The wonderful waterways of Kerala
So today I’m transporting you back to the first day of 2019 and the beautiful backwaters of Kerala. We’re leaving the mountainous forests and spiciest of plantations and heading to sea level and the magical waterways of this diverse state. Our journey downwards swept us through large pineapple and rubber plantations, cotton trees (yes there really is such a thing), rice paddies, tamarind trees. The natural bounty of Kerala is everywhere.
We wound our way along narrow, busy roads and down a tiny lane with its small sign – Philipcutty’s Farm where we were headed for our first Indian home stay.
The peaceful beauty of Philipcutty’s Farm
From the second we stepped into our canoe to be delivered across the glass-like water to our island it felt like we were being transported into another world. We were greeted with open arms at the jetty by Anu who lead us straight to the open air restaurant as it was time for lunch. Good start.
The 35-acre farm is on a small island – a reclaimed property built in the early 1950s by Anu’s husband’s grandfather. Anu’s husband Philip Cutty had the inspiration to open it up as a home stay and although he died suddenly 18 years ago, Anu and her mother-in-law are keeping his dream alive. It’s still a working farm growing coconuts, nutmeg, cocoa, bananas and pepper and there are also cows, geese, ducks and hens. Sadly it was badly affected by the devastating floods of August last year although amazingly, you really can’t tell. Everything is up and running beautifully and it truly feels like a place where nothing chaotic could ever happen.
The stylish bungalows have an ensuite bedroom, comfortable lounge and open verandah overlooking the ever-changing sights of the backwaters. The multiple windows and doors with their traditional shutters mean you can enjoy air conditioning au natural – controlling the breeze through your lovely living space. All the bungalows are named after popular local flowering plants, trees and birds.
There’s a special kind of tranquility on this intimate island. I loved sitting on my verandah watching the world go by (the odd houseboat, fisherman and canoeists), taking in the constant birdsong and sparkling waterside vistas.
When it’s time for dinner
All meals are served communally in the thatched pavilion where we sat around a large round table serving ourselves from the myriad bowls placed on the central lazy Susan. How I love a lazy Susan – not something you often see these days. The food is mainly cooked by Anu’s mother-in-law and we were treated to a demonstration in their home when she made Fish Ponti and a beetroot curry. Granny’s cooking is already famous – Rick Stein visited here and her prawn mooli so impressed him he featured it in Rick Stein’s India. The magical combination of spices filled the air as we watched closely (and took notes in my case), and were lucky enough to enjoy the fruits of her labour for dinner later.
Wow! We certainly loved Philipcutty’s Farm and although our stay was brief we absorbed all that incredible serenity and beauty and most importantly, consumed all the delicious food we could before heading for our next Keralan watery experience: cruising by houseboat.
Houseboat travels through the Backwaters
Our drive from Philipcutty’s took only just over an hour which seemed weird – we were used to much lengthier and more epic journeys. And pretty soon we were boarding a boat with our bags – heading to our houseboat home for the night. I do love anything boat-related and am certainly not averse to a bit of cruising but as we squeezed into the crowded boat delivering us I wasn’t sure what to expect. And it couldn’t have been better.
When the transport stopped, we were led onto our own personal houseboat – yes, seriously. An air conditioned, ensuite bedroom with dining room attached, a large outside space for taking in the stunning views and shoreline life and three lovely guys to take care of us. I felt like a princess as soon as I stepped foot onboard, with our every need met and the constantly changing, fascinating scenery and water-based living.
As we cruised down the endlessly fascinating canals I took more photographs than I’d ever taken in a day before. So much to absorb – the vibrant colours, incredible activity shore-side and a unique coconut tree and paddy field beauty that took my breath away at every turn. The photo selection and editing alone nearly wore me out…so I’m going to let the pics speak for themselves.
Time for canal canoe cruising
We hopped on shore to explore a charming, waterside village before continuing on to meet our canoe for a cruise with a difference. With some trepidation we climbed aboard and were paddled off down one of the side canals – with time for a quick selfie.
It turned out to be one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever done. I’ve never experienced such incredible calm – shimmering reflections, myriad bird life and lack of human intrusion, with the constant soothing sound of our paddle being dipped into the stillest of water. Take a breath and enjoy – planet earth is truly incredible.
Back on board our home from home we tucked into serious feasts of local dishes, including spicy prawns, luscious dhals, more amazing vegetable dishes and freshly made bread. With our tea we were served warm pineapple deep-fried with a light cumin-flavoured batter. Unbelievably tasty.
On our floating backwater paradise heaven was truly being heaped on heaven. This was certainly one boat that I did not want to get off.
But all good things must come to an end – I hate that. Today it was easier to cope though because I knew that as we jumped off our heavenly houseboat we were heading for the beach. The final part of our Southern Indian Odyssey.
Living my best life at the beach
On arrival beach-side we said goodbye to our wonderful driver Vinish who safely navigated us through all manner of terrain, traffic and turmoil on our quest to discover the vibrant beauty of Southern India. We were finishing our trip off with a four night stay at the beach at the Abad Turtle Beach Resort.
The resort is in Mararikulam in Alapphuzha, overlooking the white sands of Marari Beach and we settled into our comfortable beach cottage before going to explore. It’s set in a large garden growing all manner of fruit, veg and flowers, with the cottages nestling throughout. There’s a pool and Ayurveda spa and the huge unspoilt, uninhabited sandy beach where you could walk for miles in peaceful solitude. Which I did.
We did share our beach paradise with the working fishermen and witnessed them bringing their catch in every morning in their colourful boats. Yet another chance for endless photo opportunities.
We soon found our routine, my favourite kind of routine, with long beach walks, relaxed reading in the shade of the coconut trees, massage treats and tasty dinners eaten alfresco. We did manage to tear ourselves away from the resort and venture out in a tuk-tuk to explore buzzing Mullakal Street. You can’t leave India without taking a tuk-tuk journey after all.
Never one to turn down a bargain shopping opportunity I managed to find a vendor selling stunning earrings for 10p (I know I should have bought dozens of pairs of them) and a fabulous shoe shop where it took five minutes to become the owner of a new pair of sparkly sandals. Do love a bit of bling footwear.
The hotel’s restaurant offered a good selection of Indian and international dishes. We perused it carefully every night making sure to try as many of the local specialities we could. Full marks for the Keralan pepper crab, the prawns, the flakiest of parathas, delightful pilau rice and rich chicken curries.
A chilled end to our busy three weeks of touring completed the perfect exploration of Southern India which way exceeded our expectations. We left with the happiest of memories, thousands of photographs (most of them good!) and in perfect health – mentally and physically. Thank you Karnataka and Kerala, your culture, beauty and food truly inspired me and made me fall in love with beautiful India.
Coming up next
So now I’ve told you all about our amazing trip from Bangalore through Karnataka and Kerala. Where I learnt plenty along the way , which I’m going to share with you soon. Watch out for my top tips for travel in Southern India. Coming soon.
We organised our fabulous Southern Indian Odyssey with the help of expert travel company East Travel.