Unforgettable memories from magical Kerala!

From peaceful getaways to adventurous haunts - Kerala has something for every kind of traveler! PC: Patricia Schussel Gomes
From peaceful getaways to adventurous haunts – Kerala has something for every kind of traveler! PC: Patricia Schussel Gomes

I am writing this article while combating severe flashback scenarios taking me back to my two weeks in Kerala, back in February 2016 – which were nothing short of a fairytale! When I signed up to participate in Kerala Blog Express 3, I only expected an all-sponsored trip to the state that I had seen only through Mani Ratnam’s eyes, but what I received in Kerala was so much more! I was the only Indian on the trip, and traveling in your own country with 29 international bloggers hailing from 24 nationalities, each curious and some absolutely clueless about your culture – is an experience words cannot describe!

So, flashback to 15th February 2016 – when 30 strangers from 25 countries set upon one epic road-trip, to a strange land in a strange continent, to the world’s biggest democracy, with nothing in common but an intense craving for adventure – and the rest, as they say, is history! Here are my top 10 unforgettable memories from this amazing adventure:

  • The traditional welcome we received at every resort
Dancing to the beats of the Theyyam artist welcoming us at Vythiri resort, alongside Betty and Patricia! PC: Jinson Abraham
Dancing to the beats of the Theyyam artist welcoming us at Vythiri resort, alongside Betty and Patricia! PC: Jinson Abraham

It all began at the official press-conference where we were swarmed by the paparazzi – it was a teaser of the two weeks to come. And sure enough, the Kerala Blog Express made each and every one of us feel so special at every step of the journey. Every resort we stepped into, would have a red carpet laid out just for us, with traditional aarti, live drums, traditional dance and welcome drinks (coconut water, obviously)! By the end of the trip we were so used to this royal treatment that when I returned to Mumbai, I was a tad disappointed at the sheer lack of recognition from the airport authorities! Let me show them my Instagram…

  • Our very own luxury floating house
Cruising over the famous Alleppey backwaters in Kerala. PC - Jinson Abraham
Cruising over the famous Alleppey backwaters in Kerala. PC – Jinson Abraham

I don’t know who (and why!) named those gorgeous waterbodies “backwaters” (it just sounds so wrong!) But I’ll stick to the common term. The famous Kerala backwaters – easily the crown jewel of the state! The one experience I was most curious AND skeptical about – because once any place is too famous, it usually ends up as a disappointment as it never matches up to the high expectations. But not true in this case. We stayed on a luxury houseboat owned by Spice Routes at the Alleppey Backwaters, and that one evening was easily the most peaceful sleep I had throughout the trip!

  • Village experience in Kumarakom
Learning traditional mat making as part of the Village Experience at Kumarakom, Kerala. PC: Jinson Abraham
Learning traditional mat making as part of the Village Experience at Kumarakom, Kerala. PC: Jinson Abraham

My blog, Untravel, is all about off-beat travel and learning a little from every place I visit. And so, our little village life experience in Kumarakom had me jumping around with joy like a little kid at the candy store! I volunteered to do every activity, including climbing a palm tree, and while I failed miserably at choir making (thrice!), I’m proud that Amma passed me in my mat-making tutorial! She didn’t speak much hindi, but she told the organizers in Malayalam – “She’s good. Let her stay here with me!” Mission accomplished, I’d say!

  • Kayaking on the Kumarakom backwaters
Kayaking over the gorgeous Kerala backwaters in Kumarakom. PC: Jinson Abraham
Kayaking over the gorgeous Kerala backwaters in Kumarakom. PC: Jinson Abraham

While kayaking can be fun no matter where you choose to do it, I would highly recommend doing it at Kumarakom backwaters! Kerala is so breathtakingly beautiful in so many ways, kayaking in Kumarakom was another gentle reminder of the same. As we made our way through the picturesque water alleys, we were greeted by locals residing by the banks of these canals, just as the sun blazed an amazing red getting ready for sundown! The canals was choker-blocked with waterplants for most parts, and while that does make kayaking here a little difficult as you have to really use all your strength to wade through the heavy roots, it also makes it all the more memorable!

