I recently went to Kerala, India on a 2 week holiday. That was an unforgettable and thoroughly enjoyable experience. Writing this article is one way of reliving the experience. I have, though, made up my mind to revisit Kerala next year. This is an ideal holiday for the student whether for gap year or short holiday. If anyone wants I can provide information on average food costs, accommodation costs etc. More importantly, a pint is approximately £ 0.60, spirits being equally cheap. As a guide, a 3 course buffet in a 5 star hotel costs approx. £3.50. I wish I had taken a group of friends with me. We could have seriously rocked. It is a great learning/life experience too.
Being on a tight budget, I was prepared for a mediocre holiday. My flight was from Heathrow to Cochin/Kochi via Bombay. The on-flight service was as mediocre as you would expect in Economy class, as was the case with the food. There-in ended the mediocrity. The day I landed was beautifully sunny. I breezed through Immigration and Customs, though as usual I wondered why people in these jobs never smile. Part of the job description, I guess. My taxi driver Sanaal (or something like that), a cheery, friendly chap, was waiting for me at the airport, with my name on a card. Wearing an orange turban he was an incongruous sight in Cochin. I let him prattle on throughout while driving, his English being surprising good. The taxi was arranged by the holiday company which organised everything for me apart from flights. This included accommodation, tours to various wonderful places, a tourist guide, a 24 hour helpline and local representatives to cater to my every whim.
Stepping out of the air-conditioned taxi, I was surrounded by the strange sights and smells of India, things that I now miss. It was hot, 26 degrees, and humid. People were getting on with whatever they were doing without giving me a second glance. Later, I found that they go out of their way to help. The driver took me to what will be home for 2 weeks. I found myself in pleasant accommodation in a family home renting out rooms hotel-style, so the cost of accommodation was lower compared to hotels. The room was clean, well furnished (3 to 4 star),had attached bathroom with shower and European toilet. Air-Conditioning was optional. The welcome was warm and the service was personal (not too personal, just a perfect balance) and friendly. I was then given my first taste of tender coconut water, one of nature’s gifts, to refresh and nourish at the same time. The tender pulp inside has a mouth-watering taste of its own. To me, that’s the taste of India, not just its curries or spices. From that day, every day till the end of my holidays, I made sure that I had at least one (or two) tender coconut a day. It tastes nothing like the tinned product that we might find on supermarket shelves in the UK. Did you know that fresh coconut water can be used as a saline/IV drip to rehydrate people quickly?
That evening, I met my Tourist Liaison Officer, Rajesh, one of the employees of tour operator “Home Stay Consultants”. Funny name for a tour operator, I admit. My taxi driver left once I was safely in Rajesh’s care.
The following day, I rented a cycle to visit the many historical areas and areas of natural beauty in Cochin. The rental was reasonable at 70 pence a day. I gave my Tourist Liaison Officer the day off, as exploring is sometimes better without a guide. Though, to be honest, I have a strong feeling that Rajesh spent the whole day waiting for me to phone him. I spent hours at the beach watching the Chinese fishing nets being operated manually, bringing in the catch of the day. It’s literally manually operated by a fisherman walking on the arms to lower or pull up these huge nets.
I spent 2 days cruising on the beautiful backwaters, where we got the catch of the day fried or curried right in the boat’s kitchen. I chilled out drinking fresh local coconut toddy, a natural alcoholic drink that is good for health and your complexion. It is tapped from coconut trees by locals who can climb these tall trees faster than monkeys.
Cherai beach was beautiful, stretching as far as the eye can see, with golden sands and turquoise waters. A veritable paradise, only thing missing was a mermaid. It had beach shelters too, thatched with dried coconut tree leaves. The hill stations of Thekkady and Munnar were unforgettable. I mean, where else can you play with baby elephants or watch elephants being trained. Just so you know, baby elephants are stronger than they look and pack a punch, especially if boisterous. Don’t turn your back on one or you might find yourself flat on your face. I swear he was smiling as he walked away. The tree house in Wayanad, the hundreds of bird species flying and swooping around you in Kodanad, the list goes on. Apologies to any bird-enthusiasts out there, I didn’t recognise any of the birds there apart from pelicans. Two weeks were not quite enough. Accomodation was pre-arranged in every place according to my budget, though to be honest, I lived like a prince with all my loyal subjects. And now I am back in England where a loaf of bread can go up to £1.50, a king’s meal in India.
As I sit here on my sofa typing out this article, I am starting to feel pangs of hunger, which reminds me of the food in India. I had no complaints what-so-ever, not even an upset stomach . Fresh food, abundant, well prepared, spicy as you like, a veritable feast for the senses. God, I miss the place!
That leads me to the bars and watering holes. Again, cheap prices without quality being compromised. Transport is even cheaper, at £1.50 per hour for taxi hire or £0.14 per kilometre whichever is higher. The local auto rickshaws are colourful and quick with minimum fare starting at £0.14. This, by the way, was my most favourite medium of transport, a cheap rollercoaster at your beck and call.
Kochi is an excellent starting point for exploring the unfathomable diversity and beauty of Kerala, rated in the top three tourist destinations by the World Travel and Tourism Council. It is also featured in National Geographic Traveller’s “50 greatest places of a lifetime”. I agree. It is also a historic town where the Arabs, British, Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese have left their marks. Again my apologies to any history geeks out there, I have not given much detail, but there is a plethora of historical landmarks and buildings dating from pre-colonial times. The locals, Keralites, love the British and firmly believe that their legacy lives on. Their attitude to us greatly reflects their gratitude and affection.
I found a sense of freedom in India, where every day was an adventure, tomorrow being a brand new adventure. Though couldn’t have done it without the expertise, guidance and knowledge of my tour operator. They are geared for students and are prepared for anything you throw at them. Though a new startup company, they have exceeded my expectations.
My only regret is that I did not have the time to try the famous Kerala Ayurvedic body and head massage which is said to rejuvenate you physically and mentally. I’m still young, so maybe once I am married and exhausted, with kids………