Postcards From Karalad Lake, Wayanad

The beautiful, serene Karalad lake turned out to be one of my most favourite spots in Wayanad.

Take a virtual walk around the lake with me, via my latest blog post!

 

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One Morning, In Wayanad

Since long, the husband and I had been craving for a vacation where we did absolutely nothing.

As we got a chance, recently, off we took to Wayanad, to stay in one of the many homestays there. To just be, and do nothing else.

It’s a different story that the bub didn’t let us just be at the homestay, and we had to head out for some sightseeing just to keep her entertained – not that we didn’t have fun in the process. 😛

Another story is that the drive back home to Bangalore from Wayanad took us 12 hours – the double of what it takes usually – thanks to crazy traffic. We ended up more exhausted than ever, but still, I am glad we managed to see a new place.

My first post about our trip to Wayanad is up on my photo blog. Walk through a home plantation with me, here!

An Afternoon At The Punnathurkotta Elephant Camp

My blog posting on the occasion of World Elephant Day last week triggered some more memories – of a beautiful trip to Kerala that we undertook a couple of years back. One of the high points of this trip, at least for me, was a visit to the Punnathurkotta Elephant Camp in Guruvayoor. Our entire family had travelled to Kerala then for a wedding, after which we visited the Guruvayoor Shree Krishna temple and the sanctuary. Little did I know, when the trip was planned, that I would end up loving the camp so much that I would yearn to visit again even years after the trip!

The Punnathurkotta Elephant Camp is located just 3 km. away from the Guruvayoor temple, and houses the elephants that belong to the temple. When we visited, there were about 60 elephants housed in the camp. Not only are the temple’s elephants housed and maintained here, but also trained to participate in the various festivities undertaken in the temple. Most of the elephants here are offerings made by devotees to the temple, at one point or the other.

It was a sunny, but pleasant afternoon when we entered the camp. I still remember the sight that met our eyes then, and the collective gasp that escaped our mouths. Lush greenery all around, a number of elephants – some walking, some standing, some eating, some drinking, some bathing, some just sitting. Overall, an extremely beautiful sight. Considering that we are an elephant-crazy family, we started snapping away with our cameras as we explored the little sanctuary, my brothers-in-law chatting away, nineteen to the dozen, to the elephant keepers there.

The pens built for the elephants

We learnt that some elephants were kept in pens, unchained for most of the day. Some others were a bit ferocious, and had to be chained. Some were recuperating from diseases, and hence had to be kept in seclusion. It was rather sad to see the ones that were chained, but we were told it had to be done for certain animals. Overall, the elephants did look happy and well-maintained, and the place was quite neat and clean.

An elephant, chained to a tree
An elephant being walked inside the sanctuary
Feeding!
Feeding, again!

We were utterly fascinated to see some of the elephants being bathed. The mahouts use bits of brick and coconut fibre to scrub them thoroughly, and then hose them down with clean water. It was such a beautiful sight! The elephants seemed to be revelling in the experience, soaking in all of it!

Look at the way this elephant has lifted his trunk to enable the mahouts to clean under his chin! Cute, no?

The camp is located in the grounds of Punnathur Raja, a former ruler of the place. The complex also has a traditional Keralite home, which used to belong to the Raja. Presently, this house is used as a training school for mahouts. (We were too fascinated by the elephants to take any pictures of the home, in case you are wondering why there aren’t any!)

All in all, the elephant camp is one lovely place, a must-visit according to me. Definitely one of the lesser-known places in Guruvayoor. Don’t miss it!

The return of Random Rangamma

~ The Mango Mela at Lal Baugh is on till June 15, in case you didn’t know already. The OH and I visited last weekend, and had a fun time. We bought some Mallika and one other type of mango whose name we have completely forgotten. The mangoes are awesome, though!

~ While we are on the topic of fruits, the first litchis of the season were also bought and devoured last weekend. They were gorgeous! I am already looking forward to laying my hands on the second batch. 🙂

~ After deliberating for long, I finally bought a sketchbook, a set of pencils and brushes, paints and some tubs of Play-Doh. I am intimidated by the wonderful sketches, paintings and Play-Doh creations that I see on the internet, by amazingly talented people, but I have decided to make a start in these things, in my own amateur way.