  • Planting a tree in Thekkady
My mitti tree being planted at Greenwoods Resort! PC: Betty TravelsMy mitti tree being planted at Greenwoods Resort! PC: Betty Travels
My mitti tree being planted at Greenwoods Resort! PC: Betty TravelsMy mitti tree being planted at Greenwoods Resort! PC: Betty Travels

How many places can claim of keeping a part of you even after you’ve said your goodbyes? Thekkady does now, because the lovely folks at Greenwoods Resort got us to plant a sapling, which they will name after us. This way, any time I return to Thekkady, I can go check how my lovely “mitti” tree is doing!

  • Seeing elephants in the wild!
No caption needed! PC: Jinson Abraham
No caption needed! PC: Jinson Abraham

Strangely, the day I entered into an argument with the organizers about using an elephant to welcome us at a resort, also turned out to be the day when I saw one happy family of elephants in the wild! OH YEAH! BEST THING EVER! I also saw a wild boar, deer, several exotic birds and a bison! All while we cruised in our boat over the manmade lake in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary!

  • Meditation and camping amidst the tea-gardens of Munnar
Our beautiful campsite in Munnar! PC: Jinson Abraham
Our beautiful campsite in Munnar! PC: Jinson Abraham

Being a mountain child at heart, I was delighted to be back in familiar territory when we reached our campsite in Munnar. Cozily tucked amidst lush green tea-gardens with a mesmerizing view of the western ghats, our campsite was a scene right out of a dream. I thoroughly enjoyed catching the sunset away from the crowd with two fellow-bloggers. It was so serene and calm, we just sat there admiring the beautiful landscape, opening our hearts to different sounds of nature.

  • Winning the lucky draw to Pranavam Homestay
All heart at Pranavam homestay! PC: Betty Travels
All heart at Pranavam homestay! PC: Betty Travels

Ah, yes, that had to happen! Anyone who has read my blog will know how I prefer homestays over any other accommodations, and as much as I was enjoying the unfathomable luxury of the many resorts we were staying at during this trip, I was way out of my comfort zone! And luckily for me, I won the lucky draw (yes, we picked chits) to win a stay at the only homestay that was a part of our itinerary – Pranavam Homestay in Pozhuthana, Wayanad! I had the greatest time in the company of our affable hosts – Mr. Ravichandran, Rema Amma and Anwer – as we discussed politics, our families, local stories, their royal connections, India’s partition and Ravi-ettan’s Gandhian principles! Homestays are meant to offer a home away from home, and that’s exactly what Pranavam will do for you!

  • Appreciation of traditional arts at Kerala Kalamandalam
Lost in the beauty of traditional South Indian dance forms! PC: Jinson Abraham
Lost in the beauty of traditional South Indian dance forms! PC: Jinson Abraham

You think of South India, you think of classical dance! And so, when we visited the Kerala Kalamandalam in Kochi, the only government authorized arts preservation/promotion university in the state, I was excited like a little kid in a candy store! I remember how famished I was because we had not had lunch, there was no water or fan / AC, but that didn’t stop me from running around with my camera! We saw demonstrations of some of the best Indian classical dance acts like the best of South Indian dance forms like Kathakali, Mohiniyattom, Kudiyattom, Kuchipudi, Shiva Vandana, Bharat Natyam, among others!

  • The paparazzi and the celebrities
Don't we look like a gang? ;) We sure were difficult to avoid! PC: Jinson Abraham
Don’t we look like a gang? 😉 We sure were difficult to avoid! PC: Jinson Abraham

Last but not the least, in fact the most important of them all – THE EXPRESS! Like I said before, and I can’t emphasize enough, the experience of traveling with bloggers from across the globe is what truly made this trip one to be remembered for a lifetime! It’s amusing how we were the paparazzi as well as the celebrities on this trip. While we were the most excited about capturing every moment with our cameras; everyone else – from locals on the street to hotel staff to the media itself – seemed equally excited about getting us on camera! I’ll give all credit for this attention to our super-attractive bus that got all heads turning no matter where we went. We started this trip as 30 strangers and left as 30 friends. Rest assured, our love for travel will ensure we do cross paths very soon…after all, this world is a little too small for people with restless feet!

 

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The best Luxury Resorts in Kerala for the perfect honeymoon!

