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 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.


Pan Shot_Zuri Kumk

The lagoon that connects to the magnificent Vembanad lake.



The couple massage area at the Maya Spa.

The jacuzzi at the spa.

The jacuzzi at the spa.


The Zuri Kumarakom kerala resort & Spa (34)

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


The Maya Spa and the Elephant pool at night.


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.

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.

Indian Woman Travellers, Leading the Way into 2014 – Part 4

Before we begin, let me apologize for not being able to publish the 4th part of this series in April. I was a part of the Kerala Blog Express through most of March and because of that could not manage to collect the necessary information for the post.

In order to get the series back on track, the 4th and the 5th part of the series will be published in May. Well I’m learning things about blogging everyday and I hope to plan these posts much better and keep the series going on schedule from now on! 🙂

This is Part 4 of the monthly 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 4 are 7 women travellers from India who have gone beyond the norms and decided to take the path less trodden.

1) ARATI KUMAR-RAO ( Kumar Rao

Q: How long have you been travelling?
A: Since i was little.

Q: What got you addicted to travel?
A: I love nature, i love learning, i love exploring. Travel is just a means to doing all that. Of course, you dont have to travel far for any of those!

Q: What was the biggest challenge you face as a solo woman traveller?
A: It’s only when this question is asked (and it’s asked often!) that I am conscious of it. So far I have never been made to feel unwelcome or unsafe. That said, there is no point being foolish. 

If i had to pick one challenge, it is when traveling solo as a photographer, sometimes i wish i had someone who could help me with equipment – especially when it is raining and i’m shooting 🙂

Q: One lesser known destination or experience that you would recommend to fellow travellers and why?
A: More than a particular destination, i would urge people to explore. to eschew packaged tours and to wander by themselves a bit. so many little things (bookstores, coffee shops, chaikhanas, farms, homes) even in popular places are best discovered in one’s own way. But … stay safe and enjoy every moment!

Follow Arati on Twitter – @aratikumarrao

2) MANSI PAL ( Pal

Q: How long have you been travelling?
A: The travel bug was genetically transferred to me by my father. Ever since my first job, my only savings have been my travel memories and not PPFs, NSCs and RDs.

Q: What got you addicted to travel?
A: My father took me to the Andamans when I was 10 and a voice deep down told me, “Mansi! This is your Chocolate Factory.” Since then, discovering places has been a way of life for me.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you face as a solo woman traveller?
A: The absence of clean toilets on highways and the freedom my male counterparts enjoy – the ability to take a leak where there are no toilets without someone watching my back (no pun intended).

Q: One lesser known destination or experience that you would recommend to fellow travellers and why?
A: I think everyone should do the Valley of Flowers trek. It is a beautiful and strenuous experience but so worth it. 

And, if you love trains like I do and you look forward to a train journey because you love watching the shunting of train engines, make friends with the loco pilot of your train. My friends and I got talking with a local pilot during one of our train journeys and the next thing I knew, we were inside the train engine after the train started. Definitely a conversation starter for a long time.

Follow Mansi on Twitter – @mansipal


Q: How long have you been travelling?
A: Professionally, for five years.

Q: What got you addicted to travel?
A: Photography!

Q: What was the biggest challenge you face as a solo woman traveller?
A: Finding clean toilets, figuring what to do with your expensive equipment when you gotta… well, go…, learning to trust strangers and most importantly learning when/who ‘not’ to trust. 

Did you just need one challenge? Oops!

Q: One lesser known destination or experience that you would recommend to fellow travellers and why?
A: Go scuba diving in Pondicherry. Learn to appreciate the marine eco system (or what is left of it) – that world that exists underwater which we persistently choose to ignore.

Follow Jyothy on Twitter – @jyothykarat


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

Q: What got you addicted to travel?
A: My father was in Indian Navy and had a transferable job. We used to move to a new city every few years. As a kid I used to look forward for the next transfer, making new friends, new school, new playgrounds etc. This love for the new and unknown stayed with me even after I grew up.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you face as a solo woman traveller?
A: Personal safety is a big concern in India and I am always on my guard in a new place. This comes in the way of striking conversations with strangers because somewhere at the back of my mind I am too cautious. It’s not like all places are dangerous but one tends to be careful. 

