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Colourful Kerala

Kerala Connections 10 day educational trip from London to Kerala, September 2016. We arrived 9am at Kochi airport after a much valued sleep in business class on Emirates having availed of the special online check in upgrade offer for the 4 hour leg from Dubai. Bags off first as labelled priority so first in the queue for the E-Visa entry stamp for India which we had applied for online in the UK, then straight through the customs gate to be met by Jeffrey and our great driver for the duration of the trip Anil, both rom Companion Holidays. A 90- minute transfer to the lovely Brunton Boatyard hotel in Fort Kochi located on the lake, which is a brilliant reproduction of a classic Colonial hotel, just 20 years old but seems 120 years. Lake view rooms with balcony, great for watching the busy stream of shipping, ferry and fishing boats go by. We enjoyed our first taste of the fabulous Keralan cooking at the hotel's restaurant sitting outside on the lawn, facing the lake. Afternoon visit to Xandari hotel which is a small contemporary hotel also on the water front. Water view rooms on the first floor have lake views whereas ground floor rooms have an enclosed courtyard so private but no view. Chill out style bar and restaurant. That evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Relais & Chateaux hotel Malabar House, which is housed in a traditional building,colourful art and furnishings, rooms around the courtyard where the restaurant and restaurant. Day two we had a morning city tour taking along the waterfront to see fishermen with their nets and catch. Site visit to Secret Garden hotel which is a small boutique bohemian Keralan style hotel, some rooms with four poster beds, day bed and veranda facing the courtyard and small pool. Tour of Mattancherry Palace, a Portuguese palace popularly known as the Dutch Palace which features Kerala murals depicting Hindu temple art, portraits and exhibits of the Rajas of Kochi. Next the Paradesi Synagogue which is the oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations. We bought spices from the tourist shopping area of Jew Town which also has clothing and gifts. A delicious lunch at Francis Residence home stay, all made by the owner’s wife. House and rooms in a modern style. Four equal rooms on first floor, neat, clean and tidy. Wasted an hour at Vodafone getting a SIM card for my portable WIFI hotspot. Needed to sign a contract for pay as you go and the foreign address didn't work on the online form. Needed passport photo, passport, referee, which Anil provided. Frustrating as the staff don't communicate as to what is happening or how long I will have to wait. We had to come back the next day. Paid Rs449 approx 5 pounds for 3GB which was plenty for 10 days considering I mostly used the hotel Wifi. Dinner at Old Harbour hotel which is rated no. 1 on Tripadvisor. Old building, beautifully styled, slightly hip chic feel with traditionally furnished, uncluttered spacious rooms with quality art work which is sourced from the owners’ art gallery in Fort Kochi. One particular painting was bit of a shock in one of the guest bathrooms as was of three naked men! Delicious dinner and nice open air setting.Day 3 we set off to Thekkady, stopping en-route at Dewalokam for lunch hosted by Jose the owner. A lovely organic farm with rooms. Tour of the farm tasting the spices from the tree or bush which was incredible taste and flavour. Lunch was a typical vegetarian meal for the Onam festival, which is served on a banana leaf. Enjoyed dining with the other guests at a long shared table. Stayed for 2 nights at CGH Earth hotel Spice Village which was lovely and excellent environmentally, particularly the ozone rather than chlorine treated water in the swimming pool. Dinner at the hotel was buffet. Fried fish was good. Morning trek in Periyar National Park with a guide. We donned leech protective foot and leg coverings. Saw birds and the black monkey but no tiger or elephant which was a relief as the guide only had a stick for protection! Lunch at Analavillas which is a boutique homestay style hotel 20 minutes from Thekkady. No alcohol unless you bring your own. The new Government is aiming to increase the number of alcohol licences so things should change going forward. The hotel's owner is well known photographer and features his photos in the Kerala cookbook which I bought from the hotel. Two rooms in the main house next to the dining table with views over the fields. Two pool villas away from the house and a Presidential villa at the end of a raised walkway. Plans to move the dining table to the cardamom fields between the house and the pool villas. Back at Thekkady I had a one hour Ayurvedic massage by one of the many shops for Rs1300 approx 13 pounds. Oil head massage then all over body massage with oil - not scented - think they use sesame oil. Was good but ambience was lacking being a dark basement room. For a nicer experience, the hotels are better which I experienced at Coconut Village hotel where the room opens to the paddy fields. Same method but two girls so four handed massage followed by hair wash and body scrub so not for the shy! Leaves your skin and hair soft and moisturised and mind totally relaxed. Back to Thekkady, dinner at Shalimar Spice village which was 20 minute drive from the town. Grand entrance across a walkway, bohemian style reception and rooms set in lush vegetation. Day 5 a long drive to the backwaters through tea plantations with a stop for lunch and site visit of a lovely property off the main road called Paradisa Plantation Retreat. Open air restaurant looking over the valley and private bungalow rooms with the same views from the windows and terraces. Onwards to Allepey where we were taken by boat to the Coconut Village hotel, another CGH Earth hotel where we stayed for 2 nights relaxing by the pool, bird watching and butterfly tours, watching the sunset over the lagoon and enjoying the delicious food at the hotel. Day 7 Lazy morning by the pool till our Houseboat from Lakes and Lagoons company collected us at 12.30pm. Very relaxing cruising along the backwaters looking at the many and varied sights along the way. Clothes washing and bathing in the river. Birds and bats. Colourful houses mostly simple small lodgings with occasional new mansions. Majority of tourists are from India or Arab countries at this time of the year. Stopped at St Mary's Ferona Church (the oldest Syrian Church of this region) and a small village with Kashmiri goods. Overnight on the river bank next to a few other boats from the same company. Next morning a short journey to Allepey where our driver met us for the transfer to Marari Beach hotel, another CGH Earth property. Gorgous beach and lovely spacious bungalow style rooms with verandahs and open air showers. Dinner was at Maya’s Beach House nearby the hotel, again excellent food. Next day we visited Xandari Pearl hotel for lunch. Contemporary design hotel with a chill out vibe, spacious rooms. Green room has open air bathroom, private garden, blue room has same but a plunge pool and there is one suite. Quite a walk to the beach along a sandy path which made me get very warm. Medium size pool which is available to outside guests if eating at the hotel. Food was excellent. Personal service is their motto.

