The Zuri Kumarakom, a slice of romantic paradise!

Early last year, I was a guest at The Zuri Kumarakom for a day. To be honest, it might have been too short a stay for me to write a review about any hotel, but I decided to make an exception this one time because this wasn’t just any hotel… this was THE ZURI KUMARAKOM!

I have stayed at a few luxury hotels in the past even though on most days I would choose the chatty confines of a hostel dorm over the quiet plush comforts of a star hotel. But every once in a while, when you have been traveling quite a bit, you feel the urge to pamper yourself. Well, whether tired or not, five star pampering is always welcome, especially when it is from the heart of God’s Own Country.

As part of the first KeralaBlogExpress, I was part of the group of travel bloggers that was chosen to stay at the impressive Zuri Kumarakom. Though our time there was really really short, from 6 pm on day 1 to around 11 am the next day, it was enough for most of us to realize that we had just experienced hospitality of the highest order. The team at the hotel led by the General Manager Mr. Sarat Valsraj left no stone unturned to ensure that we had the most incredible time at the hotel.

Amongst the many amazing luxuries offered by the hotel, I managed to try a few which included viewing the famed sunset over the Vembanad lake from the hotel’s jetty, a swim in the surreal pool, an ayurvedic massage session, a four course dinner and of course an amazing night spent in one of the hotel’s lavish cottages. In more ways than one, I think the hotel would be the perfect honeymoon destination. The Zuri Kumarakom, like its name (Zuri in Swahili means ‘far beyond expectation’), was a hotel that had given me a taste of luxury far beyond my expectations!

Here are the top 5 reasons why I think that The Zuri Kumarakom is a Slice of Paradise that you must definitely visit with your partner.

THE ARCHITECTURE & THE SPACES WITHIN

The Zuri Kumarakom kerala resort & Spa (5)

The building that houses the hotel reception and lobby.

The Zuri Kumarakom kerala resort & Spa_ Lobby (33)

The reception lobby and guest lounge area.

THE LAGOON

Pan Shot_Zuri Kumk

The lagoon that connects to the magnificent Vembanad lake.

THE MAYA SPA

MAYA SPA (25)

The couple massage area at the Maya Spa.

The jacuzzi at the spa.

The jacuzzi at the spa.

THE ELEPHANT POOL

The Zuri Kumarakom kerala resort & Spa (34)

The pool that looks over the lagoon with the Vembanad lake in the distance.

MAYA SPA

The Maya Spa and the Elephant pool at night.

THE DREAM COTTAGES

The Zuri Kumarakom kerala resort & Spa_Presidential Pool Villa (41)

Some of the cottages have their own private plunge pools with a view of the Vembanad lake!

A cottage with a balcony opening out to the lagoon.

A cottage with a balcony opening out to the lagoon.

A private plunge pool in one of the cotages.

A private plunge pool in one of the cotages.

 

*All the photographs posted here have been provided by the hotel management on my request as I did not have enough time to shoot photographs of the hotel during my stay. Though my stay at the hotel was complimentary, the thoughts and views in this post are my own.
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10 Portraits from Jordan

Jordanians are some of the warmest people I have come across during my travels. Whether it was the taxi driver who welled up telling me about his kids who were at university in America or the young boy who gifted me a bunch of postcards just because I offered him half the sandwich that I was carrying during my visit to Petra; every person I met had something personal to share.

I did not mind getting lost in Amman at night or even losing my phone (which was amazingly returned to me later!) because the experiences I had during my time there would make up for everything else. Never in my craziest dreams had I imagined that I would spend 20 minutes of my life singing the title song of ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ (a 1977 Bollywood movie featuring the legend Amitabh Bachhan!) with a cab driver while we were both trying to find the way to a cheap hostel in the heart of downtown Amman! (You may want to check out the video of the original song here… it will help you understand what an incredibly hilarious experience it must have been for me!)

I could go on and on about the experiences but I will limit this post to sharing the portraits that I managed to capture of the beautiful people I met in Jordan. The stories will follow in later posts!

At Petra, he gifted me a bunch of postcards and 5 minutes of his time.

