Exec summary: Kerala is cool, the backwaters are a must do, Indian hospitals are really good, we don’t like rabid dogs, and everywhere is different.
After the ordeal Kelly and I had experienced at the end of our North Indian adventures, we were looking forward to exploring the South more than ever! Everything I’ve read over the pre-travel period made Kerala (and the rest of the south) sound like a totally different experience to anything in the North of India: to be honest, everything I read was right! Over a week we managed to explore Trivandum, Alleppey and Kerala, 3 of the major points of interest in this absolutely vast state, yet we still managed to miss so much. Probably should have planned longer in India methinks….
Kerala is a rather unique area of India; the Portuguese colonised the area hundreds of years back alongside Goa, and many parts of Kerala were key trade routes for the Chinese, British, Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish, and you can really tell in so many areas! The architecture around is again, totally different to what we’ve seen before, and again is really beautiful. But what I found more varied from the other areas we’ve been are the people. Literally everyone I met and spoke to was lovely, accommodating, thoughtful and welcoming. Kelly and I have spent the last three weeks getting some rather interesting looks in some areas, and whilst this still continued to a point it was far less threatening, and instead of pointing or giggling the kids tended to actually talk to us! Kerala on the whole is also a much more Christian and Catholic area than the more traditional Hindu population of the north , with quirkily designed churches all over the place. Just like in Varanasi you can really feel the impact that religion has on the whole area, and in a really good way.
Another big change is the climate. It is humid AF down here! The climate is much more akin to that of a tropical island, and it really shows, with a fantastic array of fruit trees growing all over the place, and palm trees everywhere you look! I think this is a key reason why I loved Kerala so much to be honest; everything felt so much more chilled (apart from the climate obviously) and the general scenery was so much greener and vibrant than other places we’ve visited, a total paradigm shift you may say.
Each area of Kerala was totally different from the other, so I’m going to write about each one separately.
Trivandum is the capital city of Kerala. It’s known more by backpackers as a port of call rather than a must see destination. We flew into Trivandum straight from Delhi, where we were greeted by our latest Couchsurfing host, Rahul.
I got chatting to Rahul via CS months ago as we were both new to it, and had a shared love of music and some very specific musicians (i.e. Guthrie Govan). From the moment he picked us up I felt like I was linking up with a friend I hadn’t seen for years. He took us straight to coconut stall to try tender coconut (TOTALLY different from the coconut you’ll eat in the UK, the flesh is more slimy with a texture like squid). The coconut was so fresh from the tree the liquid inside was still warm! Following this we went to a toddy shop to try the local Keralan booze, a coconut beer (toddy). Kelly and I both surprisingly really liked this; It’s somewhere in between a beer and cider coconut drink which is made from the sap of the coconut tree (not the fruit as many people think).
The Keralan government are trying to curtail the rampant alcoholism that is found across Kerala so have actually closed most bars and a huge proportion of toddy shops so I was really privileged to get to try this. After this we went to explore the local and famous Kollam beach, which was absolutely stunning, I’ve never seen waves like it!
Following this we went back to his to meet his family, sample some more local food including tapioca which was different but damn tasty, before heading out for dinner. Unfortunately I started to feel unwell again so couldn’t really eat, but I’m informed the food was awesome.
Sadly that night both Kelly and I took a turn for the worse and ended up barely sleeping. The next morning we were due to go and explore the city very early but we had to bail. Rahul persuaded us that we should go to hospital due to the duration of our illness. At this point I had images of spending days in a squalid cess pit of a hospital and getting sicker rather than better, but this couldn’t have been further from the truth!
Rahul kindly drove us to the hospital, where we registered and had seen a doctor within 90mins. He diagnosed us with a parasite called Giardiasis; nasty little fecker! Within another 90 mins we were both hooked up to an IV and being pumped with fluids to combat our severe dehydration. Two hours later we were out, armed with a barrage of powerful antibiotics and other drugs to kill this pesky bug once and for all. The experience at this hospital was outstanding from start to finish and I can’t thank Rahul enough for all his help. The whole trip also cost us about £30 so didn’t cripple the budget (well, it didn’t help it that’s for sure)! We weren’t feeling 100% still so went back to the house and basically went to bed: another day ruined 😦
The following day we braved the outdoors and ventured out to finally see the sites around the city. We started by going to Poonar beach which was stunning. I even got involved helping the locals pull in the MAHOOOOOOOOSIVE fishing nets, NOT an easy thing to do with the fierce strength of the tide there. The beach was impressively clean and sat next to mangroves and a small estuary, both riddled with a gorgeous array of wildlife and in particular birds. Following this we ventured north to the wildlife sanctuary, about a 70km drive. Unfortunately when we arrived the centre was closed (you learn to get used to the random closing times and days here) so we just enjoyed the tranquil scenery of rolling mountains and forest land. We did manage to get a boat around the sanctuary (based on an island to stop the big cats escaping) but sadly managed to see absolutely nothing! Regardless it was a lovely day out and Rahul again earned legendary status.
