Fort Kochi, Street Art & A New Dimension.

A city, like the people who call it home, needs to develop, evolve and grow with changing times. Now, if you have been following the Indian political soap opera (leading to the 2014 Mahabharata/Elections) and believe that the only meaning of ‘development’ would be to have beautifully tarred pothole free roads for miles and glass matchbox buildings lining them, this post might end up disappointing you!

Kerala has been progressive for ages now in its own way and the most enriching aspect of this was that the state acknowledged the importance of its rich heritage, both natural and man-made, and made protecting it a part of its developmental plan. A state that has been a forerunner in making the most of its resources and teaching the rest of India a lesson or two in tourism management, Kerala is known for its dense forests, pristine beaches and a unique cultural heritage. Every tourist who has had the opportunity to visit God’s Own Country (a moniker that most would agree is apt), has been lured by the promise of experiencing nature and cultural vibrancy at its best.

One of the trump cards that helps draw tourists to Kerala by the droves is Fort Kochi, a beautiful heritage hub in the city of Kochi. The St. Francis Church, the Paradesi Synagogue, the Chinese fishing nets and the quaint little spice shops have made sure that a visitor always returns home with great memories.

But 12/12/12 changed the city and how the world would see it in the future. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, launched on the aforementioned date, brought about a dynamic shift; one that would be reflected in every travelogue about the city that has been written about the region ever since. The introduction of graffiti into the cityscape was a well thought out move on the part of the Kerala State Government and Kerala Tourism. Fort Kochi is now on the way to becoming a certain destination for the art hungry traveller. You may think that this is a premature statement but with the massive success of the first Kochi-Muziris Biennale and the second one approaching soon, the region and it’s graffiti scene is bound to grow.

Pepper House, the Aspinwall House, the walls on Burger Street and some other locations became canvases for the vivid expressions of artists like Anpu Varkey, Amitabh Kumar and Daniel Connolly amongst others. The sometimes contentious art of graffiti has not only gained the approval of the visiting tourists but also the admiration of locals who realize the importance of this brilliant new addition to their area’s fabric.

Okay, so it may not be a Berlin or a London yet but it is getting there.
‘A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step’ – Lao Tzu

Here are a few photographs of the first steps that Fort Kochi has taken. These were captured when I visited the region as part of the Kerala Blog Express (another fantastic initiative by Kerala Tourism) team of travel bloggers.

The Dragon Fish by Anpur Varkey at Pepper House. Street Art

The Dragon Fish by Anpu Varkey at Pepper House.

At Pepper House, Swiss couple Maya Hottarek and Louis Werder created the Brain Monster as a critique of capitalism and the waste it creates.

At Pepper House, Swiss couple Maya Hottarek and Louis Werder created the Brain Monster as a critique of capitalism and the waste it creates.

IMG_0009_1IMG_9784_1IMG_9926_1IMG_0012_1IMG_0014_1

Political pamphlets disfiguring a wall adorned with a graffiti... For those who don't know what vandalism means, here's a great example!

Political pamphlets disfiguring a wall adorned with graffiti… for those who don’t know what vandalism means, here’s a great example!

If you knew you would be disappointed by Kerala’s idea of development but still managed to stay with this post right till the end, I have some good news for you. KERALA DOES HAVE SOME OF THE BEST ROADS IN THE COUNTRY! 😉

Kerala Blog Express, a Journey of Sunsets.

Okay, so here is a confession. I have never been a big fan of sunsets or sunrises and I’m not really sure why. Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy them every now and then, but I have never felt the urge to walk distances or schedule my day specifically with the aim of making it to that special ‘sunset’ point.

Well, all that was true before I joined the Kerala Blog Express and met two special people, the crazy EDIN CHAVEZ and the awesome INMA GREGORIO.

Edin and Inma had two very different personalities and I was fascinated by them both but it was the traits they had in common that in a strange way resulted in this post. Two of the things that captivated me the most was their conversations in Spanish (which I couldn’t understand at all but still enjoyed a lot) and their love for sunsets.

