A heap of fog will blanket the mountains on the way to Thekkady like a thin veil, and nature will adopt a fabulous green with the first light of morning. In the pitch-black darkness of the night, I arrive at Kochi Airport and hop on the vehicle which will take me to this greenery. My eyelids feel heavy with sleep. When I wake up, the dawn has broken, and nature is beginning to awake. Looking down at the spectacular view below, I feel like coming out of the thin line between slumber and wakefulness.
India makes you forget what you know; it surprises and goes beyond the ordinary. You may not realize this while you’re there; it’s one of those places whose lasting marks on your soul are noticed afterwards. Especially Kerala! Offering unique surprises you cannot find in any other place, this region stretches vertically from the south end of India and hosts Kochi Port, one of the country’s biggest and busiest harbors. Before heading towards this vibrant port city, I plan to spend a few days in tea fields, spice plantations, river tours, and white-sand beaches.
Although the mountainous road to Thekkady in the state of Idukki is quite winding, it’s also very beautiful and peaceful so I can tolerate the bumpy ride for a while. After a couple of hours, I arrive at the hotel surrounded by spice plantations. The lush flora and the Ayurvedic massage rooms signal a relaxing atmosphere at first sight. Meaning “knowledge of life” in Sanskrit, Ayurveda is a 5,000-year-old healing system based on the body’s self-healing powers. People from all across the world come here to cleanse, to benefit from its healing effects, to rejuvenate, and to experience massages and therapies in the wonderful nature of Kerala, the birthplace of Ayurveda.
Early next morning, I head out for Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve, one of the world’s most magical wildlife sanctuaries. You need to make an online reservation for visits because admission to the national park is limited to a certain number of guests. There’s a crowd that I haven’t expected to see this early in the morning. Happy Indian families are taking their seats on the riverboats. When the boat starts gliding, people rush left and right to be able to see animals such as tigers and elephants in their natural habitat. For a while, everyone is busy taking pictures.
There’s a surprise at the end of the trip as monkeys wait at the hop-off station, looking for a chance to get something to eat. I walk among extremely tall hollong trees unique to this region. My next stop is one of the spice plantations around Thekaddy. The clove oil obtained from the cloves cultivated here is used in the treatment of many health problems including dental care. Cultivated in these fields, cardamom is one of the world’s most expensive spices, and India is one of the top producers of this precious commodity. Eucalyptus, aloe vera, coconut, various types of orchids, and dozens of plant species can also be found in this plantation. The generosity and joy of nature is another thing that makes Kerala unique.
Next morning, I hit the road from Thekaddy to Alappuzha, recording the towns, houses, verdant tea fields, and people into my memory with great enthusiasm. Every place I pass looks like a feast of colors.
When I arrive at Alappuzha, one of the wooden boats lined along the river waits for me. There are river tours held by traditional boats around the enormous water network, 900 kilometers in length, which connects Kerala Backwaters canals with lagoons and lakes. The traditional boats called kettuvallam are made from wood, palm leaves, bended bamboo sticks, and coconut fibers.
As we quietly and calmly glide through the canals, I feel touched by witnessing the life on the riverbank. When it’s time to eat, the deckman extends his hand toward a banana tree and cuts a big leaf which we soon use as a plate. Coconuts, rices, bananas and spices are the essential ingredients of Kerala cuisine, and the dishes made with these are served on this giant leaf as my lunch. The tours can be arranged according to daily or weekly schedules based on your preference. As I prepare to leave the boat, I accept the hours I’ve spent on it as life’s gift to me.
After leaving the boat in Alappuzha, I watch the sunset on the beach of the ecological hotel Xandari Pearl in Mararikulam, known for its beautiful beaches that breathe new life into you. Walking on sand, I see hundreds of ghost crabs running away from my steps as the sun disappears into the ocean, leaving dazzling gleams on the sky. I’m in India but it’s a picture very different from what you may picture when you first think about it. I take a shower accompanied by the idiosyncratic chirping of tropical birds; in a bathroom surrounded with palm trees, I can see the sky from among dense leaves and branches. Who can say this is India? The hotel inspires me for the protection of our planet with its ecological endeavors such as using recycled glass bottles and filtering their own water. I recharge my batteries here because tomorrow I’ll be heading out to Kochi, the region's lively city.
The “Indian” views and vibrancy increase as I get closer to Kochi. The night before, I found it very easy to become familiar with the salty ocean and white sand. Now, I’m back to hot weather, traffic, and car horns. However, this all goes away once I wander around the buildings of Dutch and Portuguese architecture, and the district of Mattancherry to see the chic boutiques, art galleries, and postcard-like streets. Once the heart of the spice commerce between the 18th and 19th centuries, the streets are the most striking part of the city where beliefs and cultures are layered together. I try to catch the sunset at Fort Kochi, where Kochi’s most iconic pictures are taken. Developed by the Chinese centuries ago, fishing nets line the pier from one end to the other. The youth walk hand in hand along the pier, the fishermen extend their webs, and the color of street vendors' stalls mingles with the fish smell.
I feel like I’m becoming more and more attached to India with the views, sounds, and scents of the pier that revive my senses.