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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Banquet of Visual Tales from Kerala, India


The state of Kerala is no stranger to being the centerpiece of a spectacular narrative. I remember back in college reading Arundhati Roy’s “God of Small Things”, in which a town called Ayemenem first brought my imagination to the existence of the famed Kerala backwaters, where intertwining lakes and lagoons running parallel to Malabar Coast offers a different glimpse of life in this tropical part of India. A year removed from my month long exploration of the northern part of India that took me to places in Kolkata, Varanasi, Agra, and New Delhi to the state of Rajasthan and then to Mumbai, I welcome the opportunity of visiting this nation of almost a billion soul for the second time, as part of the #KeralaBlogExpress.

Travel bloggers from all over the globe #KeralaBlogExpress

A travel initiative spearheaded by the Kerala Tourism, I was chosen to participate along with 28 other travel writers and photographers from all over the world on a two-week cross state road trip to discover a part of India other travelers refer to as “India for Beginners” – a complimentary description because of its laid back atmosphere, back-country landscape and less populous cities and towns. 

Previously lurking behind the shadows of its neighboring states, Kerala has now come out of its shell and quickly morphed a unique character that has started attracting the attention of travelers. Buoyed by Roy’s stellar work of literature and coupled with my recent experience traveling all over the state of Kerala, I instantly usher Kerala into my list of favorite places in Asia. Outnumbering the many swaying coconut palms and the number of wide smiles flashed in front of me by the gregarious locals of Kerala, the stories that comprise my whole Kerala journey is too many to tell. I wonder if this brief photography narrative will even do justice, but I might give it a go so you’d get an idea of what awaits you in this place often referred to as “God’s Own Country”.

On my first morning in Kerala I was greeted with this scene of mundu clad fishermen about to sail off. Their chiseled sun-burnt bodies foregrounding the golden sand and against the backdrop of the blue waters, echoes an enchanting realist painting depicting an ordinary day at the beach of Kovalam.  
One afternoon I went out biking around Vythiri Resort in Wayanad, which is located in the middle of a forest. One of the staff, the nature expert Bijesh accompanied me. Along the way, aside from long stretches of tea, coffee and spice plantation, we saw a myriad of bird species - thanks to Bijesh's eagle eyes he was able to spot and precisely pointed to me an impressive list of bird species I have never seen before in my life; Scarlet minivet, flameback, full black drongo, gray malabar hornbill, yellow browd bullbull, plain flower picker, gray wagtail, chestnut headed bee eater, malabar whistling thrush, white throated kingfisher, malabar parakeet (rare), oriental magpie robin, hill maina, crimson backed sunbird (the smallest bird of kerala), cattle egret, white cheeked barbet plus a family of Black monkeys (nilgiri langur) to go along with a giant squirrel.
Tea plantations resembling scattered cotton balls is stretched out as far as the eyes can see in the highlands of Munnar, or otherwise known as Kerala’s “tea country”.
Our afternoon cruise along the calm waters of Periyar Lake and had me spotting Sambar Deers and an assortment of endemic birds including the Kingfisher at the surrounding forest. 
Not named Dumbo, but equally lovable - this giant elephant goofs around with our Keralian companion and friend Roja at the Kappukadu Elephant Rehabilitation Centre in Kottur.
On a bus stop en route to Wayanad I ran across the street to have “Adicha Chaya” (one meter tea). It is chai tea prepared in a different method of stretching both hands while holding two cups at a length of one meter apart. Pouring the tea over the two cups produces a potent concoction of the tea’s mixture, thereby producing a frothier texture and better desired taste. 
The sun sets off Kochi where rows of Chinese fishing nets dots the shoreline. This unique fixed land installations for fishing are mostly found in Kollam and Kochi in Kerala. 
One afternoon we went on a stroll with the purpose of viewing the sunset at the beach, and along the way we came across this football team called 'Angel Boys'. A curly haired woman in black stripes introduced herself as the team manager 'my name is angel and these are the angel boys' she proudly tells me. After mingling with them for a bit and posing for photographs they instantly returned to game mode as Angel continued barking her practice instructions. 
At the Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University for Art & Culture we watched the students such as these beautiful girls as they perform and study various courses in classical dance and theatrical forms in order to ensure the continuation of Kerala’s culture and tradition. 
While exploring the town of Thekkady I dropped by Lourdes Church to say a prayer. Inside I chanced upon a group of kids wearing their Sunday best for their youth gathering. One of the mothers introduced me to the parish priest Father Sebastian whom I shared a brief chat with. 
An incursion to Kerala is not complete without spending a night at the backwaters aboard one of its iconic houseboats. This one was in Alappuzha where we also witnessed a splendid sunset over a calm body of water. It was a surreal moment as I felt being one of the characters in Roy’s “God of Small Things”. 

(This appeared on the September issue of Cruising:Going Places Travel Magazine)


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