At Petra, he gifted me a bunch of postcards and 5 minutes of his time.

The Bedouin woman who along with her friend shared cups of tea with me.

The Bedouin woman who along with her friend shared cups of tea with me.

He didn't speak a word. Offered me a smoke and we sat quietly in the Siq soaking in the rays of sun streaming in.

He didn’t speak a word. Offered me a smoke and we sat, absolutely silent, in the Siq for a few minutes soaking in the first rays of the morning sun streaming.

Yasmin only wanted sweets from us. She sat by the rocky steps leading to the Monastery as her mother swept the ground nearby. She broke into this smile when I gave her a packet of cake.

Yasmin only wanted sweets from us. She sat by the rocky steps leading to the Monastery as her mother swept the ground nearby. She broke into this smile when I gave her the slice of cake I was carrying.

The first man I photographed in Amman. Was standing by his stall in the downtown area. He was smiling all the while but put on this look when I asked him if I could take a photo.

The first man I photographed in Amman. Was standing by his stall in the downtown area. He was smiling all the while but put on this look when I asked him if I could take a photo.

He wanted me to buy some 'original' antique coins and wasn't very happy when I refused.

He wanted me to buy some ‘original’ antique coins and wasn’t very happy when I refused.

One of the confident young Bedouin men from the Wadi Rum village. They all loved to pose for the camera!

A young Bedouin man from the Wadi Musa village. He knew a thing or two about fashion and how he wanted his portrait to be taken. They all loved to pose for the camera!

Hussain, my cab driver for a day in Amman. Ex-footballer and university coach, now an honest hard-working cab driver.

Hussain, my cab driver for a day in Amman. Ex-footballer and university coach, now an honest hard-working cab driver.

Zidane Al-Zalabieh, the owner of the Bedouin Meditation Camp in Wadi Rum and one of the most interesting people I have met.

Zidane Al-Zalabieh, the owner of the Bedouin Meditation Camp in Wadi Rum. An amazing host and a very interesting man who has hundreds of stories to share.

I lost my phone a few hours before I was supposed to leave Jordan. He spent almost 3 hours helping me find the phone and getting it back to me. He only spoke Arabic and I don't understand a word of the language, but we communicated just fine! :)

I lost my phone a few hours before I was supposed to leave Jordan. He spent almost 3 hours helping me find the phone and getting it back to me. He only spoke Arabic and I don’t understand a word of the language, but we communicated just fine! 🙂

3 New ‘Things To Do’ in Fort Kochi

Like the exceptionally flavourful food that you find all over Kerala, the tiny region of Fort Kochi seems to have been created by putting together a bunch of wonderful ingredients that were slow cooked over a gentle fire to create a powerful sensorial experience.

Enhanced by an essence of rich cultural heritage that carries influences from the Dutch and the Portuguese colonizers it saw in the past, Fort Kochi has over the years developed into a vibrant tourist destination that entices travellers from around the world. Whether to capture the 14th century Chinese fishing nets against the fantastic backdrop of the famed sunset over the Arabian Sea or to walk through the narrow antique shop lined lanes of Jew Town leading to the historically significant Pardesi Synagogue, tourists have found enough and more reason to ensure that this tiny region remains one of the most visited destinations in India.

What makes Fort Kochi stand out though is its constant state of evolution. The region has progressively added to its already rich bounty of attractions by harbouring and nurturing many new age artists and bold entrepreneurs who have showed their gratitude by gifting it with new layers that seem to merge seamlessly with what existed before. An area that was previously known for its history is now being talked about as a cradle for liberal arts. Historically a centre for spice trade and traditionally a region where you could taste some of the best local cuisine, Fort Kochi is now also known for its beautiful contemporary cafeterias that would put some of their better known big-city counterparts to shame.

Even though I write about the present day Fort Kochi with so much enthusiasm, I in no way am trying to suggest that the region’s heritage can be ignored. When you visit, it is a must to experience the sunset at the Chinese fishing nets and do everything that all those ‘top 10 things to do’ lists tell you to do. It would be well worth your time. I have spent hours doing the same and still relish the thought of doing them again.

