Green Park Spices and Kumily

That was a cold night! Our thin little blankets did little to keep us warm.  I got up in the middle of the night and put my fleece on.  It is certainly much cooler here and our tree house cottage is a bit like a portacabin and heats up during day and gets quickly cold at night.  We have asked for extra blankets for tonight so should be a bit more snug.

Breakfast was served at 8.30 prompt and was curry with no other options.  Mr L tucked in but I could only have a very small portion as never a great breakfast eater at the best of times, and it certainly does not include curry as an option!  Mama’s coffee though was something else – a special South Indian recipe which combines ginger, black pepper, sugar and who knows what else with the local Robusta bean coffee.  It is served as a black coffee, has an oomph to it and is very good.  We will be experimenting with our own version when we get home.

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The plan for the day was to visit the Green Park Spices Plantation which is not far from us and is highly recommended on TripAdvisor.  It certainly fulfilled our expectations and we had a really interesting and informative tour of the spices grown here as well as the Ayurvedic herbs and spices and what they are all used for.  Ayurveda is a very old traditional form of medicine widely practised here in India with strong beliefs in its ability to cure.

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Having had all the benefits of these herbs and spices explained I am surprised anyone in India has poorly controlled diabetes, kidney stones, cancer, stomach problems, throat problems, immunity problems, aches and pains, and skin problems and anything else you can think of!  The tour also included a walk up and along the skywalk…..Mr L partook of the experience but I declined so ‘madam’ was provided with a chair to sit on whilst she waited for the little tour group to return.

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We spent the afternoon wandering around Kumily having a bit more knowledge of the spices sold in the many spice shops that are here. We then got absolutely drenched in a monsoon like downpour and finally managed to grab a tuk-tuk and head back home.  This sadly meant Mr L had missed his lunch…….

However, we decided we didn’t want to stay here at Monsoon Retreats for supper this evening so we ventured back into Kumily early evening and ate an earlyish dinner at the excellent Our Place restaurant.  I needed an English meal this evening as the thought of curry did not make my queasy insides feel happy!  Our Place looked after us well, outside we had another thunderstorm and then a power cut so ended up having a candlelit meal – very romantic.  The power cut meant Mr L couldn’t keep track of Crystal Palace’s game…….

Could we find a tuk-tuk to come home……never there when you want one and always pestering when you don’t!  We had no choice but to get damp again and walk further into town before finding our ride home.  Once back, Mr L was able to finish following the football and goodness me Crystal Palace won 2-0.  Mr L a happy tourist!

We have the alarm set for 6.20am and a tuk-tuk booked for 6.45am as we are off bamboo rafting and trekking in the Periyar National Park tomorrow…….

Monsoon Retreats, Kumily

It was goodbye to Chennamkary and hello to Kumily, Thekkady in eastern Kerala.  Our luggage and ourselves safely crossed the Pamba river in the canoe ferry from outside Green Palm Homes to the opposite bank where we met with our driver who would take us all the way to Monsoon Retreats in Kumily.  A drive of 152km which took 4 hours through towns and villages and up and over hills and mountains, round hair pin bends, along roads that fell away to steep falls, and all undertaken with typical Indian driving technique. There was much use of the car horn and clearly no problems overtaking on blind corners or hills……  The alternative would have been to take a bus, a much cheaper option, but would have taken even longer to get here.

Monsoon Retreats is an incredible place.  There are 5 treehouse type cottages raised 10 feet off the ground on stilts with the most precarious of ladder type steps for access. The cottages are all located in a cardamom plantation where the owner, Subish, is trying to blend agriculture with ecotourism.  It looks and feels like we are in the middle of the jungle with sounds of crickets and many varieties of noisy birds.

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We are very close to the Kerala – Tamil Nadu border and just up the road from Elephant Junction, the Green Park Spices plantation, and the Periyar National Park.  Apart from the scenery, the other big difference is the drop in temperature.  It was 32c in Chennamkary this morning and only 24c and drizzly here this afternoon.  The forecast for the rest of the weekend is rain and thunderstorms – more like an English summer!

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We took a tuk-tuk into Kumily mid afternoon as Mr L was in need of lunch and we needed to go and book our tickets for bamboo rafting and trekking in the Periyar National Park.  We couldn’t get a full day booked so have had to book the early start half day on Sunday as that is all that is still available.

We had a wander around Kumily, saw God’s very own spice shop……..

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……..and found a local coffee shop for coffee and food for Mr L, and then eventually got a tuk-tuk home.

