A wedding and an anniversary – in God’s own country: Kerela!
One fine day, Pinki and I made a list utilizing the office resources of places we wanted to visit in India and the top two destinations on our list were at polar ends of the subcontinent – Leh in the north and Kerela in the south J
Luckily for us, cupid struck and two of our closest friends fell in love and decided to get married in Kerela! What better excuse to visit this beautiful place than to celebrate our second wedding anniversary (yeah, we managed to survive two years together! ;)) and a wedding?! So, as usual, Pinki the husband did all the research and booking and travel plans on how we’d make the most of the few days that we had in Kerela. All I did was day dream, until the day to travel arrived 😉
We left on 26th November 2011, Saturday morning..caught the Volvo to Mumbai and got a flight to Cochi. Reached Cochi at around 6 pm and our adventure began. Dad had arranged for our pick up and stay at the Naval guest house at Kochi. We were promptly picked up from the airport and dropped at our guest house. All during the way, we both had our cameras out (me with my tiny Canon and Pinki with his professional Canon DSLR..ahem), and tried to click in the Cochi city flavor and culture. We finally reached the guest house around 6 pm and simply loved the place! The rooms were spacious like a 5-star hotel and it was right facing the sea front! What more could’ve we asked for?!! And then we realized, we could’ve asked for an English speaking attendant 😉 hehe.. The care taker’s name was Jojoba..(not pronounced like ‘hohoba’ , by the way) and we had to communicate with him using our hands and expressions..so much for living in the 21st century..sigh!
So, we unpacked, freshened up a bit and head out in the car to the city center to try out some authentic south Indian dosas and idly and chutneys. Unfortunately for us, it started pouring by the time we reached the city centre, which made it almost impossible for us to walk around, since we had forgotten to get umbrellas for the journey L So we had to run to the nearest joint we could get and ate roast chicken with parotha there, which wasn’t too bad really. By then, the rain had slowed down a bit and we started walking around a bit more, still in search of the authentic dosa chutney combination. We found a restaurant finally in an alley way, and settled in-being the only two people to eat there that early in the night..hehe..and what do you know – the minute we ordered, the lights went out! I was really afraid initially, since we were alone there in a strange restaurant with no lights and scary looking men outside, but the fear turned into an interesting god given candle light dinner of authentic south Indian idlies after all! What luck! J
So interesting candle night dinner, and another short walk in the rain, a ride back along marine drive in the car, we were back at our guest house to crash-after all, our journey was yet to start! So we watched a couple of movies and snugly went off to sleep in the cozy room to the sound of rain and the ocean next door J
Early next morning, with a breakfast of bread, omlette and awesome filter coffee, our bags packed, we left in our hired cab around 10 am to Munnar. The ride to Munnar was an experience in itself, starting with palm trees when we leftcochin, to waterfalls, winding roads and beautiful ghats while nearing Munnar. We stopped on the way a few times for water, pee breaks and taking a few pictures at a waterfall (while I was busy hogging away on cut pineapples and banana chips ;)) We finally touched down at Munnar after a drive of around 6 hours and we thought we had entered heaven! The roads were smooth like butter, there were hardly any vehicles or people around, the clouds were hanging down on the road and everywhere you could just see green tea plantations or just green! We had booked our stay at this lovely homestay called ‘Reinberg’, so we checked in there. Now, before I move on to the better parts, a bit of a traveler’s distress here-it was after we reached Munnar that we were made aware of this weird logic of hired cars charging in Kerela – they don’t charge by the km per se, but charge double or to and fro to a destination. So if you’re planning to go fromCochin– Munnar- Allepey – Gurvayur-Cochin (which was our plan)- you had to shell out money forCochinto Munnar (to and fro), Munnar to Allepey (to and fro) and so on..even if you were actually not making those trips! Insane isn’t it! And with all the strikes happening in Munnar at that time, I think most of our travel expenses went on just paying the hired cabs! So I’d suggest either planning a journey so you can make most of it by train, or going in a group, so it’s not as painful on the pocket 😉
All right- back on lovely vacation track- so our room at the homestay was quite simple really, small room for 2 with an attach bath with geyser, blankets and a small TV. It overlooked the town below and had an outside table if you wanted to have your meals outside. They didn’t cook meals at home, so you have to ask the porter to get you something from the market, which is fine as well really J
So we dumped our bags in the room, freshened up and headed down to the town centre for lunch and to explore our trekking options nearby. Munnar town is a very small little place filled with shops that sell sweetmeats and banana chips or umbrellas or road side cafes (the Indian kinds and not the pretty European kinds ;)) and one can easily walk around the entire town in half an hour! You’ll also see a lot of tourists – either honeymooners or lonely trekkers or foreigners flocking the town. We settled to eat at a café which was packed and devoured the fish biryani, dosa and chicken curry and how can I forget – the masala chai J yummmm
