they are willing to take pictures for you and even film you.

We had various experiences with elephants that deserve a whole page in my blog. I invite you to visit the link miscellaneous for more funny photos and videos about this unique adventure.

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