Now the big thing for me was the food I ate that day. I was absolutely desperate to eat proper Keralan cuisine so Rahul took us to his favourite place. I ordered a vegetable thali and the classic Keralan fish masala cooked in a pandan leaf (called Meen Pollichathu). It goes without saying really, this is by far the best thing I’ve eaten in India so far! The closest recipe I’ve found is here, and I WILL be making this back in the UK in a years time alongside all the recipes I got from Rahuls mum (friends, be expected to be my test dummies for weeks)!
Rahul absolutely made this trip. When we felt like shite, he was supportive and helpful. We spent hours talking about the world, the local area, and even more time discussing and sharing music. He’s shown me a whole new world of Indian fusion music that I can’t wait to explore more. Rahul, there’s always a bed at my place for you in the UK, and get your arse to Canada and live the dream!
One word….. BACKWATERS!!!
Upon arriving at our beachside hostel we booked onto a day exploring the backwaters, an apparent must see and India top thing to do. We’d budgeted to book a private boat and an overnight stay, but following conversations with other backpackers we decided to book a day trip on a canoe manned by a local villager, and I am SO GLAD WE LISTENED! We had initially planned to spend a day bartering with every houseboat owner for the best price, but obviously didn’t need to do this, so we went for a walk along the beautiful stretch of beach bordered by coconut trees and not a high-rise hotel in sight. A close encounter with some aggressive dogs soon brought us back to reality with a bang though, so people still be careful around the local wildlife when travelling.
Sadly, the backwater trips are now so world renowned the market has become utterly saturated by bloody great houseboats all choking diesel fumes into the streams, and the average price has skyrocketed to astronomical levels that only westerners can afford. Regardless of the personal ethics I felt around this, exploring the tiny alleys on a canoe I helped paddle, with some awesome people, was a day I’ll never forget. More importantly we managed to get down the narrow avenues in the backwaters to really see the sites and also managed a quick pit stop for fresh coconut and pineapple and another toddy shop. Again, we got to experience some fantastic local food (cooked by our captains wonderfully hospitable wife) and overall had a wonderful day. If you ever go to India, just do one of these trips!
Perhaps what made this day even better were the awesome people in our hostel. We formed a big group and went out for dinner, and spent the rest of the evening just chatting. I’m hoping they are all reading this, and if you are, I feel honoured to have met you all and made such great memories. Good luck on your adventures and I hope our paths cross again.
Our final stop in Kerala, Kochin (Cochi) is a city renowned for its bazaars, love of art, Portuguese architecture and historical Chinese fishing nets. Like many other Keralan cities, Kochin was built on trade with other nations, and this is wholly apparent today. From the other side of the beach is a bloody great port still pulling in goods from across the world. Whilst this killed the beauty somewhat is was Interesting to see that the history lived on somewhat.
Perhaps the best bits for me of Kochin were the unexpected bits. For example we got soaked in a monsoon tail end storm on our first night, which I actually really enjoyed! To escape the rain we ran into a Tibetan restaurant which turned out to be outstanding! Our hostel Namasthe (Fort Cochin) was the best I’ve stayed in by far so far in India and the bazaars were actually nice to walk around without getting aggressively hassled. We may have even bought some jewellery each (i bought a silver bangle for me, and an anklet for Kelly, so we’re both proper Indian travel hipsters now)!
On our last few hours in Kochin, we went on an exploration of the old trade alleys and the Jewish quarters. Seeing the classic areas of a city away from tourist traps is one of my favourite things to do, and this didn’t disappoint. The trade of spices, teas, oils and art is still lively around the city, and it’s really great to see.
A final goodbye to a dear old friend.
Sadly, we ended our Kerala trip with some bad news. Buster, my furry buddy since 2000 had to be put to sleep today. As my mum so eloquently put it, “His farts smelled like mustard gas and there’s not a door frame in the house that doesn’t bare his scars, but he was an absolute legend and we loved him”. Buster was a one in a million dog, and everyone who met him loved him. He’s had a great life and an even better innings. Sleep well buddy! Give them rabbits in the sky some shit, and say hi to Penny, Jazz, and Milly for us xxx
So now, we travel to Goa to chill the f*** out! Because we saved the best part of £200 not booking a houseboat (yep, TWO HUNDRED POUNDS) we’ve decided to get an Airbnb for the week in an awesome part of the state and really close to the beach. I’m not going to lie, be expecting lots of pics of beautiful beaches, and a blog post next week detailing the big pile of nothing that I hopefully end up (not) doing. #sorrynotsorry