The fragrance of fresh jasmines and the heady aromas of freshly brewed coffee seems to greet you everywhere… And, if greenery revives your spirits, there is an overdose of it in every nook and corner!
With COVID-19 infections ebbing, travel restrictions eased, and Eid holidays round the corner, one of the easiest, yet fulfilling, getaways for people from Oman could be Kerala, in India, which welcomes people from around the world for relaxing retreats all through the year.
You could pack in a punch into your week-long Eid holiday with a quick, four-day trip to this greenland, often referred to as ‘God’s own country’, and come back refreshed, rejuvenated, yet with an insatiable desire to return at the next opportunity.
Just about a three-hour flight from Muscat, the southern state of India offers numerous packages of varied experiences for anxious individuals and families who have been bogged down with two years of uncertainties, lock-downs, and restrictions in movement. One can tailor a trip to suit one’s own timeframe as tour operators are flexible in creating varied experiences for different type of tourists.
Though the state offers a diverse landscape and gastronomical delights in a space of every 20km, a smart traveller can chose his destinations wisely and also get an opportunity to refresh his body and soul in merely four days. Travel will not be hectic as the state is well connected with public transport as well as private transport options like Uber, Ola, and private cars.
I made a quick trip to Kerala, travelling via Abu Dhabi and landing directly in Kochi. The city, like any other metro, has fancy high-rises restaurants, malls (including the familiar Lulu), night clubs, OYO stay options, busy traffic, and busier office-goers.
It was my very first experience, and the vast stretches of coconut trees, the pleasant sea breeze, and the sight of colourful scooters, reminded me of my trips to Phuket, Gale and Salalah.
For most of us, travelling equals a break from the Babel tower of deadlines and commitments. My first stop was at Munnar – a hill station known for its vast tea plantations. En route, I also dropped by the famous Guruvayur temple and visited the famous elephant park where the jumbos are protected by the temple trust and are looked after like children.
It was an exciting experience to watch the jumbos enjoy showers and play mischief with their mahouts. We were told to stay alert and not antagonise the gentle giants in our enthusiasm to take selfies – but can you avoid doing so!
On the way to Munnar, you see pleasing waterfalls among the wild hills. Known for its tea plantations, and cool fog every morning and evening, this hill station is located in Idukki district, around 1,600m above sea level. A popular honeymoon destination, Munnar offers serenity and wilderness within a small radius.
Several resorts and cottages are available at prices to suit one’s pocket and preferences. And the beauty of the place gets enhanced after dusk when insects of varied hues take over the evening with high-pitched renditions that are both, pleasant as well as irritating.
If you are outdoors after dusk, be prepared to get caught amid fog and navigate yourself safely back to your lodge. There are twelve spots to see in Munnar within one day – this includes the Elephant Pass, a stretch of land in the forest where families of elephants pass every day around 5pm, a rose garden, a spice garden, and a romantic ‘Echo Point’. One can also get acquainted with the process of making tea and taste some of the world famous blends at some outlets in the area.
My next stop was Allepy and I was lucky enough to reach there when a beach festival was on. I had expected a carnival as in Goa but was a bit disappointed as the beach party was merely a family affair with street food, folk songs and traditional revelry. You must try some of the local fruit juices, as well as wander along the beach, though with caution, as the high tide can be ruthless in drenching you in an instant.
After experiencing the hills and the seaside, I then headed for the most celebrated experience of spending a day on a houseboat in the backwaters of Kumarakom. With a red carpet welcome from the owner (Sweeten George), this experience was something not to be missed on a trip to Kerala.
With the luxury of a hotel within, the boat traversed across the backwaters revealing interesting sights all day along the emerald green waters. Village houses, flower gardens orchards and small markets along the route added colour to the experience. One can stop by to purchase fruit, fish and mementos sold by village folk as well as enjoy traditional food cooked by a cook on board.
Our captain Pollan, who doubled up as a cook as well as a handyman, prepared fresh fish (caught off the backwaters) with streamed rice and vegetables as per traditional recipes and also delighted us with sumptuous deserts made from rice, coconut milk and immensely fragrant cardamoms.
The deck was equipped with a music system and one could use it as a discotheque if accompanied by a group of revellers. You could also catch glimpses of other houseboats in the vicinity with TikTok stars and vloggers having a field day.
On the two sides, churches, temples and mosques decked the shores. The early morning greets with Bhajans followed by Azans and next follows the bells of small chapels. A few big churches have sculptures of Michaelangelo, and for the faithful, La Pieta in shining marble make us believe that God doesn’t only dwell in Rome.
By 6pm, the houseboats drop anchor for the night and one can enjoy an early dinner followed by a night under the stars, wherein you have a story-telling or sing-song session, till you are ready for a calm night’s sleep in air-conditioned comfort in your cabin.
As darkness falls, the coconut trees along the sides sway with an eerie stride and the distant lights from a coffee shop seem to signal the end of a pleasant day. The shrill cries of homecoming birds and the twinkling stars seem to whisper, “Life’s a boat…keep sailing, make your journey memorable.”
Kerala is much more than this – it’s up to you to plan your own package of delights and gather memories to cherish.