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Kerala

Two years back when I went to Kerala first time I fell in love with the country of The God Of Small Things. Kerala the land of Kathakali, Kovalam and Kalaripayattu. The greenery, the back waters, the sea, the cuisine and the people are mesmerizing. That time I had gone there with my wife and kids. While returning from that trip I had decided that I shall take my parents and in-laws to the same trip.
This year we could plan the much awaited trip. My daughter wanted to go by train and that too by Kerala Rajdhani Express, which takes you through breathtakingly picturesque Konkan. Son wanted to repeat Kerala because the foodie in him wanted to gorge on Kerala Non-vegetarian stew and Malabari Paratha. Parents and in-laws were to board from Bhopal and we were to start from Delhi. So finally for a trip planned in first week of October 2012, the tickets were booked in July 2012. Despite booking so much in advance three upper births were destined to be allotted for the four senior citizens.
I had planned to give the senior lot a jump start, so that they could reach early to Trivandrum and visit Kanyakumari and local in two days ahead of us. We were not able to club that in out itinerary due to shortage of leave. Finally, we booked four more tickets under Tatkal quota in a higher class, to take a chance for lower seats. This way we could manage two lower births but the cost of tickets went up almost four times as there is no concession and in addition we had to pay for Tatkal charges.
I had briefed senior citizens to carry playing cards to avoid boredom in the long journey, which they did and thoroughly enjoyed on second day onwards, once the train became less crowded.
Kerala has a beautiful system of home-stays, wherein one can experience true Kerala. These are government authorized homes where one can stay with locals. The homes accommodation provided at these homes are as good as a three star hotel and without any staff asking you about your comfort wearing that mechanical smile. Instead what you feel at home. The home stay I had booked through internet was just 700 meters from Kovalam beach on the harbor road. The home has well furnished four rooms available for renting out. Its interiors were done with a taste and had nice wooden furniture and antique show pieces. The bathrooms even had bath tub and facility for cold as well has hot water. The kitchen had gas stove, and enough utensils and cutlery. From top floor one could see palm trees and see and listen to the music of the sea. Breakfast was included in the plan, and everyday there was sumptuous breakfast of authentic Kerala cuisine. Lunch and dinner are to be arranged from the nearby hotels. Parents enjoyed Idli, Dosa, Idiappam breakfast on three different days.
Our host Mr Nair was as friendly as any Malyali and helped me arranging travel for my parents to Kanyakumari and local sightseeing. He had also arranged for a taxi to pick up parents from railway station. Kovalam beach though at a walking distance from any hotel and this home stay, it is very difficult for aged to reach and come back from there due to steep gradient. My considerate host arranged a taxi to drop and pick up for them to the beach. Second day they were sent on a local sightseeing tour which included the now famous for it’s richness Shri Padnabha temple, art museum, science museum and Shankhamukham beach. At Padnabha temple the ladies are to wear Saree (Half Saree accepted), and gents are to wear only Mundu (Lungi or Dhoti accepted) (No upper wear is permitted). Science museum and the Zoo are of interest to the school going children. Third day we reached, did some shopping of Kerala Sarees (It became mandatory with four ladies in the group) and took parents once again to the Kovalam beach and in water which they had not enjoyed while they went there on their own.
Next morning we got up early and reached Trivandrum railway station at 5.30 AM, to catch Janshatabdi express to Alleppey (Allappuzha prounanced as Alapullha in Malyalam). Once again the early morning taxis were arranged courtesy my host. The station was filled with aroma of hot coffee and flowers tucked in the wet hairs of ladies. The journey to Alleppey took around 2.30 hrs. As that day was a ‘Bandh’ call given against price rise, we were advised to have breakfast at railway station itself. After breakfast, we were picked up by our boat owner Mr. Raju. In next 10 min we were at the boarding point for the most exclusive part of our trip, the boat stay in back waters of Allepey. Our boat was a big luxury boat with four AC bedrooms and a big conference on upper deck. The plan includes all meals of your choice. We had asked for authentic Kerala food. The boat started its journey at 11.00 Am and after two hours and crossing the big Vembanadu Lake entered another canal and anchored for lunch. The lunch was Currymeen ( a variety of fish similar to Pomfret fried), Avial, Thoran, Sambhar, rice, pickle, achar and bananas. After one hour we started sailing again in different canals. In this part the means of communication is waterways only. There are government boats plying as buses, personal boats (smaller for poor people and speed boats for rich), and load carrying boats. School, churches, temples, bank branches, super markets are all located on the banks of these canals. Evening tea was served with banana fritters. At 5.30 PM all boats are to anchor for night. Dinner was chicken stew with Appam. Next day morning we started sailing at 7.00 AM and enjoyed the morning sun and breakfast at the lower front deck.
In one hour we reached back to the place where we started from. Mr Raju had arranged a 13 seater Mini-bus to take us to Thekkedy. The road to Thekkedy is gently upward winding. It takes about 4 hours to reach there from Alleppy. Enroute one can see Tea and other spice plantations. There are guided tours to these plantations on a nominal fee of Rs 100/-. At Thekkedy I had once again arranged for a home stay. My host Mr Rajesh stays with his parents, wife and daughter. He has six rooms at three different levels for renting out. The balconies open in the Periyar wild life sanctuary. The entrance to the sanctuary is on the same road approximately 500 mtrs ahead. My host had already arranged for tickets to Kathakali and Kalaripayattu shows. In Kathakali show, the elaborate make-up with ayurvedic colours is done in front of the interested audience (who are ready to occupy their seats almost 1.30 hrs in advance of the show). The audience is then introduced to the history and nuances including different Mudras of the dance, followed by an enacted story. Kalaripayattu is the famous martial art of Kerala. The show is not for the weak hearted.
There are all types of hotel from budget to costly, and all types of food is available. Getting soft Chapati can be a little problem, as on enquiry my friend told me that it is because the cooks are not so habitual of making Chapatis. As such they cannot make it fast, so they make it in advance and thus it becomes hard.
We enjoyed the shows on first day. Next day, early morning some of us went for the visit to the Periyar. The wild life sanctuary is spread over 900 Sq Km. There is a lake in it which is spread over 27 Sq Km and the boat ride for visit to the park covers about 5 Sq Km area. Hence, one has to be extremely lucky for sighting of any animal.
After return from the sanctuary, had breakfast of Puttu (a dish made of steamed rice floor, grated coconut and banana) followed by some spicy shopping. The area is the home for Indian spices like Pepper, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Bay leaf, Nutmeg, Nut mace, and Cloves. Though it is sold here I will advise all my friends not to buy asafetida here.
After shopping, we started our journey back to Kottayam, where the parents boarded the train and finally we reached back Alleppey which is about 48 kms from there to board Rajdhani Express for Delhi. Last time I had also visited Kumarakom (16 Kms from Kottayam) and then further to Cochin. Where I had visited one of the first church of India and then taken a flight to Delhi.

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Abhijeet Sarmandal

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Maharashtra ,  INDIA

I am an engineer from MANIT, Bhopal.

 Happily married, having two kids and lots of friends. I am what I am, is because of people around me. My indulgence include driving, cooking, music and exploring new places. I believe in humanity and thoroughly convinced that all religions are same.

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