Kerala: human by nature

On our travels across the length and breadth of India, we often come across brilliant people who make the trip, that much special. And talking about kind people, Kerala comes to mind almost instantly! A state well regarded for its natural heritage and beauty, Kerala is a land of beautiful people and rich flora and fauna, where experiences amalgamate with memories to stay in our hearts forever! It is the great appeal of this diverse state that keeps calling us back.

In our quest of finding offbeat places even in a popular destination like Kerala, we have made connections that will stay with us always. Telling all the stories will be no less than a novel. Hence, we will share three stories where our experiences were enriched by human touch. We hope you like reading this blog and plan for your Kerala trip as soon as Covid19 restrictions are removed!

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THE UNEXPECTED NATURALIST – THEKKADY

“Sir, did you not go for a safari today?”

“No, we reached late!”

“Worry not Sir, I will make sure that your day is not wasted.”

Thekkady is a must visit for anyone who loves wildlife as much as we do. The entry to the stunning Periyar National Park, Thekkady is a small town, located right on the edge of the forest. The KTDC Aranya Nivas and Lake Palace will be the best choice for anyone wanting to take in the jungle vibes completely! We arrived at Aranya Nivas a wee bit late for the afternoon boat safari. Disheartened, Joy and I took a walk to Periyar House, the other KTDC property for some chai and snacks. Both the properties are located inside the forest and one can hear the melodious songbirds heading home, constant chatter of crickets and a whole lot of evening activity in the jungle. Feeling satisfactorily spooky, we headed back to Aranya Nivas. At the gate, the guard welcomed us with a big smile and instantly, we started chatting with him about Periyar. The conversation on top ensued.

Mutthu (Name changed) told us, “We have very special guest from the jungle, who visits the periphery of the property every night.”

“I will call you Sir, if he comes today.”

Waiting with bated breath we went back to our room. The intercom rang sharp at 8.55 PM, Mutthu’s voice buzzed.

“Sir, please come to the gate now. Our guest is here!”

It took us just a few seconds to reach as we darted with our cameras, and there it was! A fully grown Porcupine, just beside the secure fence of the hotel.

I had never seen a live Porcupine before in my life and i squealed in joy! The little prowler went around in circles for a bit giving us a chance to take a good look at his spikes, his head and the cute little rodent feet! Immensely grateful, we thanked the guard for his timely intimation and giving us a real taste of the jungle, without going on any safari! It was an incredible moment and just by being kind, he etched his place in our hearts. People who you connect with in a strange new place, basis a common love for jungles and wildlife, are the best kind of people according to us!

THE ADVENTUROUS NAVIGATOR- MUNNAR

“Tea bushes have to be old to be tasty. This estate has over 150 year old tea plants.”

We were travelling from Kochi to Munnar via Kumarakom and Thekkady. It’s often the journey that brings you the most exquisite and unexpected encounters, we have noticed.

Meet Varghese Thomas – a small business entrepreneur from the Shola Hills of Munnar who came to pick us up and take us to our next destination near Munnar.

On hearing where we wanted to go, he took a few moments to fathom the route, taking us to a remote corner of the state. There were road blocks for construction, on the way. Undeterred by the longer route, he joined us on an adventure and willingly offered to take us to some places off the beaten track on the way!

Varghese calls Chinnakanal, a little village on the foothills of the Shola Mountain Range his home. On our journey towards Shola Crown Munnar, a luxurious retreat just outside of the main city, nestled in the cardamom plantations of Shola range, he told us many stories. In his childhood, he had ridden ATB’s across these forests, chasing elephants! Enthralled by his knowhow of the land and the people, we got immersed in his incredible stories on the road. He also showed great interest in aerial photography when we stopped on the way to fly the drone. Apparently, he himself has worked with quadcopters for mapping topography of the area in the past!

Varghese Thomas on the left

He took us to Anayirangkal Dam where the views took all the stress of a city life, away from our minds.