Q: One lesser known destination or experience that you would recommend to fellow travellers and why?
A: I strongly recommend starting with your own city. Look beyond the cliches and you’ll be surprised what your own city can offer. We often get too busy with our routine and overlook what’s around us. I’ve met foreigners who know more about our cities than some locals.

Follow Bharti on Twitter – @hippyboxx

( & Kinny


Q: How long have you been travelling?
A: Since i was 6 but solo and by myself for over 9 years now.

Q: What got you addicted to travel?
A: Since I was 8 I knew traveling was my calling, I figured I may not always have the time or the money so I have to find a job that pays me to do it. Ever since my purpose for life was clear I did everything in my part to find that job… I graduated in tourism studies and did my masters in tourism management and decided writing was my feat and so I took up travel writing and content writing in tourism.Travel has thought me how little you need Inorder to survive in this world and also how to classify a want and a need. My idea of myself changes every time I come back from a new destination or trip…because I react in ways unknown , I am effected by experiences I would never have, had I stayed in the city and visited the mall over the weekend. So i wouldn’t call it an addiction, but more a lifestyle.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you face as a solo woman traveller?
A: Safety is major concern and its surprising how everyone around you will bring it up more than you’ve even thought about it. People often ask if I know self defense or why and how I travel by myself. I have a standard answer for these question… I believe it’s either about how bad you want it or how bad you need it everything else in terms of safety, timing, apprehensions and planing becomes secondary because all of that can be dealt with, with a little bit of smartness, precaution and guts. I think life’s too short but also long enough to be spent exploring, learning and exposing yourself to new scenarios and avenues to have fully lived ones time on earth. 

Q: One lesser known destination or experience that you would recommend to fellow travellers and why?
A: I think everyone should #indiatravel to Bir in Himachal Pradesh, Badami in Karnataka and Elephant island in the Andamans.

Follow Nickolai on Twitter – @Miss_Mused


Q: How long have you been travelling?
A: Haven’t stopped since I was 18. Got my degrees and worked along the way too.

Q: What got you addicted to travel?
A: I was born with wanderlust I think. I don’t remember a time when I was not addicted to travel, adventures and new experiences.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you face as a solo woman traveller?
A: It’s tough and tiring to have to think twice about your actions in certain countries. The simple act of going into a local bar and grabbing a drink is unthinkable in a lot of places. It’s frustrating to miss out on these experiences sometimes but somewhere along the way you learn to see the benefits more than the negatives. 

Q: One lesser known destination or experience that you would recommend to fellow travellers and why?
A: Hong Kong Islands. It’s the only place I’ve felt 100% safe and I’ved hiked and camped solo without any problems whatsoever.

Most people think of big buildings when they think of Hong Kong but that’s only a part of Hong Kong. The natural beauty and scope of outdoor activities in HK is phenomenal.

Follow Ankita on Twitter – @living_escaping


Q: How long have you been travelling?
A: My parents have been avid travellers and nature lovers themselves. So since when have i been travelling i have no memory of, only pictures.

Q: What got you addicted to travel?
A: I have always been fascinated with the Atlas. When I was introduced to travel, it changed me. I started actively taking initiative to find like minded travellers/motorcycle tourers and make the journey.So many unexplored places, so many unknown cultures, so many friends to make, authentic local food to try, so much to discover. You travel once and you will love it, and you will want to do it again and again.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you face as a solo woman traveller?
A: The challenge begins once my Helmet comes off and the culture shock kicks in (Woman Adventure Travel Motorcyclist) in India … Until then I have my #Spirit (My Yamaha) to take care of things. 

Q: One lesser known destination or experience that you would recommend to fellow travellers and why?
A: The scenic route between Bombay To Goa (using old Coastal Highway) that we took out of curiosity to see where would the road after Kashid lead to. We rode a hundred kms by the coast to Srivardhan, discovered Anjarle overlooking the massive Arabian sea, Aare Ware a virgin beach with thousands of migrated cranes, riding the flat plateau stretches of Ratnagiri that I like to call “Wild Wild West” and finally some authentic konkani seafood at Tarkarli before feeling all hippy at Vagator. You realise how adventurous it is when you are taking 6+ ferries as the road ends, and spot abandoned historic ruins.

Follow Sharwari on Twitter – @MissManakawad

This is the fourth post of the series ‘Indian Women Travellers’ and subsequent posts will be published on the first week of every month. If you know of other Indian women travellers or travel writers who you think should feature here, please feel free to share your suggestions in the comments section.

