Category Archives: Kerala Blog Express

Happy in Kerala!

Finding happiness in Kerala!

Pharrell Williams set off a really large happy virus when he released his “Happy” song. Now there thousands of versions around the world now with everyone hooked into making their own videos and if you haven’t starred in one yet, make sure you do it quickly. It’s catchy, fun and good for your soul!

We made one during the Kerala trip, thanks to the camera work of Anthony, who’s captured some amazing shots of us dancing (and trying to dance) to the tune in scenic locations during our 15 day journey. Well, it’s difficult not to be happy in Kerala!

And go make your own happy video now!

Yoga

And this is how we bend it!

After 15 days on the road, the Kerala Blog Express chugged into Cochin and came to a halt. It’s been fun. It’s been tiring. It’s been exciting. Yes, it’s been quite a trip.

And instead of writing about more sights or sounds, here’s a fun post. Introducing some of my fellow passengers on board the Kerala Blog Express (KBE) 2014. It’s been fun getting to know them and though it’s impossible to cover everyone, but here’s an attempt to present a few. And with a twist. Yes – I’ve convinced, sweet talked and arm twisted them to do various yoga poses with me.

A disclaimer – these might not be “real” yoga poses, but we should at least get brownie points for trying.

Daniel Nunes Gonsalves
Daniel is from Brazil and is a very well-known journalist and writes for several high profile publications in his home country. He’s in India for the second time and is excited to be Kerala. From here, he goes onto Ethiopia for an assignment (I’m jealous!), before flying home. And I have a new friend in Brazil now. Besides the scuba diving, we’re going to do in New Zealand! Right?

Gaia Calheiros

Gaia, is also from Brazil and has been a very popular DJ in the country. She’s also a journalist and blogs here. She also knows more about Hindu gods than I do. And looks rather Indian when she’s dressed in a salwar kameez, which she grew pretty fond of of wearing! I definitely want to grow my twitter following to hers, even if it takes another decade!

Nelson Carvalheiro
Nelson Carvalheiro is from Portugal and an extremely prolific food and travel photographer, now based in Berlin. He’s got years of experience in the food/hotel industry. This is where he blogs and he has about a gazillion followers on twitter too.

Emanuele Siracusa
Emanuele is from Italy, but an avid traveller having lived in Thailand recently for a few months. He’s now on the way to Portugal to be reunited with the other half of the Siracusas. And then start planning his next trip! He loves travelling and discovering new places – don’t we all?

Ola Wysocka
Ola is from Poland but loves travelling to different parts of the world. Doesn’t like the cold (and she lives in Warsaw!) and is enjoying the Kerala sunshine. She usually travels with her husband and her two kids, all of them true travel enthusiasts. They travelled across the US in a trailer for six months last year. She also runs a coffee place in Poland and I have been promised a good cup of coffee when I visit! (Ola – I’m packing a bit of the sunshine that you can take along).

Desi Traveler Prasad
The man who doesn’t want to be identified, the Desi Traveler, Prasad is from Hyderabad. We tried this in the side of the road, while trying not to get run over, so I’m not sure this is a certified pose. But, it was fun trying!

Elsie Mendez
After which, Elsie joined in the fun on the crowded road. This was enroute from Kappad to Kochi, where we stopped for “tea and toilet” as our guide called it. Elsie Mendez is from Mexico, loves wine and the good life and is now planning a wine tour in Spain. (Take me with you, Elsie!). Before that, she also stops in Mumbai.

Vijay Nambiar
With Vijay Nambiar, who is a travel enthusiast who is getting ready for an out of the country assignment and is enjoying his last dose of India before he departs for foreign shores. Being 6 foot something, he does a great job of the backward bend (ardha chandrasana). Vijay – you need to do more yoga!

Taufan
Taufan is from Indonesia and we tried this on the beautiful private beach of the Kadappuram resort in Thrissur. What we were trying was the “trikanasana”, but what we did in reality looks nothing like it.

Dina Rosita
Dina Rosita, also from Indonesia with a penchant for running into trouble. She’s already hurt herself and is carrying a huge scar from a fall – a memento from the trip. Dina is an ex-ballerina and can do things with her legs that I can’t do in this lifetime. So we settled for a nice stretch over the bridge instead!

Edin Chavez
And lastly, the highly talented Edin Chavez – a hot shot photographer based in Miami, Florida (now that’s what I call living life!) who was game to try this with me on the same pristine beach. Here’s him doing out the “standing stick” (tuladanasana) pose – he’s a natural!

