Happy 2018, everyone! I hope the new year is filled with good news and lots of love.
I’m excited to share our experience about the wonderful state of Kerala – a beautiful destination, for a beautiful year to come. I hope you enjoy it. Please proceed below.
Oh, Kerala! If I were a songwriter, I would devote a piece to you.
People were right – this region in the south of India is beautiful. While we were there, we had the opportunity to visit a few different places in just over a week’s time.
We got there by driving through lush forests to reach Wayanad – a mountain town known for its coffee and tea plantations.
When we heard “coffee” our ears perked up. After all, Matt and I are New Yorkers – and coffee is the fuel of our city (the day doesn’t seem to start before the first cup).
So when our travel agency (India Someday) recommended that we add this destination to our itinerary we couldn’t say no. The place they suggested was called Dhanagiri Homestay. It not only produces coffee and local spices, but also offers accommodations with stunning views of the landscape.
Words cannot do justice to the charm of this place. We were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature and a handful of bungalows straight out of Architectural Digest. It was peaceful and serene. The only thing we could hear was the sound of the wind, leaves blowing and birds. We realized that it had been some time since we had heard the real sounds of the outdoors (as opposed to our white noise app).
We checked in and it was time to enjoy. Our days were filled with books, writing, movie watching and caffeine. We also hiked up a nearby hill to see the vistas from above. On the way up, Sanoop, the manager of our hotel, transformed the experience into a field trip by teaching us about different plants and trees that surrounded us.
“Here is some coriander” he said grabbing a plant for us to taste. “And here is some allspice” he took another one and gave it to us to smell,” and which I was surprised to learn is one plant – not a mix of different spices put together.
When we reached the top of the mountain, a gorgeous view was revealed in front of us.
We later visited a tea plantation nearby. It wasn’t open to the public but because our hotel knew a few people there, we were hooked up and got a grand tour. We walked for a good 2 hours taking in the spectacular view. This was accompanied by tea workers that stopped to say hello.
All in all we had a great time in Wayanad and specifically at Dhanagiri. Not only were we able to recharge from all the traveling we’ve been doing, but we also tasted some of the best Indian food that we have had yet. The homestay had a fantastic cook and we sampled some homemade Keralan dishes including one that’s only served at weddings though they prepared it just for us. The variety of wedding dishes is called Sadhya and it’s served on a banana leaf – it was very pretty and tasty.
Next up was Cochin – a very interesting city next to the water and important because, among other things, it was one of the ports that Indian spices were exported from. Do you remember Vasco Da Gama? He was the Portuguese captain that was the first European to reach India by sea in 1498. He quickly turned Cochin into one of the ports for export when he traced the spice route to go from India to Europe and vice versa.
History aside, Cochin is worth the visit not only for the spices, but to see the beautiful churches, the Portuguese influence, some good Kathakali theater which is typical from the region and the famous Chinese fishing nets.
In this city, we stayed with a local family that has a homestay called Lazar Residency, located in Fort Cochin. This family is christian so Matt quickly deduced the name “Lazar” (that gives name to the hotel), is for “Lazarus” a figure in the gospels that Jesus brings back from the dead.
We spent our days walking around, sightseeing and shopping for pepper (there were battles to get it so we figured we might as well get some). We also enjoyed good Keralan food which is delicious! Many of the dishes are made with tropical ingredients such as coconut, tamarind, mango, lemon and ginger – the flavors of my childhood in Mexico City.
Another thing we did was visit an area that goes with the name of Jew Town – and of course, the two Jews here needed to go check it out. The heart of the area is a very old and tiny synagogue. We went in so we could see all the chandeliers that are hanging from the ceiling, that have been donated through the years. One is always lit – to add a trivia fact to this post.
After Cochi we drove to a city called Alleppey, where a houseboat was waiting for us. We spent 24 hours floating through the stunning backwaters, enjoying the tranquility of navigating, eating more Keralan food made by our onboard chef and waving our hands to people on other boats. The boat was like a hotel, with a cozy room that had the bed facing a big window to wake up with the beautiful view.
Because 24 hours in a boat wasn’t relaxing enough, we drove from Alleppey to the beautiful beaches of Marari. I’m going to admit that we splurged a little, and we stayed at this gorgeous resort called Flamingo. The room was beautiful, and the bathroom even more so (seriously – below is the proof).
For the next 3 days, our job was to relax, enjoy the beach that we would reach by a 10-minute-canoe-ride and use the very nice swimming pool at the hotel.
The beach was one of the most beautiful ones I’ve ever seen. It appeared virgin, with fishermen catching the fish of the day, quiet and serene – that was until we discovered that the gorgeous sand of Marari was being used as a public toilet. One morning Matt went for a run, and he came back with the news that he saw around a 100 fishermen doing number 2 right there. Thankfully, by the time we reached the beach after breakfast, I didn’t see anything other than a clean sea and sand waiting to be enjoyed by us.
We also took the opportunity that we were in Kerala to have an Ayurvedic massage. This region is famous for the treatment since it has a lot of access to herbs, plants and oils. How was the experience? It depends on who you ask. I would tell you it was relaxing and that my skin never felt softer. Matt, on the other hand, was traumatized that he had to wear a loincloth in front of a 20-year-old guy that rubbed his body up and down with oil. In any case, we had the experience and that’s that.
Our time in Kerala flew by. It was time to leave the calm and go back to the north. Next stop would be Varanasi. Let me tell you – the time we spent in Kerala was a whisper of the universe telling us “Varanasi is next, get some rest and be ready for madness.”