Coconut creek is a B&B in Kumarakom back water destination. I stayed there recently with my family and kids and it was the best homestay in Kerala out of all the others we stayed at during our tour of the region. The food was great and it so mouth watering. The Kumarakom lake is just two minutes walk away and a morning walk to the lake is awesome. The country boat cruise through narrow canals was unforgettable. The host is gentle and sincere.
Coconut creek farm and homestay, Near nazareth church, Kumarakom p.o, Kottayam, Kerala, India 686563
Nearest Station:- Kottayam
Nearest Airport :- cochin
Google map: bit.ly/ZTdUFq
Marari beach lies between the Alleppey backwaters and the cultural hub of Cochin in Kerala. It is just 1 ½ hours drive from Cochin Airport and within a few hours’ drive of all major tourist destinations in central Kerala. BUT it is totally deserted and incredibly remarkable with the string of tranquil fishing villages dotted along the coast each having a unique character. Only the local fishermen, their traditional colourful wooden boats and the abundant wildlife share the beach, so you are virtually alone to enjoy the endless white sand, the vibrant green coconut palms, the cool sea breeze and the azure ocean.
There are only a few accommodation options and my husband, 1.5 year old daughter and myself stayed in the Palm Villa - one of the villas at Marari Villas resort. The villa is right on the beach which is very rare, it is beautifully decorated with traditional Indian furniture and the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful. We were surrounded with 24-hour care and immediate response to all our "needs and wants". Privately cooked and serviced food on the open terrace was delicious and it was so relaxing to soak up the sun on the loungers in the sandy garden and cool off with a swim in the warm sea.
Marari beach and Marari Villas became my personal stunning discovery. Next time I come to India I will only go to this place.
The camp was situated at one of the most scenic locations, just at the banks of cauvery. Although booze is not allowed in the forest region, we did have some good mocktails and snacks with the campfire. The early morning trek to tower was great and the experience was top notch.
+91 968 602 0000
Google map: bit.ly/14TqJSL
While on a primarily wildlife trip to the national parks of Assam, my wife and I decided to do a short tour of Majuli Island, and we are glad we did. The island, located in the middle of the mighty Brahmaputra River, is a place anyone visiting this region should go to. The island is the hotbed of an ancient culture which still flourishes in the form of Xatras (monasteries) where monks learn various historical forms of arts, dance, music, drama and philosophy. The island has a magical and ambient aura where one can participate in simple rural life and enjoy life at a very leisurely pace.
Our trip was organized by Greener Pastures.
My wife and I recently took a trip to Assam in India. We chose Greener Pastures as our tour organizer, and they really made a difference, ensuring that we got a taste of the local culture. They made us stay in local homes, gave us a local experienced guide who we wont forget, and we even got to eat some tasty ethic cuisine. As we visited three national parks, in all of them, we were given local naturalists who had great knowledge on the local flora and fauna. What makes me recommend this company is that they are a small team of youths and are very passionate to apply responsible tourism in their operations and bring about real sustainable development. Also, their expertise in the region is brilliant and there is no compromise on the service.
H.S Road,Dibrugarh,, Assam, India.
The most wonderful rooftop bar with a stunning panorama of the city skyline, the racetrack, ocean, and Haji Ali mosque. Aer Bar attracts a glamorous clientele of fashionable Mumbaikars and awe struck tourists.
M. A.Chidambaram Stadium or Chepauk is the venue for Test Cricket and is a beautiful, recently renovated stadium adorned with picturesque sails. The locals are friendly, welcoming and passionate; and the stadium is close to the ocean ensuring a cool breeze.
Victoria Hostel Rd, Triplicane, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Google map: bit.ly/15BQZiw
Aer Bar is a rooftop bar with the most amazing panoramic views of Mumbai: its skyscrapers, racetrack, ocean and Haji Ali mosque.
114, Four Seasons Hotel, 34th Floor, Dr E Moses Marg, Worli, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400018, India
+91 22 2481 8000
Google map: bit.ly/YCL9HG
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.
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
Kerala is renowned for its food, and Fort Cochin is home to some smart and some simple places for its famous fish curry and other local specialities. Looking like the worst kind of tourist trap, the Hotel Cochin Fort (“Hotel” in this context meaning “restaurant”, as so often is the case in India) stands on a corner opposite posh Brunton Boatyard hotel. We had dropped in a few times for cups of tea and cold beers in the past and were always given fast and helpful service, so we took a chance and booked a table outside for new year's eve. We didn't expect much, just somewhere to stay up late with a few drinks and a place where our friends visiting us from the UK would be able to smoke. But it was so much better than that. The restaurant had quite a few foreign tourists, and I was interested to see some domestic tourists and even some Keralan families there too. Although Cochin Fort offers Italian and continental dishes, we played it safe with the local cuisine. Tiger prawns, seerfish (local name for Spanish Mackerel or Kingfish), chicken and vegetable dishes filled the table and were light, fresh and spicy. My Chemmeen Mango Curry (made with green mangoes) was scrumptious. The wine wasn't bad (Banyan Tree), the beer was cold and the seven of us chatted to the watchful waiters as the clock ticked towards 2013.
Then it all went a bit bonkers: one of the waiters had brought some tunes which he added to an mp3 player belonging to one of the guests and an instant party was born. The doors were barred and we had a lock-in until 2.30am. An impromptu Gangnam Style dancefest to a sound system was so distorted we each danced in the rain to our own rhythm (oh yes, it rained like the monsoon and we all thanked our own gods for bringing some sorely needed water to Kerala). The chef danced on the tables, the waiters and owner's family danced in the rain, my friends danced in the fountain and I danced with a chair on my head.