Dinner can be booked here at Monsoon Retreats for a small extra charge and all food is vegetarian and cooked by Mama, Subish’s mother. We joined another couple who are also staying here for dinner.  The food was good but not as good as Palm Green Homes. Good to compare notes of India travels with the Canadian-English couple who are in the ‘tree house cottage’ next to us.

A Day on Chennamkary

Straight after breakfast whilst the day was still relatively cool we set off for the island’s interior and its hidden secret – a large lake in the middle.  A brief walk along the main waterway path and turn right at the second canal and keep going.

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These were much smaller waterways with turnings off where we had to follow the loop round and back, and one where we had to walk across on a plank – hmmm, not my favourite moment!  Mr L kindly caught the moment on his camera.  Everyday life was happening and fascinating to observe: young children off on their way to school; fish sellers, one on a bike and one in a canoe; the ever constant activity of washing clothes in the water; preparing and beheading fish for the day’s meal.  Houses, some very grand, others less so, with occasional glimpses of the rice fields sitting behind the homes.

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We finally made it to the large lake which has huge homes built all around on the waters edge.

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Maria told us later that the lake is often used for filming and that now the land has been bought and mainly belongs to film stars and film directors so will no longer be able to return to local ownership as the houses they have built are too grand expensive.  A good bit of exercise with our round trip being just over 5 miles, and taking us 2 hours.

Lunch is always served at 1pm and is the main meal of the day and has the most dishes served, all of local Kerala cooking.  We had a lazy afternoon before I went off for an Ayurvedic massage which Maria had booked for me.  The Ayurveda Massage Centre is run by Maria’s mother-in-law and was about 5 minutes walk away on Chennamkary.  This was the first Ayurvedic massage I have ever had and is a complete head to toe massage using copious amounts of oils and lasted 1 hour for 1000IR (£12.24).  Not quite as cheap as a Thai massage but equally good and I would have one again.

I had my first beer of the holiday with dinner, a Kingfisher Blue, very enjoyable.  Maria had tried to buy beers for the young English couple and me the day before but then remembered it was the first of the month and no alcohol can be sold on that day. This rule is to ensure that the men take their monthly pay home and cannot spend it on alcohol as soon as they are paid.  There is also apparently a limit of 5 beers per person, and often won’t be sold to a woman.

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This is our last night on our idyllic backwater island at Green Palm Homes.  Tomorrow we head off to Thekkady on the eastern border of Kerala up in the mountains and amongst the jungle.

 

Green Palms Homes, Chennamkary

Note to selves, we need to travel lighter! We were very aware our suitcases were heavy and cumbersome as we watched Sunil and Arron lug our suitcases off the houseboat and up and over the little bridge back onto the track where we would be collected by a tuk-tuk to take us to Alleppey boat station.

The tuk-tuk driver was very keen to take us all the way to Chennamkary for 400IR (£4.88) but that was not part of the travel plan. We needed to get on a ferry and to make sure we got on the correct water ferry going to Nedumundy via Chennamkary, an island in the backwaters. We were told the ferry would be leaving at 10am, but still a concern as to exactly which boat to get on as it all seemed very chaotic at the boat station. We finally found an official looking man who told us we needed ferry no.46 and who confirmed it was due at 10am.


Ferry no.46 duly arrived and we got ourselves and our suitcases on. 


Amazing, another example of how India uses its workforce……we had a man sitting at the front of the boat responsible for steering, a man sitting in the middle operating the engine, a ticket collector, and 2 men who gave brief help to people getting on and off the ferry. Something the RMT and Southern Rail can only ever dream of!!

One hour 15 minutes later we got off at St Joseph’s Church on the designated island, the cost of our trip was 20IR (24p). The trains and boats are heavily subsidised by the Indian government, even so this does seem ridiculously cheap. A 5 minute walk lugging our luggage along a rough track alongside the river and we were at Green Palm Homes. A wonderful place and the most expensive we have booked, but also definitely the grandest yet. It is full board and we have limited wifi, works well some of the time so I can at least post the blog entries of the past few days.

