When Jack Kerouac said the road is life, he must have also meant those wandering souls who travel as a family and return with perspective. For during a family holiday perspective is definitely on generous offer when cranky siblings are vying for the best seat in the car or a sulky child has decided the world is an unfair place because he couldn’t sleep in or somebody is regretting last night’s gluttonous streak. Shared experiences, both the expected and the surprising, and the memories that they offer, will always be an integral part of all families. Here’s a tale of one such family who came to this little strip of land called Kerala on the western coast of peninsular India, so far away from England, their home, for a holiday that also packed in a bit of adventure, and took back with them, a lot of wonderful memories.
Andrew and his wife Lisa, both doctors from England travelled to Kerala, India along with their three children Nathan, Sam and Joseph. Their two-week trip began with a 3-day stay at Kochi, a city redolent in its age-old sensibilities. Fort Kochi and Mattanchery, from where the dominance of Kochi began hundreds of years ago, together now form the hub of tourist activity sporting a quaint charm that is their very own. As they were keen to take in first-hand the historical significance of the area, the family were ferried across over the next couple of days to Vypeen Island, from where they went onto the Chendamangalam and Paravur synagogues, and the Kodungallur temple. The last was a fascinating experience as they attended a wedding on the temple premises and participated in the brouhaha of an Indian wedding. The eye-popping colours of Indian weddings, their more than two thousand guests and the resounding decibel levels seemed like tidal waves on one’s senses. The Kathakali performance at Fort Kochi in the evening was an eye-opener. The exaggerated and colourful make-up mostly made of natural dyes and rice flour, the exquisite face masks and umbrella-like costumes and the sheer drama of the whole performance made for a truly engrossing experience.
The second leg of the trip involved an eight-day stint in the hills. Ascending the mountain roads past hairpin bends, the four to five hours drive from Kochi to Munnar was as picturesque as the scenery all around was diverse. The sudden and surprising burst of waterfalls alongside the mountain roads, the dense and dark forests slowly giving way to the lush serene stretches of tea-plantations were sights that drowned one’s senses in their beauty. On reaching the hotel located within the Cardamom Reserve Forest, the splendid kitchen on display at lunch pleased Andrew, who is an excellent cook himself. The birthday cake laid out for Joseph the youngest of the family was another pleasant surprise and a sweet memory.
The trek next day began at the top of the waterfalls along the riverbanks. The spectacular view of tea gardens, the little villages that sprouted near the plantations with their cottages surrounded by vegetable gardens – constant sights during the trek lent a picture post card quality to the images in their minds, according to Lisa. After the short break the trek continued following the stream and crossing the pine forest to the next destination, Rhodo Valley. As the name suggests, the valley, home to the rhododendron flower is mind blowing in its beauty when the flowers are in full bloom. Joseph was in the midst of a school project on butterflies, so there was one excited little boy in the group for he was thrilled to have spotted about 30 different species. The entire family were very keen to identify and understand the flora and fauna found in the area. The trek had begun with a ridge walk and it was a fantastic experience for them. Their previous record was 1200 m and they had more than doubled it with this ridge walk of 2640 m. They had broken their own previous record to set a new one for themselves!!! And such a great time they had had in the process! On their way back after lunch at the top, every step taken was with a heavy heart. They knew they had been part of something special. But an early start to the hour-long trek back to the base camp had also meant spotting of wild elephants along the way, a lasting memory for sure.
After breakfast the next day, it was off to Rajamala. At the Eravikulam national park in Rajamala, home to the elusive Nilgiri Tahr, they sighted the legendary Neelakurinji flowers that bloom only once every twelve years. On the way back to the hotel aboard the local bus, Andrew aided a passenger who had suddenly become unconscious; a timely intervention. En route to the hotel they also managed to stop by the Tea Museum and Shrishti, the natural colour dyeing center, worked by the differently-abled, again a memory to carry back home. Andrew felt that the cooking demonstration back at the hotel which highlighted the use of spices, was both informative and delicious.
On the following day at 8 a.m. they set out cycling to their next destination, Thekkady. Having stopped for chai at a local tea shop, and having tasted a few of the local snacks, they were still extremely glad to reach their hungry selves to the hotel at Thekkady by lunch. But by then they all agreed that cycling was the best way to tour a place.
The next day promised a lot in terms of sights and experiences. They entered the Periyar Tiger Reserve in a park bus, and the full day’s program involved 4 hours of walking and 4 hours of bamboo- rafting. The Periyar River was crossed by raft and then they walked through the forest accompanied by 4 guides and a guard-with a gun! All the guards, being tribal folk from the area, were able to describe in great detail the features of the forest and the plants and animals that are native to the area. And what great sights there were to see – the serpent eagle, the fish owl, bison, boar, sambar deer, medicinal plants growing in the wild, and the skeleton of an elephant-presumably left behind by a tiger! Making their way back involved some cycling, some rafting and some distance covered by bus. A tiring day indeed, but totally engrossing!
The subsequent morning took them on a 30-kilometer cycling trip via tea and cardamom plantations. And certainly they were shown how to distinguish the different types of cardamom. Lunch was a meal served on a banana leaf and eaten with hands without cutlery. Traditional Indian wisdom says this allows assimilation of food with all senses and is considered the ideal way to appreciate it. This over, it was back to the hotel as both Nathan and Sam were to take exams once back in England and had to begin making some inroads into their studies.
On day nine they set out from Thekkady to Alapuzha, stopping at tea shops along the way and finally reaching the renowned houseboat for lunch. The houseboat crew took them on a village-walk and the local toddy shop, where they tasted the freshly extracted brew. With spicy fish curry and tapioca, it made for a potent combination indeed.
On the following day they reached the homestay on Emerald Isle and visited the local temple and witnessed the rituals being performed. The kayaking part of their holiday began here. The relationship of the people and the place with the waters surrounding them was an almost palpable reality and easily discernible. The backwaters don’t just form a backdrop for transportation; they also are the arena for most of the everyday activities of the local people – mobile grocers and fish-sellers and vegetable sellers! The entire family was also very keen to visit the local school to understand the education system first-hand.
The thirteenth day of the trip saw them cycling to their next homestay along beach roads. They visited a coir factory on the way and witnessed the making of coir…the humble coconut fibre was so versatile. That evening a magnificent sunset at the beach awaited them.
The next morning which was also the penultimate day of the trip was spent being lazy on the beach.
On the fifteenth and final day, they left for Fort Kochi after lunch. Lisa wanted to buy a gift for her sister and Nathan for his friend. After about an hour of shopping and dinner, Andrew and Lisa reminisced about the trip with their tour guide Jeffin. They felt adventure had been on a slow burn throughout their holiday and by the end of the tour it had been redefined in a heart-warming manner. An energiser for the entire family! It definitely was a wistful end to a holiday which had so many great moments and would in the days to come always bring nostalgia. The family were then dropped off at the airport.
And yes, the road is life and the genuine traveller moves on.