Edin has a jaw dropping portfolio of work (mine dropped!) and you must check out his aerial photography, while you’re at it. I am hoping he takes me on a helicopter ride with him while he’s doing his aerial photography, if and when I visit the reach the American shores again. Though I’m half scared, he’ll be surrounded by beautiful women on a beach sipping beer and say, “Anita who?”

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Fun, curious and interesting facts about Kerala

Just some notes from the road as we meander through Kerala on a 15 day trip with Kerala Tourism on the Kerala Blog Express taking in lots of sights, sounds, history, monuments, beaches and backwaters. So while the rest of the troop are in the thick of action sightseeing somewhere in Wayanad, I am enjoying a “do nothing” day at the pictureque and peaceful Vythiri Resort. And while I’m trying to make friends with the monkey who keeps dropping by, these are some thoughts that cross my mind on a particularly lazy day.

Density and number of moustaches
More often than not, Malayali men will sport moustaches. Most heroes and famous people/ politicians (seen on hoardings – haven’t seen that many in real life) all sport large, abundant moustaches. “Why” is a question that befuddles me and I haven’t gotten an answer from anyone yet. It’s also a fact that it’s not in vogue in the North.

Coconut here, coconut there, coconut everywhere
Has anyone taken a census of how many coconut trees there are in Kerala? Because I would be curious to know if anyone ever counted. It might possibly be the highest density of these trees on earth. And how many people have died from coconut related injuries. Surely, someone walking down the village path would have a coconut fall on his head. At least once, I would imagine. There are actually no reported numbers on coconut related deaths, not just in Kerala, but in the world. Isn’t that strange?

But I am rather alarmed when I read this article about the decline of the coconut. And then I realise, it’s a dated article. A more recent one indicates the price is rising. Yay! “A steady increase in coconut prices has given a new twist to the coconut sector which had been marked by low profitability for long. The retail price of coconuts has gone up to Rs.17-20 per nut.” The widespread availability of coconut also means that you get to experience it in your food, your drink and your hair.

Gold’s own country?
How much gold is “really” there in Kerala is anybody’s guess. Combined with the Padmanabhaswamy temple and every Kerala household, I am thinking it might possibly be the richest state in the country, if not the world. And a NYT feature reports: “Kerala gobbles up 20 percent of the country’s gold every year, and the World Gold Council estimates that India, the largest consumer of gold in the world, consumes 30 percent of the global supply.”

Kerala brides apparently wear so much gold that on their wedding day, that they could potentially wipe off the debt of a small 3rd world country.

Land of heaviest drinkers?
Somewhere enroute, as a few of us were talking outside the bus, in the morning about to board, we noticed a seemingly inebriated guy who was just barely able to stand, hanging around our bus. Now, I’m not about to disapprove of drinking, and early in the day. But at 8 am? Fully drunk? What time would he have started? And seriously why do men in Kerala drink so much? (I have no idea about the women, since I never see them in those long serpentine queues outside wine shops).

Someone else has pondered on this heavy issue and this BBC article has facts and personal accounts that might give an insight. “Kerala is India’s tippler country. It has the highest per capita consumption – over eight litres (1.76 gallons) per person a year – in the nation, overtaking traditionally hard-drinking states like Punjab and Haryana. The curiously-named Kerala State Beverages Corporation (KSBC) runs 337 liquor shops, open seven days a week. Each shop caters on average to an astonishing 80,000 clients.”

And the heaviest readers too!
In case you thought drinking and reading don’t go together, you’re mistaken. Kerala also reportedly has the highest literacy rate among the states of India, followed by the state of Mizoram. It’s a common sight to see people read local language newspapers. People are generally very informed. Ernakulam became the first district to attain 100% literacy. And programs like Literacy Mission, Kerala and the state government’s education efforts help reach this figure.

However, I also read that recently the state from my part of the world, Tripura has actually beaten Kerala in 2013, but this is what I’d call healthy competition.

More interesting facts

Simple, but delicious food

How to cook a perfectly delicious meal on a houseboat

As we cruised the waters of the Vembanad lake, I went to investigate my most favourite place. The kitchen.

That’s where all the action is, after all.

Joji, one of the 3 staff members on the boat, was busy frying something that looked fishy. And he confirmed my suspicions by identifying it as seer (or king) fish. The rest of our lunch was already done.

Seer fish being fried by our chef

Seer fish being fried by our chef

Luckily, I took to Kerala cuisine, like a duck takes to water. On an earlier trip to Kerala (details shall be withheld to protect offending party!) we were so busy eating all kinds of delicacies, that we didn’t make it in time for our flight out (also the first time in my flying history, I’ve missed one!).

