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March 2017 Travel News


In the first of a two- part series, PATRIC BAIRD visits India - and admits NOTHING could have prepared him for this awe- inspiring country...

THOUGHT I was pretty well prepared for my recent trip to India – I had watched the entire series of Rick Stein’s India, packed my passport, travel adaptor, insect repellent, almost an entire chemist shop’s-worth of various medications (just in case), sun block and camera.


I’m a pretty seasoned traveller – I’ve visited just about every major country in the world, as well as many of the minor ones, but had never quite got around to India. Even though it was to be my first visit, and, admittedly, feeling a little bit nervous about the prospect, I was nevertheless prepared.

It wasn’t until I was in a taxi, making my way from the airport to Fort Kochi, in the southern state of Kerala, that I realised that NOTHING can prepare you for India. I think I spent the entire fifteen mile journey completely overcome by what I was seeing and hearing. My remaining senses would be similarly overloaded, many times, over the coming weeks. The constant blasting of car horns, the stifling heat, packs of motorcyclists swerving around potholes, cows wandering along the middle of the road, men pulling carts piled high with sacks of rice, groups of women milling around in dazzlingly bright saris and the odd stray dog in the traffic all made for a truly awe-inspiring initiation to this amazing country.

I asked the taxi driver if my early morning arrival at Kochi airport (formerly known by its colonial name of Cochin) had coincided with rush hour, given the general chaos of the surrounding vehicular, human and bovine traffic. He just laughed. I subsequently discovered that rush hour in Indian cities lasts for 24 hours.

As we approached Fort Kochi, the oldest part of the city located on the coast of the Arabian Sea, the traffic began to thin out and the urban sprawl was replaced by

The beautiful tranquil Infinity pool at the Anantya Resorts, Tamil Nadu, India surrounded by lush tropical nature helped the writer feel relaxed and refreshed

plantations of ancient mango trees, coconut palms and a host of souvenir shops lining the narrow streets. Kerala promotes itself as being God’s Own Country – no idle boast, as it turns out. Once my initial wonderment had subsided, I began to appreciate the natural beauty of my surroundings. Despite its status as one of India’s most prosperous states, as well as being one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, most of the locals still wear traditional dress – saris for the women and the lungi, a kilt-like garment, for the men.

As for the tourists, Fort Kochi attracts all sorts – backpackers fill the many hostels, foodies come to sample the world-renowned local cuisine, which is rich in seafood and coconut milk, while history buffs absorb the region’s long and complicated history which involves Portuguese, Dutch and, more recently, British occupation. All of whom have left their mark, in streets names, architecture and cuisine, as well as must-see attractions such as St. Francis church, opened in 1516, and claimed to be the first European-built church in the whole of India.

My home for the next few days was the Spice Fort Hotel – a 140-year-old building which houses a 27-room boutique hotel with a rich heritage, as it was formerly the home of the prosperous Koder family, part of the large Jewish community which once thrived in Kochi, and the nearby 400-year-old synagogue still survives as a major tourist attraction.

The hotel boasts a swimming pool in the building’s courtyard, perfect for a cooling swim before dinner, which is served in the Saffron Restaurant from an all- organic menu with authentic Keralan dishes prepared with only the finest locally-sourced produce. Before setting out to explore the town, I asked the hotel’s receptionist for directions to the fort. I was in Fort Kochi, so there must be a fort. No fort, apparently. It’s long gone, and only the name remains. But he recommended a visit to the Chinese fishing nets, a five minute walk away and down by the sea. Why Chinese, I asked. This is India! He patiently explained that they were thought to have been introduced by Chinese traders in the 14th century. Ah, I see.

The beach is lined with stalls selling everything from models of Hindu gods, to tie-dye T-shirts, but you may need to brush up on your haggling skills. You might also be invited to help the fishermen haul up the cantilevered Chinese nets – get involved, as it’s good fun, but be prepared to pay a small sum for the privilege.

After an all too brief stay, it was time to make the long journey south, beyond Kerala, to India’s most southern state of Tamil Nadu. It’s almost a seven hour drive, or 45 minutes by air to Trivandrum airport, but I would recommend the road journey which takes in some truly stunning backdrops, including the picturesque inland waterways complete with their houseboats, as well as negotiating the congested roads of traditional small towns and villages along the Malabar Coast.

My destination was the Anantya Resort, a quiet retreat nestled within 1000 acres of rubber plantations. Every individual villa is perched on the banks of Chittar Lake on the southern edge of the Western Ghats mountain range at Travancore, in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari district.

The writer visited the Chinese fishing nets After the hustle and bustle of coastal Kochi, the The Spice Fort Hotel - a 140-year-old building, formerly the home of the prosperous Koder family

tranquillity and lush, tropical natural beauty of Anantya highlighted the contrast between India’s many and varied landscapes . Honeymooners will love it, as will more adventurous, outdoorsy types, as there are plenty of attractions both within the resort and beyond to suit every taste, including Ayurvedic massages and spa treatments, an early morning trip to watch the sunrise over India’s southernmost tip, or an afternoon spent at Padmanabhapuram, Asia's largest wooden palace dating back to the 17th century. Taking a tour of the nearby plantation is a must – rubber has been produced here since 1912 and you can still see every stage of its production. The tour concludes with an outdoor picnic of local delicacies prepared over a camp fire, followed by a show of traditional music, singing and dancing provided by members of the nearby Kani tribal community. After spending several days here and feeling both

relaxed and refreshed, it was time to move on – God’s own country was calling me back, promising a host of new and exciting Keralan experiences over the remainder of my trip.

To be continued in the next issue....

FACT BOX ON KERALA Kerala Tourism:

Spice Fort Hotel, Fort Kochi, Kerala Anantya Resort, Travancore: Window to Luxury is based in the UK and represents luxury, boutique hotels and destinations in India. Each property is handpicked for its style, architecture or desirable location:

The rubber plantation near the Anantya

Resort dates back to 1912 and you can still see every stage of its production. Finish off the tour with an outdoor picnic of local delicacies prepared over a camp fire, followed by a show of traditional music, singing and dancing provided by members of the local Kani tribal community

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