~ The nephews returned last week from a long summer holiday in a Wayanad home stay, and they had loads of tales to tell – from seeing a peacock at a distance of 10 feet and spotting a single paw print of a tiger to a brave housewife attacking a wild dog with a knife, aimed correctly from her doorstep! I am all craving to visit Wayanad now, in the rains, and staying in a similar home stay. Sigh!

~ I called up my MIL last Monday to tell her I would be visiting some time in the evening. She told me that PM Modi’s swearing-in ceremony would be on on television in the evening. I got the hint, and visited her after the ceremony was over. 🙂 She couldn’t stop gushing over Modi. I got a somewhat ‘Do not disturb’ signal from my Appa too, when I talked to him earlier. I think I have got married into the right kind of family, where both the ‘sambandis’ are equally politics-crazy! The MIL calls Appa specially to discuss with him news about the plane that went missing some time back, and Appa calls her to tell her if a politician’s grand speech is on on television. They are each other’s best friends in this respect. 🙂

~ I found a book that I had been searching for for seven years in a bookstore here, without even looking for it. I just entered the bookstore, and there it was! All for a grand sum of Rs. 86. And to think that no relative/friend in the US of A I had asked to search for the book had been able to find it for all these years. Serendipity? Or a case of a book finding you just when it has to find you? The book in question is The Dance by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, BTW.

~ I had never been able to make decent moarkozhambu all this time, even after trying several times. I love moarkozhambu, and it is exasperating to wait till someone prepares it for me. I finally learnt how to make it the right way, and made some proper ladies’ finger moarkozhambu today! Yippee!

~ I am presently reading Paris, My Sweet: A Year In The City Of Light (And Dark Chocolate) by Amy Thomas, a book I had wanted to read since long. Sadly, though, it has been a disappointing experience so far. It feels bad when a book you had desperately wanted to read doesn’t turn out to be all that great!

~ I still haven’t baked anything, in spite of craving to do so lately. 😦 I badly want to! Something eggless and simple it shall be. I want to eat some home-made cake!

~ I am in love with this place after reading about it on Hitchy’s blog. I want, want, want to go there now!

~ We visited the elephant camp in Guruvayoor when we were in Kerala a few years ago, and thoroughly loved the experience. Now, Shail tells us about another elephant rehabilitation centre near Trivandrum, which I am loving the sound of. Next time we go to Kerala, I am going here for sure! Actually, there is always more to do/feel/see/experience in Kerala, irrespective of how many times we visit!

~ I want to get out of the ‘food-memoir-reading’ phase, and read something different. I need something light, but not overly sappy-sweet. Something that is not harsh on the brain, but engaging nonetheless. Any suggestions?

Kerala diaries 6: Bits and pieces of quirk, a la Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi has a quirky side to it, as I was telling you in my last post. Everywhere you look, bits and pieces of quirk manifest themselves.

Here are some pictures of these touches, which I loved.

Woman with face covered, and with antlers (?) – a painting on a wall in Fort Kochi. I didn’t understand the painting, but I am convinced it has a deeper meaning.
A horse-shaped clothes hanger in the hotel we stayed in. Cute, no?
A window planter at Loafers Cafe. I LOVED the way it looked. I would love to try something like this at my house, too.
An art piece at Kashi Cafe. I liked the way it was done, though I felt it looked very sad.
I was not amused to see this big lock hanging on the doors of Teapot Cafe – I had come into Fort Kochi wanting to visit the cafe. I loved the quirkiness of the lock, though.
Ladles used as decorations at Oy’s Cafe
I loved the quaint signboard and the little bell, in place of a harsh doorbell, at the Bell House, a homestay.
I absolutely loved this old-fashioned brass ashtray at the hotel we stayed in, in Fort Kochi.

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Have you read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 of this travelogue?

Kerala diaries 5: Exploring Fort Kochi and Mattancherry

The OH and I have had the opportunity to explore Ernakulam a few years ago, but we could make only a flying visit to Fort Kochi then. We were captivated by what little of Fort Kochi that we saw then, and wanted to come back and explore more. So, when we were planning the itinerary for our Kerala trip this year, we ensured that we stayed a couple of days in Fort Kochi. It was definitely worth the stay!

