Window on Kerala (2)

We left Kerala last time after some brushes with the local wildlife: sightings of dangerous cattle, a monkey which snatched my snack, and more.

However, India is known more for its people - the many religions, castes, languages and cuisines. Every village and town has a fruit and vegetable stall such as this and if you look closely your mouth will water. Even though it is streetside and open, the fruit is fresh and clean. We saw them spritzing the displays from time to time, as the heat is yet another thing the shopkeepers have to deal with.

In the same way as we came across the festival in the last piece on Kerala, while driving towards the coast from Thekkady, suddenly we found our vehicle surrounded by hundreds of people intent on a street party!

It was hard to speak above the din of drums and horns which kept the colourful parade moving along briskly.

This is how Gordon got much of his video! No protocols were crossed - they wanted him to join in their parade.



We suspect the elephants have this as a fulltime role, as later we saw one being transported in a truck. These Asian elephants seem a patient and good-natured species, and you certainly have to hope those floppy ears keep them from developing industrial deafness!



And as always, flowers play a significant part of any religious ceremony or festivity. Marigolds were introduced to India by the Portuguese, and are seen in many places and have the greatest religious significance.

As the troupe of singers, dancers and floats moved away towards the temple, we reluctantly returned to the car to continue our drive. But a half kilometre or so along we encountered another group heading towards us, coming from the other end of the village, no doubt planning to meet up with the others at the temple.

These are not floats, but elaborate 'costumes' worn by one person on foot. See if you can see which face belongs to the human.

The quiet backwaters of Alleppey were a tranquil footnote to the frenetic morning. These waters, flanked by paddy-fields were once the main transport route for the grain to reach the coast for export of distribution to other places. Now that there are other (and possibly quicker) means of transport, the rice barges have been converted to floating houseboats and tour boats.

Our chef prepared an elegantly simple meal - here fresh lake fish in a spicy-crisp batter and ...

...delicious local Keralan rice. The grains are short and less starchy than many other rice varieties.

As the name suggests ours was a luxury barge, and after lunch we set off on a leisurely cruise.

Coconuts form a major part of Keralan cuisine, and they rely on it more than onions for adding flavour to curries and other dishes. As in parts of south-east Asia, the water from a young coconut with the top hacked off is perhaps the best drink ever.

From Cochin, the capital of Kerala we flew north to Mangalore to connect with our next barge experience. 

Here we joined another converted rice barge, the Lotus, part of the Neeleshwar Hermitage's luxury offerings. Located on Kerala's Malabar Coast and a member of Secret Retreats, it is indeed a secret, but one which should be shared!

Fragrant garlands are a lovely welcome in India, and this private balcony next to our bedroom made a delightful place to relax as we cruised ever so slowly. The water on the barge has been treated by reverse-osmosis, and large jugs of the specially treated water were avilable in our cabin.

And the bathroom would not look out of place in a top hotel.

At the waterside, village went on as it had for hundreds of years - washing up, bathing, fishing.

A page from the Lotus visitors' book.


To soon it was time to leave the barge we had enjoyed so much, but it was all good because we transferred to the Hermitage itself, about half an hour away, to continue the experience on land at one of the 16 bungalows.

Adjoining the bedroom was this luxury quasi-outdoor bathroom.

Despite the number of guests, the Hermitage has two restaurants, this one (above) and another beachside serving seafood dishes. The standard of the food and the attention to detail and personal preferences made us fans not just of Keralan cuisine, but also this place.

Breakfast by the beach, Hermitage style....

...brought a wafer-thin dosa, a local dish to which I had become addicted. It is an ideal way to start the day and could even suit someone with gluten intolerance as it is made from  rice flour and legumes. Cooked on a lrge flat hotplate, it is flipped and rolled at the exact moment. Bliss!

While the Arabian sea is just bejond the sand dune, there is also a swimmming pool and this stretch of flower-filled waterway.

And local children who came running when they saw us, pleading for chocolates! See mother sitting in the far distance enjoying a moment of quiet.

This was the name of our bungalow, and it summed up our feelings about this part of Kerala, and the state itself.



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