Even if they had gone through a busy day and had seemingly given up to exhaustion by displaying a lack of enthusiasm for planned photo ops, the suggestion of watching the sun come down to meet the horizon and taking a few good shots would make them jump to their feet. To be honest, on the first evening at the Estuary Island in Poovar, I wasn’t really keen on shooting the sunset; I was just following the herd! But I am glad I did, as that ended up being my first step in a relationship with the flaming skies.

After the first evening, the quest became effortless. I just had to follow the crazy sunset hunters! They could sense sunsets and locate fantastic view points to shoot from. I was learning. I was falling in love.

While skimming through the photographs that I had shot during the Kerala Blog Express, I realized that I had made a journey of sunsets. Every photo took me back on the journey and memories flooded in. Here are ten of those sunset moments that made the Kerala experience so magical for me.

Kerala Sunset

Local boys showing off their parkour skills at sunset. Location: Estuary Island, Poovar. Courtesy: Estuary Island Resort.

Staying at the Estuary Island Resort allowed us to soak in this brilliant sunset.

Staying at the Estuary Island Resort allowed us to soak in this brilliant sunset. Location: Estuary Island, Poovar. Courtesy: Estuary Island Resort.

Inma (aworldtotravel.com) doing what she loves the most; enjoying the sunset. Location: The Leela Kovalam.

Inma (aworldtotravel.com) doing what she loves the most; enjoying the sunset. Location Courtesy: The Leela Kovalam.

A fishing boat glides past as the dying sun paints the sky a fascinating pink. Location: Punnamada (Vembanad) Lake. Courtesy: Rainbow Cruises, Allepey.

A fishing boat glides past as the dying sun paints the sky a fascinating pink. Location: Punnamada (Vembanad) Lake. Courtesy: Rainbow Cruises, Allepey.

The sunset turned out to be the icing on the cake after a fantastic boat ride spotting wild elephants, sambar deer and gaurs. Location: Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.

The sunset turned out to be the icing on the cake after a fantastic boat ride spotting wild elephants, sambar deer and gaurs. Location: Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.

Dramatic giant silhouettes of trees at Wayanad. Location: The Hill District Club, Wayanad.

Dramatic giant silhouettes of trees against the gradient sky at Wayanad. Location Courtesy: The Hill District Club, Wayanad.

The mesmerizing hills of the Western Ghats create a beautiful layered foreground for this sunset. Location: Vythiri, Wayanad. Courtesy: Vythiri Resort.

The mesmerizing hills of the Western Ghats create a beautiful layered foreground for this sunset. Location: Wayanad. Courtesy: Vythiri Resorts.

A favourite of many sunset-chasing photographers, the Chinese fishing nets frame the sun as it rests on the horizon before taking the plunge. Location: Fort Kochi.

A favourite of many sunset-chasing photographers, the Chinese fishing nets frame the sun as it rests on the horizon before taking the plunge. Location: Fort Kochi.

A fisherman at Edakkad beach in Kannur. Disappointed with the catch but not giving up, he made a sharp subject. Location: Edakkad Beach, Kannur. Courtesy: MalabarCove Beach House.

A fisherman tries his luck oblivious to the stunning shimmering water. Location: Edakkad Beach, Kannur. Courtesy: Malabar Cove Beach House.

This tiny gorgeous stretch of sand witnesses the most magical crimson sunset every evening. Location: Edakkad Beach, Kannur. Courtesy: Malabar Cove Beach House.

This tiny gorgeous stretch of sand witnesses the most surreal crimson sunset every evening. Location: Edakkad Beach, Kannur. Courtesy: Malabar Cove Beach House.

So as you may have imagined, by the end of the KeralaBlogExpress road trip, my love for sunsets had slowly developed into an obsession and there are only two people to thank for this transformation, Edin and Inma. What better way to thank these amazing guys than to use the Spanish that I have learnt by listening to them (and a little help from Google Translate, obviously!).

