Kerala September 2013 with If Only.

Kerala Fam Trip September 2013 with If Only

Classic Travel loves a fam trip. Every week we seem to be a staff member short as one of our agents has gallivanted off to some far flung paradise.  Our agents love being part of such trips not just for a bit more sun but because they are a very important sales tool and increase our knowledge of popular locations more than any guide book ever can. We feel it is vital that our agents go on one or two excursions per year for their and our benefit.

I was very fortunate to be invited on If Only's inaugural fam trip to Kerala or 'God's own country' as it is affectionately known. Despite Kochi, the state's second city and our first port of call, undergoing the construction of a new metro it didn't take long to work out why the state has received such praise. Everywhere you turn there seems to be a Hindu Temple, Mosque or Church and seemingly little religious tension among residents. Whilst beyond the cities the state's prolific monsoon season has created a lush green landscape filled with unruly forests and incredible diversity in its flora, fauna and wildlife.  

With Kerala being one of the most prosperous Indian states and described as "India Light" by our exceptional tour guide Sinnah, culture shock was not an issue within the group.  However there was little time to adjust to our new surroundings as we arrived at the beginning of the Onam festival celebrations, the harvest festival of Kerala.  Our first hotel, the Brunton Boatyard, in Fort Kochi had numerous and beautiful floral designs called Pookalam's in the lobby and after admiring the intricate patterns of these we were ushered in the hotel's restaurant for a traditional festival lunch, a Sadya.  A Sadya is served on plantain leaves and can have more than fifteen curries, and in keeping with tradition we ate with our hands. I think I make less mess on the table with chopsticks!  

On our first full day in India we were given a tour of Fort Kochi and saw the famous Chinese fishing nets in action. We even tried our hand in lifting the nets with our most notable catch being an inedible Jelly-Fish. We were given a taste of the countries vibrant street life and Cochin's interesting colonial past taking in the Jew Town and St Francis' Church where Vasco de Gama was buried until being laid to rest finally in Belem, Portugal.

After two nights in the states second city we set off early (well early for Travel Agents) to journey south to Periyar Tiger Reserve where we stayed in the excellent Spice Garden Resort. Along the way we stopped off at a fascinating tea plantation to see the complex process of tea making first-hand.  Upon arriving at our resort we were given a cooking class and a protein rich dinner to prepare us for our jungle trek commencing at seven the following morning.

Perhaps our fifth day in Kerala was the most memorable for me. During the jungle trek we spotted Lion-tailed macaques, Great Hornbills, various squirrels, a scorpion and many leeches. Typically, a leech infiltrated my extra leggings and drew some blood whilst I had a near miss with the Scorpion after jumping over it to get a better angle for a photo.  The afternoon provided even more excitement as we travelled by boat across a man-made waterway to the Lake Palace Hotel.  By our boat's jetty we saw a Rat Snake whilst during the journey we saw deer, Kingfisher, a lizard and a wild boar from the hotel's ground. To finish an already eventful day we visited an elephant camp where we rode, fed and washed them whilst a few brave members of the group (not me) were washed themselves by an elephant. I think I will stick to showers.  

After an eventful stay in the jungle we departed for the Coconut Lagoon resort in Kumarakom by the coast and famous backwaters. The hotel is only accessible by boat and during the short journey we passed many rice boats and fruit bats.  Upon reaching the luxurious hotel we relaxed by the pool before being entrusted with vegetable chopping and peeling duties in the kitchen in preparation for Onam celebrations the following day.  Needless to say we impressed the locals with our cookery skills!

To celebrate the festival most of the group woke early to make an 'If Only' themed Pookalam, much to Neil's delight. Whilst for lunch we enjoyed another Sadya with the ladies dressed in sahri's and men in mundu loin cloth (not skirts).  In the evening we were treated to an exquisite seafood dinner in the resort’s specialist sea food restaurant.

In the morning we set off on the bumpy road for the Marari Beach resort in Mararikulam for the last leg of our South India adventure, by the beach. On the way we were lucky enough to enjoy a rice boat tour that showed us the extraordinary backwaters. Sailing down the narrow canals we saw people bathing and washing their clothes in the water and gained an insight to life in the 'Venice of the East'.

After visiting some impressive nearby resorts including a Beach Symphony we arrived at the Marari Beach hotel where we posed for photos in its verdant surroundings at sunset and enjoyed our last taste of Indian cuisine, a butterfly sanctuary and strolls on the thick sandy beach. A fitting ending to a very memorable trip.  

Thank you to Neil Sealy and If Only for a enlightening nine days. Now to selling those holidays….


Simon Holmes