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Posts Tagged ‘Kerala’

Finally Some Photos – Kerala April

Check out these photos on my new photos page above or click the link below

Kerala April 2010

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No Animals Today

5.30am we got up today to make it on to the first boat trip around Periyar Lake.   Everything was quiet except the muezzin calling off in the distance, there barely a soul walking round town, just a few  at the bus stop, we never even met any autos or taxis  going the other way, but when we got there the biggest rowdiest queue you could ever hope not to find.  Where do they come from? And how can they be so excited at this time in the morning. 

Oh well so much for the peace and tranquillity of nature.  But it didn’t matter too much.  It rained last night and I know from safari in Africa that rain means no animals.  The best place to find animals is by a water source – like a lake, but if there are other places where they can get a drink then they won’t come out into the open.

The bird life is fantastic though.  I’ve decided to buy a book on Indian birds and learn a bit about them.  So maybe I’ll be able to pass on a bit of the Info.

 My only condolence for the lack of large mammals is Kumily town has a bar.  Only the second one I’ve seen in India!  And its only INR65 a beer, bargain.  Gotta go, beer’s getting warm.

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The Australian Connection

The Town of Munnar in the Western Ghats is a Little over 1400m above sea level.  This makes it a great break from the heat down on the plain.  It’s a great feeling to be cold enough at night to use a blanket and walk around in a pair of jeans, although its still pretty warm come mid day.

There’s nothing much to do here apart from admire the countryside and get hassled by rickshaw drivers offering trips up to the top of the hill.  In the end we decide that that’s what we’ll do tomorrow.

First stop is a small flower nursery and the driver says

– You want to see flowers, very nice.

– Not really, I said

Having spent the last 18 months working in St James’ park I’m a bit de-sensitised to nice flowers.  So we move on to an elephant sanctuary where Andrea pretends not to be that bothered about riding an elephant – but is really desperate to.  So we end up being carted around on top of one of these massive beasts for 30 minutes, stopping every so often so it can have a shit.

Just outside of here I’m looking at all the trees and I notice that I recognise them from somewhere, they look out of place.  So I ask the driver and He tells me

– Special Australian tree, used for ayurvedic medicine.

Straight away I know they are eucalyptus trees. Loads of them, a whole plantation. It’s a bit of a strange sight to see here in South India.  It’s big business this ayurvedic stuff so I’m sure they need a lot of trees.

We stop at a few more slightly interesting places and finally make it to top station.  We have to go a hundred metres over the border into Tamil Nadu and suddenly the road turns really bad.

– Are all the roads like this in Tamil Nadu, I ask the Driver

– No, not all, he says

I hope not, I’ll be there in a couple of days! But the views out over the tea plantations are spectacular and worth the trip. 

On the way back the driver manages to get us nearly all the way back without turning on the engine.  Pretty impressive I thought, and it’s good for the environment – or his pocket.

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Dosa Update

I had my best dosa in india sofar yesterday.  It was massive, a huge big folded crispy triangle.  I got it at SN restaurant in Munnar, so if you are a dosa lover and are passing through, give it a try.  The only bad thing was the mediocre sambar and coco chutney.  But hey, you cant have everything.

 In fact, I’m about to go back for another!

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I really like Cochin.  It reminds me of Melaka or Penang, or even Macau.  Lots of crumbling old colonial era buildings, lots of history.  The Portuguese first came here a little over 500 years ago, but before then there were Jewish settlers, Arab traders and some of the first Christian missionaries to leave the Holy Land.

A lot of people I’ve met didn’t like it though.  Most people thought it was too touristy or just not like India enough.  I don’t get this, I loved it.  Goats walking everywhere, places to relax and watch the sea, slow pace of life – even patches of clean(ish) grass to sit on.

My favourite place was the Mantancherry palace.  The Hindu Murals inside are worth going to just to see.  They remind me of the ones you find in old oriental churches or hidden in parts of gothic cathedrals.  Surely there must have been some cultural influence when the artists were commissioned to paint them.

It must be one of the only places where Hindu, Christian, Muslim and Jew all live together and prosper.  And looking at the houses there must be a lot of prosperity.

I’d tell anybody to come here, don’t be put off by the bad press!