Marari Sands beach hotel -we visited on our own by bike. Newly opened March 2016. A smaller version of Marari Beach with just 13 or 16 rooms with open air showers. Small pool. Close to the beach. Opening a spa and has one restaurant. Away from it all feeling as located down an off the beaten track dirt road.

A Beach Symphony hotel for dinner. 4 individual villas which are spacious with open air bathrooms and large verandas with 2 cane sun loungers, seating area and dining table and chairs where all meals are taken. Close to the beach but has a beach road beside and other houses - heard dogs barking. Long pool in enclosed garden to the side. One room had two double beds. One villa had connecting door to the second bedroom. Food was very nice. We asked for the fish to be medium spicy, but it was mild.

Cycled to the small Marari village where we bought some cotton dresses and shirts and looked at the Hindu temple. I went to learn about Ayurveda medicine from the doctors at the in house centre where they offer 3,5, 7 day treatments. Relaxed by the pool where I could work as WIFI available all over the hotel. Very humid today at 90 per cent - temperature 23 to 26 degrees.Day 9- 2 hour drive to Fort Kochi along the coast road which was less busy with car traffic but lots of people walking, cycling, standing in groups and dressed smartly for Onam festival today. We stopped at a government shop called Royal Silk House near Manthra Bridge, Pandikudy, assistant Hilal- Tel 0484 2212312. Good quality cotton and silk clothing. Wood carved elephants, embroidered wall hangings and more including a beautiful, very lightweight, natural goats neck hair Pashtosh which is a superior type of pashmina. Half hour drive to the homestay Teak House which is 40 minutes from the airport and in a quiet area on the river surrounded by trees. Sunil Elias and his wife built the house 5 years ago and have been running 2 room homestay for 3 years on full board basis including afternoon tea and he does have beer, wine and American whisky. First spot of rain in the daytime but just whilst we were driving. Very relaxing sitting in cane rocking chairs on the verandah.

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