But like any experienced traveller would tell you, it always pays to leave your guide book in your hotel room once in a while. Go beyond those lists and only then will you see a side of Fort Kochi that will invite you time and again. Here are my top 3 NEW things to do in Fort Kochi.

1) Create Your Own ‘Art Walk’

Spend an afternoon walking along the streets of Fort Kochi exploring the amazing street art that adorns the walls. You can read my post ‘Fort Kochi, Street Art & A New Dimension’ about the graffiti I saw during my time on the Kerala Blog Express last year. Right at this moment, Fort Kochi is hosting the second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014 and the city’s fabric is now getting richer with stunning new additions to its street art portfolio. If you can, before you visit, try to read about the artists who have in the past or are presently creating dynamic pieces that seem to have brought in a new vigour to the region. It will add to the experience.

Art on the sea-facing wall at the Pepper House Cafe.

Art on the sea-facing wall at the Pepper House Cafe.

Building wall covered with graffiti in Fort Kochi.

Building wall covered with graffiti in Fort Kochi.

2) Hangout At One Of The Art Cafes

As you might already know, authentic Kerala food is pretty famous and most visitors have marvelled at the complex flavours of the cuisine. But what you might not know is that there is a new breed of chic art cafes that have popped up in Fort Kochi and they aren’t shy about moving away from the taking chances with fare that has generally not been served in the region . You can now find the heavenly chicken escalope sitting comfortably on a menu next to the legendary appam and chicken curry. Cafes like the Pepper House Cafe (which is my favourite), the Kashi Art Cafe, the David Hall Gallery Cafe and the Teapot Cafe have made chilling one of my top things-to-do when I visit the region. What’s there to complain when you can spend some quiet time (in an Indian city!) at a beautiful cafe with some amazing food and some inspiring art to appreciate!

The Pepper House Cafe

The Pepper House Cafe

Art is an intricate part of the experience at Kashi Art Cafe.

Art is an intricate part of the experience at Kashi Art Cafe.

3) Feel Some Musical Vibes At The Springr Cafe

So this one tip comes with a disclaimer. I am a sucker for anything off-the-beat experience that I can find whether I am travelling or not and so for all those of you who think a cafe must have a particular feel or must have great service, ignore this tip!

The Springr Cafe was special for me. It was more like a friend’s home than like a cafe. An old house converted into an art studio like space. The food was good, simple and non fussy. The seating was informal and the chats friendly. The fact that I could, during my time there, walk into the studio and watch a band practice was AWESOME! That is the charm of Springr. It is one of the few cafes were I didn’t feel like a visitor.

I’m sure that there are other similar cafes in Fort Kochi as the music scene is livelier there today than it has ever been before. Try discovering the others too if you have the time.

The dimly lit studio-like interiors at the Springr Cafe.

The dimly lit studio-like interiors at the Springr Cafe.

A band prepares to jam in the music room at the Springr Cafe.

A band prepares to jam in the music room at the Springr Cafe.

Do you have any other suggestions on new things that a visitor could do in Fort Kochi or have you discovered a cafe that you think others should know about; feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.

Why you will fall in love with Wadi Rum!

It was my second day at Wadi Rum and I had a few hours to kill before my host drove me back to the camp. 24 hours had passed since I had arrived and I was mesmerized by the magnificence of the vast desert. I had spent hours sipping on cups of Bedouin tea in the company of Zedane (my host, the owner of the Bedouin Meditation Camp), explored the majestic rock formations of Wadi Rum during the day and slept under the stars in the night. I was pretty sure I was in love. It wasn’t the first time that I had been swept off my feet by a destination and it sure wasn’t going to be the last. But yet this was special. Almost unreal.

When Zedane offered me a ride to Wadi Musa after our morning tour of the desert, I couldn’t refuse the opportunity of meeting locals and chatting with them. We reached the sleepy village a good couple of hours into the afternoon when the sun was still in a relentless mood. As my host went about finishing the errands that he had set out do, I excused myself to take a walk through the almost desolate looking village. With tall and rugged rocky hills on two sides, the red desert sand on the other two and most buildings in a pretty dilapidated condition, the village looked like a settlement that had been flattened during some fierce intergalactic war years ago on the surface of Mars!