Fort Kochi

I would say Fort Kochi has two distinct sides to it – the steeped-in-history side and the quirky, contemporary side – just like Pondicherry. I felt the same vibes here that I felt in Pondicherry. Like Pondicherry, Fort Kochi is best explored on foot too, so that you can turn into any enticing lane or enter any exciting cafe, as the mood takes you.

Wikipedia tells me that Fort Kochi was given to the Portuguese by the then king of Kochi in the year 1503. The Dutch held Fort Kochi for over 100 years, till 1795, after which the Britishers took control of it. Fort Kochi was released of foreign control in the year 1947, with the independence of India. Consequently, both Portuguese and British influences are very much evident in Fort Kochi, particularly in the architectural styles here.

I loved watching these quaint doors and windows!

There are a number of heritage homes in Fort Kochi that have been converted into homestays and inns, giving the place its steeped-in-history feel. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful old houses, which have great character. The next time I visit Fort Kochi, I am going to make sure I stay in one such house.

A heritage home converted into a hotel

Just walking through the streets of Fort Kochi is a treat in itself, thanks to the quirky decorations of the cafes and the beautiful buildings. Opportunities for photography are many.

The ivy-covered building of the Raintree Lodge

Fort Kochi today is home to a number of cafes, most of them contemporary and eccentric. For instance, the popular Kashi Art Cafe which serves some of the best cakes and pies I have ever had, at the same time providing artists with a place to exhibit their wares. Do not miss Kashi Cafe whenever you are in Fort Kochi, I beg you. If they have date and walnut cake on the day you visit, grab a slice without hesitation. And you already know how much I love their chocolate cake – that delectable, sinful confection.

Also worth a mention here is Upstairs Restaurant, where we had lunch twice. We loved the fresh, fresh, fresh home-made pizza and pasta that they served us. It is a bit pricey, but the food is totally worth it.

I loved the name of this cafe!

Fort Kochi is also home to the famous Teapot Cafe, a tranquil place to introspect, read, write, have a conversation or take photographs as you sip on a cup of tea. I was desperate to visit it but, unfortunately, could not. The cafe was closed because it was off season, and there were absolutely no tourists. Well, there is always a next time!

Fort Kochi is a place that takes art seriously, and believes in respecting its artists. You see art everywhere, in cafes and B&Bs as well as on the streets.

There are loads of wall paintings in Fort Kochi, but this particular one stayed with me
An art exhibit that I loved at Kashi Cafe

Then, there is the beach at Fort Kochi. The beach lover that I am, I loved wandering through this part of Fort Kochi. There is something immensely calming about sitting on a lonely bench by the beach side, watching the water change colour as the sun’s rays reflect on and off it. The beach here is not very neat, but I loved being by the water, nevertheless.

By the beach in Fort Kochi

The Chinese fishing nets here are a popular tourist attraction, apparently one of the most photographed sights in Kerala. Why shouldn’t they be? They are a sight to watch, indeed. These nets, earlier believed to have been introduced by a Chinese explorer, work on a cantilever system. We did not get to see these nets actually being used for fishing, though.

Chinese fishing nets

It is oh-so-wonderful a feeling to watch the ships go by in the sea at Fort Kochi. It takes you long, long, long back in time, and makes you think of explorers, voyages, discovering lost lands, pirates and hidden treasures.

A girl watching a ship pass by at Fort Kochi

Fort Kochi has some of the oldest and most beautiful churches I have ever seen. We were not able to explore them, due to shortage of time. We were able to visit only one church – the Santa Cruz Basilica, a lovely old church that I instantly fell in love with.

The main entrance to the Santa Cruz Basilica
Pretty stained glass windows inside the Basilica
The beautiful interior of the Basilica – doesn’t it take you back in time?

Mattancherry

Adjacent to Fort Kochi is Mattancherry, where we spent an afternoon, exploring Jew Town and the Dutch Palace and Museum.