More of us need to know about these phenomenal women and get inspired.

Cheers! 🙂

Kalamandalam – A Cradle of the Classical Performing Arts in Kerala.

It seldom happens that you step inside the confines of a place you have never been to before and feel a sense of belonging almost instantly. The space, though sometimes vast and open, seems to gently hold your hands and pull you in. I felt an immediate sense of déjà vu as I took my first steps inside the campus of Kalamandalam. The architecture from an age gone by, sounds echoing through the air and tall trees creating complex patterns of shadow and light on the ground; this place had an impact like none other I had felt during my visits to Kerala.

A school of the classical performing arts, with more than eight decades of rich history, Kalamandalam is located in the Cheruthuruthy village of Thrissur district in Kerala. Initiated in 1930 by the legendary poet Vallathol Narayana Menon with the aim of reviving the then dying art and dance forms of Kerala, the institution has over the years become a cultural landmark on the Indian map.

Offering training to students in residence by the best in the field in Mohiniattam, Kathakali, Ottam Thullal and other dance forms, many acclaimed artists have begun their exemplary careers after passing through the doors of this school. Masters like Kalamandalam Gopi, Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, Pattikkamthodi Ravunni Menon, Guru Gopinath and many others have either had close associations or are alumni of this highly acclaimed school. The school also offers courses for those who wish to learn the art of playing percussion instruments like the chenda, the maddalam and some others which play an important role in the narrative and musical aspect of the traditional dance forms of Kerala.

During my time at the campus as part of the Kerala Blog Express travel blogging team, it was not difficult to imagine why Kalamandalam had gifted the world so many masters. As part of their ‘A Day with the Masters’ initiative, we were given a quick walk through of what was a typical day at the school. The classes, each holding not more than 5-10 students at a time who were all immersed in the instructions of the gurus, had an old world spiritual feel. The constant attention of the cameras and the movement of the curious visitors didn’t bother the students at all. It was as if the world beyond the classroom didn’t exist to them. The loud but repetitive beats of the chenda and the maddalam seemed to send them into a state of an almost meditative trance that was probably essential to the art.

Walking from one class room to another, being hit by these many beautiful sights and powerful sounds, time had gone into a loop; one that I was particularly enjoying a lot. To experience the Guru-Shishya (teacher-student) tradition first hand and in such a vibrant state, at a campus that adheres to the Gurukul system of teaching, was indeed a privilege. The experience became of greater importance because before then I had only seen these arts performed in modern auditoriums or schools. The ambiance at Kalamandalam was tailor-made to inspire, foster and produce great talent.

But more importantly, the school had managed to instill a sense of interest and awe in the minds of most visitors who, like me, left with a strong desire to return and spend more time here. A trip to Kerala would without a doubt be incomplete if a visit to this hallowed cradle of the traditional art forms of Kerala was not part of the itinerary.

To know about Kalamandalam and for more details about the ‘A Day with the Masters’ initiative, visit –

Kerala Kalamandalam Website

‘A Day with the Masters’ Initiative

Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School

The beautiful feet of a student during class.

Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School

Expressions and postures play an important role.

Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School

A student practices a Kathakali expression.

Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School

A senior student practicing Thullal at the school.

Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School

The gurus (teachers) are masters themselves and an important part of the school’s success.

Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School

Learning to play the Thimila.

Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School

A Chenda playing class in progress.

Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School

It takes years of hard work and dedication to master the powerful Chenda.

Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School

Students break into spontaneous dance moves while walking to their class.

Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School

Traditional Gurukul style class.

Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School

The architecture only adds to the surreal spiritual feel of the school.

Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School

Expressing beautifully, oblivious to the many cameras pointing at her.

Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School

Students work for years on clay pots practicing Kathakali makeup before graduating to human faces.

Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School

A visiting Kathakali master supervises over two practicing post-graduate students.

Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School

The different characters of Kathakali are shown at the museum on the Kalamandalam campus.

Kerala Kalamandalam Dance School

The faces of Kathakali with colours representing character types. For eg. Green faces depict noble character.


Finding Happiness at Kumarakom Village

Smiles are precious in cities and the honest ones are rare to find. During my time exploring the dusty bylanes of rural India or on one of those many chai stops on my motorcycle journeys, I have time and again chanced upon a smile that had the power to take me to that now faraway destination called pure joy.