Now that we’re done with the dramatic description of the context, let’s zoom into the scene!

I stood by the side of a tiny shop in the village smoking a cigarette. The shade was a welcome relief after having spent now almost 45 minutes photographing excited school kids who were more than eager to pose for me. An old run down Landcruiser came and parked next to me. The driver, a young lad with a serious demeanor, looked at me and greeted me with a Salaam alaikum. I responded, Walaikum salaam. After we had introduced ourselves, I offered him a cigarette and we began chatting.

A few minutes into the chat, I asked him about what he loved about his life at Wadi Rum. Hamad had just told me that he had spent his whole life living there and had never had the urge to venture out. For someone like me who couldn’t fathom a life without travel, this was the most obvious question to ask. This post was inspired by his answer. He spoke with incredible maturity and he was only 23. His answer was simple and honest. It was the truth.

“My friend, I love this desert. It is very big and it’s all mine. Every night there are many stars. I feel like they are all mine too. I don’t need anything more. I am happy.”

 

Hamad, the man who showed me what it was that made Wadi Rum special.

Wadi Rum and the Bedouin way of life

From the minute you reach the visitors center in Wadi Rum village, you will feel like you have time travelled back to the past when life wasn’t in such a hurry. The Bedouins are laid back to an extent where you with your crazy sense of time and punctuality (which comes from the machine-like existence that city life enforces) might think they don’t seem to be eager enough to extend an enthusiastic welcome. What you might not realize is that your hosts are just being themselves. It’s time for you to relax.

The Bedouin way of life has changed over a period of time with Wadi Rum becoming a major tourist attraction but at the very core, things haven’t changed that much. Though he makes more than what his family needs by catering to a constant stream of guests from around the world visiting his property nestled in the shadow of one of the many sandstone hills that dot Wadi Rum, my host Zedane spent time tending his sheep every morning after making sure the guests had had their tea and breakfast. He, like all the other locals, had managed to hang on to a life that was all that he had known when he was a little boy.

This photo was shot after I had climbed up and settled atop one of the hills to soak in the warmth of the morning sun and I saw Zedane with his sheep. The frame seemed to capture everything that Wadi Rum was about. I could see the sandstone mountains in the horizon, the red desert sand laid out in front of me and the simple Bedouin way of life, all in one shot.Wadi Rum and a Bedouin tending sheep

 

*During my time at Wadi Rum, I stayed at the Bedouin Meditation Camp for 2 nights. I would highly recommend this camp to everyone who plans on travelling to Wadi Rum especially for the great hospitality and warmth that Zedane (the owner) and his sons extended to me. I booked my stay through the Booking.com website but you can also contact the camp site through their website – www.wadirumbedouinmeditationcamp.com

Indian Woman Travellers, Leading the Way into 2014 – Part 6 (Final Part)

This is Part 6, the final part, of the series featuring Indian Women Travellers. For this series, a set of questions were sent to Indian women travel bloggers with the aim of finding out a bit more about their lives and what motivated them. The underlying purpose of this series is to get more people from India and around the world to get inspired and seek out the many fantastic adventures and sights that India has to offer.

To know more about this series, please read the post – “Indian Women Travellers, Leading the Way into 2014 – Part 1”.

Featured here in Part 6 are 5 women travellers from India who have been exploring destinations solo.

1) TRUPTI DEVDAS NAYAK (http://exploringthebluemarble.wordpress.com/)

Q: How long have you been travelling?
A: I’ve been traveling internationally most of my adult life. As a child, I was lucky to get to travel and explore many parts of India with my parents and siblings.

Q: What got you addicted to travel?
A: Travel has become a way of life for me. I love discovering new places and learning about various cultures and history. I enjoy meeting and befriending new people. A foodie at heart, I’m always up for trying local cuisines and interesting dishes. With travel, I get to see places and experience things I’ve only read or heard about. The anticipation and planning that goes into travel gives me a lot of joy even before the trip starts. I love nature, national parks and wildlife and have camped in 30+ parks around the world (many in the United States).