There were a significant number of Jews in Kochi once, of which only a few remain now. They inhabit the part of Kochi called Jew Town, in Mattancherry, home to spice shops, antique shops, souvenir shops, cafes and the famous Jewish synagogue. Walking through this part of town is something I really love doing, peering into the antique shops and taking in the smells of fresh spices. I have never attempted buying anything from here, though – the prices are way too steep for me! However, it is a very interesting place to walk around, irrespective of whether you shop or not.

An antiques shop in Jew Town
Kathakali masks for sale in a shop in Jew Town

The Jewish synagogue, popularly called the Paradesi Synagogue, is gorgeous beyond words. It was constructed in 1568, and is one of the oldest synagogues to be still in use. Photography inside the synagogue is not permitted, so I have no pictures of it to show.

Near the synagogue is the Dutch Palace and Museum, which had me entranced for hours. It houses palanquins, coins, dresses, swords and utensils from the royal households of the several kings who have ruled Kerala. Again, photography is not allowed inside the palace.

There is a small Police Museum too in Jew Town, with statues depicting the uniforms and arms that have been used by the policemen of Kerala over time. We spent a pleasant half-hour here, gawping at the dresses.

Statue at the Police Museum, Jew Town

Tourism brochures, websites and blogs tell you that a couple of days are enough to explore these parts of Kerala, but those instructions are clearly not for us. We still have a lot to do, see, feel, eat and explore in Fort Kochi and Mattancherry.

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Have you read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 of this travelogue?

Kerala diaries 4: Truly as green as it gets – Waterscapes

Sometimes, while travelling, you find a hotel that sounds good and book it without a second thought. Then, you keep wondering whether that hotel will really be as good as it sounded on the website – till you reach there, and see how gorgeous it really is. Then, you are thrilled to bits at your serendipitous discovery. You are charmed by the place instantly, and decide that you will be staying in the hotel more than once. Has this ever happened to you? This is what happened when the OH discovered Kerala Tourism Development Corporation‘s (KTDC) Waterscapes in Kumarakom a couple of years back. It was love at first sight for the both of us, and we decided to book a place in the same resort, again, when we visited Kumarakom recently.

KTDC has established several budget hotels, luxury resorts as well as mid-range accomodations across Kerala, for the purpose of promoting tourism to the state. Our lucky find, Waterscapes, is one of its premium properties, in Kumarakom.

Waterscapes has the tagline ‘As green as it gets’, and if you visit the property, you will find that it is truly ‘as green as it gets’. There is absolutely no dearth of greenery here. Whichever way you see, it is greenery that will meet your eye, soothing your soul.

One of the best parts of Waterscapes is that its wooden rooms (cottages, rather) are built on stilts, below which there are canals flowing. There are separate bridges built for each cottage to take them to the dining room, swimming pool, conference room, or anywhere else in the resort. Each cottage here has a different kind of view – it either overlooks a huge expanse of Lake Vembanad,  a canal within the resort, or the swimming pool. The view from every cottage is gorgeous, as we have discovered.

There are long, winding stone pathways built across the resort, enabling guests to stroll through the HUGE property, taking in all that green. For a stressed-out and city-jaded couple like us, this was heaven.

The Lake Vembanad passes alongside the resort, giving the guests access to views as wonderful as these…

The lake-side was my most favourite place in the resort, where I could just sit and relax, or watch the birds and boathouses come and go. In fact, this is where I did most of the bird-spotting that I told you about in a previous post.

It is a very, very quiet spot, a place you can escape to when the soothing lap of nature is all you seek.

The last time we visited, the resort had a lake-side reception desk, and we had to take a boat to reach it and check in! I mean, how exotic is that?!

This time, however, the old reception area was boarded up (thanks to the monsoon, I guess), and this lovely cottage was acting as the reception area….

Even the dining room here is built on stilts, with a view of  a water hydrangea-filled canal on one side and Lake Vembanad on the other. Cross a bridge to get to the dining room, and you can watch boats and boathouses and birds as you sip your tea or coffee and have your lunch or dinner.

There is also a bird sanctuary within the resort!! You have to walk through a mini-forest (in the picture below) to reach it. However, thanks to the monsoon again, we were told that it was not safe to go inside. We behaved like good kids and did not dare to explore the sanctuary. We did get to hear birdsong to our heart’s content, though. Music for the jaded ear, truly!