Next on the way, Varghese stopped by a tea estate and introduced us to a couple of tea workers who were on their way home for lunch. After exchanging greetings and our purpose of travel, they kindly asked us to take a photo of them, and we obliged happily! After all, it is the human connect that makes the photographs on social media so special.

He explained to us the history of tea plantations in Kerala, the age of the plants we were looking at and finally, broke a few leaves and crushed them to let us smell the fragrant aroma of fresh tea leaves. His knowledge about not just destinations but the inherent history of the place, filled us with awe. After spending a day in Munnar, Joydeep had to travel back to Kochi for another trip and Varghese escorted him late evening through the hilly roads of Chinnakanal safely, where elephants often come down by the road. The next day, he also came forward with a helping hand when my cousin who was supposed to join us from Bangalore, got lost due to road work diversions in the main city. A timely phone call and my brother was on his way with Varghese’s wife and daughter who were luckily in the Munnar town! They escorted him back to Chinnakanal to their home, offered refreshments and allocated another driver from their village, to drive him back to the hotel after an exhausting day! Varghese Thomas – we will never forget you.

A CHEF’S APPETITE- WAYANAD

“Sir, do you need anything more to eat?”

“No Selva. We are too full already!”

When in Kerala, aside from everything beautiful, the food is worth writing a whole blog about! The variety of food aside, the love that Malayalis have for feeding others is remarkable. We had taken a short trip to Wayanad back in 2017 with a few friends. Arriving at our stay high up within a coffee estate during high monsoon, our excitement was doubled when the estate jeep escorted us uphill through roads that we will never dare to drive on with a standard car.

Once fresh after a shower, we headed to the dining room for a surprise that took over our trip for the next few days. An unforgettable platter of delectable food, prepared by the in house chef at Marmalade Springs Resort, was in front of us. There was fish fry, chicken kerala fry, mixed vegetables, beans curry, rotis, rice, daal and a few more items, ending with a homemade dessert that left no more space in our stomach. And the sojourn had only begun!

The dinner spread

The next morning, a huge breakfast spread awaited our attention, and when we were unbelievably full, we asked for the chef. A gentle looking man with polite demeanour appeared before us and introduced himself as Selva. Language barrier was not a problem to express how delighted and grateful we were for his incredible hospitality. What happened next was bewildering and funny for us urbanites.

Selva, always happy to feed guests.

Selva ran away as if he remembered something and came back with a few baskets, refilled with breads, puris and more omelettes for each of us! Breaking out in a laughter, we had to politely apologise as we had already eaten so much. The expression on Selva’s face was of disbelief and a little hurt i believe. We felt heartbroken at that and asked the Manager to kindly express our heartfelt gratitude and appreciation for his food, and assure him that we will eat well at lunch.

The next few meals, Selva kept running back and forth from the kitchen whenever we asked for a second serving and brought us way more than we could eat! The beauty of Wayanad is the monsoons had already charmed us, and got us to relax and enjoy the amazing views from our resort. In fact, in order to digest all that food, we decided to take a walk down to our car and head to a nearby waterfall hike while it rained heavily. All because we didn’t want to see Selva sad at dinner if we couldn’t eat properly. We had never met anyone like Selva before or after this trip, at least not yet! His eagerness to serve guests ensuring happy tummies, gave us so much joy, it is perhaps indescribable in words.

Such, is the love of the people of Kerala, that keeps pulling us to this beautiful state full of adorable surprises like these stories! At the end of it all, there is nothing more true than the tagline of Kerala Tourism, #HumanByNature.

We made a tribute video on the beauty of Kerala with a legendary Malayalam poem by Chnagampuzham Krishna Pillai. Watch it below:

You should checkout this brilliant campaign video created by the Kerala Tourism Department that captures the true essence of this world famous destination, in its glory!

This post is written in collaboration with Kerala Tourism. The experiences described are personal.

