Sunday, April 21, 2013


It was a fabulous trip to a part of India I was the least familiar with.
This is a beautiful area from the sea shore to the mountains and all the innumerable lakes and rivers that contribute to the lush green foliage.

The people here are mostly very nice and helpful and always with a smile on their face. The population is 30% Christians, 60% Hindus and rest Muslims and Jews. There is also some remaining tribal population whose beliefs are similar to those of Native Americans.

Couple of the people worth mentioning are:

Manilal, our driver. He was always on time courteous, vehicle washed and cleaned every day. Well stocked ice cooler with bottled water.
It took him a day to figure out our interest and show us landmarks and other items that he knew would be of interest to us.

Radhika, our local contact from the travel agency. She checked in on us from time to time and promptly took care of any concerns or changes.

Everybody spoke excellent English but sometimes used the wrong words.

Perhaps means that the Non-Veg counter is "Open"?

Ending with a typical decoration signifying blessings.

April 21 - Home!

The flight was long and tedious but very smooth. I was pleasantly surprised that the Life of Pi was one of the movie choices. Some of the shooting was based in Munnar, one of our favorites on this trip.

I am kind of undecided about the movie, I did however like the surprise ending. I probably should watch it under better circumstances and not on a 7" screen.

We got served four times during the flight but based on IST, so the dinner menu was at 5:00 AM Chicago time. I guess better than no food or just peanuts.

We arrived at the gate 45 mins early, got our baggage right away and cleared customs without any problems.

While waiting for Coach USA had good old McDonald's coffee, hit the spot right after the long flight.
The temperature change is huge, came from 80s to 30 but it can only get better. The daffodils are in bloom and that's a good sign.

The power receptacle meant for charging cell phones and laptops didn't work and a kind gentleman showed a duplex receptacle on the wall where he had plugged his in.

Finally home, now comes the dreaded unpacking, laundry, and getting ready for work tomorrow.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

April 20, working our way back.

Left at 10:00 am, continuing the saga of mismanagement, had to call 3 times to get a porter for the luggage. Oh well, we can easily forget this one property amongst all the wonderful ones we stayed at.

Long drive until a lunch stop but the roads are excellent and not too much traffic. Stopped for lunch at Regency Arcadia in Alleppey around 2:30 PM.

Rajeesh met us with my watch as promised, not having a watch during the vacation was great. So from now on I will take of my watch when I get to my destination and put it back on the day of my departure.

Airport check in was hassle free as has been our experience on Arrival as well. The flight to Delhi AI 047 is 30 mins late, no problem less waiting at Delhi, besides there is free wifi here.
This is also an AB 320 and coincidentally the same seat numbers 9A and 9B.

Smooth flight and dinner was good. By the time we got to the departure gate, boarding for our Chicago flight AI 127 had started. This is probably the shortest time we ever spent between flights at Delhi. It was nice as long as our luggage makes the transfer.

The flight to Chicago on AB 777-300 ER is very full as always and left on time.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

April 19 - Kovalam

View from the breakfast table. Sitting here, drinking coffee and enjoying the view. This was the right decision to forgo the day trip to Kanyakumari.

Ravi, the local tour manager had assured me yesterday that we will be credited whatever charges we incur for the additional boat trip since we decided to forgo the original plan which saves them money.

Reluctantly left the breakfast area after a couple of enjoyable hours and went back to the cottage to get ready to go the beach.
Met the enterprising and very pleasant head Gardner of the property, on the way to the beach.

The beach is beautiful as expected from seeing from our porch. There was active fishing going on by the locals and they weren't very friendly or interested in answering our questions, lack of a common language may have been the culprit.

Interestingly I always get more interest saying I am from Kolkata than the US. Maybe they think I am crazy to come from one seaside fish eating area to visit a similar one.

We watched the fishermen bring in the catch, empty the nets and stretch the net for drying.
Reluctantly left the beach area as it got too hot. Seems like the tide was starting to come in and it was fun to get soaked knees down. Of course Sudip didn't get any where near it and kept telling me to get back.

Lazed around some more on the porch and decided to go in for lunch around 1:00 PM. Wasn't very hungry from the late breakfast, ordered Dal Tadka (lentil with vegetable) over plain rice.

The food was excellent as always and complimented by cardamom tea after the meal.

Really really enjoyed all the open air dinning at all the resorts and sitting on the porch enjoying the weather. A major luxury for me since whatever grows in Racine, kicks in my allergies and makes me miserable to be outside.

