Walking through Historic Forte Kochi

Up early for our walking tour. We booked with a lady at the hotel next to our homestay. She said she had an elderly gentleman who was a very good historian.

So at 7.30 sharp a very well groomed man appeared outside our homestay. Mr Anthony Thommen was smiling widely and spoke in a gentle way. He launched into a little story about himself telling us he was born in the area, was a historian an author and guide and lived alone since his wife’s death and his only child had moved away.

We began the story of Fort Cochin or Kochi as it’s known locally, in Princess St. We heard about the Portuguese arriving and settling up trading, then the arrival of the Dutch and finally the British. We wandered along the narrow streets stopping at Anthony’s street and then the large Catholic Basilica.

We heard about the rebuilding of the Basilica and how Anthony spent a year in the Seminary.

We moved along through streets dotted with houses showing distinct Dutch and English influence.

We saw our first lot of young men playing cricket! On a dusty ground.

And visited the Bishops House and Museum.

Next stop was the Dutch Cemetery. This was turning into a history / religious tour of Kochi. Not that I minded.

We visited the elephants I had seen yesterday and then spied a lot of photographers along with couples posing. Seems it is ‘post wedding photo week.’ Just before Valentines Day. Some lovely couples posed with just one in a wedding dress.

Our last stop was St Francis Church and Vasco de Gama’s house

Mr Anthony was more than keen to continue but after 2.5 hours we were ready for breakfast!

We paid him and he asked if we’d like to buy his book. How could we refuse. He was so sweet. So he found us later at the breakfast place and three of us bought his book!

By now all power was off. The poor shop keepers were beside themselves. No one was coming into their dark hot shops. Our rooms were hot and noisy – the hotel right next door had a generator making a huge racket. So I went walking by the water and eventually took my book out and enjoyed a read in the sea breeze.

Marlene and I also had another stroll and visited our Homestay’s brothers guesthouse a little further out.

It was charming. If you’re coming to this area the Delight Homestay looks good. It’s opposite a park and has lovely big rooms set in a garden. it’s also very reasonably priced. Around $A30 a night.

We had a lovely last night dinner at a hotel by the water. We all decided we had to wear something we had bought on the trip.

To top it off three of us Marlene, Linda and I all bought the same white dress! We decided we chance not ever wearing it on the same day!

Tomorrow we leave. I’ll miss the smiling faces and the colours.

It’s been such a wonderful holiday. Temples, the history, the bronze casters, mud bricks, tea plantations, dancing Shivas, beautiful people, colourful saris and men in dhoti, great food, elephants, farms, fashion, yoga and lots of laughter.

To my travelling Sari sisters. Thank you.

Fort Cochin : an Indian port with flavour.

Saying goodbye to George, Dai their daughter Susan and baby and Grandma is sad after a truly genuine Kerala experience.

But a new adventure awaits. This time in Fort Cochin or Fort Kochi. It’s was a small fishing village settled in the 1500 by the Portuguese. They were here for 160 years so the influence can be seen – a little evidence remains. Then the Dutch came and for 112 years took control. Again they left their mark after destroying many of the Original buildings. Finally the British arrived and fought for control. They stayed until 1947 so once again the building and customs reflect British influence.

We arrived around lunch time and checked into Walton’s Homestay. It’s more a hotel than a homestay but the family who run the business are very lovely people Mr & Mrs Walton and their daughter Charlotte.

http://www.waltonshomestay.com

We settled into our home for 2 nights and walked out onto Princess St for a spot of shopping. We’d had a detox from shops at our last farm stay and were ready for action. We all separated to explore ourselves and I headed for the water and checked out the Chinese fishing nets. These are something to watch.

Legend has it that a Chinese explorer introduced these nets over 500 years ago.

Dawn and dusk is when you see these in greater action but they were working some early afternoon!

Over four fishermen operate them

check out this video. It’s fascinating to watch.

I continued along the water front and came up a wonderful exhibition. It’s a travelling one and is here in Kochi for a few weeks.

It’s about the co existence between man and elephants. There are 100 elephants on display all made out of lantana.

It’s wonderful.

https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/english.manoramaonline.com/lifestyle/news/2019/01/27/lantana-elephant-biodiversity-message.amp.html

I continued on and found some wonderful buildings of Dutch and English influence and then gave in and looked at the wonderful cotton clothes for sale. I bought two dresses at Anokhi

https://www.anokhi.com

There are some wonderful hand blocked clothes. I couldn’t resist!

