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 Travel & Leisure

July2009
Kerala in the Rains
Mukesh Khosla
Monsoons bring the best out of Kerala. Whether cruising the backwaters or bird-watching or even getting an aromatic massage, rains spell magic in God's own country.

Though Kerala is worth a visit any time of year, the monsoon season is a special treat for the nature lover because of its lush green landscapes and picture postcard settings. Rains cast a magical spell on the tropical paradise known for its backwaters and rejuvenating massages. The countryside becomes lush green, the otherwise serene lakes are in full flow and a refreshing wind sweeps through the rain-kissed golden beaches and thick jungles.

COCHIN FACTFILE

How to reach cochin (Kochi)

Kochi is well connected by air, rail, road and waterways to all major cities within and outside Kerala.

Climate

Not many swings in weather. Summer from April to May; Monsoon from June to July; Mild winter from October to March (22-32 degrees C).

What to wear

Cool cotton clothes, sunglasses, sunscreen lotion etc.

Where to Stay
Cochin has a plethora of hotels ranging from budget to 5-Stars to suit all pockets.

Food
All standard restaurants offer a variety of cuisines including Continental, Chinese and Indian. But when in Cochin just stick to the delicious Kerala fare.

Places to See
Known as the Queen of Arabian Sea, Cochin offers a plethora of visuals including the famed Chinese fishing nets, monuments, synagogues, churches, museums & ancient forts.


Kerala during monsoon is the place to be, where the lush green and the grey overcast sky are the only colours on nature's palette. Interestingly, unlike Goa, Kerala is not known as a monsoon destination. But euphoric surprise awaits tourists who come for a vacation during the rains. There is a variety of attractions on offer - from an invigorating dip in the sea to a mesmerising cruise on the backwaters in a kettuvallam (houseboat) with the coconut trees nodding gently against a heavily cast skyline.
Visual Feast
That's when you realise there is so much to enjoy in Kerala during the monsoon season. The verdant hills, the famous Western Ghats awash with natural springs, coastal plains and the seas, which make Kerala one of the most exotic tourist destinations. The huge expanses of vegetation ranging from plantations of tea, coffee, rubber and pepper to the emerald green paddy fields, make it a visual feast during the rains.

The arcane rituals and spectacular festivals of the land stimulate even the most jaded imagination, continuing centuries of tradition that has never strayed far from the realms of magic. Travellers weary of daunting metropolises find the drenched Kerala a greatly relaxing experience.

Sometime back the National Geographic magazine selected the state as one of the top 50 destinations in the whole world. Perhaps its editors had visited Kerala during the rains, as we did last year in the middle of October. Incidentally, Kerala witnesses two monsoons annually. The Southwest monsoon in June called Edavappathy (month of Edavam in the Kerala calendar) and the Northeast monsoon called Thulavarsham - October is called Thulam in Malayalam.

It's a sunny afternoon and there is an Innova waiting at the airport to lug us to our resort. Babu, the driver, shows an immaculate set of teeth with his welcome grin. Within minutes we were on our way. With a gentle pitter-patter of rain dropping on the roof, our vehicle speeds on the road with its familiar bumps and potholes. But we can't help thinking how the landscape is a contrast to the clogged and bustling city life. Kerala looks lost in an unhurried bliss. As if frozen in time.

We are pre-booked at a 150-year-old house which is now a resort. There is a sign at the entrance that exhorts us to Please Leave Your World Here. This notice is not to humour us as we are made to don no-frills attire meant to relax the mind and the spirit

Idyllic Mountains
The resort is in Kochi (Cochin), also known as "the land of the cloud-capped hills" with idyllic mountains as backdrop. Its charm lies in it not appearing like a hotel or a spa, but a serious institution where the guest succumbs delightfully to a regimen of discipline that brings a newfound zing to jaded nerves. The manager welcomes us and exhorts us to find time for the Ayurvedic rejuvenation therapy which he says is most effective during monsoons. The pores of the body open completely during this season making the body most amenable to special herbal oils and massages. So we devote the first half of the day to the famed Kerala massage. Surrounded by the steam and fragrance of aromatic oils and vapours all of us look relaxed and in great humour. A massage during the monsoons is said to cure a myriad of ailments.