The manager came to talk to us expecting us to say everything is perfect and left in a hurry when he got a well deserved earful.

Continuing the saga of mis-managed, the gift shop is supposedly open 9:00 am to 9:00 PM and was closed at around 2:00 with the "open" sign hanging on the outside.

It so very frustrating to such a beautiful property that has such potential and amenities, so mismanaged and in such disarray.

Left to go to the Karaikkattu boat tours that we had booked yesterday. The local tourist agency, Clipper Tours kept their promise and picked up the tab and refunded our deposit from yesterday.

The backwaters boat tour was fantastic, we saw many birds and Sudip got some great pictures. We went through mangroves, and went past floating restaurants, resorts, and rural villages, ending with a gorgeous sunset over the Arabian Sea. What a fabulous finale to a great vacation. It will help us to forget the ineptitude of the resort. The boatsman was young, energetic and with a keen eye.

After we came back, all of a sudden we started getting the service we should have had to begin with including working wifi everywhere and ice cold beer in chilled mugs.

We wondered if our local contact Radhika had pulled some strings, she did call earlier but I had told her not to do anything since we were leaving tomorrow morning anyway.

Will be leaving tomorrow morning to drive to Kochi to catch our flight to Delhi that will connect to the International flight to O'Hare.

April 18 - Kumarakom to kovalam

Went to breakfast around 7:30 and after breakfast went for a walk around the property and in the butterfly garden. Our naturalist guide was a young female named Githu, yet another talented and pleasant young person.

Came back to the cottage freshened up and the resort ferry took us to the mainland. As the ferry pulled away they played the drums, a nice touch.

The restaurant staff was not as friendly as all the other places we have stayed but the property, the food, and the ambience was excellent and inviting.

We left by car towards Kovalam around 10:15 am.

Pretty soon we left the lush green and started driving on a high traffic road passing through mundane small towns]. Hope there will be some open patches or this will be a very long 4 hours.
Fortunately, the road became much wider, less traffic, and lush green reappeared.

We stopped for lunch at Ginger, a favorite hangout of the ITs, s Tiruvanamthpur or Trivandrum, at the capital city of the state of Kerala. The menu was Chinese, inexpensive but quite good.
After a short drive we came to the Palace of the present king of Travancore. It was basically a museum displaying some awe inspiring carvings and artifacts.
These were very impressive and valuable but unfortunately were dusty and not well maintained. Still worth the visit.

Adjacent to the Palace was a temple famous for being the richest in India. It is basically where royalty stashed their gold and precious stones. We decided against going inside the temple and proceeded on towards our hotel.

We had decided earlier that we will skip tomorrow's program of going to Kanyakumari which would have entailed 3 consecutive days of 7 hour drive days a 17 hour flight back home.
We chose to just relax and a take a back water boat tour instead.

We booked the trip for tomorrow starting at 5:30 and it included sunset viewing promises to be good, we are looking forward to it.

We arrived at Travancore Heritage, our beach resort for the next two days.

We were greeted with traditional flowers, blessing, and a fruit drink, then things started to go downhill rapidly.

At check in our identity papers that we have always used on all our vacations in India, were not good enough for them and they insisted on our passport and finally settled on the papers and the expiry date of the passport.

We were then shown to our cottage, it faces the sea and is a short walk to the beach. The cottage was the smallest we have seen and although had a queen size bed, the room was not large enough for two people to walk around without bumping into each other.

The promised wifi was non existent and upon asking the front desk was told that it was under repair and that was that.
Couple of the light bulbs were burnt out and the telephone jack was pulled out. The bathroom was separated from the room by an open passage and very small. The wardrobe cabinet was in this open passage.

The lack of maintenance seem to be the modus operandii here.

There was room for only one chair for sitting. This was such a let down from all the beautiful and practical properties we had stayed so far including the Windflower Resort which was inside the Bandipur forest and had limitation on what resources they had available and could provide.

We called our local contact in Kochi and she told us that she will take of everything in the next 10 mins. As promised within 10 mins someone from the resort came and showed a much bigger cottage also facing the sea.
We went for dinner shortly after and ordered a Kingfisher Gold, the beer was chilled but they poured it into hot mugs and ruined the reason for having a chilled beer.

Oh well atleast the staff is nice and the dinner tasty.