Misty mountains, rain and friends – Magical Wayanad

It was the monsoon of 2017, that time when Bombay got almost flooded, again, remember! We were all set for our trip to Bali, all the bookings being done well in advance. Traveling to a different country for the first time ever, the excitement, caution and pre-planning gave us a lot to think about. Yes, we do not have money to travel the world just as yet!
Joy helped chalk out the itinerary for 5 nights and 6 days. The brilliant part was we were doing so many things on different corners of the island paradise in so less time. But lets keep that for another story. This story is about an impromptu plan, a bunch of crazy friends in a car and Kerala in the monsoons.

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Cure to travel hangover- another trip!

We had two days left from the scheduled leaves after our return. To fill that up and cure the hangover from being mesmerised in Bali, which we were pretty sure we would, we had to plan something. It is almost impossible to head straight back home after such a long awaited trip!
So, we booked ourselves on another flight to Bengaluru the same night as our return. Crazy as it was, we did manage to come back home, drop beach bags and pick up the road trip packs, making it back to the Mumbai airport, well, just in time!.
My cousin picked us up from the Bengaluru airport on a Thursday morning, and we were joined by my school friend. We headed for Wayanad after stocking up for the road (the essentials of course and some beers).
Despite being in Bangalore for over three years, I had never really travelled to Kerala. Wayanad seemed like the best place to absorb the richness of the monsoon glory, starting our interaction  with Mallu Land.
Moving on, we had some epic moments on the way right from being refused toilet access at a local resort, asked to share our beers with some local boys taking a dip in the pond beside the highway, to hunting little town markets in search of smoking papers. We could find none after hours of wandering about.
The best part was when we reached our resort in Kalpatta, little outside the main town around 7 PM. The Manager, Mr. Sunil had called us  prior and told us we will have to park our car and take the resort jeep to reach our cottages. Little did we know what was in store for us all tired and jet lagged from back to back flights and a 6 hour drive. It was drizzling slightly.

A Jeep ride like never before!

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Upon taking a wild jeep ride (it felt like we were in the arms of Kong, who is climbing a mountain blind! No joke.) for straight 20 minutes in pitch dark blackness, pouring sky and the eerie sound of crickets, we reached the mountain top. Mr. Sunil of Marmalade Springs welcomed us with hot coffee from the estate and an invitation to dinner. We were the only guests that night so one can imagine the lovely Malayali cook to shower us with his culinary specialties. We stuffed ourselves to the brim because the food was yummier than anything I had had in the whole of South India! Forgot to take a picture. OOPS!
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Marmalade Springs Coffee Estate

The balcony of our cottages opened straight to the beautiful valley below, and we thoroughly enjoyed catching up on long lost conversations as a family for the night. Next morning started with sumptuous breakfast at the courtesy of Selva, who was thrilled to get double the amount of whatever we asked for. The view was simply breathtaking after all the rain from previous night. The lush was fresh and blooming, the mist was slowly clearing and the swans at the little pond were visibly unhappy with our arrival. It was the perfect setting for a great start to the day.

We headed out to explore a few monsoon musts after a curious and bumpy ride back to the bottom of the resort. It was only in daylight that we discovered the beautiful coffee estate surrounding us. Little coffee beans were hanging by the bunches on every bush. Sunil later explained that the coffee picking season will start in December and we must visit again to get a hands on experience of roasting and brewing the best of Nilgiri coffee!

We visited the Banasura Sagar Dam, hiked to Meenmutty and Soochipara waterfalls and got drenched in the fresh raging waters with almost all our camera gear. A speedboat  ride at the dam under the monsoon sky added a special memory to our archives. Having friends who will always jump around with you with the same energy is a powerful emotion. We are glad to have such people travel with us!

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The second part of this trip calls for a special treat. We have made a video for you all from the first day too! Stay tuned for updates!
Check out the photos below and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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