The Goodness of Strangers in Kerala

We may say we travel to see wide and varied landscapes and get enchanted by different cultures; but what we humans really seek are human connections. When we sit to recollect memories from past travels, we invariably remember unexpected stories of kindness from other humans we meet on the road.

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Its always the human connections we remember.

When Kerala Tourism got in touch for a unique campaign called ‘Human by Nature’, it was an apt time for me to dig in through years of memories and note down some unforgettable experiences.

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Cosmopolitan Fort Kochi.

Human Stories of Kindness from across Kerala

Heritage Quarter Walk in Fort Kochi

Walking through the streets of Fort Kochi was like walking through many centuries of history. Since the 13-14th Century, Kochi has been frequented by Dutch, Arab, Chinese, Portuguese, and British traders. Even the hostel that I was staying in was in an old building and had a pleasing feel. The Heritage Quarter area of Fort Kochi is especially endearing and is full of heritage delights at every turn.

Since there were not many people at the hostel during the off season, one of the local guys was more than happy to show me the lesser known lanes of Fort Kochi.

Kochi was a multicultural hotspot in the days of yore where people of many different ethnicities, religions and nationalities lived together. Among the most varied sights are St. Francis Church, The Dutch Cemetery, remains of Fort Immanuel (built in 1503 AD). Fort Kochi is also dotted with old Colonial-style houses, most of which are in good condition and some of them have been converted into hotels. Among the prominent old colonial houses to be seen are Vasco House, Bastion Bungalow, Koder House, Bishop’s House.

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Hostel

Local Cuisine of Kerala

In the touristy area of Fort Kochi, I wasn’t sure if the restaurants and cafés would serve me authentic Kerala food. It was by a sheer stroke of luck that I stumbled upon a tiny eatery located close to the hostel. Everyday, they would serve traditional Kerala cuisine on a banana leaf which also looked pretty in addition to being very tasty!

I got served idi-appams, puttu with Kerala style egg curry for lunch. I would roam around Fort Kochi area and only tried eating at one of the cafés once. I figured the gentleman at the small dhaba was my best bet of the local cuisine of Kerala. It was exotic to try the pink coloured water at first but when the locals told me about the health benefits, I was hooked to it.

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A Kerala staple – Idiappam, idli made with puttu flour, and egg curry

On subsequent trips to the Malabar Coast and Wayanad too, I ate at local eateries all the time. My most memorable instance of human connection in Kerala is dining at a one bench eatery run by an old man on the link road near Chundail in Wayanad. With no common language to make a conversation, the old man ensured I was fed well and used to only charge 40 Rupees for a meal. Since that was the only eatery in the vicinity of the hostel, I ended up spending a lot of time there and was happy to slip in a 100 Rupee note into his pocket when I left!

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Snacks across Kerala are deliciously yummy

Read : India’s French Colony : Pondicherry, A Photo Story

Kerala Sadhya

Sadhya is a traditional Kerala meal that is served on a banana leaf. In Kerala, it is customary for every important function or festival to be graced with a serving of Sadhya.

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Sadhya on a banana leaf.

Sadhya comprises of more than 24 dishes including par boiled red rice, avial, koottukary, puliserri, olan, sambar, rasam, savouries, pickles, pachadi, payasam. Sadhya is a dazzling array of flavours that I will remember for a lifetime. On a trip to Wayanad, I was lucky to be served Sadhya by helpful locals.

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Map of Kochi at the hostel.

In the earlier days, Sadhya used to be served at feasts and people used to eat it in a communal seating by sitting on the floor. In the modern times, Sadhya is also served at specialised eateries and is served on a banana leaf in the contemporary style table and chair restaurants.

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Exploring Mattancherry on a Walk

Mattancherry is the traditional trading area of Kochi. Over 500 years, it has witnessed an influx of migrants, traders and invaders. I was able to explore some offbeat sights of Mattancherry thanks to Johann (fellow blogger and resident of Kochi).

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Exquisite Burma Teak on a roof.

Among the old sights to visit in Mattancherry are Calvathy Jamath Mosque, Mattancherry Palace, and Pardesi Synagogue. Pardesi Synagogue in Jew Town has beautiful Belgian chandeliers, and hand-painted Cantonese tiles from China. The nearby lanes are filled with cafés, antique shops and spice shops.

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Hebrew on a handkerchief – The Jews of Kochi.
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Rich history; Mandalay is in Burma (Myanmar).