Having spent most of February backpacking through Rajasthan and then joining the Kerala Blog Express as part of the team of travel bloggers, the exhaustion had just begun to set in. While on the trip, we were taken on a walk through the quaint little village of Kumarakom which was a pioneering responsible tourism project initiated by Kerala Tourism. As we approached the village on a country boat, we were welcomed by a sprightly bunch of kids dressed in their tidy school uniforms. Standing atop one of the many over-bridges that spanned the narrow backwater, the kids made for the perfect welcome with all the excited jumping and waving. They were as excited to see us as we were to see them. As most travellers would know, the sight of happy children is always a welcome event and this wasn’t any different.


Excited school kids welcoming the boats.

Calling out to us Bollywood style

Calling out to us Bollywood style.

But once we had parked the boat, something caught my eye. There was this one little girl who stood alone watching all the activity from a corner with curiosity in her eyes. She seemed to be in a different imaginary world as she broke into a giggle all of a sudden and that moment was frozen in my mind.

Even though I wasn’t a part of her imaginary world, she seemed to share her amusement with me and I couldn’t help but smile. It was as if she had unknowingly granted me access to a place where happiness was a way of life. I felt relaxed and the clouds of weariness had cleared to let in those much needed rays of sunshine.

She had shown me an aspect of village life that I seemed to miss so much without even having experienced it before. A moment of realization; of suddenly knowing where I wanted to be and what I wanted from life. An honest smile, without pretense, was a life giver and I wanted to feel alive. That little girl had without an effort gifted me what was now ‘my precious’!

She observed all the sudden activity with curiosity.

She observed all the sudden activity with curiosity.

Something amused her and she broke into a giggle.

Something amused her and she broke into a giggle.

She was Happiness.

She was Happiness.

The #KeralaBlogExpress and An Invitation to Join Me!

So like many of you already know and the others who don’t will (after they have finished reading the next 17 words), I HAVE WON A PLACE ON THE #KERALABLOGEXPRESS ROAD TRIP ORGANIZED BY THE KERALA STATE TOURISM DEPARTMENT!

The tweet that made it official!

The tweet that made it official!

Tomorrow evening, I will board a train from Kannur and reach Trivandrum the next morning at 7 to begin a two week journey with 26 other travel bloggers from around the world. Exploring the beautiful land of Kerala, traversing across its length and breadth in a bus full of crazy travellers I am looking forward to meeting, sounds like something to be excited about.

What began as a shot in the dark at the end of 2013 has now morphed into probably a life changing experience. I say life changing because every time I set out to travel, I believe I have changed a bit. More than anything, there are three big reasons why I think this will be such an epic journey.


So this was one of the biggest reasons that got me to spam bomb so many inboxes (perhaps yours too). When I put my name into the hat for the voting, there were probably about 60 odd participants but then in about a week or so after that, the numbers started shooting up. I read many participant profiles posted on the Kerala Blog Express website and realized that this was a phenomenal list of travellers!

And did Kerala Tourism do a great job of picking up the final 27? Oh yeah! 14 countries in a bus, that’s got to be right. J Here’s a list of the awesome people who will be on the #KeralaBlogExpress road trip with me. If you are reading this, you must at some level love travelling and this is a dream list of travel blogs and twitter handles to follow ;)!

Gaia Passarelli, Brasil

Osiemstop, Poland

The Tiny Taster, India

DesiTraveler, India

MyGreedyBackPack, India, Indonesia

Disgiovery, Indonesia

SameSame, Brasil

MauOscar, Brasil

A World to Travel, Spain

Anita Bora, India

UnaIdeaUnViaje, Spain

TheSyracusas, Italy, USA

AwaySheGoes, USA

JustinWasHere, USA

MilesToMemories, USA

EazyTraveler, Philippines

ThePinaySoloBackPacker, Philippines

IvanHenares, Philippines

Stephania Van Lieshout, Netherlands

Shinimichi, Denmark

NelsonCarvalheiro, Portugal

ShaveTheWhales, Germany

LosSaboresDeMexico, Mexico

Meruschka Govender, South Africa


So when someone says Kerala, what comes to your mind is Kovalam or may be Wayanad or even Fort Kochi. Imagine doing Kovalam, Varkala, Aleppey, Kumarakom, Thekkady, Munnar, Athirappally, Cheruthuruthi, Punnathur Kotta, Wayanad, Bekal and Fort Kochi, all on one trip. That’s how awesome this road trip is going to be!