Tummies full, we bought 2 umbrellas from the local market, since it was perpetually raining there and we had very conveniently forgotten to pack ours and set of to trek around the town a bit. Now in Munnar, you cant do much once the sun sets, since there aren’t any street lights or night life- so its best to spend most of your day trekking out so you can come back home by sun set and enjoy a quite and relaxing evening in your room either with some home made wine or filter coffee or masala chai – whatever your heart desires then 😉 We stuck to tea and coffee during the day and the amazing home made port wine to keep us warn at night 😉 So we walked a lot, walked when it didn’t rain, walked when it was pouring, walked through unknown territories, walked through the town and back and just walked! It was amazing and I had never had so much fun just walking! We came back to our homestay around sunset, visited a church nearby and settled in the evening with amazing dosa and wine for dinner-after all we had another big day planned ahead and needed to get all our strength back J
Although next morning was amazing, since it was chilly and raining and we gorged down on a yummy breakfast of bread, omlette, sausages and filter coffee, our porter gave us some very bad news. So there was a political tumult happening on the division of a river between Tamil Nadu and Kerela and people were protesting against who should be the rightful owner of the water (the stuff people fight over these days, really!) and due to this, there would be a two day strike in Munnar and neighboring areas, which meant no shops or public transport would be running from 6 am to 6 pm! But adventurous that we were feeling, we didn’t let that dampen our spirits and decided to take our porter’s suggestion of sight seeing the nearby areas in a shared auto! Yes you’re right – we braved the strike and went sight seeing in Munnar in an auto! Hahah! It actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since we felt like VIPs moving through absolutely empty streets and lanes and shops! So we covered a lot of places that day – walked and ran on the tea gardens, took lots of pictures, saw a big tree of bee hives, had maggi and masala chai at a small road side shop (which was just yummy by the way), went to a flower exhibition (just breath taking the amount and variety of flowers they had), visited a lake which was also an echo point and wrapped it all up with the blue mountains (no, not the one in Australia)- these mountains are famous for their wild deers and blue flowers that bloom once in 8 years I think, which give the mountains that color (unfortunately we could just see the deers, since we hadn’t gone during the bloom season), but it was still fun trekking along misty mountains.. J
We came back to our homestay, and our porter told us there were some kathakali shows happening in the town -Kathakali is the state dance of Kerala and famous for their dancers using masks to enhance their facial expressions – it’s a very difficult dance form, not due to the dance moves per se, but due to the amount of practice and talent you need to control your eye and facial muscles to convey various emotions. So tourist mode that me and my husband were in, we decided to go for it- the show was for around 45 minutes, where they showed us an introductory round of different feelings first, and then enacted an entire play. The experience was beautiful and frightening at the same time and we were completely blown away by the talent these performers had!
We packed ourselves some more dosas and biryani for the night, ordered in some more port wine and prepared to leave at 2 am in the morning for Allepey. Now, it’s not necessary that you have to leave Munnar at this ungodly hour, but due to the strike, our porter warned us that all roads out of Munnar would be blocked from 6 am in the morning, and if we wanted to keep up with our plan, it would be best to leave early, so we would have crossed the border before the strike blocks were put in place. So sleepy eyed, husband and wife braved the cold rainy night with blaring malayalam music (our cabbie had to stay awake right? So he had rolled down the windows and blasting away his music) for the next 5 hours! Whew, talk about adventure…we reached Allepey in the wee hours of the morning and decided to freshen up at another homestay room until it was morning and we could get to our houseboat. So we were up and ready by 10 am, but unfortunately for us, the strike was there at Allepey too! Talk about bad luck..so since there were no autos or cars to take us to our houseboat, we had to piggy back behind two bikers with our luggage to be ferried to our houseboat! Interestingly, we weren’t the only ones who had to travel this way since we saw a lot of foreigners on bikes being ferried to their respective boats as well…I must say, these stupid strikes made our trip inconvenient, but adventurous at the same time 😉
We finally reached the houseboat Priyank had booked for us-so initially our plan was to spend the night at the houseboat, but we found out that our houseboat was one of the cheaper ones and wasn’t air conditioned, and they would dock at the pick up point bay during the night – now this bay was at a very dirty and congested place, with flies and mosquitoes around and even in winters it was very warm and sultry. So we decided to just go ahead with the day trip and cut our trip short a night earlier, so we could relax one night at Gurvayur (where our friend’s wedding was taking place and where they had arranged a very good accommodation for us).