Amigos, gracias por ser increíble.

(I do know a few more words in Spanish but then this isn’t really a post about my incredible command over the language!) 😉

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.

KeralaBlogExpress

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.

Thiruvananthapuram: An Experience of Wellness, Leisure & Luxury.

Kerala, a destination known across the world as a top travel destination has arguably been endowed with natural diversity and character unlike any other destination in India. The tag of being called God’s Own Country stands justified to everyone who has had the chance of having visited this land that very recently was described as ‘One of the ten paradises in the world’ by National Geographic Traveller.

What really makes this beautiful region standout is the unrivalled standard of hospitality that they offer as a host. Pioneers in India at realizing the value of the treasure trove that they were fortunate to call home and making Kerala into a leading holiday destination, the Kerala Tourism Department and the many individual hotels and resorts that have sprouted over the years across the state are constantly redefining and improving what can only be described as the Kerala Experience!

Being someone who chooses to travel as a backpacker, the overwhelming hospitality extended by four of Thiruvananthapuram’s top resorts over a span of two days was an experience that I wouldn’t mind every now and then. From viewing the sunset from the balcony of an uber luxury property to rejuvenating yourself with a traditional Ayurvedic massage, the options for one to feel special and pampered are far too many.

Visiting the Estuary Island Resort, the Poovar Island Resort, the Leela Kovalam and the Somatheeram & Manaltheeram Ayurveda Resorts as one of the Kerala Blog Express travel bloggers gave me a glimpse into four very special and unique getaways for the weary traveller.

ESTUARY ISLAND, POOVAR
www.estuaryisland.com

Our hosts for the first couple of days, Estuary Island stood out for its scenic location and the view of the Arabian Sea. The short fifteen minute boat rides with coconut palms and a variety of birds for company, the time spent relaxing in the pool, the prompt service and the amicable disposition of the staff and the time spent in the evening sitting next to the water sipping on chilled beer and chatting with fellow travel bloggers; time spent at the resort was more than enjoyable.

Estuary Island Resort at Poovar
Estuary Island Resort at Poovar

POOVAR ISLAND RESORT, POOVAR
www.poovarislandresorts.com

Invited by the resort for lunch, I only spent a few hours at the Poovar Island Resort. Within that time, a couple of things at the resort stood out noticeably. The floating guest rooms with undiluted views of the sea and the serene ambience of the Ayurveda Centre seemed to be the features that would get me to visit this resort again.

Poovar Island Resort

Poovar Island Resort

SOMATHEERAM & MANALTHEERAM AYURVEDA RESORTS, CHOWARA
www.somatheeram.in / www.manaltheeram.com

Pioneers and present day world leaders in the Ayurveda resort segment, Somatheeram and Manaltheeram Ayurveda have been providing traditional healthcare and wellness treatments to guests since 1985. Built on hilly terrain with the boundary on one side resting on the edge of a cliff, the rustic vernacular architecture and the panoramic view of the sea available to the rooms probably help in the process of rejuvenation.

Somatheeram & Manaltheeram Ayurveda Resort

Somatheeram & Manaltheeram Ayurveda Resort

THE LEELA, KOVALAM
http://www.theleela.com/locations/kovalam

The plan was to visit the hotel and view the famed sunset of the west coast. Now the honest fact was that I had seen beautiful sunsets every day since the Kerala Blog Express began and I wasn’t too excited about another hotel and yet another sunset! But this turned out to be very different. The fact that we had the most beautiful and luxurious seats in the house made everything feel better. The dying light of the setting sun shimmering on the surface of the infinity pool, the long dramatic shadows cast onto the texture stone architecture and the Mediterranean themed verandahs; the setting was perfect and so was the evening. Every frame had magically transformed into a breathtaking surreal painting.

The Leela, Kovalam

The Leela, Kovalam