36 hours in Kochi

This is continuation of our 4-day long weekend trip to Kerala. For fisrt part, please see this post.

An afternoon checkout from Kumarakom and a taxi drive coinciding with Varun’s nap, brought us to Kochi. The drive was through beautiful coconut trees lined roads with glimpses of the lake and backwaters and eventually gave way to a busy highway and then the downtown area of Kochi.

As most of the sight-seeing in Kochi is in its historic district of Fort Kochi, we had booked a room in the heritage house converted into a contemporary hotel – Old Lighthouse Bristow hotel. The hotel sits right onto  Arabian sea but is walled off from the beach possibly due to privacy reasons. We checked into a garden facing room with a veranda outside to sit out and enjoy the refreshing sea breeze.

Vipul got a Ayurvedic massage at their spa right away which was strictly ok. Varun played on the lawns,while I enquired about distances to popular sites and Kathakali performance – my only reason for visiting Kochi.

That evening we attened a mesmerizing Kathakali performance at Kerala Kathakali Center. We walked to the center and enroute saw Chinese Fishing nets, fish mongers,  lots of other vendors selling trinkets, souveniors etc. The area around chinese fishing nets was bustling with schoolkids, tourists, kids playing etc.

We got seats fairly close to the front of the theater and took in an hour long makeup session, followed by an introduction to Kathakali mudras and dispositions and then an actual story from Mahabharata about Kichaka vadha – where Bheema kills Kichaka who tries to seduce Draupadi (who is the exiled queen in disguise ) [ This blog’s first paragraph has a great explanation about this episode of Mahabharata]

If you are in Kochi, do take in this performance. The performance is by a troupe who have learnt and practised the art of singing, dancing, makeup over decades in their school outside Thrissur – a town in central Kerala, north of Kochi.

After the performance, we had best fish fry of our trip at Oceanos – a smallish place highly rated on Tripadvisor for their seafood.

Next morning after breakfast, we rented an auto rickshaw and did a two hour sight seeing trip – We visited the Dutch Palace also known as Matancherry palace ( very quicky as Varun wasn’t into museum’s exhibits and piantings and only was interested in a cow grazing outside the window), Antique stores around Jewish synogauge ( as the synagogue was closed) and a spice market run by women co-operative.

Over lunch of Kerala Thali, we got a call  from Spicejet that our flight was delayed by couple of hours and they couldn’t re-route us. So we looked up Tripadvisor again to see where we could spend the evening. Beach was where we wanted to go and Cherai beach came highly recommended. We decided to rent a car so we could take our luaggage along and then directly go to the airport.

Most folks take a ferry to Vypen island and then drive up to Cherai beach, but the ferry had a hour long wait time. We have experienced long ferry wait times in Seattle especially when you are in a car and so we decided to drive around. The drive to Cherai beach is over bridges, along Marine drive – the only city like happening area of Kochi, and along small town and backwaters. We reached the beach around 5:00 pm. The beach was clean, with soft s and was crowded as folks were out enjoying their  evening on the beach. even at that hour it was hot and the beach did  not have shade.

I didn’t really want Varun playing in the sand in the heat, so we crossed over to one of the many resorts lining the beach. We ordered tea and snacks while Varun played in sand and in the play area. These resorts on Cherai beach have the perfect location- miles upon miles of clean and soft sand Cherai beach on one side and the backwaters on the other. They have jetty’s on their property so you can begin a crusie right from the property. I would have loved to spend a couple of days here.

Around sunset, we went to the beach. Vipul was taking pictures while Varun and I played in the water and in the sand. Within minutes, Varun was covered in sand as he didn’t know what to do with so much sand – should he stick his feet in, should he sleep and roll around or should he dig it and scatter it around. This was his first visit to a beach as a toddler and he seemed to have a ball.

We didn’t find any facilities on the beach to shower Varun so took him back to the resort and hosed him off in the restrooms. Once dry and changed, Varun seemed ready to go out and play again. But it was getting dark and we decided to head back to the airport.

It was perfect four day weekend. Family, Food, Fun with a dose of culture. We are hooked on to Kerala. I know we will be back.

