A rather hilly area, Munnar is suffused with

A rather hilly area, Munnar is suffused with rushing waterfalls, mountain forests and a whimsical weather.

The coconut palm-lined coasts and extended hills of tea, the elephant rides and what not, Kerala has it all and a lot more for the visitors, writes Rabindra Mukherji

Travelling can be a rewarding pastime, and I have had the good fortune of travelling extensively in India. Of the many places I have visited, Kerala has had an indelible impression on me. A visit to Kerala is like visiting an island nation, and Sri Lanka comes to memory.

Kovalam beaches— a feast for eyes

When I visited Kerala, it wasn’t without reason that I sought its beaches. Having reached the coastal Indian state the night before my official assignment began, I decided to stay for the night in a hotel near Kochi airport. The day in Delhi was already very hectic, so I intended to greet one night’s sleep without any hassles. The next morning, I skipped breakfast and embarked on a journey by car to reach Kovalam.

Kovalam is located at a distance of about 213 km from Kochi. The town shot into limelight for its beaches with shallow waters and low tidal waves. It is connected to Kochi by roadways and railways. However, the best way to reach Kovalam from Kochi is by car, which takes roughly about four hours. A bus ride would have taken me about six hours. At one of the beaches, I saw paths running through groves of palm-tree and guesthouses. Restaurants at the beachfront offered belly-full for the morning, and beach-umbrella sellers were all busy offering shades and lounge chairs to those who wanted them.

Kovalam’s beaches thrive on fishing culture. I could see some wonderfully coloured striped boats arriving with groups of lungi-clad men pulling them in, frantically, along with gigantic nets, doing all they did singing merrily. It was apparent that the variety of jobs from catching, hauling, cooking and selling fish here comprised the whole family. My mind wavered for a moment reminiscing Sarojini Naidu’s peom ‘The Coromandel Fishers’. It was my maiden experience of what appeared to me to be numberless activities at the beach. After whiling away the rest of the day, I decided to take rest in one of the traditional cottages at Surya Samudra.

Alappuzha and the boat ride

The next morning I hired a taxi and was off to a three-hour drive to Alappuzha, which is known for its houseboats with luxury bedrooms for visitors. It wasn’t as if the boats were specifically constructed for staying in them as a luxury hotel. They were first built to bring rice and spices to Kochi. I had booked a houseboat with the help of an earlier acquaintance. The boatmen came and took turns to stir it on the water for quite a while. Besides the boat ride, the overnight stay in the houseboat was going to be quite an adventure, I felt.

And so it was, especially when the night descended and it started raining heavily. A storm was also raging and it was quite scary for a man like me who had never experienced the vagaries of nature first hand. However, with the first light of the morning the rain had disappeared, promising a sunny day ahead for me.

Munnar— the tea hub

From Alappuzha I took a taxi ride to Munnar. A rather hilly area, Munnar is suffused with rushing waterfalls, mountain forests and a whimsical weather. The serpentine roads leading to Munnar were making me feel uneasy for a while, before I finally got somewhat used to them, and the return journey wasn’t all that uncomfortable.

The roads I saw were dotted with pendulous white flowers known as angels’ trumpets, and tall trees covered with vines. The hills of tea plantations all around seemed to go on forever. They were covered witha green carpet of bushes resembling fluffy clouds.It is said that Munnar produces about 10 per cent of the country’s tea, which is often served black for its subtle flavour. After reaching Munnar, I took refuge in a small hotel. It was almost evening and the atmosphere was getting darker than one would expect. So I decided to take the rest of the day off.

The next morning I did not have any official work, it being a Sunday. I decided to set out on foot traversing the vast fields of tea plantation. The vastness of the plantation area could hardly be imagined as the entire background was filled with greenery. I also partook of the tea served by one of the locals in the area, who later became my guide for the entire afternoon well into late evening.

Gastronomic delights

I am not the first person for sure who has had a fascination for idli and sambar, and when in Kerala I had them in profusion. Though most of the items that I ate here were spicy, I was not going to let the opportunity go by without having a taste of most of the vegetarian food I could lay my hands on. From idli sambar I turned to ela sadya, which they call the king of all vegetarian foods in Kerala. Generally, sadya is a dish prepared and served during religious and ceremonial occasions. A combination of pachadi, kichadi, pulissery, olan, sambar, varavu, thoran, aviyal, payasam, and the accompanying hot steaming rice on a banana leaf could be money’s worth for anyone on any day.

Then I had the taste of the dal curry, which is made from small gram and ghee with a copious amount of spices and chillies. However, it was ishtu appam which seemed to have stolen the show so far as I was concerned. Appam is made from fermented rice flour, coconut milk, coconut water, and a bit of sugar. It is, most generally speaking, a thin pancake with crispy edges. These were served with ishtu, a kind of stew made from coconut milk, cinnamon, cloves and shallots, and at times mango pieces and vegetables. It was mouth-watering to say the least, and quite satisfying once relished to the full.

Though there were more places to visit and I was longing to visit Kochi’s cultural centre for Kathakali and other cultural performances, I did not get enough time to enjoy these experiences as duty and work called me back home.