Maria is a wonderful host and speaks perfect English, as do her 2 daughters Mabel and Rachel. She runs her eco-community homestay from an old colonial style house. We have a lovely room with en-suite, shower water still lukewarm! The family home where she grew up is next door and is where her mother and younger sister and family live and is also run as a homestay; behind these 2 homes is her older brother, Thomas’, property. The food is amazing, typical Kerala dishes, and all food is cooked by Maria’s elderly mother. She starts cooking at 6am and finishes around 21.00 each day. Apparently she does have 2 helpers these days as her health is not so good……

Thomas arranged a walking tour and then canoe ride back for 4 of the guests from our house and 8 guests from the family home. A fascinating walk and talk giving the history of St Joseph’s Church – originally built in the 10th century as a Syrian Orthodox Christian church which then became Roman Catholic with the arrival of the Portuguese traders and their missionaries in the 16th century; the origins of Christianity in Kerala – the spice traders from Antioch (then in Syria, now in Turkey) in the 3rd century brought their new Christianity with them when they came to trade on the Malabar coast (Kerala); the backwaters are now 50% Hindu and 50% Christian. Chennamkary has no roads currently but there is agreement to build a bridge to the mainland, not popular with everyone here as it will without doubt change the old ways of living forever. The population of the island is 6,500 people with the land split up into 73 farms, all rice. Thomas and his family are one of the farm landholding families and farm fields of Kerala rice. He explained how they grow 2 crops of rice per year, and then the fields lie fallow for 4 months including during the monsoon months. They use sea salt water to clean the paddy fields and the backwaters by the opening of gates situated at the meeting of the Arabian Sea and the inland waters. Fish come in from the sea and eat the weeds in the rice fields. The rice fields are then washed and drained to remove all traces of salt before the next rice crop is grown. All completely organic rice growing.

Finally we all carefully climbed onto our waiting canoe and were paddled home under a starry moonlit sky to the sound of birds, Indian singing from Thomas and our canoe oarsman, and the experience completed with the presence of huge bats flying around overhead – magical!

Houseboat Days and Nights

I slept well and thought our boat bed quite comfortable, Mr L was not of the same view though as he thought it was like sleeping on a board! Anyway, breakfast was served at about 9am. We had opted for continental breakfast as the alternative Indian breakfast would again have been curry. Grape juice, toast that was still bread and had only a minimalist scorching on the outside, and omelettes. We both passed on the omelettes, partaking only on the bread-toast with butter and jam.

Unhooked from electricity and untied from our mooring Sunil continued us on our meandering of the backwaters.


We stopped mid morning and got off at a very grand church, St Mary’s Basilica, in Champakulam where we had 30 minutes to explore the church and village. Interesting to see everyday Keralan life in action. Of note, they had a place there called a de-addiction centre but not sure what the main addictions are in this area. Alcohol has certainly been a problem in the past which is why access to alcohol is limited and there are strict controls on liquor licences. The holiday has been alcohol free so far as no where we have eaten has legally sold alcohol. Water is the main drink served and if lucky it might be served cold, otherwise it is at room temperature.  You get used to it.


Part of our houseboat package included a 2 hour canoe trip up and around the narrower backwaters. Just after 15.00 we transferred from our houseboat onto our canoe and we were paddled off the main waterway and into smaller waters and canals and onto a huge lake. There were channels off the lake with lots of little islands with homes built on them. Some grand, some average and some very poor. Everyday life was going on with women (the occasional man too) washing in the river/canal waters and slapping their wet washing with great vigour onto the flat stone at the side of the steps. We were really pleased to have taken up the offer of the canoe trip as it enabled us to see aspects of life here in Kerala that we would otherwise have missed.


Back on the houseboat we travelled on until 18.00 before mooring up for the night. We managed to get some good sunset shots which looked really impressive with the palm trees and the water reflections.


Curry for supper, an earlyish night – a life doing not a lot is quite tiring – with breakfast at 8am next morning as we would be off the houseboat at 9am and travelling to our next destination, Chennamkary, an island in the backwaters.

Alappuzha (Alleppey)

It was goodbye to Fort Bridge Homestay and their friendly and helpful staff and time to move on to our next adventure. Much to the puzzlement of the Fort Bridge Homestay owner we informed him we wanted the taxi booked for 8.30 to take us to Ernakulam Junction where yes we would be taking the train to Alappuzha.  Our taxi arrived only a few minutes late, not bad for Indian timekeeping, and he got us to the train station in 30 minutes. Yet another experience of Indian drivers complete disregard for junctions and roundabouts and any concept of give way!


We bought our tickets to Alappuzha for the grand cost of 30IR (36p) and told to go to platform 2 where our train would leave at 10am. Mr L lugged the luggage up the stairs and over the overpass and down the other side.