There is a rich tradition of the Ayurvedic system in Kerala dating back to 600 B.C. The state attracts plenty of tourists who come for the medicated steam baths, herbal oils and gentle rubs that breathe new life into tired bodies and stressed minds.

However, nothing can replace the magic of spending a couple of days on a backwater cruise. We come expecting a small rivulet-style canal. When the boatman points out to the large lapping sea-like expanse, the surprise on our faces takes on another dimension.


Murmur of the Rains
As the luxury wood-and-coir boat cruises lazily in the gently lapping waters, we are mesmerised by the soothing murmur of the rain and the overhanging clouds. It is an experience few can really not be awed by. Watching the weather gods turn the lake from gold to a darkish hue till it finally coalesces into velvet black is a hauntingly magical sight.

In other seasons, our boatman tells us, we can take a dip in the waters. But in monsoons it is best to sit back and enjoy nature at its rollicking best with a piping hot mug of coffee made from freshly ground beans. As we peer at the vast expanse of water we are told that visitors like the apostle St. Thomas (A.D. 52) through whom Christianity came to India before it spread over Europe, and Marco Polo (A.D. 1292) had taken the same route during their halt here.


ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES ON EARTH

With a series of high profile publications like Vogue, Daily Telegraph and World Traveller featuring Kerala on their travel pages, international tourists are finding the state greatly relaxing. Ever since the National Geographic proclaimed Kerala as one of the most beautiful places on earth, it has been attracting tourists in hordes.

Indeed, the most endearing aspect of the state are its quiet backwaters, the inland waterways which add upto a length of nearly 2000 kilometers. "Call it backwaters or lagoons, in Kerala our life depends on them. One can travel in a boat almost the entire length of our state," says Viju John, our boat incharge.

Food is a welcome break. Mealtime in Kerala, we soon discover, is a tangy affair of rice, seafood, coconut-based stews, a slew of spices and a mindboggling array of dishes with banana as the main element.


Exotic Cuisine
But it is the breakfast which is a tourist's delight in Kerala. We have a rich vegetarian fare laid out in front of us. There's a wide variety to choose from-vellayappam (pancake made with a batter of rice flour an. d yeast), puttu (steamed rice with coconut) and kadala (spicy black gram), iddiappams (rice noodles stuffed with coconut) with with milk and sugar, and of course the idlis, uppumas and dosas eaten on banana leaves with uppu manga (curd with raw mango). It's not for nothing that the authoritative Travel & Leisure has termed Kerala's repast as the best in the world which is "almost as much fun to eat as it is delectable."

No trip to Kerala is complete without sampling fresh toddy. The heady brew is brought to us by a toddy-tapper called Suresh who comes alongside in his boat with freshly tapped toddy which is sweet and turns into alcohol after some hours. Johnny the houseboat chef keeps some to cook appams – none of us had a clue that some kind of appams have toddy as an ingredient!



Birds of Varied Plumage
Kerala rains seldom stay for long stretches. They come and go and there is intermittent sunshine with clouds playing hide and seek with the sun. And when the rains stop there is yet another visual feast that awaits the eye - the twitter of birds. Birds of varied plumage have made Kerala their home. White ibises, cormorants and egrets are a welcome sight. If you are lucky you can also see a painted stork or the purple moorehen. Or even the whistling teel.

It is our last morning, but we are still not able to shake off the magic of Kerala in monsoons which seems to have taken over our senses. It is 5.45 AM and we are wide awake waiting breathlessly to spot the birds from our boat. A painted stork glides through the vast emerald water expanse, as the golden sunrays light up the lush green palm trees on the shores of the backwaters.

"Water colours by God," is what someone called this scenery. And we couldn't agree more. The backwaters, we realise, could very easily become a habit.
T Nandakumar is a yoga exponent based in Chennai

    
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