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In God's own country

For Easter we had decided to finally visit Kerela. I kind of twisted my husband's hand with the argument that if I leaved India without visiting Kerela, I would be pissed. He wanted to wait for a better time. But he finally agreed with me and we went for five days, four nights.

Since we did not have much time, we forgo sight seeing and all the tourist straps for another time. Instead we concentrated on relaxing in a nice resort and shopping for Kerelan sarees. The first part of our trip we stayed in Kochi, next to M.G. road. Our hotel was very old but still nice enough. It was at walking distance from Saree shops and restaurants. It had a room big enough with two twin beds we put together to have a bed big enough for us. The WiFi was perfect, the breakfast OK. It was a satisfying place to stay.

After our arrival in the hotel, we rest a bit because it was extremely hot outside. We went out after 5 to have a late lunch. We checked a Punjabi place called Sardarji ka Dabbah. It is kind of weird to eat at a Punjabi place in Kerela but the food was good. We ordered Punjabi chicken for the kids, Fish Palak and Biriyani for us. Since we had asked for the food to be mild, they did not put too many spices. Therefore the Biriyani ended up tasting more like fried rice. However it did not deter to the taste. It was still very delicious. But the star of the day was the fish Palak. I do enjoy Palak Paneer and I find Gosht ( mutton) Palak really succulent. However the Fish Palak is by far my favorite now. The fish was a white one that was marinated in spices and fried, then dumped into the spinach ( Palak) gravy. I could have licked the bowl if I was not afraid of what the restaurant staff would have thought.

After lunch, we walked around the neighborhood. We checked a few places and a mall in search of Sarees. It was very hot and humid. Therefore we were in heaven when we entered Jayalkshmi shop. 






The Saree that caught my eye!

It is a three story shop where you can find all kinds of Indian fabrics, ready made dress, bridal wear and even men's wear. The have very efficient shop assistants who will lead you to exactly what you are looking for. The shop was decorated in opulence with heavy chandeliers, golden mirrors and wooden desks to showcase the sarees. I have never seen a place like that. In that instant I just realized how small of a place Pune really was. Obviously with such a shop, you can expect the price to be hefty. However I did find affordable cotton sarees. But all my attention was on a gold and white printed silk saree. It was cheaper that I have expected it to be yet it was over my budget.  I kept on thinking that if I was rolling in money, I would not mind spending an entire day in a shop like this being attended to like a Queen, and picking sarees without checking their price tag. One can dream.
After that we were exhausted so we bought ice cream from a local vendor and went back to the hotel. Needless to say that we slept early.

The following day we had breakfast at the hotel. I had Upma and masala omelette. I had eaten better upma in other places but it was decent enough.


Breakfast : tea, masala omelette, wada and upma


Then we checked out. We took a taxi to Allepey. We drove for one hour and a half. It could have been less had the driver known about our destination. But he was nice enough so it did not bother us. We arrived in Lake Palace resort which is a bit in the outskirts of the city. It is absolutely beautiful surrounded by rice fields and the Vembanad lake. In the middle of the resort, there is also an artificial lake with a pool at the center. The architecture is modern Kerelan I guess which reminds me a bit of Malaysia. It is a beautiful resort. We were welcomed with complementary cocktails and the check in was very smooth. Then we had a tour of the vast resort on a golf kart before getting to our room. The room is a Water room which means that we are nearly surrounded by the artificial lake. It is spacious enough for four people with one big bad and a roll out single bed. We also have a balcony with a lake view.


In front of our room



Hotel grounds


Lake view rooms


Chinese fishing net



Pavement

Since we were tired and hungry, we ordered room service which was Hyderabad baingain ( mashed eggplant gravy ) Bhindi Theelay ( a Kerelan curry with lady fingers) and roti. It was simple but kind of heavy on the stomach.

We rest the entire afternoon then headed to our complementary boat tour. We were expected a traditional houseboat but we had a normal boat instead. However the tour was very nice. We glided around the backwaters and finally to the open lake Vembanad which was huge. I have never seen such a big lake. At one point I thought we were out on the sea. We passed many other traditional houseboats on the way. Each cuter than the other. We also witnessed the normal lives of people living around the lake. They were fishing, bathing or washing dishes. They had a lake centered life, laid back and easy going. I looked at those people and I could not help but envy them their habitat even if I am not really keen on lakes. Along the way I even saw what looked like a dead snake floating by. It looked so unreal I wondered if it was not a toy. Anyway, at the end of the tour I was so relax, I wanted to go for another round.