A train arrived at about 9.20 and sat there. We asked if this was our train and told no so we waited……and waited. At 9.45 the train was still there and we asked 2 other people who said yes this was the train. We had little other option but to go for it. We got on and the carriage was very empty but also somewhat smelly as it was just by the toilet facility. We moved into the next carriage of the windowless train – bars instead of windows – and fans that didn’t work. A good breeze though once the train set off late at 10.10. Mr L had told me the journey would only take 30 minutes so after an hour and still no sign of Alappuzha l was beginning to wonder if we were indeed on the correct train. I should not have doubted the superior qualities of Mr L and his tour guide abilities as sure enough at 11.30 we arrived in Alappuzha. We were quickly ensconced in a rickshaw that could accommodate us and our luggage and we were on our way to meet our houseboat. Taking the Indian Railways train was definitely an experience I can tick off but can’t say I am in a rush to repeat the experience any time soon.

Hashim met us at the designated meeting spot of the Lake Garden Resort and took us to the houseboat and introduced us to our captain, Sunil, and cook, Arron, who would be looking after us for the next three days and two nights. The houseboat is amazing. The initial journey onto the backwaters of Kerala was a bit of a tourist jam of houseboats – all journeys in this mega tourist business start off at 12 midday – but slowly houseboat numbers became fewer as the backwaters disappeared off in different directions.


We moored up for lunch which was fish for Mr L and veg for me, all served with enough rice for 6 people and 2 side dishes. Good food but simply too much to eat. The afternoon was spent sitting and dozing on the upper deck watching the simple and slow life of the backwaters pass us by. A combination of a bit of jet lag which had caught up with us and just sitting and relaxing. At around 17.30 we moored up for the night, luckily there was only one another boat near us.

We have basic shower facilities, no hot water but the cold is lukewarm and okay, sink and normal loo with flush so living like kings! Obviously no wifi so a rare opportunity to be unconnected at all times.  We have air conditioning in our bedroom which was turned on once we were moored and connected to an electricity supply on the bank. Showered and changed we came back through to the main deck central area which had been screened off with mosquito nets and dinner was served to the background sounds of the crickets and chanting, and the sound of prayers in the distance – wonderful! Dinner was again a feast for at least 4 people……such a shame to waste the food but impossible to eat it all.

Biennale

Breakfast was yet again an experience.  Mr L explained that he would like his toast unfolded and toasted on both sides, so far so good…..coffee ordering was confusing though.  Mr L ordered a coffee with milk and then remembered that they make milky coffee with disgusting flavoured milk so he said just a filter coffee with milk on the side. I ordered black filter coffee (tea a no go area as again milky and often sweetened so vile). We were eventually served with 2 coffees each – Mr L had one black with milk on the side and a second milky coffee, I had 2 black coffees one of which was the drinkable filter coffee and the other black coffee was coloured water with no discernible flavour. Another Indian experience!!

We started our day by walking west along the coast path past Mahatma Gandhi beach and the Chinese fishing nets and then Fort Cochin beach.  The latest Indian media sensation posed for her photo on the beach! Market stalls were setting up for the day and Indian families were out and about.

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The coast path then disappeared, it had disintegrated and no effort to rebuild it.  We joined the road and carried on walking up past derelict defence sites, past a naval base and other military areas.  Lots of clear signage stating that the area being filmed and photography forbidden. Not wishing to spend any time in an Indian jail I refrained from all photography. Eventually hot and weary we found ourselves a tuk-tuk back into town to the Aspinwall.

Aspinwall is the starting venue for the Biennale (pronounced bin-ar-lee).  The Biennale is a 12 location art festival in Fort Cochin from December – March every 2 years.  We managed 3 venues and were definitely ‘arted’ out after that.  Some of the art and installations were stunning, others simply beyond all understanding.

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Lunch was back at the wonderful Pepper House where there were also art installations to see.  Afternoon tea with Kindle reading was in the courtyard of the Old Courtyard Hotel.  I had an excellent affogato and Mr L had a banana lassi which he didn’t enjoy so won’t be trying one of those in a hurry.  We wandered some of the little streets all around where we are staying and found an interesting restaurant as a dinner possibility.  The TripAdvisor review was 5* so off we went to Sutra Restaurant where we had a truly excellent meal.  They made Mr L’s curry nice and mild so he really enjoyed his meal. The total cost was 560IR which is £6.77!  We will return to Sutra when we come back to Fort Cochin in 10 days time.

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