The next day we passed the guys and had a big hug. It seems that after seven years of being open they had never had a party before this new year's eve. Good times, and hopefully the first of many more.
Bellar Road, Fort Kochi, Cochin 682 001
We trekked 16km on Christmas Eve, along the Brahmagiri Hills, through jungle and open savannah to the boulder caves of Pakshipathalam. Here we climbed to the top, and at 1740m our home-made lunch was served on an "ela" (banana leaf). We ate with our hands, and washed down the coconut curry and tapioca curry bread with ice-cold water we'd collected from the mountain streams on our way up. Ashraf (our driver) carried lunch with him, and Manny (our local tribal guide) carried his machete (just in case some of the more frightening local wild inhabitants made an appearance). They both made the trip in flip flops, while I was still nursing my bruised toes a day later, despite being kitted out in waterproof walking boots.
To scratch the surface of what it is like to live in India, shun the eco-lodges and smart camps springing up in this remote district of Kerala, and plump for one of Wayanad's homestays instead. The people there are throwing open their houses to visitors, offering locally grown food, often from their own farms. Wayanad has some of the friendliest folk in the country: walk down the road and you'll be asked in for a cuppa or invited to join a game of badminton in the front garden. We stayed at the Varnam Homestay for five days over Christmas. It's remote, a three hour drive from Calicut along over 100km of winding mountain roads.
The family provided a car and driver, which we shared with some friends. It was good value and gave us the freedom to explore at our own pace. With wild elephant and tiger an ever-present threat to local communities at the moment, getting around on foot can be difficult and dangerous. A tiger had been spotted 300m from Varnum the previous week (they are a huge problem at the moment) and wild elephant came trampled the fields while we were there.
Varnum is run by Beena, who oversees the cooking, and her husband Varghese, by day a policeman. Their children were knowledgeable and friendly, going out of their way to get to know us. Young teenage daughter Varna took us on a tour of the garden and farm, pointing out ginger and fruit plantations, rubber and teak tree groves, coffee bushes and plenty more fruit trees, birds and wildlife. Dawn, their son, was at home from university for the Christmas holidays and spent all his free time talking to us. Just like their charming children, Varghese and Beena revel in meeting new people and are warm and genuine hosts.
A final word on the food. Possibly the best in India? After nearly three years of living in Kerala and travelling round the rest of the country, I am convinced you can't beat Keralan cooking. When it's cooked at home from the freshest possible ingredients by someone who really knows their stuff you know you're onto a winner.
Remote Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, in the Western Ghats of Kerala, borders Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and is part of the UNESCO trans-state Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Tholpetty has one of the two entrances into the sanctuary area (the other is in Muthanga). The ride in a closed Jeep allows for little visibility and is bumpy and uncomfortable. A breakneck tour of the forest along beaten tracks took just over an hour. We screeched to a halt to admire some langur monkeys, watched the colourful flash of exotic birds (but didn't stop to identify them) and gazed through the low, narrow windows at munching spotted deer as we sped past. Much better, were the leisurely drives in our hired car along public roads, from where we saw wild elephant and, on Christmas Day, a tiger. Tholpetty was a let-down, but Wayanad has to be one of the most beautiful and un-touched areas of India.
They say that the best things in life free. That was certainly true for me on a visit to India earlier this year. I was a nervous first time visitor and I'd spent the overnight train trip from Goa to Kerala locked away from my fellow travellers in a first class sleeping compartment. We arrived at Kannur at 4am and all of a sudden I was face to face with the real India. In an excess of ego I had imagined that India would somehow be I interested in me - or at least in my tourist dollar. But in that bustling place I discovered that I was quite invisible, just one face in the crowd going about their daily business. We sat for nearly three hours as trains arrived and departed and brightly coloured immaculately turned out people flocked to and fro.
Google map: bit.ly/Vt15MD
Last year we shunned the Christmas turkey and made our way to the backwaters of Kerala, where we spent an unusually sunny festive holiday puttering about on a little boat between shockingly white sandbanks and hard-to-reach villages. Christmas morning was amazing: I spent it doling out jelly beans, the only present that I had brought for myself from the UK, into the sticky hands of screaming, smiling young children who lined the river banks. They waved madly as we glided past. It was a humbling experience knowing that a handful of easy-to-buy jelly beans could make these kids so ecstatic!
After we had navigated away from the network of shady-green villages, we found ourselves as far removed from a traditional Christmas Day as we had thought possible. We could smell the tangy scent of the salty sea, feel the heavy humidity seeping through our bodies, and the best Christmas present of all, could feel the Indian Ocean lapping small waves against our tiny white-washed wooden boat.
Google map: bit.ly/V6CCuw
Getting off the beaten track and staying in a remote Sundarbans village. If you're very lucky you may see the elusive Bengal Tiger, but the real attraction here is getting to experience an authentic slice of quiet village life. Have home cooked food by a local family, go back to basics staying in a traditional mud hut. There's no electricity here so be entertained and enjoy local musicians serenading you under the moonlight at the end of a relaxing day cruising the mangroves.
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.
India can be a full on assault on the senses with all its colour, noise and frenetic activitiy. The Baha'i Temple in new Dehli is a startling and wonderful contrast. Shaped like a huge lotus flower its milk white marble petals opening to the sun it is an awe inspiring sight as you approach it through immaculate gardens. Inside it is simple and beautiful with vaulted walls lit by shafts of light streaming through the star shaped window high above. And it so peaceful, inviting you to sit and rest, think, perhaps pray or just marvel. At night it's just as beautiful, lit by thousands of lights and reflected in the pools surrounding it.
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