Tuesday 30 April 2013

Namaskaaram! (Hello in Kerala)

Author: Willius Koh Kah Wee

Article written for www.natastravel.com, copyright (c) 2013.

Really wanted/needed a getaway between the fall and spring semesters. 7 modules in 4 months is no joke. Then again, Bintan and Batam were considered too mainstream, so we’ve decided to fly to South India – Kerala for a beach getaway.

Perhaps due to our biased predetermined expectations of India, Kerala wasn’t as disastrous as what we perceived. The locals here were really friendly and genuine. They would unselfishly offer their help without expecting anything in return.

Kerala is one of the top tourist destinations in India. There were lots of inbound tourists, a handful of Europeans and there’s us. We really stuck out like a sore thumb and were really striking. Though that made us easy targets to solicit business from, the locals were more willing and patient with us; education us on how to dine without cutleries, taking the bus and etc as we were obviously tourists.

Due to our time limitations and budget constraints, we only had a week to spare. Hence we decided to visit Fort Kochi, Alleppey and Munnar while in Kerala.

Fort Kochi is the heart of Cochin, situated along the coastline, seafood was readily available at very affordable prices. We were very lucky to chance upon India’s first Biennale too. They showcased some really interesting art pieces. One of which I remember vividly. Random objects such as empty canned drinks, bottled water, dried leaves and others are electronically coiled with copper strips and connected to the generator. It is an interactive piece where when its viewer were to touch the strip, it would echo the objects’ sound!

Alleppy, an hour drive from Fort Kochi has a stunny view of the sunset along the coastline. Though it may not be the cleanest beach around, the view was mesmerizing from the beach resort. We were even told by other homestayers that dolphins could be occasionally be spotted along the beach. Weren’t that lucky this time though…

You could either rent a houseboat and stay over the night at the backwaters or go on a canoe touring through the narrow canals. We chose the latter and was exposed to the villagers’ daily routine. The serene environment was very calming and soothing too; A really different view on life beyond the mad rush in Singapore.

We then made our way southwards to Munnar. If you think Genting drivers are reckless, the bus ride towards Munnar was a blood-tingling one. The driver would speed through the mountainous terrain overtaking vehicles by crossing paths with oncoming traffic. It felt like being on a roller coaster just that this one was for 5 terrifying hours

Munnar is well known for its tea valley. Instead of opting for the jeep ride up the tea plantations, I choose to have a trekking trip instead. To be able to reach the peak on foot with such breathtaking views was an achievement.

A trip to India is not completed without an ayurvedic massage. The therapist would pour warm oil over the body, work their magic and viola! The body is rejuvenated and the mind soothed. It is a spa treatment that could help relax the mind and body in completeness.

The people at Kerala are really hospitable people. One of the tuk tuk drivers, instead of driving us to our destination, actually made a detour and “kidnapped” us back to his home instead. His abrupt invitation made us feel rather uncomfortable and we worried for our safety but in reality, he just wanted to play host and treated us to some of the local snacks. Learning that, I felt really ashamed to have doubted his hospitality. Hearing all types of scheming scams through our growing years made us build up defences against others. I cannot emphasise just how innocent these villagers are even towards outsiders.

Again due to the fact that we are tourists, the locals seemed exceptionally interested in us. On a particular instance, one guy murmured “Oppa Gundam Style” when he walked past us. Singaporeans must have been rare. I was even approached by two locals for a photograph as we were considered unique. That was quite a laugh! :)

To sweeten the deal, it was only about SGD $1,000 for an entire week’s trip. That is inclusive of the air tickets, accommodation and expenses. What a steal! Its my first time to India and it would definitely not be my last after hearing so many stories from our housemates during our homestays about bustling North India. We certainly should not limit our preferred travelling destinations to just Bangkok, Taipei, Hong Kong and other such areas. Being in the hospitality industry, it is important for us to be exposed to different cultures and keeping an open mind about the world at large

The world is your playground only if you’re willing!

The author is a student of University of Las Vegas (UNLV).

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