Dinner was at the hotel near our homestay. The Jetty restaurant at the Forte Hotel. It’s lovely with the most beautiful staff. But it doesn’t serve any alcohol. The water was lovely!

After dinner we walked a little and enjoyed the cooler night air.

Tomorrow our hotel will be without power from 11-5pm as are all the businesses and hotels without generators. We could be revisiting the Forte Hotel!

Water taxi along the Waterways of Kerala

Breakfast is becoming a feature in our Kerala home stay. What do readers like to eat when on holidays?

Staying in a home Stay you are given something different each day. In fact all meals we have shared here have been wonderful and I’ve lived not having to choose from a menu. Dai, Georges wife has prepared the most delicious local foods using produce almost entirely from their farm – except for the fish and chicken which have cone from the other local producers. All organic.

Today’s breakfast was puttu. George served us pineapple to start then came to the table with a pan with what looked like rice rolls. He cut a section off and put it on the plate then squashed it down. Then he peeled two tiny bananas and mashed it in and mixed it round before topping it with a palm sugar syrup. Quite a treat. Along with coffee roasted from the coffee trees on his organic farm.

We set off along the lane way beside the small river. We had a 40 min walk and three bridges to cross to get to the local ferry.

It was a lovely shaded walk with houses dotted along the way. All different coloured houses.

The houses here are being redone after the devastating floods experienced last year. All the houses along the river were flooded including George’s homestay. It’s had an effect on tourism in the area. George said it’s been slow for the tourists to return.

I can reassure you all that it’s now safe to come here. It all being refreshed and looks good. So if you’re thinking of a holiday in this area of Kerala please come. The people are lovely. It’s clean and the food is great.

As we travelled along the river we saw people on their way to work and children off to school. The uniforms are neat and clean and the girls have big white bows in their hair. Little girls seem to have short hair and as they grow so does their hair. And they plait it finishing each plait with a white bow.

We spotted flocks of ducks all paddling away and glided past rice fields almost ready for harvest. We noticed many of the house boats used by tourists for a few days on the waterways. So many empty ones. The lack of tourists is hurting this area.

The locals on the ferry were friendly and like asking us questions always starting with our names and where we live.

The 1hr 45 min trip down cost us 65 rupee. The equivalent to $A1.30 for all 5 of us. Unfortunately Marlene has an upset stomach today. Hope it wasn’t the fish!

The journey ended near Muhamma on the Great Lake so we got off the boat for a walk and found another St George Church. He’s a favourite saint around here. We’ve spotted many St George , St Anthony and St Joseph churches and schools.

After the boat refueled we reboarded for the trip home. I’m having time to take photos and write up my blog.

Only problem is after last nights rain the internet at George’s place is down. So I have several posts to upload!

We arrived home for lunch. Today delivered by George to our terrace. Dosa with potato curry filling. Later today after the last three have their massages we made another attempt to go to the Temple.

After an early dinner – this time a delicious chicken curry, we boarded the two tuk tuks from last night. We had these two guys last night so they greeted us like old friends and we set off in the evening light to the Temple 15 km away. It felt strange being back in the busyness of a small city after the quietness of George’s village.

We arrived at the Temple with its big car park in front. It’s festival time and everyone was out ready to enjoy it. The car park was abuzz with flashing lights and stalls not unlike those at sideshow alley at the Ekka of a fairground. There were balloons, lights, clackers and other junky items being bought by locals and Indians from regions surrounding this area.

We left our shoes in the tuk in preparation for entering the temple. But I’ve now learnt that the ground can be hard and pebbly so decided to wear some socks which I would have to throw out later. I noticed George also wore his socks!

We made our way through the crowds stopping to admire the twirling whirlwinds – men with huge tree like structures on their heads turning around so fast I’m surprised they could stand up!

We entered the temple – unlike any we have seen in the Tamil Nadu area and were immediately awe struck. There in a line were 6 enormous elephants decorated with headdresses with 3 men sitting atop them. They were chained and stood facing men with big fire sticks. The noise was incredible. The elephants looked happy enough – especially as they were constantly being fed palm fronds but one wonders how they are really feeling about this circus going on around them. We watched, totally fascinated, before taking a walk around the temple.