A Taste of Kerala’s Backwaters

This past Tuesday, Oct 2nd was a national holiday in India on account of Gandhi Jayanti.

We took Monday off from work and made it into four-day long weekend. The plan was simple – meet up with my brother and sister-in-law in  Kerala! Known by many nicknames Gods Own Country,  Spice capital of India, Venice of the East, this south-western state of India is lush green with its coconut trees, paddy fields, spices and coffee plantations and have miles upon on miles of backwaters to sail on. This has been on our list of must see places for years and we were super thrilled about visiting Kerala’s backwaters with my brother and SIL.

There are multiple places and ways to experience the backwaters – essentially a network of canals, inlets, rivers and the Vembanad lake. Un-hurried and relaxing overnight in a houseboat from Allapuzha  (alos known as Allepey) at the south end of the backwaters ( preferred over Kumarkom which is set on banks of Vembanad lake), in a luxurious resort by Vembanad lake ( in Kumarakom), up close and personal in a canoe, briefly over a lunch or sunset cruise ( from Allapuzha) or a thrilling speed boat ride (from Kumarakom or Allapuzha). Our previous canoe experience has been a disaster ( those on Puerto Rico trip with us can relate to it ) and almost verged on a marital discord. I wasn’t sure if Varun would stay in a houseboat all day and night – given its cramped quarters and non AC / mosquito prone open area when the boat docks at night ( night sailing is not allowed as the fishermen lay their nets on the backwaters and the lake at night). Also, this being the transitional season, we got great deal on Vivanta by Taj , Kumarakom – so a resort by the Lake was the way we chose!

We all met in Taj, Kumarakom and loved every minute of it. We stayed in the restored Baker house – a heritage home featured in  Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. Varun was with his ‘mama‘ and ‘mami‘, feeding rabbits and ducks on the property, taking a boat ride on the lagoon and swimming. We relished the authentic Kerala style fish and chicken preparations with soft appams and indulged in Ayurvedic spa treatment.

Taj offers a complimentary sunset cruise in a traditional rice boat and we used that as an opportunity to see how Varun would fare on a longer trip. He wasn’t too thrilled with the boat initially but warmed up when we started moving. The sunset sail on the Vembanad lake was relaxing. The lake in Kumarakom is so large that its feels like you are sailing on the sea. The sunset was spectacular. I can still envision the waves lapping the resort jetty under the setting sun as we had piping hot vadas and tea.

But we wanted to experience the smaller intimate canals logged with water hyacinths, lined with coconut and banana trees and where we could watch day-to-day life of people living on islands on these canals – like the ones you see in postcards and in brochures.

As canoes and speed boats are the only ones who can go in these narrow canals, we signed up for a morning speed boat cruise.

This is exactly what we wanted to see – paddy fields, cconut and banana trees reflecting in calm water below, water lilies blooming everywhere, mango tress touching the water, single narrow canoe moored in front of people’s houses lining the canal, school kids walking to school, people tending to their daily chores and pets (ducks, cows, goats and hens) along the canal banks. It was surreal and enchanting. the cruise ended with a speed through on the lake and Varun loved the wind blowing through his hair so much that when I suggested another speed boat ride, he woke up early next morning for it.

We went on a longer speed boat cruise, this time through different canals and saw fishermen catching fish, divers bringing up mud, white and black shells and other house boats that were parked for the night, slowly make their way back onto the lake and further to Allapuzha.

Evenings at the resort were chilled out as we were entertained by classical music and traditional dance performances by local artists.

It rained once while we were there and it cooled us off. It was humid in Kerala given the seasonal rains, but we were cool under the shade of the century old trees on the Taj property. There are lagoons, pools and canals on the property. Water hyacinth and water lilies bloom, dragon flies flit around. Kingfisher and Cormorants nest around. Staying in a heritage home is popular home-stay option in Kerala – staying in one restored by Taj takes it up a notch. And staying in one by the backwaters in truly rejuvenating.

Stay tuned for next post on Fort Kochi and Cherai beach.