Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Day # 10 : 22nd Dec 2003

We boarded the train at Trivandrum. The train chucked out at 10 am but on the way we were late by 3 hrs on our return journey to Mumbai. We decided to get off at Panvel. It was 23rd Dec, 6.30 pm.

It was an awesome vacation that was going to be part of many memories...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Day # 9 : 21st Dec 2003

It was our last sight seeing day. In the morning after Breakfast at Annapoorna we went to the
Padmanabh temple. It is a beautiful temple wit excellent stone carvings on the ceiling on the Mandap or the holy circumvention path. The holy sanct sanctum has a huge Vishnu on a Sheshashayya ie. bed of snakes. There are three doors through which you can see the Lord.

Later we visited the zoo and museum and drove around the town before returning to our hotel. We bought some elephant heads and replicas of petromax lanterns made in wood. I was now in a wind up mood.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Day # 8 : 20th Dec 2003

This morning we got ready early as we had to go to Trivandrum. One last time we had our breakfast on the porch of Keraleeyam and watched the birds and fishes.

At 8.30 am Aslam arrived to pick us up. we checked out to proceed towards our last destination Thiruvananthapuram. This is the most boring drive passing through Kottayam and Kollam we reached Treasure Cove our hotel. The sea reminded me of Alibag. Treasure Cove was warm and welcoming. It had a court done in Japanese style all with a cascade and little ponds of water with stepping stones.
The room was cozy and the inviting clean bed with white covers, a sofa and side table, a TV and a clean bathroom. The flooring was wooden well polished and had a rustic charm about it. It was part of a two storeyed cottage. It was 1 o'clock so we had a wash and went straight for lunch to the roof top restaurant. It had a great view of the sea. Then after a catnap we went to the Ashoka Beach or better known as Kovalam Beach for a stroll. We spent a few hour lulling under the coconut trees. After sunset we returned to our room and decided to drive down to the town for dinner.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Day # 7 : 19th Dec 2003

Next morning I woke up to the sound of Dad feeding the birds on the machan. I joint him there. We had breakfast on the porch. It was fun watching the local people go about their daily lives using row boats/ cannoes as the means of transport. Women catching fish for lunch on the banks of the backwaters and did all the cleaning and washing there.

After the liesurely morning we decided to go to Kumarkom.

Chartered Cruise to Kumarkom

Aslam took us to a ferry point in Allepey. We negotiated the rates for a launch. The charge was Rs.250/ hr.

The launch had a deck covered with a canopy and 2 chairs.
Before starting out on the cruise we equiped ourselves with 1.5 kgs of Pineapple and other snacks. The launch was operated by Sevakanth. He told us the speed of the launch is 15 km/ hr. Dad navigated it for an hour too.
Passing through the backwaters we went towards Kumarkom bird sanctuary. We began the cruise at 10.30 am and reached the sanctuary at 11.30 am.

We did not see any birds there as they had flown off and would return only at nightfall. It made my Dad comment, "The birds have gone to office." He meant they were out collecting worms.

We then went to Waterscapes, the KTDC resort at Kumarkom for lunch. It was luxury buffet at Rs. 524 for a couple. Dad did not appreciate my extravagance.
We passed by the coconut lagoon and came back to Alleppey. While returning the backwaters looked lovely in the post noon sun. We requested Sevakanth to cruise past Keraleeyam so that we could take picture. Yeah! we did get amazing pictures of our cottage, of the tiny island opposite with its curtain like creepers below which a cannoe was kept.

After 6hrs of the cruise we returned to Allepey and drove back to Keraleeyam and decided to spend the evening just relaxing and watching the birds, fishes and houseboats passing by. We promised ourselves to come back to Allepey again just to stay at Keraleeyam.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Day # 6 : 18th Dec 2003

We checked out of the High Range Hotel as we had to drive to Allepey.

On the way we stopped to see a Spice garden. It was a 1.5 acres of privately owned orchard. It was maintained specially for tourists. The owner Shinoj gave interesting information of the different plants and trees. However the fee for it was pretty high Rs. 100 / person.

We saw a cocoa plant and tasted raw cocoa beans. The fruit looks like a papaya. It bears about 15 to 20 beans that are dried and roasted to get chocolate. We saw the pepper plants which are actually creepers. The pepper berries are borne in bunches. Fresh pepper is green in color. When dried with the skin it yields black pepper. Whereas the white pepper is obtained by peeling the green skin and then dryin it.

Pepper plant

The cinnamon tree yields the cinnamon bark that we use as spice. The bark is never peeled completely. See the sketch.
The bark is always peeled only 2 quarters at a time. The other quarter is peeled in the next year. In India the bark is used as spice but the real cinnamon which is the solid central wood is the real cinnamon. This goes to the western market and is used in sweets, chocolates and baked goodies. So ofcourse the solid cinnamon stick is more expensive.

Here we saw banana plants of different varieties. The type whose flower grows upright instead of the drooping variety was the most unusual. This variety has tiny fruit and is not edible. In Kerala they grow 22 varieties of banana. We saw quite a few varieties at the market like the big long, the red plump, yellow elaichi, yellow plump, the green regular etc.

Cradamom is also grown widely and is harvested every 40 days ie 9 times a year. The green harvest in dried in mills. It looses water and yeilds just 15% of dried . When sundried it is white in color whereas the green cardamoms are the processed ones.

The Bay leaf too is a creeper. This is quite a cheap selling spice. Jalapeno peppers are also grown here and we got to see the red and yellow ones.

Red chili peppers

We were lucky to see Vanilla beans here. The are very expensive flavor spice. What makes them expensive is the pollination has to be done manually. All over the world this manual pollination yeilds just 15 % of the crop. The best Vanilla beans are black in color.