It’s quite a different feel. People are sitting on the steps dressed in their best saris and dhotis – all chatting.

An hour or so of people and elephant watching was enough so we headed back to George’s peaceful farm.

Meandering down a Kerala River

George and his wife Dai live in the house at the front of the garden block , opposite the river and the 4 homestay rooms are towards the back looking past hammocks slung in trees over to green and golden rice paddies.

From the WebSite:

http://www.gkhomestay-kumarakom.com

‘Situated on the bank of river Meenachil in Aymanam, it is just 3 kilometres from the huge Vembanad lake and bird sanctuary. The village is an unbelievably beautiful paradise of mangrove forests, emerald green paddy (rice) fields and coconut groves interspersed with enchanting water ways and canals adorned with spices and medicinal plants. It is an ideal place to explore Kerala’s traditions, real village life and to stay for a period in a calm and quiet pollution free zone. The village is decorated with ancient Christian churches, Hindu temples, country and snake boats. These snake boats can carry more than 100 rowers at a time. A boat journey through the back waters will be an unforgettable event.

Our rooms are big, simply but well furnished with good basic bathrooms, air con and fans, a fridge, hairdryer! lots of water, and a verandah with fans for relaxing. ‘

Our dinner in the main house was cooked by his lovely wife Di and served by George. Organic home cooking. A vegetarian curry with eggs and potatoes. Delicious. Followed by spiced carrot cake.

His daughter is visiting from Bangalore with her 3 month old baby girl. She’s very sweet and all the Grandmothers wanted a nurse!

George speaks very good English. He worked for 17 years in Oman – for the Sultan ! He has many good stories to tell.

We walked back down the drive to our 4 rooms overlooking the rice padi and had a quiet sleep. This time I have a room on my own and it’s rather nice to spread out.

We got up early in the cool of the morning for a trip in a large canoe down the river at our doorstep.

Our boat man is 75 and took a very leisurely pace along the cool calm river so we could observe the village life.

It’s hard to describe how beautiful and peaceful it was. The bird life is wonderful, the people bathing and washing clothes all waved in a friendly way greeting us with a “how are you” as we passed. We glided past several Catholic churches where the singing was was tuneful and mesmerising.

We saw families washing together, little groups of women in bright coloured saris walking under the shade of the trees.

We glided under bridges waving to the children playing or riding bikes.

The water is covered in places with a water weed and apparently there are river snakes though we didn’t see any.

At one point we stopped and got out to look at what they call a ‘snake boat’. It’s long and decorated and has seats 60. Twice a year at rice harvest there is a race along the river. Four boats compete and the whole village participate. Indians love a festival.

We arrived back at a George’s house for breakfast. Di had made us banana coconut pancakes with a few spices making it a delicious treat.

Then it was our washing day. Just like the village people we washed in buckets (not on stones in the river ) and hung out clothes around the garden – from trees, hammocks and a live slung under the eaves.

We chatted and sorted photos and read up on where we’ll be going next. A late but light lunch was brought to us by George. It was a vegetable curry with idly. Perfect.

Later in the afternoon after a walk it was massage time. I was first and went into the bathroom area of the main house. A lovely lady in a coloured sari was waiting for me. She was not very tall but very sturdy and strong. It was to be a Ayurveda massage with special oils.

All clothes off and into chair where my head and face were massaged first. My hair was pasted with oil and I received the most gorgeous face massage. And head!

Then onto a rather high narrow table covered in a brown coloured plastic and the bathing in Ayurveda oils started. It was heavenly.

But the end of it I felt like a baby being nurtured. It was wonderful.

Getting off the table felt like a fish sliding off a river back and

I slid into the shower room and was given a big bucket of hot water with a little bucket to dip in and tip all over myself.

I floated back to the room for a cup of herbal tea and a lie down.

Linda followed me and had the same expression on her face when she returned an hour later.

George popped by the give us the plans for our evening visit to a temple for a special festival involving elephants. How could we say no!

We planned on leaving by tuk tuk at 6.45.

He also walked us around the garden pointing out the cashew tree and explained how they are harvested and toasted. Then onto the story of this rice padi. He has about an acre which is green and lush and will be harvested in 2 weeks. He wanted to dry it out so will start draining the field tomorrow. Unfortunately for George it looks like rain tonight.