So, we kept our bags in the houseboat and chugged away on to the beautiful Kerala backwaters to celebrate 2 years or being married-yes, our second anniversaryJ. We were given some soft drinks as welcome drink on the boat and were introduced to two old men – one the chef (and he seemed to be a very good chef with the recommendations we read and later with the food we tasted) and the other, our Captain and he called himself ‘the Captain’ too! Wonderful and friendly men they were, kept talking to us and giving us our space whenever we needed it. We just lounged away on the deck the entire time, taking in the peace, the quite and the beauty of the back waters – it was warm and breezy and very relaxing the entire time. We saw lots of other boats, mostly with either honeymooners or foreigners soaking in the sun, passed through villages on the waters, which reminded you of an Indian Venice, and saw a huge flock of baby ducklings being shepherded by fishermen for their eggs..they were just adorable! J
We stopped over around mid day at a local floating fish market where you can choose what seafood you want to eat for lunch, along with the usual fish fry and chicken and other vegetables – so we bought ourselves 4 big king prawns and god were they king size! So while our chef/cook was busy making us an amazing meal, our ‘Captain’ took us to this ayurvedic massage place so we could get a relaxing oil massage and build up an appetite as well 😉 Since we didn’t have a lot of time, at 400 per person, both of us got amazing back massages done and it just felt heavenly! I could’ve fallen asleep there! Finally, our lunch was ready and it with our ravenous appetite now, we devoured the yummy food and it was totally worth it! We set off again, and tried to digest our huge lunch by just lazing on the deck while the Captain navigated through wider areas in the back waters where the breeze was even better. At around 4ish, our wicked Captain felt like treating himself and us to the local alcohol – toddi..it’s similar to feni that you get inGoa, but made of fermented coconut water. Apparently, its best had when its freshly brewed and you can easily drink up an entire bottle since it actually tastes like pungent coconut water! But we didn’t want to risk our tummies, so we had a glass each, just to know what it tasted like, accompanied by our evening snacks of banana fry and fish fry..yes, food again, gluttons that we were 😉
Finally, our lovely day and anniversary was nearing an end, and we docked back at the bay around 5 pm. Our cab was ready to take us to our next destination – Guruvayur, where we would attend a typical Kerela-Andhra wedding of two of our close friends.
The trip to Guruvayur took us longer than the earlier road trips, and by the time we touched the town, it was almost 10:30 pm. I was tired and hungry and desperately longing for a nice air conditioned room to sleep and some good food to eat. Before I dive in further, a brief on Guruvayur – this is actually a religious destination in Kerala famous for its Guruvayurappan temple – an avatar of Lord Vishnu. The temple is very renowned in the South and people come here all through the year to take the blessings of the Lord. Marriages done here are given special blessings; hence, our friends couldn’t have chosen a better place to get married. This place is totally non vegetarian and tourists are advised to wear covered clothing to respect the Lord and his devotees present there. Coming back to my story, luckily for us, the hotel our friend had booked us into was just what we needed. The rooms were clean, spacious and air conditioned, the bathrooms were clean and very big and the service was good as well. The hotel had an in house restaurant which was luckily open when we went in, so we quickly ordered some idly and dosa and watermelon juice and finally relaxed. We went for a short walk to stretch our legs around the town and finally crashed on our lovely soft beds in the hotel.
Next morning, we woke up late, had breakfast, lazed around a bit in the hotel room finally headed off to our friend’s engagement ceremony after lunch. It was a usual ceremony, but was good to catch up with other friends there – weddings in Indiasomehow are always fun with all the colors and yummy food, as long as it’s not yours! Lol J After the ceremony and dinner, we walked back to the hotel again to get an early night, since the wedding next day was early in the morning. Next morning, we got ready in our ethnic wear and had a great time at the wedding. It was quite simple, but there were a lot of ceremonies which were quite different from an Oriya or North Indian wedding that I have attended. We had an amazing south Indian buffet for breakfast and totally stuffed ourselves! Since we had an early flight to catch fromCochin, we had to leave the wedding towards the end, and take a cab back toCochin. The ride back toCochin was quite short and we made in good time and reached the airport.
Finally, it was time to board our flight back to Mumbai and bid farewell to God’s own country –Kerala…