We had a fish curry with rice which was excellent as has all food been through this trip.
We plan to sleep in tomorrow and have a leisurely day.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

April 17 - Munnar to Kumarakom

All packed and ready to have breakfast before leaving from Kumarakom. I am somewhat sad to leave Munnar with its beautiful scenery and temperate weather. People from Kochi escape from the heat in Summer and come here. Our cottage is PLB - which stands for Plantation B

I will have to admit that I am glad, I won't have to do another trek to the dinning room in the dark and tackling many uneven stone steps. I enjoyed this trek during breakfast and lunch of course.
We met the owner of the property Dr. Simon yesterday, he is a semi retired ophthalmic surgeon from Kochi, a very pleasant person. He sure has a beautiful and well maintained property.

We started a little late around 8:15 or so. We will be staying at the Coconut Lagoon tonight, which supposedly is only accessible by boat, sounds interesting, looking forward to it.

Looks like the first couple hours of the road is the same as we took to Thettekad yesterday.

We arrived around 11:45 and took the resort ferry to the Coconut Lagoon. We were received with usual hospitality, warmth, and smiles as has been our experience on this trip.

The property is between the Kavamar river and the Lake, after check in we were escorted to our houseboat for the day cruise on Lake Vembanadu, which is the largest inland lake in Kerala with a maximum depth of 45 ft.

The houseboat itself is a 2 bedroom, aptly furnished with lunch and afternoon tea and snacks served on board.
The lunch was very tasty and plentiful, starting with fresh grilled fish from the river and finished off with pineapple for desert.

We are lazily floating on the river, the breeze is nice. It's so peaceful and calming.

At around 3:30 or so the staff came around and took our tea or coffee. We both asked for the cardamom tea.

It was served with a type of fried banana and like everything else was quite delicious.

The last part of the trip was through a channel past villages, house, beautiful greenery and many water birds.

Arrived back at the Coconut Lagoon, beautiful afternoon spent on the boat.

The resort itself is beautiful and sprawling with individual "huts" set amongst coconut trees.

Sitting outside enjoying the beautiful breeze and scenery and waiting for the sunset.

Went in to dinner around 7:30 ordered a kingfisher gold and settled on a Kuttanadan Tharavu (duck) roast, which is duck cooked Kerala style in coconut gravy with organic rice grown on the property. This was a large portion so we shared between us. It was delicious as has been all food throughout our trip. The food is typically cooked in or with coconut milk, a concept not used in Bengali cooking and this very different for me.

There is live violin performance with tabla during dinner which adds to the ambience of of open air dinning.

We will be leaving for Kovalam via Trivandrum tomorrow, our last stop and I feel sad even thinking about this trip being over.

We decided to take a tour of the premises tomorrow morning after breakfast. So it's another early night for us.

Monday, April 15, 2013

April 16 - Thattekad Bird Sanctuary

Having a leisurely breakfast this morning, sitting outside enjoying the views and the weather.
Munnar apparently is the popular location for shooting movies, many used this location including the Life of Pi.

Saw a huge moth on the bushes on the way to breakfast.

After breakfast we went to visit the Kanan Devan Tea company formerly Tata Tea. It had a museum and an outlet store as well. The tea processing was quite interesting and we could see the manufacturing process in operation.

There was an accompanying video, which although interesting was too full of propaganda for the company.

This afternoon we will be going to the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, also known Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary.

Although the map says 1 hr 46 min, the locals say it is between 2.5 to 3.00 hours. The map has been wrong just about every time on this trip so I will bet on the 3 hours.

The resort had lunch consisting of puri bhaji and 3 types of fruit, packed for us which we ate in the car at Adimali.

We left at exactly 12:30 pm and arrived around 3:15 our guide was Eldhose who met us with a jeep and driver.

At first we drove to a couple of known birding areas to look for grey jungle fowl. No luck, so we got on a boat to look for birds on the river Periyar. We saw many water bird in the two hours that we spent on the boat.

The following are worth mentioning:
Whiskered tern
Small egret sitting on a Lilly pad.
Grey cormorants
Flock of whistling ducks
Huge flock of common black cormorants maybe a 1000
Snake darter bird
White breasted kingfisher
Purple Heron
Black lored yellow tit.

Even though morning would have been better, it was a very successful trip under the circumstances.

Left around 5:45 to drive back Munnar arriving at almost 8:00, apparently took less time possibly due to the reduced traffic. The driving was rather treacherous along the winding mountain roads in the dark with patches of fog and mist reducing the visibility further.

Another excellent 5 course meal starting with lentil carrot soup and ending with a scrumptious dessert.

Need to get an early start tomorrow to get to Kumarakom in time for the boat cruise, so it's early to bed tonight after packing.