It would take days to describe everything we saw and experienced in Kerala, so I shall share only some of the highlights. We enjoyed an elaborate meal in a private home, then were delighted to see family members’ wedding albums. We had a cooking demonstration of Keralan cuisine at the splendid Coconut Lagoon, a resort built among waterways, palm trees, flowers, and butterflies, where one stays in traditional Kerala teak houses. (The photo across the top of this blog is from that cooking demonstration.)
In a handsome wood and bamboo houseboat, we plied the famous “backwaters” of Kerala, which gave us an opportunity to witness the lives of local families, farmers, and fishermen, as they tended their nets, washed clothes or pots, or walked past the impossibly lush rice paddies. (The photo at the top of this post was taken from our houseboat.)One day, when we stopped to watch a local ceremony (complete with richly caparisoned elephant and a path outlined by small fires), we were made to feel welcome, and were even guided to the best spots for viewing. Before seeing a performance of Kathakali, Kerala’s religious dance/theater, we got to see the actors apply their complex make-up. We perused palaces, including the Hill Palace, which had a fascinating collection of royal jewels, Western paintings, ornate palanquins, Roman coins, and antique weapons. We visited local fishermen and admired their impressive catches (including shrimp—or, rather, prawns—almost as large as lobsters).
One of our favorite days in Kerala was the day we headed north to Trichur. The transit had been lovely, through small towns, past plantations of rubber trees and banana plants, across bridges spanning winding rivers lined and overhung with greenery. Our guide, Uni Krishna, had promised to take us to a local market, and in Trichur, he made good on that promise. We stopped at an extensive and opulently stocked produce market.
As we got out of the van and began to make our way across the wide, busy street, people were friendly and smiling, but looked startled. Within minutes, news of our presence had spread through the market. As we turned a corner, a hundred or more men let loose a thunderously joyous cheer. On two other occasions in the market, upon turning corners, a roar of welcome greeted our appearance. Men and boys waved, grinned, beckoned, tidied up produce to look good for photos, carried out their largest jack fruit or best peppers, laughed, chatted, introduced themselves, pointed out good images to photograph, and posed near their stalls. We photographed mountains of bananas, grapes, apples, chillis, shallots, gourds, eggplants, potatoes, ginger, and vastly more. When we finally tore ourselves away from this wonderful place, Uni Krishna explained that tourists almost never come north of Cochin, so our presence would be an exceedingly rare, if not unique, event for the people at the market. I can honestly say that it was unique for me, too. What a welcome!Across town, at the Siddhartha Hotel, another treat awaited us. We were in Trichur to experience a sadya, a traditional Keralan feast. This is so traditional that, not only are the types of foods and number of dishes well established, but different foods also have specific places they are to be set down on the traditional banana leaf used as a plate. Three cordial chefs demonstrated the preparation of more than a dozen dishes, many of them utilizing vegetables we’d just seen for the first time in the market place (snake gourd, ash gourd, drum stick), as well as prodigious amounts of spice and coconut milk. (Coconut milk and coconut oil are two of the defining elements of Keralan cooking.)
Eventually it was time to leave Kerala (sigh). We headed back to the splendid, new airport (which, despite the marble and glass, still offers such charmingly anachronistic touches as waiting rooms furnished with wood and upholstery armchairs, all with embroidered antimacassars), and jetted off to Bangalore, in Karnataka.