Fried seer fish for our lunch on the houseboat

Fried seer fish for our lunch on the houseboat

On another trip with my sister and mom we had some really delicious fare, especially on our houseboat ride. Even my very hard-to-please mother was satisfied enough to give the chef some brownie points.
An array of delicious fare including fish fry, dal, tomato/onion relish and karela fry

An array of delicious fare including chicken fry, dal, tomato/onion relish and karela fry (bitter gourd)

I also realised that I am quite easy to please since since I’m very fond of coconut. Lately, the sister (also a former chef) has been extolling the virtues of coconut oil. And telling the whole family to adapt to it. Considering ours is an Assamese family, and we are addicted to our mustard oil, you can imagine that convincing my mother hasn’t an easy task.

Needless to say, she hasn’t succeeded on that front, but I’m already swayed by the goodness of this pure oil. I haven’t really done much research on it myself (sis has done enough for the whole family), but some factors indicate that it’s better than refined oil and also good for health. And that people in countries populated by coconut trees and who consume copious amounts of coconut oil are healthier. Interesting that though I don’t have statistics.

Delicious coconut chutney. It's hard to avoid coconut in  your cuisine when in Kerala

Delicious chutney with pineapple and lots of garnish

You see, in God’s own country, you can’t really go more than a few meters without encountering a coconut in one form or another. It’s in your food, your oil, your soap, and of course, in every frame. Imagine what your friends would say if you went back from Kerala without those sinful banana chips fried in coconut oil.
A variety of different chutneys including a beetroot pachadi

A variety of different chutneys including a beetroot pachadi (extreme left)

There must be more coconut trees in Kerala than in the rest of the world combined. Though I was told that there are absolutely no coconut related deaths in Kerala – a local told me this confidently. And yes, I have my doubts about this one.

Coming back to our houseboat, we’re on a cruise – possibly the most relaxing time we’ve had in Kerala so far. The Kerala Blog Express team has been split up into several groups. I am with two lovely women – Roxanne (aka The Tiny Taster from Mumbai) and Stefania (Dutch, but now residing in Malaga, Spain), who writes about life from an expat’s perspective. Roxanne loves food as her blog name suggests and takes pictures of everything before we partake of the delicacies. We’re all happy to finally get an opportunity to let our hair down and just relax – this time was much needed since we’ve been on the move since we arrived in Trivandrum.

We are travelling in style. This is our dining area on the houseboat.

We are travelling in style. This is our dining area on the houseboat.

We sit on the deck of our boat enjoyed the cool air as we made our way through the waters. Watching life pass in slow motion in front of us. Someone is making their way across to the other side in a smaller row boat. Another one is loaded with a cycle. A lady whipping her clothes on the lake shore and finishing her daily dose of laundry. A little kid bathing happily in the waters beside her home. It’s like watching a different kind of TV – daily life TV maybe.

The houseboat lunch has to be the most delicious so far in this trip. It could also be because it’s the closest to home cooked food, which I usually prefer when I travel. Most of my sojourns include homestays (something I’ve missed on this trip) because that’s where I get to taste the best local food.

A simple but yummy cabbage fry with onions, mustard seeds and coconut (but, of course!)

A simple but yummy cabbage fry with onions, mustard seeds and coconut (but, of course!)

This is what we got on our plate for lunch:
– A long beans sabji (vegetable fry)
– A cabbage fry (with my favourite ingredient, coconut)
– Sambar
– Seer fish fry
– Red rice
Lunch is served!

So much food. So little time.

The stir fries are simple, and usually cut into small bits. Like the cabbage. And garnished with black mustard seeds and coconut. This style of preparation is called a “thoran“.

And since this post is about cooking up a delicious meal, here’s the recipe a cabbage thoran you can try at home. It seems really simple!

Before this particular culinary treat, we were actually treated to our first traditional meal on another houseboat cruise, organised by Hotel Raviz, Kollam. They had put out an elaborate meal as we cruised the backwaters and and these were some of the delicacies I remember:
– Fried prawn (really succulent and the best I’ve had so far on the trip)
– Thalassery mutton biryani
– Roast chicken (not sure which style, but was quite good)
Meen moilee (coconut preparation – loved it!)
– Loads of pickles/raitas and sides like beetroot pachadi, crisp fried bitter gourd, pineapple raita and other chutneys that I didn’t take note of
– Appams with vegetable stew
There were also a few traditional vegetarian dishes, which I didn’t pay much attention to since there was prawn and fish :-)

Eating our way through Kerala - it's a tough job, you know!

Eating our way through Kerala – it’s a tough job, you know!

I think I must have been a Keralite in my last birth since I can’t seem to get enough of coconuts. Curries, chutneys, water, drinks – bring it on! Except in my hair. I realised after two days of trying to wash it out after a rather relaxing Ayurvedic massage at the Kumarakom Lake Resort.

