A truly beautiful villa on the shores of Lake Vembanad about an hour south of Cochin and close to the town of Cherkala. Vismaya is an absolutely stunning place to stay if you want some peace, quiet and relaxation on a trip to India. We spent four nights here on a recent trip and it was truly the most memorable experience. The villa is beautifully designed and service is impeccable. The food is a delight (you won't find any restaurants close by) and with no menus, you're consulted each day on what you'd like for your meals. The views over the lake, home to so much wildlife, run for miles and the local fisherman can be seen pulling in their catch. I couldn't recommend this place highly enough and look forward to the day we can return.
Chenganda Lake, Kumarakom, Cherthala, Alleppey, Kerala, India
+91 9744 297 123
One of the few Keralan traditions that has survived the onslaught of electronic media and other more modern forms of entertainment is the temple festival. The annual festival or uthsavam is an important event in the diary of most Kerala temples. Festivities begin with the hoisting of the temple flag to the beats of a dozen or so musicians comprising the panchavadyam (five instrument orchestra). What follows is a week-long celebration of music and performing arts. These daily performances are a good opportunity to catch not only well-known dances such as Kathakali but also lesser known but equally stunning Keralan art forms such as Koodiyattam, Ottamthullal and so on. Every morning and evening caparisoned elephants are taken around the temple to the accompaniment of the panchavadyam. Festivities reach a crescendo with a firework display on the final day and the lowering of the festive flag.
Uthsavams also present a great business opportunity for local traders and there are usual an array of local delicacies for sale in the stalls around the temple. As the uthsavam events are held outside the santum sanctorum, they are open (and free) to everyone, irrespective of religion. Temple festival season kicks off in mid-November and goes on until February. One of the bigger festivals in Cochin is the Ernakulam Shiva Temple uthsavam held in January every year (www.ernakulathappan.org). Details of other temple festivals can be had from local Kerala tourism offices.
It's relatively expensive - though £20 a head is hardly budget-busting - but the courtyard is delightful, there is often good Indian cultural stuff happening (music etc) and the food is good. I don't think the hotel itself is worth the vast room charges but it's nice to look at while having dinner. In the winebar - Sula chenin blanc is drinkable, the sauvignon blanc way tooooo sweet.
Nestled between emerald green paddy-fields, luscious palms and meandering canals is George Kutty's homestay, at the heart of the Keralan backwaters, in the village where Arundati Roy grew up. For $10 a day, guests are provided with ensuite, air-conditioned rooms and invited to share mouth-watering meals with the Kutty family, freshly prepared from the sumptuous fruits, spices and vegetables, which burst from their garden. Days can be spent navigating the waterways on the Kutty's canoe, exploring the surrounding villages and exquisite wildlife or venturing into the nearby, bustling market towns of Kottayam and Alappuzha. George Kutty's enthusiasm and knowledge is truly boundless, providing visitors with a priceless insight into and understanding of rural Southern India; its culture, traditions, religion and day-to-day life.
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