Garden of India
and Photos by Sandra Scott
Located in the southwestern part of India, the state of
Kerala is a narrow strip of land between the Arabian Sea and the Western
Ghats. The Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, and the Chinese sailed to Kerala
in search of spices giving it the name, “The Spice Garden of India.”
Back in Kerala
The forts, monuments, and cities of India are fascinating but the intensive
kaleidoscope of sights and sounds can wear one down. After seeing all
the monuments and wonders of India, experience the natural side of India
by “branching out” and boating.
Just outside of Calicut, also known as Kozhikode, is Kadavu Resort,
the perfect place to relax and get acquainted with Kerala. The resort,
located on the backwaters, offers a choice of rooms or cabins, large
pool, gardens, boat trips on the backwaters and Ayurveda treatments.
Ayurveda is the Vedic system of health care that developed in India
over 5000 years ago. This ancient science is health, not disease, specific
and takes into account the patient's entire personality - body, mind
Most of our whimsical childhood daydreams fade as we grow older, but
one Indian, Babu Verghese, turned his dream into a reality with the
building of two multi-level tree houses, with all conveniences, 90 feet
in the canopy of the cloud forest.
One tree house is connected to a tree-enshrouded ledge by a hanging
bridge that creaks and undulates when people walk on it. The other has
a water-weighted bamboo cage “elevator” to take guests to
the tree-top accommodations.
We opted for the tree house accessed by the hanging bridge. I spent
the afternoon trying to read but was distracted by the expansive view
of hills, mountains, and cloud-choked valleys that unfolded from our
eagle-view veranda. It was so calm and serene that when two chipmunks
came racing down the spiral stairs from the room above, charged through
our bedroom and raced back up the stairs it gave me a fright. Of course
it was their home before it was mine.
In the evening, the air freshened, and we drifted off to sleep with
a lullaby provided by nature’s mixed chorus. A long, low cry of
a bird signaled morning’s arrival. Quickly nature’s symphony
reached a crescendo and it was time to get ready for a new day. Showering
al fresco high in the trees is definitely a unique experience.
Breakfast is Keralan-style: dollops of delicious food served on a placemat-size
banana leaf. In keeping with the ecological theme most of the food was
organically grown vegetables prepared with the spices indigenous to
The energy source is a unique combination of solar energy, gober gas
from cow dung and hurricane lamps with kerosene, avoiding conventional
electricity and power from diesel generators, thus preventing air pollution
and noise pollution.
To the south on the coast is Cochin (Kochi), “The Queen of the
Arabian Sea,” where cultures have crisscrossed for centuries making
it one of the world’s more diverse locations.
The Bolgatty Palace Hotel is a short but inspiring boat ride away from
Kochi. Set amidst lush, tropical greenery, it is one of the oldest existing
Dutch palaces outside Holland. A Dutch trader built this quaint mansion
in 1744. In 1909 the palace was leased to the British and it served
as their residency till 1947 when the British Raj came to an end in
India. The quiet location offers expansive views of the mainland.
Don’t miss the Kathakali show, the ancient classical dance form
of Kerala, which is a grand mix of dramatics, vocal and instrumental
music, dancing and mine. Many years of training go into learning the
art form and it takes four hours to prepare for the dance.
Before moving off to the backwater check out St. Francis' Church, the
oldest existing European church in India. The most enduring impression
of Fort Kochi is the enigma of the Chinese fishing nets. Like totems
from another age stranded in time, they perch along the backwaters.
The Chinese fishing nets are the most efficient means of backwater fishing
and Fort Kochi is full of them.
The Dutch palace at Mattancherry was actually built by the Portuguese
and presented to the Kochi ruler Vira Kerala Varma in 1555 as an act
of expiation for the plunder and desecration of a temple near the Raja's
palace by a hot-headed young Portuguese officer. The real glory of the
palace lies in its wall murals, all done using the tempera process of
Mattancherry has a predominantly Muslim population. But tucked away
behind its tumult is Jew Town, a quiet cul-de-sac where the few surviving
members of the oldest Jewish settlement in India live. Visit the temple.
Kerala has hundreds of miles of backwaters where the building of levees
and canals has reclaimed the land for rice cultivation. The best way
to see the backwaters of Kerala is by kettuvallam, a houseboat made
from the no-longer needed rice boats and covered with woven mats to
resemble the rice barges.
For three days we were poled through the palm-lined canals mesmerized
by the scenes of village life unfolding before us. Our kettuvallam moved
so quietly that we had time to chat with people along the way.
When our crew of two pole men and a cook took a break we wandered along
the levees, visited churches, shrines, bought fish for our meals, and
chatted with the friendly people.
Toward evening we headed for the lake so as to be out of the canals
during the night when the fishermen set their fishing nets. The fiery
red balloon sun set, going for its bath they say. When the brilliant
yellow, “cleansed” morning sun was well above the horizon
we headed back into the canals, along with vendors in small canoes selling
fish and toddy, a mild alcoholic drink tapped from the sap of the palm
tree. Another wonderful day in Kerala begins.
Green Magic Tree Houses: $180 per couple with meals
Kettuvalum: $110 with meals and crew, www.atdcalleppey.com
Kadavu Resorts: www.kadavuresorts.com
or call India Tourism at (800) GO-INDIA
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