And so it was. As we set off in the tuk tuk it started bucketing down. We drove along exposed to the rain on both open sides of the tuk and after 10 mins headed back home.

Not temple or elephants tonight so an earlier dinner. Fresh caught lake fish in a tomato curry sauce. Amazing flavours. And no one has had an upset stomach.

Another quiet night awaits.

Kerala: a little piece of Paradise

http://olivebrookmunnar.com

Our host at Olive Brook resort

showed us around the garden talking about the plants and some of the methods they used.

We loaded up the bus and headed off to find the ATM in Munnar. Not always easy.

Then the journey down the mountains towards Cochin. It’s not far in km but it takes awhile because the roads are narrow and bumpy.

Along the way we stopped at an Ayurveda Spice Garden. We climbed the tree house and went in the Jeep down into the garden.

It was set out well with the trees marking the path painted jaunty colours. Our guide Teddu was there to explain all the uses of the Ayurveda plants. He explained each one in detail and believe me there was a cure for everything- from headaches to high blood pressure to varicose veins and all the pills and creams were available to buy in the shop. Unfortunately I’m not going to throw out my present medications. Though I’d like to give the one for inflammation a go.

Back on the road, we saw a truck clip a bike and both rider and passenger were shaken but hopefully ok.

Then we passed a family of monkeys.

What we were looking for was a wine shop! We are headed for a 3 night home stay and decided we’d like a bottle of wine. This is despite the fact it’s an organic farm with all vegetarian food.

We’ll also be enjoying an Ayurveda massage!

We stopped at a sad looking bar and realised that the Indian people do not drink like we do – to enjoy a glass with dinner.

So on we pressed for Kottayam- and the exact area where the author Arendhoti Roy comes from. Her book The God of Small Things was set in this area and our host George knows her well.

George was at the gate to greet us and straightaway we knew we were in for an authentic home stay.

Hello Kerala

There’s nothing like a swim before breakfast in a warm climate.

Another dosa with sambal and assorted chutney along with paw paw and pineapple made a perfect breakfast before our trip to Munnar in Kerala.

It’s supposed to be a 4 hour trip but another traveller warned the road for the last part of the journey was very rough.

Our new driver inspires confidence. He’s well dressed and has good English and doesn’t seem preoccupied with his hair.

Setting off around 9 we headed west. We were surprised that this area of Tamil Nadu seemed more prosperous.

After a coffee stop where for the first time the owner hinted that a tip might be in order. So as he also supplied a cleanish squat toilet we did tip. At 200 rupees ( $A4) we were happy to leave him a tip.

Before long we were driving towards the area known as the Western Gnats.

Another stop at a mud brick works where three women were making mud bricks and keeping the kiln working. Such hard work but they were charming to us allowing photos. Our driver said they make 200 rupees a day but are housed by the Govt and their children educated.

Driving along you come across all sorts of things. Including parades with firecrackers. We’re told they are festivals!

Climbing up the Western Ghats was so interesting. The views spectacular. We hit the top and crossed over into Kerala state. Here the roads haven’t been upgraded. They are in the process of widening and repairing damage from the storms last year. It was hard going. Pot holes, dust , narrow places to pass but the views were great and the tea plantations beautiful to look at.

We stopped at a tea plantation for a tour and so found out about the process and the difference between the white tea, green and black tea ( of which there are 4 grades). The white tea has the most health benefits and was around $A24 for 600 gr.

A quick cup of tea and we were back on the bus for Munnar.

This small town is the centre for tea production and Ayurveda medicines. We stopped for a quick look then continued on to a cultural show.

These Cultural shows are often fascinating but are better if you can understand what is happening. The sound and narration wasn’t good though the costumes and make up were wonderful.

By the time we arrived at our hotel the Olive Brook Resort we were ready for a G & T and dinner. This hotel is a few km out of Munnar along a very bumpy road. It’s a little oasis in the cool hill. It’s almost English style with beautiful gardens.

Both were very welcome. As this is a cashew area some of us has the Cashew Chicken. Delicious

Our rooms were spread through a garden and for a change we had no air con. Fortunately I was with Shelley who also like fresh air and as it’s higher and cooler here we hoped for no mozzies!

We enjoyed a great sleep and woke to birds tweeting. So different to cars tooting!