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Toddy

It’s amazing what the people here do with the Coconut Palm.  In the Backwaters of Kerala it’s the basis for their whole economy.   The husks are soaked in water for six months and then pounded to produce coir fibre for rope and boat building; The leaves are used to make shelters for animals and sometimes people; The white inside is grated for all sorts of local dishes; The sweet milk inside is drunk; and the they are also dried and pounded to extract the oil which is used for cooking and in some ayurvedic treatments.  It really is a wonder plant for the area.

Beside all this – and for me the most interesting use, the flowers are tapped to extract a sweet sap which is then fermented to produce toddy.  Toddy is the most popular alcoholic drink in the rural areas of Kerala and there are toddy shops all around.  Many of them serve food and are almost like pubs in the UK.

I was quite excited about getting to try some when I was booking a backwater canoe trip in Kollam, but the guy booking the tour told me I wouldn’t see any on the trip.  I was a little disappointed, but this changed when halfway through the trip the guide asked if we wanted to try some. ‘Yes’ was my instant answer.

So off we traipsed through the Coco Plantation to a lean to shack in the middle of some rice paddies, where a very cheery man was sitting amongst some random plastic containers.  For INR60 he filled up my water bottle with some freshly tapped Toddy, but I couldn’t drink it straight away

– Not Ready.  Drink tomorrow morning, he told me

Not really up for getting drunk first thing I asked – What about tonight

– Tonight not strong.  Tomorrow Strong, he insisted

Oh well tomorrow morning it is.  He bid us farewell by saying

– Me toddy Tapper, and beating his chest at the same time.

The toddy was a live science experiment in my hands.  It kept fizzing and lightening in colour as the sugar changed to alcohol.  I tasted the brew at various times through the process and found its flavour changing quite rapidly.  The only problem was it was warm.  I can’t drink warm beer, never mind warm coconut moonshine.  So it sat.  And next morning I couldn’t really face it, and it sat some more.  By night time when I felt like trying it again it was gone bad.  That’s the thing about toddy, it doesn’t keep.  24 hours and it’s turning to vinegar.

So my first foray into toddy didn’t go to well, but a couple of days later and I’m outside Mantancherry Palace, in Cochin, I see a sign saying ‘TODDY’.  I was a bit hesitant but I went in anyway. Inside they were selling Ice cold toddy – much more up my street.  And it was great, almost like a coconut cider, refreshing with a kind of sherbet fizz.  The barman handed me some tapioca with mustard seeds and curry leaves to try.  I’d never tried tapioca on its own but the starchy texture was a perfect accompaniment to the cold toddy.

I’m glad in the end, after hearing so much about it, that toddy is after all a fine product of the coconut palm.

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It took me a long time to decide which would be the best place to start my trip to India, but in the end the 20 minute taxi ride from the airport to Kovalam decided it for me.  I’d been reading lots of stuff about which place is better and thought that the only way to really decide would be to go to both – well I was in the area.  In reality both places were very nice and had things to offer everybody.  Anyway, I’ll try and sum up my own personal opinion for you;

Accommodation – Well both places have a great range of nice spots to stay.  Varkala leans more towards the budget side of things, but still has a few more good looking upmarket places.  Overall just for the sheer range of choices Kovalam wins here.

Looks- Kovalam has a nice beach, well quite nice, and the lighthouse and fishing boats add a bit of character to it, but the red cliffs of Varkala win here hands down.

Amenities – Although the cliffs really give a great look to the place they also mean a quick nip to get some water/snacks/something from the hotel just isn’t possible.  You can do all three in seconds from the beach in Kovalam.

Location – Well, as I said a 20 min cab from the airport to Kovalam ‘isn’t bad, and nice to do a day trip to Trivandrum for some bits and a visit to the Zoo.

Vibe – Varkala is all over this one.  With double story hangouts all along the cliff and plenty of places for some breakfast juice.

Food and Drink – This is something I feel very strongly about and after my fish eating days in Kovalam I was seriously let down in Varkala.  The exact same menu in each place, over priced fish, masala dosas for INR70 and all the beer was 100-110.  There seems to be more competition in Kovalam, whereas in Varkala there seems to be some price fixing scam going on.  Varkala does claw some points back for the good coffee and nice juice bar.

Overall – At the moment I’m saying Kovalam, mostly for the food factor and the quick hop from the airport.  If this was different I would choose Varkala and if I was staying longer than a week I’d definitely go there.  However they’re both great places and I’d love to go back to both.

I hope this helped somebody make up their mind, because it only made it harder to decide for me!

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