Due to the unforeseen pandemic that prolonged for two years, after two years of their wedding, Deborah and Roger from Switzerland have selected Kerala to be the first venue of their honeymoon Trip. They are one of the first tourists to land in Kerala after the national borders across the world are opened for “human travellers”. Claire Martignier and Rita Rosser of India &You, the Neuchâtel City-based tour operator in Switzerland, have done all the ground arrangements through their Indian Counterpart, Dravidian Trails, a Cochin-based Tour Operator. “They were particular in selecting Kerala as their first gateway to India as they were lured by the fables on the state’s contribution to the Tourism World,” says Rita Rosser, the Travel Manager of India &You.
“Kerala’s world-famous health standards also influenced the guests’ preference in selecting Kerala as their longest stay in India”, said Aneeshmon, the Team Manager of Dravidian Trails who has chalked out the tour by carefully including all the spices of Kerala experiences, ranging from beaches, wildlife, backwaters, cities, and heritage.
Deborah and Roger were taming the waves of the Arabian Sea on a morning beach session, when I met them in the Niramaya Beach resort, in Pulinkudi near Vizhinjam, on the southern coast of Trivandrum. My mission was to lead their Kerala Visits, being a German-speaking professional guide belonging to India Tourism by handling the academic, linguistic, and aesthetic sides of their holiday. Apart from being a tourism professional, I enjoy every travel with my clients as an inquisitive traveller. That makes me scribble down my travel impressions and play my second role as a Travel Writer.
The former Surya Samudra Beach Garden renamed as Niramaya Beach Resort is the very first Heritage Resort in Kerala commenced in the early 80s, by transplanting the traditional Kerala Houses of Nalukettu, and Ettukettu as the rooms, the style of accommodation became a spree in the Kerala Tourism later.
An hour later, when the summer rain started to sprinkle, another one-hour journey took us to Kottoor Elephant Camp as the beginning of our Kerala exploration. The Elephant Camp teaches a visitor the day-to-day life of elephants. Vishnu V, a Vizhinjam resident, with his Toyota Innova car was behind the wheels for the whole tour and took us to Duke’s Resort, Vithura. Duke’s resort- nestled on the lap of the southern part of Western Ghats – is a five-room resort famous for its personalized staying facilities. Deborah and Roger were the only guests in that haven rise on the banks of River Kallar– etymologically “the pebbled-river”, that flows down from the Ponmudi Hills. Here symphony of the nature is harmoniously rhythmic with the flowing streams in the vicinity giving a memorable experience of a lifetime.
They have readily accepted my suggestions to make the tour far different from a conventional package tour into a local experience tour, which is my usual practice when I am on an assignment. Hence, we could amalgamate their Honeymoon vacation along with visiting and experiencing the local cultures, ways of lifestyle, working skills, etc by mingling with the folk of every spot, and culinary exploration of the indigenous and rustic cuisine. The exploration of palates began with tri-colored bananas, red, green, and yellow. When the tour progressed various native food like Kerala Sadya, Masala Dosa, Fish curry with cooked tapioca, Local Biriyani, Beef fried in Pepper with Parotta, Duck Meat, to the local snacks like Dal Vada, Fortkochi Pathiri, Kerala deserts such as Payasam, Halwa, Unniappam, Masala Tea to the “one-meter Tea” of typical road-side teashops were tasted on every stop of the drive. These local food experiences took them with more vigour to the already planned, famous cooking class of Nimmy Paul in Fortkochi, at the end of the tour.
Another treat was the journey on the next day towards Thekkady through the winding roads of Western Ghats. Seven hours-long drive took us from Vithura through the Sabarimala – Erumeli route where the Ayyappa Temple and Vavar Mosque are situated which is considered to be an icon of religious harmony in Kerala. The summer rain of April has “chased” us to the half number of days of the tour. The rain stole some parts of the second day’s journey that gave us only filtered views of nature at certain points. The day’s drive ended in Spice Village Resort for a three nights stay that is set up among the trees, bushes, and plants of the spice garden. The next 2 days were bustled with various programs based on nature and cultural activities.
Nature Walk on the third day through the Periyar Tiger reserve was intended on a trail of wildlife accompanied by an experienced naturalist with a short Bamboo Rafting ride across the River Periyar. Later in the afternoon, the popular Periyar Boat Ride brought us before the wild animals hidden among the trees of Shola Forests and the grasslands. We could see the swimming elephants, herds of Indian gaur, wild boar, sambar deer, Nilgiri langur, Giant Malabar Squirrel, etc. Deborah and Roger’s eyes sparkled when I could spot out and pointed to the aquatic birds like Cormorants and Darters feeding their babies on the nests which are clearly visible some foot away from the boat on the live tree branches still rising on the water.
The next forenoon made us busy with a traditional Spice Garden Visit that houses almost all plants and trees of spices except Saffron. The Garden Walk became a walk for knowledge on spices to the curious Swiss couple. Most of the spice plants, especially Cardamom-the Queen of Spices- were seen for the first time in Thekkady. A short rain spray in the afternoon forced us all to rest in the Resort itself. By twilight, we walked towards the traditional Martial Arts Centre to watch the Kalaripayattu performance run by Thajudeen, which is some yards away from Spice Village. Kalarippayattu, the traditional martial art of Kerala is considered to be the forefather of Karate and Kung-fu. The one-hour program became another attraction to their Kerala visits. Later Deborah and Roger posed for photographs with the martial artists.