I’m back to Dharamsala after a roller-coaster ride that was the Kerala Blog Express 2016 – an all-sponsored trip across God’s Own Country – promoted and organized by Kerala Tourism for selected travel writers! I have so many stories to share, but I’d like to begin by this recommendation, which was the sole thought that kept raging in my head throughout – I wish this was a couples’ retreat.

Kerala is just so breathtakingly stunning, dreamy and romantic!!! If you’re getting married this year (or not!) and are tired of the same old honeymoon spots every second couple in India is nowadays vacationing at, take my word and opt for Kerala! You remember all those gorgeous landscapes from Mani Ratnam movies? They’re not just good camera work, they’re really REAL!! And you have to go see it yourself. What with its clean beaches that look like little corners of heaven, the surreal canals (“backwaters”) weaving through tiny civilizations, colorful towns and hillstations covered in tea plantations – Kerala has enough ammunition to deport you to your childhood fairytale fantasies! The best part of it all is how you can find peace in the most crowded places, thanks to the many gorgeous resorts across the state, some of which I am reviewing below to help you plan your trip! From lake-side rooms, to rooms with a pool floor, and if that doesn’t do it for you – there’s the floating houseboat for complete privacy! Here are my top picks from the best luxury resorts Kerala has to offer, perfect for a romantic getaway from your busy city life:

 

Vivanta by Taj, Kovalam

The private lake of Vivanta by TAJ, Trivandrum, Kerala
The private lake of Vivanta by TAJ, Trivandrum, Kerala

Vivanta by TAJ, Trivandrum was my pre-arrival accommodation, and I was like WHAA? If this is pre-arrival, what will happen once the trip really begins? I was welcomed with a traditional aarti, shell necklace, coconut water, and a smiling staff! It was almost time for the sunset, so the staff quickly arranged for my luggage to be sent to the room, and arranged to send Raul and me to their “private beach” (WHAT!?) And sure enough, the hotel has its own small little piece of heaven, even after 15 days from that evening, I very clearly remember how happily I sat by, with no sound but that of the waves hitting the rocks on the shore. Being a mountain girl at heart, it was the closest I have ever felt to loving the ocean! They also have a pretty infinity pool, two restaurants,  a spa that offers complimentary morning yoga sessions, and a perfect little coffee shop.

It was the perfect seed to what was going to be my blooming love-affair with Kerala!

Price Range: Rs. 18,000 to Rs. 20,000

 

Spice Routes Houseboats, Alleppey Backwaters

Sunsets from Spice Routes Houseboat on Alleppey Backwaters, Kerala
Sunsets from Spice Routes Houseboat on Alleppey Backwaters, Kerala

FLOATING HOUSE! I don’t think I need to sell the concept any further. Short video from our houseboat to show you what to expect!

PS: You will be amazed by the hospitality on-board! The video is from the houseboat “CLOVE”, I’ve heard “Cinnamon” is even better 🙂

Price Range: Rs 18,000 (1 bedroom) to Rs. 28,000 (4 bedroom)

 

Kumarakom Lake Resort, Kumarakom, Kottayam, Kerala 

The infinity pool at Kumarakom Lake Resort
The infinity pool at Kumarakom Lake Resort

Hands down the one place that will stay in my memory for a very long time! Why? How can you ever forget the first time you stayed at a cottage with an open shower and your own private pool and Jacuzzi? YES! Kumarakom Lake Resort oozes luxury in every aspect – be it the opulent cottages with a vintage yet modern feel, an infinity pool which is the perfect sunrise spot, early morning relaxing yoga session by the lake or a world-class property so huge, you need a car to take you around! If there’s only one luxury resort you want to save up for, let it be this!

Price Range: Rs. 13,000 (Luxury Pavilion Room) – Rs. 48,000 (Presidential Suite with Private Pool)

Honeymoon package (3N/2D): Rs. 63,000 (Luxury Pavilion Room) – Rs. 1,55,000 (Presidential Suite with Private Pool)

 

The Zuri Kumarakom, Kerala Resort and Spa – Kumarakom, Kottayam, Kerala

The private lake of Zuri Kumarakom Resort, KeralaThe private lake of Zuri Kumarakom Resort, Kerala
The private lake of Zuri Kumarakom Resort, KeralaThe private lake of Zuri Kumarakom Resort, Kerala

Just when I thought no amount of luxury can beat my stay at Kumarakom Lake Resort – Enter The ZURI Kumarakom, Kerala Resort and Spa, with a super tempting “Maya Spa” – one of the largest in South India and offering Ayurveda, Western and Oriental therapies, on the platter! This also turned out to be the first afternoon I had free in all the days on the trip, so I jumped at the prospect. I won’t go into unnecessary details about my massage (I think it deserves a blogpost!), but I will say that it was pretty darn perfect!