You can read about my outdoor adventures at Trailbound, a Wanderlust & Lipstick blog (http://wanderlustandlipstick.com/blogs/trailbound/).

Q: What was the biggest challenge you face as a solo woman traveller?
A: On the occasions that I have traveled solo, I have been pleasantly surprised by the openness and helpful nature of people, rather than facing any serious challenges. This also depends on where you travel solo. In some countries or cities where women might not generally be perceived as being intrepid or independent, a solo woman traveler might face some prejudices and would need to overcome them bravely. In my experience, being street smart and reasonably cautious goes a long way in safeguarding oneself.

Q: One lesser known destination or experience that you would recommend to fellow travellers and why?
A: Any destination or experience is lesser known until you’ve seen and experienced it for yourself. As Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”. The best way to discover new places is to start in one’s own backyard. You can explore the city you live in, learn about its history and meet the locals. International travel opens up a host of exciting destinations, some well known, some hidden gems, both leaving a lasting impact on the traveler. From my recent travels, two places I recall fondly are Machu Picchu in Peru and the Amazon rainforest. You can read about my 4-day trek to Machu Picchu here (http://wanderlustandlipstick.com/blogs/trailbound/2014/02/24/hiking-the-inca-trail-to-machu-picchu/). Having grown up reading about wild adventures in the Amazon, our week-long stay in the heart of the Amazon rainforest in Peru was a dream come true. In India, the fabulous ruins of Hampi are close to my heart. You can read more about Hampi in my article “Poetry in Stone” (http://travelthruhistory.com/html/historic118.html). I would encourage everybody to travel to places they have always yearned to see, whether you’ve read about it in a book, seen a documentary on it, or have always just wanted to visit and experience it for yourself.

Follow Trupti on Twitter – @TruptiDevdas

2) SHIKHA GAUTAM (http://nomadscribblings.com/)

Q: How long have you been travelling?
A: 4 years.

Q: What got you addicted to travel?
A: A nomadic life, the realisation that I can wake up to a sunrise in a very different, new landscape if I wish to.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you face as a solo woman traveller?
A: An acute lack of basic facilities, like washrooms, in India. Also, a simple “hi” is assumed to be a call for more talks and an invitation to get over-friendly. Trying not to talk to people around you even when you’re stuck for 2 nights in a train journey is an ordeal.

Q: One lesser known destination or experience that you would recommend to fellow travellers and why?
A: I loved Diu for the entirely solitary beaches. For women travellers going solo, the whole of north east India is a blessing. Especially Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, where you meet the finest of folks. These places are so safe that I ended up feeling like being in one of those uber safe Scandinavian countries!

Follow Shikha on Twitter – @shikhagautam

3) SUSHMITA SARKAR (http://www.myunfinishedlife.com/)

Q: How long have you been travelling?
A: Since my teens.

Q: What got you addicted to travel?
A: I have always been addicted to travel, from my childhood. When I chose to be and Engineer, my profession allowed me to travel to remote places in India, starting with Gujarat. This trip was a great source of inspiration for me to travel solo as a woman.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you face as a solo woman traveller?
A: For me, the biggest challenge is to find a proper loo in the remote areas.

Q: One lesser known destination or experience that you would recommend to fellow travellers and why?
A: I would recommend a road trip in Kathiawad region of Gujarat, India. It is remote, hauntingly harsh but beautiful landscape, with colorful and friendly people and very different type of cuisine.

Follow Sushmita on Twitter – @MyUnfinishedlyf

4) DIIPTI (http://www.diipti.in/)

Q: How long have you been travelling?
A: 10 years, may be more…

Q: What got you addicted to travel?
A: Travel is not an addiction. Its like saying what got you addicted to breathing. Humans by nature are made to wander, explore, find new territories, expand their boundaries. I like home as much as I like to travel, the essence being to explore the world and come back to find my place anew.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you face as a solo woman traveller?
A: I am yet to face a challenge on my travels. People are people, when you treat them with respect they reciprocate. People have their share of peculiarities and prejudices but when you talk to them as an equal, they respect that and see beyond your gender, caste, race; its as simple as that. 

