Kerala is a lovely green diverse small state with so much to offer the traveller. Fly into Cochin directly from Dubai using Emirates; this flight connects to so many others from the West. Within no time at all one is being whisked away by car to The Brunton Boat Yard which is a charming heritage style five star property on the very edge of Cochin’s wide attractive harbour and lagoon. This elegant comfortable hotel that has been carefully renovated has lovely rooms and full suites with a charming tree shaded courtyard and a pool on the harbour’s edge from which to watch the ceaseless maritime traffic. The management and staff are friendly and helpful and the food is fantastic.
Cochin has so much to offer the first time visitor with the Spice Market, the Mattancherry Palace, St Francis Church (where Vasco da Gama was buried in 1524), the Paradesi Synagogue and the famous Chinese fishing nets that were first erected in the fourteenth century.
Two nights at Brunton should be followed by a short car journey to Marari Beach, another of cghearth’s lovely resorts. In 35 acres of lawns dotted by palms and a wealth of exotic vegetation the grounds sweep down to the wide open beach. The ethnic architecture of individual chalets makes it seem that it has always been there but in fact the property is about five years old and engagingly laid out so that one does not feel crowded. Pools full of pink lotus blossoms with tiny kingfishers darting in and out add to the serenity of this place.
Ancient science of holistic healing
Ayurveda, the ancient science of holistic healing is practised throughout India, but it originated in Kerala and at most hotels wonderful ayurvedic centres are able to soothe away pains and aches and help treat chronic conditions of all kinds. I loved the total body oil massage and wash with a special gram that leaves one’s skin feeling polished and refreshed and the body totally relaxed. If your budget allows ask for a chalet with its own private pool in a courtyard which one can access from the outdoor bathroom ensuite to the bedroom as well as from the private lounge. Lying in the Jacuzzi end of the pool floating naked looking up at the full moon and stars must be one of my most treasured memories.
All cghearth properties encourage the guest to participate in local activities like village walks, coir weaving, learning a musical instrument, nature and spice trails and cooking demonstrations; yoga and meditation can be experienced daily. From Marari Beach take a short car journey to embark on the Spice Boat. This is quite simply enchanting and something I long wanted to do – I found it even more pleasurable than the Mekong Delta; spice boats called Kettuvellams are now converted into very comfortable houseboats with a crew of three who do everything including making delicious food and supplying cool or hot drinks.
The ‘loo’ and the hot and cold shower make it all very civilised. Gliding through the backwaters and watching village life going on all around is unique – flocks of noisy ducks, fishermen, children swimming after school; old men praying, women washing, daily tasks carrying on with church bells ringing or the muezzin calling. At night moored in the middle of Lake Vembanad lying out on the comfortable deck looking up at the stars with a gentle breeze and no noise except for the fish jumping is sublime, followed by a delicious meal and chilled wine with after dinner coffee. In the morning light one could see other Kettuvellams moored far away; the early morning bird chorus and the sun rising through the mist along with a welcome cup of tea made it so special. After breakfast we disembarked at Coconut Lagoon.
Coconut Lagoon at Kumarakom
Coconut Lagoon is at Kumarakom and totally enchanting with distinct Keralan architecture and the whole property divided by small backwaters with charming foot bridges under which small craft can glide. Again, it is possible to have a cottage with its own pool that directly looks on to the lake and its tranquillity. The restaurants, bars, main pool and lawns are so inviting; there is a small bird sanctuary nearby and the hotel has its own butterfly trail. Each hotel has its resident enthusiastic naturalist.
If you have the time try and also include a trip to Bangaram in the Lakshadweep Islands an archipelago 200 miles off the Kerala coast – virgin coral reefs, turquoise blue lagoons, silver beaches – the most superb island destination of them all.
Kerala will welcome you with smiles, friendship and service and you will want to return again and again; all of India has so much to offer the traveller, but for pure ‘chill out’ factor Kerala is number one.