PS: Luxury cottages here have a private pool AND a private lake!

Price Range: Rs. 8,750 (Zuri Room) to Rs. 23,300 (Presidential Pool Villa)

Honeymoon Package (2N/3D): Rs. 34,000 (Zuri Lagoon View Room) to Rs. 60,000 (Presidential Pool Villa)

 

Greenwoods Resort, Thekkady 

Coffee at a tree house – check! #keralablogexpress #TripOfALifetime

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By this time in the trip, I had seen rooms with a private pool, Jacuzzi, lake, and a luxury cruise – you can understand how high our expectations were by now. But what Greenwoods lacked in appearance, they more than made up with hospitality! My my, if I had to choose one hotel that could teach all the others a lesson or two about what “serving” your customers really is, it would be Greenwoods! The staff was so sweet, accommodating and curious about our everyday experiences, they instantly won the hearts of every blogger (EVEN the ones who weren’t staying at other resorts) The property was quite pretty, with a lot of greens, a gorgeous treehouse coffee shop, and a swimming pool. They organized special activities for their guests like saree draping, traditional dance, and the best of it all – sapling plantation! YES, we all got a chance to plant a sapling in the resort, which will be named after us, so that there is a little something of us that stays at the resort even when we don’t! Now what better way to begin your married life than with such a heartwarming memory?

Price range:  Rs. 7000 (Standard Room) to Rs. 35,000 (Presidential Pool Suite with Warm Pool)

Honeymoon Villa with Pluge Pool: Rs. 15,000

 

Vythiri Resort, Wayanad

The Vythiri Resort in Wayanad knows exactly what everyone wants to hear! A perfect eco-friendly, jungle hideout, the choice of rooms ranges from treehouses to rooms with a private jacuzzi!  Just watch the video, I need not say more!

Price Range: Rs. 15,000 (Vythiri Haven) to Rs. 30,000 (Honeymoon Pool Villa) &

Luxury Tree-House Accommodation: Rs. 20,000 

Vythiri Exclusive Honeymoon Package (2N/3D): Rs. 38,000 to Rs. 53,000

 

Kunnathur Mana – Ayurveda Heritage  Spa Resorts

The traditional pool (hamaam) at Kunnathur Mana Ayurvda Heritage, Kerala (Picture Credits: Hotel Management)
The traditional pool (hamaam) at Kunnathur Mana Ayurvda Heritage, Kerala (Picture Credits: Hotel Management)

They had me at “Ayurveda Heritage”! Kunnathur Mana Ayurveda Heritage Resort is a Government approved Ayurveda hospital in Kerala with GREEN LEAF Certification. One thing I most vividly remember about Kunnathur Mana is feeling relaxed even while I was so tired and sick – the place is full of positive energy! The 130 year old heritage of this ancestral property can still be seen in the way the property has been maintained. And GUESS WHAT? Remember all those Mughal “hamam” baths we have only seen or heard about? This place has one and they actually let you swim in it (under the supervision of a life guard of course as it is 25 feet deep!) This makes it the only heritage place all over India that offers this experience!!! The biggest plus of this place though is, regular tourists will never choose to stay here!

Price Range: Rs. 10,000 (Aniyara) to Rs. 15,000 (Pool view Palliyara)

Inclusive of Ayurvedic Doctor Consultation, one suggestive therapy / massage, one day medicines (if required), Ayurvedic meals (if advised) and one-hour Yoga / Meditation.

 

Xandari Harbour, Kochi

Now, we visited this property only for our farewell dinner, but I have confirmation about their hospitality from other bloggers who chose to stay back a few extra days in this property. Xandari Harbour in Kochi was the most chic and classy hotel we saw during our trip!

 

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