Q: One lesser known destination or experience that you would recommend to fellow travellers and why?
A: Ghoomakad – a community space and eco-stay, 10 kms away from Dharamshala. Travel beyond the sights and sounds, travel to fulfill your incomplete thoughts and ideas to to help a community fulfill theirs, this and more you can fulfill here at Ghoomakad. www.ghoomakad.im

Follow Diipti on Twitter – @diipti

5) SHIRLEY D’COSTA (https://www.flickr.com/photos/wanderblah)

Q: How long have you been travelling?
A: 7 years.

Q: What got you addicted to travel?
A: I think if you live within 4 walls you’re bound to believe that’s what the world is like, so I like getting out there and surprising myself, and I’ve had a pretty fabulous time doing that. Every single time and every single place I’ve travelled to leaves me sort of humbled about how little I actually know about things around me.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you face as a solo woman traveller?
A: I’ve never actually bothered about being a solo ‘woman’ traveller per se. I started travelling alone initially cos co-ordinating leaves was difficult, and I wanted to make the most of my ticket to London and so backpacked around. You do the usual – avoid empty streets when late, watch your back, tell people you’re headed some place even if you dont have a plan, and trust your gut! But that apart, travelling alone has meant having some of the nicest conversations with absolute strangers – both locals and tourists, and making some great friends along the way.  

Q: One lesser known destination or experience that you would recommend to fellow travellers and why?
A: In India I’d say Hampi (rent yourself a cycle and explore!), outside I’d say Florence (you’ll never have enough days here. Hop over to Cinque Terre if you can) More importantly, dont bother with detailed itineraries and rushing through checklists. Chuck the museum and the monuments, ask the locals where to eat, get a map and just walk/ cycle around and you’ll have a far more enriching holiday!

Follow Shirley on Twitter – @wanderblah

 

This was the last post of the series ‘Indian Women Travellers’. Over the past six months, 39 solo Indian women travellers were interviewed. Hopefully the example they have set and the stories they have shared in this series will inspire many more women and men to explore Incredible India on their own.

 

The Dubai Fountain – 5 minutes of WOW!

Dubai is known for the superlatives it boasts of and the Dubai Fountain is another one of those. If you are in Dubai, whether on a visit or in transit, make sure to add ‘view the Dubai Fountains’ into your to-do list; even if it was the only thing on your list. What about the Burj Khalifa or the Burj Al Arab or even The Atlantis, you ask? For starters, these are not free attractions. You have to pay a fee to have a true experience at any of them. Moreover, these either need you to spend longer periods of time or make bookings in advance. The Dubai Fountain is an awesome experience that comes for FREE!

Get on the Metro or take a cab and get yourself to the Dubai Mall, make your way to the Souk Al Bahar and just wait for the party to start. Performances take place at 1:00 pm and at 1:30 pm as well as every 30 minutes from 6 pm to 10 pm on weekdays, and from 6 pm to 11 pm on weekends (weekends being Thursday, Friday, and Saturday). Make sure to find a good viewing spot 5 minutes before the show starts as the crowd (especially on weekends), I promise you won’t be disappointed. And yeah, try not to say wow when the tallest spray hits a height of 500 feet (45 floors!) and you hear the boom!

As a bonus, while you wait for the performance to start, you get to stand next to the world’s tallest structure and gape skywards in awe. You may even try to fit the amazing Burj Khalifa into your camera’s viewfinder but try doing that without hitting some interesting poses for some other sneaky photographers (like me!). A fun post on the Burj Khalifa and the health benefits associated with it will be up on the blog in the very near future! 😉

Anyways, to make you believe that a visit to the fountain is worth it, I risked ruining my camera lens while putting it up against a constant spray of fountain mist! Now that I have managed to use my brilliant skills to stop crazy kids from knocking down my tripod while at the same time protecting my lens, you get to see one of the versions (and there are quite a few!) of the Dubai Fountain! Enjoy. 🙂