Anyway, I must admit that I haven’t gone as far as my sister though. She even cooks her pasta in coconut oil. And claims it’s really delicious. That’s not something I’m not ready to try yet.

END NOTE:
This is part of a 15 day trip across Kerala with 25 other bloggers, travellers, writers and photographers and a promotion by Kerala Tourism. Follow the gang via the hashtag #keralablogexpress on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook. You can also follow us through the website, Kerala Blog Express.

The houseboats were provided by: Lakeslagoons.com. Clean, well appointed and attentive staff in case you’re looking for a company to rent houseboats while in Kerala.

Follow me on Twitter: @anitabora; Facebook: Anita Recommends and Instagram: anitabora

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And here’s presenting the world richest temple!

Well, we’re told the jury is yet to come in on that one. But what we’re sure is that it’s a really, really, really rich temple.

So in case you thought you were visiting a poor nation, steeped in poverty, with lots of homeless people (possibly also true); the other side of the story is that we also possess not one, but two of the richest temples in the world.

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Between, the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple and the Tirupati temple, we could potentially have enough to feed the entire nation for a few years.

The temple is located in Thiruvananthapuram, and it shot into fame when in 2010, the news broke about all the wealth it was holding, deep within it’s vaults. An NDTV 2011 report says: “Last July, the world’s attention turned to the temple when the committee unearthed what one of its members said was gold, diamonds and precious antiques worth up to $40 billion.”

A kid running excitedly towards the temple.

A kid running excitedly towards the temple.

40 billion dollars! Now that is no small sum. And a little ironical coming to think of it. At least, if God does actually exist, he’s having a big laugh about all the wealth he’s collected over centuries. And it’s not like he hasn’t got enough already.

Anyway, if you (like me) were sleeping (or distracted by other things) while this news broke, in 2010, it was ordered that the contents of the vaults of the Padmanbhaswamy temple be made public. And that’s when all the jewels, gold and silver came (literally) tumbling out.

According to another NDTV report: “The four vaults already opened in recent days at the temple in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the southern state of Kerala, held a vast bounty that unofficial estimates peg at Rs. 90,000 crore. Other treasures unearthed so far include statues of gods and goddesses made of solid gold and studded with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and other precious stones, crowns and necklaces, all given as gifts to the temple over the centuries.’

A couple getting ready to enter the temple premises

A couple getting ready to enter the temple premises

They’re now in lengthy discussions (where I would love to be a fly in the wall!) about what to do with all the wealth and going by our record for debates, this one is going to be a very long one.

The wealth they’ve unearthed is apparently enough (of course, after many months of assessment) to wipe off India’s debt. But of course, they’re not going to do that. Someone suggested a closely guarded museum. That makes so much more sense right? Get people to admire all these riches from a distance. Hmm… Some have suggested the treasures being sold and the money being used for development of Kerala.

Coming back to these riches, the $40 billion dollars is only an estimation. I am rather curious to know what’s going to happen with all the riches. I know I’m not getting a cent, though some spare change would always help.

Security was ramped up when the news about the treasures was revealed. There are hidden cameras and black cat commandos all around. Apparently, some of the bare torso-exhibiting priests might also be security staff. Not surprisingly. You wouldn’t want someone to break in and suddenly run away with a lot of India’s (or God’s as the case might be) wealth.

Men need to be dressed in a mundu and women in a saree to enter the temple. It is also only accessible to Hindus.

Men need to be dressed in a mundu and women in a saree to enter the temple. It is also only accessible to Hindus.

Outside the temple, there are vendors who do brisk business renting sarees (for women) and wrap-around (mundus) for men. Garbed in this gear, and of course sporting your Hindu identity you are allowed to enter. We admire it from the distance, and there’s a road around it which you are allowed to walk through. But no photographs are allowed. I spot a shop there where two men are carving intricate wood sculptures of different gods. He starts to show me a few of them, but I have to tell him that I’m not really out to buy anything.

What I came away with is of course the million (or billion) dollar question: what will happen to all this wealth? But I doubt I’ll get an answer. Probably, not in this lifetime.

More news about Padmanabhaswamy temple
Official site

(Note: This trip is part of the 15 day Kerala Blog Express organised by Kerala Tourism with 25 other travellers, which started in Thiruvanthanpuram and makes it way around to Kollam, Kumarakom, Alleppey, Thekkady, Munnar, Wayanad, Calicut and then Cochin.)

