Sharjah Shake is a milkshake that you will find in most bakeries in Kerala. A concoction made of milk, coffee powder, sometimes chocolate, peanuts, bananas, vanilla ice cream and Boost, Horlicks or Bournvita, it tastes absolutely delicious. This might sound like a weird combination, but don’t let that deter you from trying this out – like I said, this milkshake is finger-lickingly delish!
What comes to your mind when you think of the Malabar region? For me, a mere mention of the place conjures up images of lush greenery, gorgeous beaches, swaying coconut trees, banana chips, appams and stew, toddy, little chai shops, red rice and a whole lot of other things that are quintessentially Kerala. That said, I don’t have any personal experience of visiting the Malabar, that coastal region in Kerala that runs from Goa to the southernmost part of the country.
So, it was with great curiosity that I recently reached Nook, a restaurant by Aloft Hotels, in Cessna Business Park, Kadubeesanahalli, Bangalore. I had been invited to experience the ongoing ‘The Taste Of Malabar’ food festival at Nook, and was very eager to check it out. Let me hasten to tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, savouring the lovely food that was served to me.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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 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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.