Their three-day-long stay in Thekkady was at an altitude of 900 MSL with multiple interesting activities. The next destination surprisingly lies below sea level in the Coconut Lagoon Resort on the shores of Kumarakom Backwaters. Again the winding roads downwards led our journey through the valleys of Western Ghats, passing blue mountains wrapped here and there with silver waterfalls, and streams, and later through the Rubber plantations and busy Kottayam town to the Kumarakom Backwaters. The 10 minutes long ferry took us to the hotel reception, right in front of the picturesque Vembanad Lake. Deborah and Roger along with me were welcomed by Tender Coconut with the Kerala Saree-clad ladies with their million dollars’ worth of smiling faces.
Another set of surprises was awaiting the guests in the aesthetically-rich resort, where again the rooms were transplanted in Kerala’s traditional wooden houses set amidst small canals, abundant tall coconut trees, and unparallel hospitality services. The proximity of the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary has made the innumerable indigenous water birds and the small population of migratory birds – those left behind there towards the end of their visiting season in the Vembanad Lake – come together and waved their welcome notes into their territory during our Sunset Boat Cruise. The Sun is set for the day with a red sky.
The next day was taken over by the romantic Kettuvallom Houseboat Cruise through the large Lake and then through small canals, on both sides paddy fields that offered a close view of village life. Mouthwatering Kerala Lunch cooked and served on board on fresh banana leaves. The already humid day was chilled by nature’s cool breeze. Local fishermen offered their catch of the day when Roger tried to photograph them as a token for their “Modelling”. While the Snake-bird dived into the water for its catch of the day, a Rat snake swam away a bit afar. Then it was the turn of King Fishers to pose for Roger’s Camera. The cruise ended in Coconut Lagoon by early evening as a Butterfly Garden visit along with the bird-watching walk was scheduled for the couple in the resort.
While India & You, founded and headed by Claire Martignier promotes and sells Destination India to Swiss Tourists, by all its means-Dravidian Trails– with its head office in Cochin specializes in offering their unique, extremely professional hospitality services in South India as a specialized Destination Management Company. Rita of India & You handle the south Indian queries and her south Indian counterpart Aneeshmon, the Team Manager of Dravidian Trails chalk out the tour packages by carefully designing unique Itineraries, competitive services, and the available best accommodation facilities. Prior to and during the tour, Rita was constantly in touch with me through voice and video calls discussing day-to-day adventures and unconventional travel experiences I provide instantly and spontaneously to enrich the holidays of Deborah and Roger.
The Physics Graduate Vishnu V, a Spice Shop entrepreneur turned tourist taxi driver due to the onslaught of covid crisis, with his appreciable co-operation and patience, played a vital role in the successful realization of the 09-day long honeymoon trip of Deborah and Roger. Vishnu is well versed with the routes of South India like the lines of his palms.
As Cochin is the last destination of their Kerala Tour, we have proceeded for and checked in the Old Harbour Heritage Hotel in Fort Kochi. The late noon was devoured for a cooking class with the family of Nimmy Paul, who is a noted personality in the field of cooking classes for visiting tourists to Cochin. The couple was found immersed in the traditional cooking techniques of Kerala cuisine.
“Heritage Walks” through the colonial paths of Fortkochi and then through bustling Jewish Street unto the Jewish Synagogue were part of a half-day Cochin visit. A one-hour visit to the Dutch Palace protected by the Archeological Survey of India gave Deborah and Roger an insight into the historical and cultural legacy of Cochin. By visiting the tomb of the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama in the St. Francis Church, the oldest European Church in India, I could lead their mind into the debut of the colonial era in India.
The Dhobi-khana visits in the vicinity of Fort Kochi busied my guests socializing with the local cloth-washing community, situated under many gigantic rain trees. Debhorah was successful in using the traditional coconut shell charcoal-filled Iron Box, which is a rare one to find nowadays. Roger extended his helping hands to fold the dried clothes brought in bundles that filled the arena with an outburst of applause and triumphant laughs. Again, a photo session was enacted.
A view of tall Chinese Fishing Nets stands tall on the estuary in the background of the evening red sky adorning the beauty of Fortkochi Beach forcing the couple to spend more time there. Then we moved to Seagull Restaurant on the waterfront, the balcony of which is projected into the waters, where an array of Seafood was waiting for us with a clear view of the sinking Sun into the Arabian Sea.
On their last free day in Kerala – before leaving for New Delhi and then to Vietnam and Tanzania-I have accompanied them to experience Public Transport in view of making them mingle with the local folk. Travelling by state-owned Ferry boat, Jangar Boat that ferries people along with the vehicles, State Transport local bus, Private Bus, Kochi Metrorail and the “Tuk-Tuk” – the chariot of common man, was the last-minute decision that turned out to be an unexpected fun of the tour.
During the departure transfer at Cochin International airport, when we greeted each other “Auf Wiedersehen” in the German language, Vishnu also greeted us the same “till we meet again” in German that he learned from us during our travel.
Rita Rosser, later who met me personally during the Kerala Travel Mart held in Cochin in the first week of May 2022 conveyed the Excellent Feedback of the whole tour and for my services have ignited my happiness and self-esteem as a professional German-speaking guide. I have passed my best regards to Deborah and Roger through Rita and awaiting the new dates to receive their new guests as mentioned by Rita during the visits. It was one of the wonderful assignments in my career that span over a score of years.
By AJAI KUMAR K S
AJAI is a Travel Writer / German Language Interpreter
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