Tag Archives: kerala

Scent of cardamom and taste of fresh honey: A visit to the Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow

There’s something about a bungalow that was constructed in the 1800s. It feels like stepping back in time. The way the doors close. The old style latches and windows. The feel of the cool red floor under your bare feet. But the TV and the WiFi suddenly brings you back to present tense also giving you a sense of modern comforts!

Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow
A part of the bungalow which has been renovated for guests. Photo courtesy: KH Plantation

A bit of history – “the current owner’s grandfather, K K Kurian Kalarickal, settled in this area (Idukki district) in the early 1900s when the hills were still thick with forests and wildlife. He was among a few pioneers to make his way into the mountains and begin cultivating them.”

Luckily, this area is untouched and still verdant and retains much of it’s charm. K K Kurian built this original bungalow in 1918 and for many years it was a landmark in Idukki. It doubled up as a village office for planters and visitors who came for advise. The bungalow was built using clay instead of cement.

Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow
A glimpse of the old heritage building

I was lucky that Sam Mathew, the grandson of Mr Kurian Kalarickal had come down personally from Mumbai during my quick trip to the bungalow. Merin, his wife had extended a gracious invite to come and stay at the property.

Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow
The plantation spans many acres and the best way to get around is the all terrain vehicle. Photo courtesy: KH Plantation

Sam gives me an insight of plantation life. The area is huge and I get to ride on an ATV which is a handy vehicle to cover the hilly terrain around the plantation and property. I accompany him as he shows me the different areas. We go up a green woody trail to the highest point in the property. We’re surrounded by dense trees on all sides. It’s beautiful and serene and Sam reveals that he might just construct something here for those wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle.

Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow
The life and times of cardamom!

The highpoint of my visit to Kalarickal however is a different experience; a visit to an auction. The product being traded? Cardamom! I never knew there could be so much commotion over this small innocuous looking spice. Apparently, the life of a cardamom pod is filled with much excitement. From the time it’s grown, harvested, dried and then put into gunny bags and then at the auction house, when it’s tossed around from one buyer to another in the hope that it commands a good price in the market. I think it wouldn’t hurt much to be born a cardamom sometime.

Kalarickal Heritagel Bungalow

Cardamon is a spice that is used in many different dishes. It is used extensively in the preparation of Indian sweets, something Sam reveals (and I didn’t know!). I learn something everyday. Many large companies buy it in bulk to add to their sweets. And a lot of the cardamon also gets exported to cater to the huge demand overseas.

Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow

On the auction ground, men (no women here) are hunched over computer screens, sniffing at cardamom packets, eyeing them suspiciously, tossing them aside or eyeing them with great interest. All for a good cause. And then a large screen on the top shows how much the buyer is willing to pay for it. And then the next batch goes around.

Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow

People also watch from the sidelines. Many of them are sellers, informs Sam. These folks often come up to buyers to try and egg them to purchase their lots or least inform them it’s up next. And then on one side there’s a flurry of activity; sorting, weighing and packaging. Making me wonder if some stuff doesn’t get mixed up. And what happens to all the cardamom tossed aside!

With thoughts like these playing in my head, we get back to the bungalow and the smell of delicious food wafting in the air. Let me warn you folks that it’s not a good idea to visit Kerala on a diet. I have tried to keep away from all these delicious treats and failed miserably. Every time I go with steely resolve. And return defeated. And several pounds heavier. Let me get back to the food. There was a dry chicken fry preparation, a yummy avial laced with coconut, and piping hot appams with egg stew. I threw caution to the winds and expanding waistline and started to dig in.

Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow
Soft and delicious Kerala appams with stew – one signature dish you can’t miss if you’re in Kerala

Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow
The dining area for meals. Photo Courtesy: KH Plantation

Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow

I also get a taste of fresh honey made from hives on the property. And a quick lesson about these hardworking insects and the art of creating honey. They create honey, covering them in hexagonal structures inside the hive, using the support of the small wooden frames placed inside. We take out a slab and remove a slice of the “white” piece. And out oozes the nectar. I’ve never had such fresh honey before!

The main bungalow is designed to fit in large families and the rooms are interconnected. It’s suitable for for families who want to keep an eye out on their errant kids.

Besides the main building, there are also a few more rooms in another long building (which was earlier a shed) but now has been converted into comfortable stand-alone rooms. These are also an option if you are travelling as a couple in a smaller group.

Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow
A shed, now converted into comfortable rooms. Photo courtesy: KH Plantation

The property also has an ample playground outside with swings, see-saws and whatever young children need these days. I suspect an iPad, but well, one mustn’t give up hope completely.

There are some sights around which you might also want to explore, especially if you have a few days in hand. You will be close to sights such as the Periyar Wildlife sanctuary, Munnar, Idukki dam and the Managala Devi temple. There are other activities like plantation walks and hikes that can be organised. Or I recommend what I prefer – a full day of lounging chair, eating good food and doing nothing. Maybe just read a book, sleep and laze.

Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow
Relax and breathe in the fresh air scented with cardamom!

If you’re looking at options in the Idukki district which are homely, comfortable and take you away from the hustle and bustle; the Kalarikal Heritage Bungalow makes for a good choice.