Lake Vembanad


Small houseboat


Realxing on the cruise

 But we had to head to the town for diner. We took a smaller shuttle boat to town which took around 10 minutes. It was dark by then but the ride was still very relaxing. We looked for a restaurant for a while without success until we came across Thaff restaurant. I had seen it on TripAdvisor and when we could not find anything better we tried it. It did not disappoint. Mind you it is not the kind of place you go if you want fancy stuff and excellent service. But the food was great and oh so cheap. I could not believe it. We had two fried fishes in sauce wrapped in banana leaves, some rice pancakes called Appam, fried tuna, and fried rice and we paid less than what we would have paid for South Indian breakfast back in Pune.


Fried tuna, Appam, fried rice and...


...Fish on Banana leaf at Thaff restaurant


Kerelans are truly blessed. No wonder the restaurant was packed and people were ordering take out. On our way back to the boat it started raining, a warm heavy rain that got us soaked wet. But by the time we arrived back in the hotel, it was over. We showered, watched some TV and off to bed we went.

The following day we woke early and headed to breakfast at the hotel. There was not an extensive spread but the food was alright. I had tea, masala omelette, some croissants, hash brown and chicken sausages. I also tried Idiyappam which is like a rice galette but unlike Appam it is a a bunch of strings that look like vermicelli noddles that were steamed together to form a galette. They were tasteless unless you dipped them in some sauce. After breakfast we got to walk around the property. We were lucky enough to visit the hotel's own luxurious houseboat which had just docked. The insides were beautiful like a hotel on water. I guess for 25.000 rps a night, it might be worth it depending on the food they serve and the service on board. Maybe someday I would try it.


The hotel's luxury houseboat with...


...Bedroom and


....Living and dining room.


Then we let the kids enjoy the pool for the entire morning before heading to town for some shopping.



Pool view


Lounging

I had asked at the reception for some good places to check and they were nice enough to recommend three. We checked them all and ended up buying all the sarees we wanted at the last one SM Silks which was a tad cheaper. What I like about shopping in Kerela is that you have shops where you can get all you need. Take the first shop we visited Tex Park. It had sarees, Punjab suits, Anarkali, skirts, kids and men's clothes ( Western style), jewelry and beauty products. I bought some Mehendi cones and a jewelry set there.


Sarees at SM Silks store


Display at Maheshwari store

 If you find a good shop with excellent costumer service and cheap prices you do not need to go walk around under the sun. For I have to admit the humid heat in Kerela is unforgiving. We had lunch next to the store in a hotel/ restaurant called Revi Heights. We had a Kerelan buffet with goodies I never eaten before in india: fish curry, chicken curry, beetroot curry, pineapple curry, some puffed white rice, cassava, red coconut chutney and as desert some Gulab Jamum. Everything was tasty amid a bit cold but I could not get enough of the beetroot curry. It was one of the best thing I have eaten in Kerela so far ( well with exception to the Fish Palak) .


Lunch buffet at Revi Heights

And at 99 rps for each one of us, it was one of the cheapest buffet I had eaten in my entire life. By the time we arrived back in the hotel , we just had time to drop our bags into the room before heading to the complimentary boat cruise. This time the driver took a different route because we were the only customers who had done it before ( since everyone else was new to the hotel) and they did not want us to get bored. I am sure the tip we gave them when they drove us from the city back to the hotel earlier did not hurt either. Therefore we got to enjoy another side of the lake. It was as peaceful and relaxing as the first tour. And I just wanted to close my eyes and nap but I did not want to miss out on the Sunset and sights.


After the cruise, we rest in our room for a bit the  headed back to Thaff restaurant for diner. It was our last day in Allepey.

The following morning, we headed back to Kochi via Taxi. We stayed in the same previous hotel. We also had lunch at the same Punjabi place. We took naps and then headed to Broadway street market by rickshaw. Broadway was my kind of place, crowded with lots of street vendors and cheap goodies. We did not buy a lot but I managed to score a white and golden Kerelan fabric or Dhoti, the kind the Kerelan men wrap around like skirts. I coveted it for so long, wanting to make a dress out of it. The market was soon closing as we had come late. We did manage to eat ice creams and drink juice before hailing another rickshaw. The driver dropped us in front of The Chennai Silks store. and even though we had heard that the place was expensive, we entered. It was as beautiful as Jayalakshmi store but less glamorous. We did find some sarees we liked but most of the good stuff was way out of my range. Still customer service was on point.


Silk Sarees at the Chennai Silks store

The following day was our last in Kerela. We took the plane back to Pune and ended our vacations. 
I was very happy that we finally decided to go. For one thing, during those five days, I did not think at all of all of my worries. I was at peace, calm, serene, happy. Maybe it was the backwaters, or the smile on people's face. Whatever that was, these vacations were pure bliss. I just hope I get to return and enjoy more of what Kerela has to offer. 

For more pictures of my time in Kerela, check my other blog : www.odetofashion.blogspot.com

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