Follow the trip on:
Facebook/Twitter/Instagram: #keralablogexpress

Personal:
Twitter: @anitabora
Facebook: Anita Recommends
Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/anita

The Kerala Blog Express

Boarding the Kerala Blog Express in Trivandrum

So it’s been a rather hectic 4 days – a variety of sights, sounds, monuments, hotels, beaches, backwaters, museums and anything else you can think of – have been clicked, blogged about, tweeted by 26 bloggers, writers and photographers who have converged in Kerala from all over the world.

We started our journey in Trivandrum on March 10, spent the next day in Kovalam beach and then travelled to Kollam via Varkala on March 12. On March 13, we were in Kovalam. Four days on the road, and I’m trying to get used to the “fast” pace of the trip in the meanwhile.

How to follow the travellers as they continue the journey over the next 10 days:
Twitter: #keralablogexpress
Instagram: #keralablogexpress
Website: Kerala Blog Express

On the Kerala Blog Express

It’s been an experience that is a first for me. I don’t think I’ve travelled in such a big group. Usually, it’s solo (evolving as my favourite mode!) or with a smaller group (which when like-minded, makes for pleasurable travel). For example, in a large group, it takes time to know everyone. With so many people, from different nations and continents, it’s a bit hard to keep track.

Anyway, we got introduced to our bus and our driver Ron, who will be driving us around Kerala for the next 15 days. And the team of Rutavi, Kenny, Sooraj and Manoj who will be with us as we traverse God’s own country.

I’ve had a chance to interact with some of the fellow travellers and still getting to know some of them. But Vijay Nambiar’s put out a list of who’s on the bus in case you’re curious!

I’m slowly getting to know some of the travellers and am quite impressed with their travel experience. Edgar is from the Philippines, a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Manila and Cebu in the Philippines. He’s travelled to 80 of the 81 provinces in his country (quite a feat!) and 11 nations in Southeast Asia, chronicling people, places and perspectives on and off the beaten path. Then, meet Emmanuel of thesiracusas.com, who is one half of a travelling couple. This is what they write on their blog: “As passionate lifelong learners and independent-minded travellers, we live to satisfy our curiosity about the world, its people, its cultures and traditions. Travel is for us a source of continuous inspiration and it provides us with many opportunities to put ourselves and our values in perspective.”

Got some time to chat with Daniel, who is from Brasil, a very experienced travel writer. Over breakfast in Kovalam, he gave me some interesting insights into life as a writer, both freelancing and working for other people. Daniel is on his own now, but he says it largely depends on many external factors as to which side he works for! I’m hoping to chat more with the rest of them, over the next few days.

A photo snapshot of the many experiences on Day 1 of the trip.

On the Kerala Blog Express

My first view of the backwaters as I land in Trivandrum (Thiruvanthapuram). We have lunch at the Poovar Island Resort – I am deposited right at the boat jetty, after which there’s a short ride and I join the rest of the travellers who have already reached.

On the Kerala Blog Express

This resort has some really great “floating” cottages on the waterfront. A perfect way to enjoy the backwaters, the sea and just relax for a few days.

On the Kerala Blog Express

After lunch at Poovar, we head to another part of the area called Chowara and to the Somatheeram Ayurveda resort (the first in the world it claims). The location of the resort is rather gorgeous, with a view of the beach and a vast expanse of green coconut trees to one side. I definitely wouldn’t mind spending a week here, relaxing and getting rejuvenated.

The same property also has a place called Manatheeram, and we enjoy the views there with high tea.

On the Kerala Blog Express

The sea views, greenery all around, a hammock and time to while away – the perfect spot to be in! This is part of the Somatheeram property.

Kerala Blog Express

The property has ayurvedic treatments for many different ailments, besides a wellness package. Mr Chandrashekharan Nair also told us a bit more about the principles of Ayurveda. Also, was surprised to know that this form did not originate in Kerala, though now practiced widely in this part of the country.

On the Kerala Blog Express

Location is everything they say and we got a glimpse of one of the most beautiful properties around – The Leela, Kovalam. I remember, many years ago coming on a family trip, looking at this property from the beach (it was then an ITDC property). It was a nice feeling, so many years later, to experience the view from the other side! The sunset was magical and I think everyone was quite sad to leave this property – one of the best so far.

On the Kerala Blog Express

Sunset at the Leela, Kovalam

Enjoying the sunset views from the Leela, Kovalam.

A hectic start to the day I must say, as we retired at The Estuary Island Resort. It was too dark to really enjoy the hotel, but we were just happy to end the day on a good note.

These are the links to the places we visited:
Poovar Island Resort
Somatheeram Ayurveda resort
Manaltheeram
Leela, Kovalam
The Estuary Island Resort