Vanilla beans

The next was clove plant. The best cloves are brownish black when dried. It indicates that they are laden with oil. There was a nutmeg tree and many turmeric plants and All spice creepers.

The garden had flowers like the holy cross orchid, daisies etc.

We were curious to know how in Kerala we did not see snakes in these spice gardens. Shinoj showed us a natural snake repellant, a creeper that looked like a bettle leaves plant but smelt like garlic. It made me wonder whether garlic juice can be used as a snake repellant.

One bit of information that amazed me is that an organically grown pineapple plant yeilds just one fruit a year. However in plantations they use hormones to produce more fruit thus compromising on taste and shelf life.

Some tips from Shinoj:

  • To remove worms from cauliflower put them in water and add 2 teaspoons of turmeric.
  • To check if mushrooms are edible dip them in turmeric water. If they stay white they are edible else if poisonous they will turn blue.

Next we went to the Connemara Tea factory:

A visit to the tea factory is free for all tourists. We were taken around the processing unit. The factory is in the midst of the tea gardens. The processing is done in the following steps:

Air cooling for 24 hrs- The tea leaves are spread on a grid and air blowers cool the leaves for 24 hrs.

Crushing- The leaves are sent through a crusher and the look greenish brown in color.

Fermentation- The powdered tea leaves are fremented in Rotary drums at 90 deg celsius. The flavor shows up here. If this process is not done correctly the batch gets spoilt.

Drying- The tea powder is now dried on roller driers and then sieved for size and quality.

Packing- After sizing the tea powder is packed.

This is the CTC process used to dry the tea. The tea factory had a retail outlet at the entrance gate but we did not buy any as we had bought lots of it at Thekkady from Lord spices.

The rest of the drive was quite boring till we reached the main road leading to Allepey town. It looked like a strip of land with the sea on both the sides. Finally we reached our resort. It was on a thin strip of land surrounded by canals, the back waters with lot of vegatation floating on it. There was no parking space so we left the car at th mainland and walked to the resort.

Keraleeyam my Love:

Walking along the edges of the backwaters we reached Keraleeyam. The resort is simply amazing. I fell in love with it instantly. The reception is part of a heritage home.
Lungi -kurta clad men ushered us around the well manicured lawn and showed us our cottage. It was on the banks of the backwaters a simple cottage with a porch equipped with a beach chair and a few straight backed chairs and a tiny glass topped table. In front of the cottage was a machan/ deck with 2 stilts in the water and two on land. We spent our mornings and evenings feeding fish from this machan.

The resort and the cottage had such a fantastic view. We stayed there for 2 nights/ 2 days and it was the most memorable part of our visit to Kerala.

After refreshing ourselves from the long drive for a few hours Aslam drove us to Allepey beach. We spent some timing sipping pipping hot tea and around sunset took a stroll from one end to the beach to the other. On the shore was a lighthouse and my father recollected that one of his cousin was posted there many years ago.

After dinner we returned to our cottage and watched the houseboats drift by for sometime and the small twinkling lights looked lovely in the night then we went to bed. It was surprising there were no mosquitoes inspite of the proximity to the backwaters.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Day # 5 : 17th Dec 2003

At 9.30 am we left Munnar and moved towards Thekkady. The drive was amazing halfway. It was through the tea gardens and the other half through spice gardens. We drove through many towns reaching our Hotel High Range at 2.00pm. I was quite tired as the drive was getting warmer.

Tie your yellow ribbon round old oak tree ~~~~ These are Silver Oaks!!

I was starved when we reached but did not feel like eating the hotel food. Before leaving Munnar we had a good breakfast of Appam, Puttu, Idiyappams with vegetable stew and Black Chana Masala. So I ate cheese spread and bread. I have noted that outside Mumbai sandwich bread is difficult to find. The bread available is always Milk bread. It was fresh and yummy. Dad had Dal and rice with papads and pickle. The High range Hotel was a mediocre one and definitely not a three star. These games by tour operator to compromise on one of the hotels is a know issue. I did raise it though. It felt like staying in a village home in the midst of an orchad and spice garden. It was beautiful outside though.

We then drove to Periyar sanctuary and slept on the way. It was around 4.00pm we were told a college group had blocked the entire lot of booking for the 4.00 pm boat ride and the next one available to us would be next morning. Aslam had adviced us that the 4.00pm ride was the best as that is when the animals came out to the water front for a drink of water. It was a better chance of spotting animals before they retired at nightfall. We were very upset. I smelt a rat in the whole thing! Just then a guy offered us tickets in black for extra Rs.25 per head. I took them. Don't curse me.

The boat ride was excellent. We saw a lot of animals. Aslam was right. It was as if they were out there for us black bucks, wild bisons, boars, a herd of elephants and Otters!! We saw a lot of birds too. I loved the Otters they are such lovable creatures. They would come out of their holes and jump into the water. Their emotions are almost human, hugging, kissing and being in a gang!

Remember to take the 4.00pm boat ride at Periyar when you visit. It is the best time.

The boat ride itself was exhilarating as the double decker huge launch slowly plys through the lakes serene environs. An American co-passenger commented, "Why does the tiger not come out for a drink of water just for us!" It made all of us burst out in laughter. But alas the tiger never did show up. Nature allows you to see only what it wants to show.

We then returned to the town and had tea with pazhampori (banana fritters, my kind). I liked it a lot. After which we went to the spice market and bought some spices for family and friends.

We returned to the hotel and took rest for a while and decided to explore the town a bit just before dinner time. We went looking for some artifacts. There was nothing of great interest that we found but my Dad who loves to shop decided to buy some silver for me at a Kashmiri shop. Imagine that buying Kashmiri craft in Kerala! Only my Dad can do that!