Check out the route map here.


I’m sure you would agree that a great host makes for a great travel experience. Where do you find a better host than the Kerala State Tourism Department! Winning national and international awards for its initiatives and leading the way in India, I am sure the winners of the #KeralaBlogExpress trip will only have great things to say about Kerala Tourism once the journey has ended.

Rutavi & Kenney

Rutavi & Kenney (Photo by: Gaia)

Moreover, as I write this, the first participant Gaia Passarelli has already reached Trivandrum and shared her initial experience of meeting the hosts. Rutavi Mehta from PhotoKatha and Kenney Jacob make a great hosting team and get a big nod of approval from her!

All in all, the ingredients seem to be perfect and all that remains is to begin the experience of tasting! 😉

Be a part of this journey with me as I will be sharing my experiences across multiple social media platforms and here.


Instagram: @FeelFreeOrFly

Twitter: @FeelFreeOrFly

Channapatna: the Land of Toy Makers – Part 1

A Colourful Past & A Not-so-bright Present

Remote controlled cars, super hero action figures, mini toy-laptops, the ‘I-whatevers’, these weren’t even a part of my imagination as a child. I was more than happy running around dragging an aluminium toy bus by the string attached to its front. Trying to master the skill of spinning the wooden top with a string and then lifting it from the ground with the same string to make it spin on my palm, this is what play meant to me as a 7 year old. Older kids who could do this with relative ease were my role models and the only aim in life was to emulate them. Then, it wasn’t about which level you crossed or what your score was, even the Nintendo handheld ‘video game’ would have seemed to be unrealistically futuristic. Life was simpler.

In the years that followed, technology and globalization brought about a major shift in what kids seemed to enjoy as toys. As attention spans decreased, the need to develop toys that would suit the right age group became of great importance. Gradually these age groups became shorter too. Well, when I was a child, if those wooden spinning tops had been sold with the cool packaging that we see today, the boxes would have said – ‘For Kids Aged 5 to 35 years’! And by the way, if you could master the skill, whatever your age was, You Were ‘The Man’!

Channapatna Toy Maker

Shamiullah showing me that he was ‘The Man’! 🙂

A few days back, I decided to take a walk down memory lane; I visited the traditional toy makers of Channapatna. Proud of their skill and the fame that their products had achieved, these men were smilingly carrying the burden of keeping alive a skill that had been passed on through generations. It is believed that Tipu Sultan brought in artisans from Persia to teach the locals the art of making wooden toys. The toy makers I met could trace back the roots of this skill to at least a hundred years back.

During the two hours that I spent with them, these incredibly friendly people spoke to me about a glorious past when their skill and the products they made were valued by people. There were fewer toy makers in Channapatna and the wish to create high-quality toys with an impeccable finish made toy-making a skill to master. Today, Channapatna houses more than a thousand toy makers. What used to be the pride of a few artisans is now the ‘job’ of a thousand. This rise in numbers and the race to outsell the competition has brought down the quality of the final product.

Luckily for me, the artisans I met at the government-built Lacquerware Craft Complex were all veterans. They had been making these toys for more than 25 years on an average. On paying a rent of ninety rupees per month, they were allowed to use one of the old turning lathe machines. Each one of these machines was an independent manufacturing unit. I agree that the rent they pay is ridiculously low by today’s standard, but then the facility and the support provided is also far from standard. The creaky old machines have the tendency to breakdown often and the lack of backup power meant that work had to be stopped every time there was a power loss. Moreover, at an average income of about two to three thousand rupees a month, these people could not have afforded much more.

Toy makers busy at work at the Lacquerware workshop in Channapatna

Toy makers busy at work at the Lacquerware Craft Complex in Channapatna.

Channapatna Lathe Machines

Individual units with a lathe machine each are rented out to the toy makers.

Channapatna toy making tools.

Toy-making tools.

Channapatna toy making closeups

Weathered but very skilled hands, at work.

