I've lived in Kochi for just under three years, but my home is on Mulavukad (Bolgatty) Island, closer to Ernakulam (Kochi's commercial centre) than the pretty tourist-beloved Fort Cochin. So when friends said they would be coming for Christmas and asked me to find them a homestay, I booked my partner and myself into Harry's place too. We wouldn't have to worry about getting the last ferry home or trying to find a rickshaw on new year's eve. It would be a holiday in our “home” town.
Sithara is not the prettiest, nor the best appointed homestay. It is set behind high walls and a metal gate, down an alley off the parade ground. There is no swimming pool. There are no smiling white-shirted waiters catering to your every whim, no lounging areas or bar. But Sithara has Harry and Mercy. And Harry and his lovely wife are what makes it such a special place. For Sithara is a REAL homestay, not a heritage home or bijou boutique hotel masquerading as a homestay. Sithara is where Harry and Mercy live.
The welcome is enthusiastic and real. Harry and Mercy want you to enjoy your stay and will do everything to make your trip a success. Harry knows everyone and can arrange anything you like. Booking Sithara by email was easy, Harry's answers were prompt and helpful.
There are four rooms: one downstairs, right next to where Harry and Mercy sleep, “specifically for western girls, singly or in pairs” so that they know Harry is right next door in case of an emergency (he told me this prior to the Delhi rape case); two double a/c rooms upstairs; and a non a/c (but the fans are enormous and all you need) double family room with two inter-connecting bedrooms, a balcony and a separate entrance. The immaculate garden (of which Harry is rightly proud) houses a bird cage containing some amiable, if loud, parakeets, mango trees, banana trees and plenty of exotic flowers. Food is extra, but Harry will cook whatever you like for breakfast and find you drinks and snacks throughout the day (I gorged myself on unsweetened fresh pineapple juice).
Don't use this lovely little place as just somewhere to sleep, sit under the shade of the balcony with Harry and get to know him and Mercy a bit before heading out to see the sights. If you are lucky, Mercy's sister "Baby" might join you too.
Just off Lilley Road in central Fort Cochin, the location is second to none.
If you want to share the home of a knowledgeable, upbeat and charming Keralan family, stay at Sithara.
Easily accessible by ferry from the High Court jetty at the bottom of Banerji Road in Ernakulam (the tiny boat runs every half hour) this pretty island is often overlooked by visitors, but is worth seeking out. Turn left off the ferry for a short walk to the Bolgatty Palace Hotel, which has a nine hole golf course, a garden full of specimen trees, the oldest Dutch Palace in India, and the only marina in the country. If the restaurant has put on a buffet (most days) the typically spicy Keralan food is well worth trying (don't miss the spectacular fish curry), although don't expect razor-sharp service.
If you turn right off the ferry follow the chessboard of tiny roads through the village. Catch the flash of a kingfisher, butterflies the size of your hand and egrets daintily perching on buffalo under the shady tropical trees. You may feel like you are walking through people's gardens, but no-one will mind and they'll probably invite you in for a tea if you stop and chat. Under the bridge on the eastern shore of the island lives an extended family of Harijans (Untouchables) from Mysore. They make their meagre living by fishing from saucer-shaped woven coracles.
I cannot praise the place enough. I came here for my birthday treat and it turned out to be an excellent choice.
The food was quite simply the best we've had in Kerala, and that includes posh hotels like the Taj, smart places in Cochin and down and gutsy quick eateries in Ernakalum (we've been here for 18 months, so I feel I can write with some authority).
The room was prettily and simply decorated in white and terracotta. There were fresh flowers on the dressing table and a pristine bathroom. We fell asleep to the sound of the waves breaking on the beach right opposite us.
If you want to get away from it all, in a quiet area with no hotels around, stay here. Eat the best food in Kerala, go for walks on the beach, chat to the locals, visit the fish market and pick out your local catch for dinner, play games on the extensive roof terrace while being served endless fresh cold drinks and tea.
It's an excellent place for tired, burnt out workers looking for tranquility in genuine Keralan surroundings.
My one quibble is that because this is not a family home - the family lives elsewhere - it is not a true homestay. But what's in a label?
Kuzhupilly Beach Road, Ayampilly PO, Ayampilly PO, Kochi (Cochin) 682501, India
+91 484 2531456
Stay at the Old Harbour Hotel or the Malabar House (both are upscale and charming). Sip wine (or a beer) and nosh on small plates at Malabar House's Divine wine bar. Check out Jew Town, taking socks for the synagogue tour, watch the Chinese fishing nets at sunset, and indulge in a Kalari massage at Malabar House. And don't miss the chocolate cake at Kashi Art Cafe on Burgher Street
They are state-run and organised for us an excellent bespoke itinerary complete with driver for the whole visit - airport and back to airport - for a very reasonable amount of money.
They were always prompt and efficient in all our communications as well as helpful and authoritative. I would wholeheartedly recommend them. Using them and an internet airfare can provide an excellent, reasonably priced holiday in this beautiful state.
It's a beautiful old building with loads of character. The owners are really friendly and helpful and the rooms attractive and comfortable (although not luxurious)- a really great value place to stay. It's worth paying the extra for air conditioning.
Lilly Street, Fort Cochin, Cochin. www.chiramelhomestay.com/
The golden sandy beaches of Arabian Sea, the prawn farms and the backwaters as a background, away from the regular road traffic and the crowded tourist spots, repose you to the most fraternal, tranquil and serene environment.
The Kuruvillas are always pleased to welcome guests to their family beach-house tucked in the coconut groves of a unique Kerala village, Kuzhupilly.
Overlooking the Arabian sea with a fabulous view of uninterrupted coastline and serene backwaters, Kuzhupilly Beach House is the place to live in, for people who would love to experience nature, backwaters, beaches, ample seafood, traditional Kerala village life, and friendly local people.
An ideal place to compose your music, write poetry, spend your honeymoon or just relax while you rejuvenate yourself with a desired treatment or just chill!
A rooftop which gives a 360˚ angelic view. Hidden in the brow of coconut trees this place is gifted to give you a very unique view of the beautiful beach and backwaters form the same point – Divine!
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