In the present times too, Mattancherry reflects this ethnic and cultural diversity and is a curious mix of the old and new; with traditional streets and businesses jostling with quirky street art and many old structures converted into heritage hotels.

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New age Mattancherry
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A Gujarati sweet shop in Mattancherry; testament to Mattancherry’s mix of cultures.

Spices of Kerala

The spices of Kerala are what attracted the Europeans to India’s shores. The first European traders arrived in Cochin in the 16th Century and started competing for trade with the Arab merchants.

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I got interested in Kerala spices on a spice plantation walk in Vythiri, Wayanad. The fresh breeze in the forest, with coffee growing and the aroma of the spices is delightful.

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When I was in Kozhikode, a few helpful locals directed me an authentic local place to buy all the spices of Kerala. I was able to buy cloves, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, nutmeg, caraway seeds, mace at very reasonable prices. My bag smelled of the spices even 2 months after my Kerala trip!

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A sack of star anise.

Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi

This is an unexpected addition to this post! It is a roadtrip based Kerala movie that literally translates to ‘Blue Sky, Green Sea, Red Earth’. I have seen this movie numerous times and it remains my first memory of Kerala before I even visited the state (of course seen with english subtitles).

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In this movie, two friends start on a trip from Kerala to Nagaland on their motorbikes. One of the guy’s motive is to find his girlfriend who lives in Nagaland. They travel through various parts of India and the journey and incidents on the road make the movie interesting. I especially like how the movie ends, ‘It must have started snowing in Tawang…’.

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Sunset on Bekal Beach

On one of the days in Kozhikode, I decided to head to Kannur and try and make it close to Mangalore, to find a cheap homestay and chill on the beach anywhere on the Malabar Coast! I somehow got to Kannur in a slow bus, reached the train station to take a train to Kasaragod. Kasaragod didn’t quite turn out to be the tropical paradise that I had dreamt it to be.

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I quickly decided to catch a bus to Bekal. Bekal also turned out to be a town where the beach wasn’t as close as I had thought it would be. After a conversation with an immensely helpful auto guy, I finally landed on the beach near Taj Bekal. It was magical to walk on the pristine beach in the mellow evening light with cool sand in the feet.

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It was a surreal sunset and with my suitcase I spent some time enjoying the after-sunset colours; the auto guy also helped me find a cheap place to stay.

Human by Nature – Video by Kerala Tourism

Finding a hostel in Wayanad

I had got down sleepy eyed from the bus in Kalpetta and was finding it very troublesome to find a reasonable accommodation. After roaming around aimlessly for more than 2 hours with my backpack, I got lucky when a local decided to help me. He asked me to sit on his bike and took me to a hostel perched on a hillock near a small town by the name of Chundail.

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The hostel was a colonial home and had a view of the Chembra peak and was located amidst a coffee estate and spice plantations. I never would have got here without the local’s help! It was only just that I spent 2-3 days here enjoying nature’s bounty.

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The Spirit of Kerala in the slideshow. 

Organic and Sustainable Farm

A friend from Kerala, George took me to his friend’s estate when I was in Wayanad. Golden Greens estate is a sustainable and organic farm spread over 5 acres. It is the brainchild of Mr. Laiju who also led us on a walk and explained how organic coffee and tea are cultivated.

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Organic tea in the estate.

I also met volunteers at this organic farm in Wayanad who had come to learn more about sustainable farming. It was wonderful to learn about organic farming done while keeping nature in mind.

Note : This post is sponsored by Kerala Tourism as part of their campaign ‘Human By Nature’. Opinions and words on this blog are always mine.

I would love to listen to your human experiences of Kerala? Please share in the comments. 

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. arv! says:

    Happy to read travel narrative of the Himalayan boy from God’s own country!

    1. shubhammansingka says:

      Hehe, hope you liked it 🙂

      1. arv! says:

        Certainly

  2. I am a Malayali and I take this as a compliment. I work in Kochi though I hail from Thrissur, its neighbouring district. I have roamed the streets of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry thousand times….

    1. shubhammansingka says:

      Certainly, it is meant as a compliment to Kerala 🙂 I’m sure there is lots to explore in Kochi for me even after multiple visits.

      1. Yes..You are absolutely right….

  3. chapter18 says:

    WoW…Wonderful description…The Palace Road has many ancient buildings and not to miss the Tamil Brahmin lane near Anavadil…

    1. shubhammansingka says:

      Thanks so much sir 🙂

  4. gayilkg says:

    Simply beautiful

    1. shubhammansingka says:

      Thanks for the comment.

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