Being very kind, they were more than happy to let me shoot photographs of them working and agreed to have a chat with me a little later. The lack of support or backup became evident then when as I was photographing them, the power broke down. They had no choice but to wait it out. The fact that they knew that this would be a 30 minute break made it clear that this was a regular occurrence here. The good thing about the power cut that day was that it gave me the opportunity to talk to them about their work and in general about their lives.

The toy makers chatting during the power cut.

The toy makers chatting during the power cut.

Dasharatha, Shamiullah, Ismail, Mohan, Chandru and Shafi, all very eager to be heard, spoke to me about how they believed that they were getting a raw deal though their products were in great demand. 55 year old Dasharatha, had been working at the unit for almost 25 years now and at other places for another 15 years before that. He, with great patience, explained the entire process of how they worked on raw pieces of Hale wood and Teak wood over weeks (the wood needed to be seasoned) to create these beautiful toys. The costs involved, the time spent and the final price that these pieces garnered, it somehow didn’t add up. With most of their products priced between 15 to 200 rupees, I was surprised to know that they almost always ended up slashing the prices even further to make sure that ever-haggling urban customers didn’t leave without buying.

Because of the low returns that they managed, every possible way of making an extra buck was used by them. Even the wood dust that was collected around the lathe machines was sold to incense stick manufacturers who paid them a paltry sum for sack fulls. The month seemed to be better whenever they found a client who would give them a bulk order for key chains or toys. A thousand pieces of any key chain would fetch them a profit of 2-3 thousand rupees.

The wood dust collected gets the toy makers a few extra bucks.

The wood dust collected gets the toy makers a few extra bucks.

All of them had families to feed and all they wanted was to ensure a decent meal for their children. According to Ismail, with the money he made, he could feed his family a very basic meal everyday but could never imagine inviting a guest over for dinner. What was remarkable was that they kept telling me that they weren’t complaining and that they knew that this skill had no future. They had accepted this as their destiny. They were glad that none of their children were into toy making and that in the future, they would be able to enjoy stable salaries working in offices in Bangalore and Mysore.

As predicted, the power supply was restored exactly after thirty minutes and my new found friends got back to working hard towards earning their bread. Though they were eager to share their stories with me, it only made sense for me to not disturb them any longer. The only thing left for me to do there was to see the entire process of any one product being created and on my request, Dashratha allowed me to capture the creation of a wooden bead.

Channapatna toy makers at work

Each toy maker works on a different piece/toy and when needed share their creations.

Concentration and skill goes hand-in-hand.

Concentration and skill go hand-in-hand.

Dasharatha, busy at work, but with half his heart fixed on selling at least one toy to me. :)

Dasharatha, busy at work, but with half his focus fixed on making me see the toys he made. 🙂

The entire process of creating one lacquered wooden bead.

The entire process of creating one lacquered wooden bead (Click on the photo to enlarge).

What struck me towards the end of my stay at the unit was the happiness and enthusiasm they exuded when talking about the products they made. They seemed to be the happiest when they were showing me how the simple toys worked with each one competing with the other to demonstrate. Though, it was clear that each one of them wanted me to buy stuff from his stock, they never pushed me to make a purchase. Shamiullah, turned into a playful boy as he spun the top while Dasharatha explained to me how it was important that each of these spinning toys needed to be perfectly balanced for them to work well.

Beautiful brightly collected tops that you can spin with your hand!

Beautiful brightly collected tops that you can spin with your hand!

There was something about these people that made me want to spend time there. I actually didn’t feel any sympathy for them or the conditions that they were in and neither did they expect it. It was probably disappointment that I felt when I thought about the city folks who would respect the ‘Fixed Price’ sign in a store on Brigade Road but had no respect for these brilliant artisans who were already undervaluing their skill to make sure that a missed opportunity to sell did not rob their families of dinner that night!

It would be easy to summarize this post and say that future of the skill that the Channapatna toy makers possess is pretty bleak. But that would not be entirely true. This centuries old skill is now moving towards two new and distinct directions. There will be a major transformation in the way the art will be perceived in the times to come, but the art will survive. The two distinct directions that have evolved, one out of commercial reasons and the other out of the need to keep the skill alive and give it a contemporary edge, will feature in part 2 of this post. All I can say for now is that there is a silver lining to this cloud too.

If you found this to be an interesting read, you will most definitely want to know about what the future hold for the Channapatna toy makers. To find out, follow the blog. I promise you won’t be disappointed.