The website: Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow
Tariff: Starts from Rs 3250 and also includes breakfast. Other meals are additional.
Rooms: 3 premium and 2 classic.
Facebook: Kalarickal Heritage Bungalow
My Flickr Album (some of the pics are courtesy KH Plantation)

Six reasons why you should travel in the monsoons

I’m sure there are more, but let’s start with six. In fact, while many tourists shy away from travelling because it’s raining, true travellers will tell you that a place can be enjoyed despite the rain. It’s a mindset that you need to avoid a destination when it rains. Unless, it happens to be a big city. In which case I would say avoid it like plague. You don’t want to deal with clogged roads, drainage overflowing, traffic jams and all the associated issues that the rains bring to our very well planned cities.

A little piece of paradise
The view from a tea garden in Pozhuthana, Wayanad

Anyway, this is about the monsoons. And why it’s a great time to travel. Any place takes on a different hue during the rains. I was in Goa last year for 3 weeks and had the time of my life despite the torrential downpours.

It’s lush and green

The valley before you spreads out like a lush carpet. The roads are framed by green trees and grass on both sides. The hills are showing off their full foliage, again in green. It’s so green that if you’re not used to it, you’d probably need tinted glasses to tone it down. But seriously, green is definitely the colour of the season and we all know that it’s the best one to get your relaxed and rejuvenated. Nature really wears this colour well.

boys having fun
A sight for sore eyes!

You get better deals

You might need to look around a bit and even ask for discounts, but this is a season where you will get lower prices from a lot of home stays, resorts, hotels. If you’re not sure, just ask them. We are spoilt for choose today in the array of options available. And in this era of social media, even if we don’t look for them, they will probably land up in our stream anyway.

Lesser people to fight with for space

So one of the reasons I travel is to get away from the city (where I clearly see the alarming impact of producing a billion and more people) to smaller destinations and locations where you’ll see a soul once in a while. Get away from the madding crowds, the hoi-polloi and give yourself some breathing space. I love the feeling and I recommend it to everyone (at least once in a while).

Nestled in between
Choose places a bit away from the main towns – usually they’re much more peaceful and calm

There’s colour everywhere

Just before the onset of the monsoons, it’s a pretty sight all around. While on a walk outside today in Wayanad where I am currently, I saw so much variety in foliage that I couldn’t stop myself from clicking everything in sight. From vivid reds, to oranges, to colourful yellows and pretty pinks – there are beautiful blossoms everywhere adding to the prettiness quotient of your frames.

A time for blossoms
It’s amazingly pretty this time of the year and you need to step out to witness nature’s gorgeous hues

Carrying a torch for you
A flower called ginger torch that I saw for the first time

Rediscover the joy of getting soaked

I remember as kids, we loved getting wet in the rains. In fact, we would wait impatiently so we could all rush out and do our rain dance. Our parents had to cajole us to come indoors since we would just be out for hours on end. But what a feeling. Do it sometime. Just get wet. Feel the rain on your skin. Instead of running for a raincoat or an umbrella, soak in the sensation of a rain bath. I can tell you from experience – it’s true joy. Last year, on a trek in Wayanad, I got soaked to the skin as it started pouring cats and dogs. But once I gave in to it, began to enjoy the feeling, I realised that I need to let go. (And yes, we will eventually dry off.)

Comparing notes
With or without rain gear, have some fun

Smell the coffee. And the flowers

The monuments are done and dusted. The hectic sightseeing has been completed. Now, just sit on your balcony and watch the rain. Meditate. Open the door of your room and just relax. Do yoga. Listen to the birds. The rains are a great time to just not venture out and give yourself the “me” time you so badly need (and you didn’t even know)!

A welcome view
I totally believe in doing nothing holidays – they are good for the soul

ADDENDUM:

Another reason, contributed by a friend

Monsoons are the best time for ayurvedic massages

So, during the Kerala Blog Express, we met a doctor at the Manaltheeram Ayurvedic resort who told us about how the ayurvedic massage is the most effective during the rainy season. In fact, many guests come specifically during this period for treatments. A combination of the temperature, rains and other factors all adds to increasing the effectiveness of the oils. So, isn’t this reason enough?!

So there – I hope I’ve given you enough reasons to step out this rainy season. And if you did, or plan to, do share your “getting soaked” experience!

More photos on Flickr

(NOTE: On this trip, I am using the Canon 500D body and the 17-85 mm lens. All photos [except no 3 and 7 from an earlier collection] in the post are with this equipment provided my photography gear & equipment partner, “Book My Lens”. I’m happy to announce them as a partner and I’m quite impressed with the kind of services they provide. They are a photography equipment rental service based in Bangalore which provides quick service for photography enthusiasts who want to experience all lenses and accessories from Canon and Nikon. Their aim is to provide the best in class, at affordable prices. Do check them out on bookmylens.com)

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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

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

Munnar and God's own country

Two weeks in God’s own country!

A month or so ago, I came across the Kerala Blog Express and on a whim, decided to give it a go. Why not, I thought? I have travelled quite a bit in Kerala, but a chance to go back is always welcome.

So, was quite pleasantly surprised, when the results came out and I was chosen to get onboard the Express, which departs on March 10. Two weeks going around Kerala with a bunch of enthusiastic, well travelled bloggers, who will converge in Trivandrum from different parts of the world (including a few from India) and then set out together.

Here’s to a different view of Kerala. More experiences, and many more pictures and stories!

(This photograph taken in Munnar a few years ago, on another trip).