The cottages are equipped with most everything you might need – aircon, television, 24/7 hot water, an electric kettle and provisions to make tea or coffee. Oh, and the windows here are to die for – big, big windows with wide sills, complete with a seat. You get to see lovely views and hear only the sounds of nature as you occupy the window seat and sip a cup of chai or delve into a book.

Heck, even the bathrooms in this resort have a lovely view!

The more we stay in Waterscapes, the more we find to love. We find everything about this place lovely, and we always come back craving for a couple more days of stay. Except for saying that the food here is not bad (not great, not bad either), I don’t have any grouse with this hotel. Oh, and did I tell you that the resort even boasts of a Santhigiri Ayurvedic centre, where the OH and I have had the best of oil massages ever?

I had half a mind not to tell anyone about this place, but I squelched the demon inside me and decided to write about it, because this is a place that needs to be told about. Everyone needs to get a chance at luxuriating in all that gorgeous green.

I sound like a gushing, love-sick teenager, no? Well, yes, I am absolutely in love with this place. And, no, this is not a paid review.

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Have you read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this travelogue?

Kerala diaries 3: A story told through dance

We had the opportunity to watch a Kathakali dance performance while we were in Kochi, and grabbed it with both hands. Now, viewing a Kathakali dance performance had been on my bucket list for long. So, we when we discovered that the Cochin Cultural Centre held performances every day, we could not contain our excitement and booked tickets right away. We were not at all disappointed. The show was simply superb, and we enjoyed every minute of it.

Kathakali is said to have originated in Kerala as far back as the 17th century, and has undergone several changes since then. The dance gestures and costumes have become more elaborate over time. In those days, Kathakali performances used to begin in the evening, go on all through the night, and end only in the morning, considering that people had very few other modes of entertainment. As lives got busier, the performances started getting shorter and shorter, and now, hardly extend for more than 2 hours. The performance that we saw lasted for a little more than an hour.

The word ‘Kathakali’ is made up of two distinct words – katha (meaning ‘story’) and kali (meaning ‘performance’).A Kathakali performance is, thus, a story told in the form of a performance. The dance we got to see was ‘Keechakavadha’, based on a story from the Mahabharata about the slaying of the demon Keechaka.

As a wonderful bonus, we got to see the artistes getting dressed up in their finery and applying their make-up before the performance. That, again, was something I had always wanted to do. It was quite a sight to see – watching simple, demure men transform into grandly dressed heroes and heroines and fiery demons! My heart was in my mouth to see the amount of make-up that went on each artist’s face, but I relaxed visibly when we were told that all the make-up for Kathakali performances is done using entirely natural ingredients, like rice paste and the powder from stones and flowers.

This is the artist who played the lady in the performance. Can you believe the transformation?
The artist who played the hero, getting dressed for the performance
The making of Keechaka, the demon

There is very little or no speech in a Kathakali dance performance. The story is narrated entirely through the song (which a singer sings in the background), the eye and hand movements of the artistes, and little grunts and other songs made by them. I never knew grunts could be so expressive!

Keechaka in action – again, can you believe the transformation?
A still from the performance. Do notice the beautiful, traditional Kerala temple in the backdrop.
The slaying of the demon Keechaka – a scene that was beautifully carried out.

I was initially afraid that I might get bored during the performance or not understand it at all. Thankfully, all my fears turned out to be ill-founded. I was spellbound throughout the show, and could not take my eyes off the artistes. The same was the case with the OH and the 20-odd guests we watched the performance with. I had no problem at all in grasping any part of the story. The performance was not at all slow, but went at the right pace. I did not even know when it came to an end!

I am so glad to see the art of Kathakali is being accepted so well by Indians and foreigners alike. Unlike many other Indian folk arts and crafts, there are considerable steps being taken to keep this dance form alive, I am delighted to note.

We had not known what to expect out of the performance, but now, I am so very happy that we took a chance and went to see it. It is an experience worth having in life, something that each of you should do whenever you are in Kerala.

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Have you read Part 1 and Part 2 of this travelogue?