Sunday, July 27, 2008

Kerala Houseboat

This month my good friend Tom was visiting India from Minnesota for a few weeks and one of our touring stops was in southwest India in an area known as Kerala, referred to as "God's Own Country"--a highly populated region of India running along the southern part of the Indian peninsula. This amazing region is well-known for being one of the most literate, healthiest, and gender-equitable regions in India and has once been occupied by the French, Dutch, Portuguese and British, who have all left their mark, making it extremely eclectic and rich in history. One of the highlights of visiting Kerala is to take a houseboat tour through the backwaters of Allepy and the areas of Old Cochin--an escape from the modern cities of India and a "float" down the rivers of India past. So, based on the recommendations of another expat, Jamie, we booked a weekend trip. Our entire weekend tour was organized by Nirmal at Oriana Travel Shop and was planned and executed seamlessly.

After a short one hour flight from Bangalore, Nirmal met us at the airport and gave us our vouchers and explained the whole travel package to us. We joined our driver, Kuriakose, and headed to the city of Kochi. We stayed overnight in a hotel by the water and were able to tour Old Cochin and visit the ancient Chinese fisherman's nets and fishing docks the next morning. We then drove down south to Alleppey in the late morning to board the houseboat by noon to spend the next two and half days cruising the backwaters of Kerala, observing the nature, animals, people, temples, churches, longboats, and amazing scenery.

The houseboat voyage was a wonderful experience and the crew was fantastic. All of our meals where cooked on-board the boat (including fresh lobster and fish from the waters of Kerala!) We occupied ourselves by relaxing, reading, playing cards, and watching the sites as we toured many different areas of the backwaters and rivers. At night they would shore-up the houseboat along a side of a riverbank and we would enjoy the peace and quiet of being out in nature. The stars were abundant and a gentle breeze provided relief from the heat of the day.

By Monday morning we returned to Alleppey, disembarked from the houseboat and spent time visiting other parts of Kochi including a Jewish synagogue and more of the old sections of the town. Later that afternoon before departing for Bangalore, we met with with Nirmal, who made certain we enjoyed our whole trip and presented us each with a souvenir houseboat replicas as thank you gifts. What a great guy!

The whole weekend was wonderfully relaxing and a culturally interesting experience. If you visit India I would definitely encourage you to look up Nirmal and book a houseboat trip to Kerala. The freedom of being on the open water, the beauty of the natural scenery, and the general sincerity of the people convinced me that Kerala does, indeed, live up to its name of being "God's Own Country".


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tale of Two Trips

Last weekend a group of Target expats and my friend Tom, who's been visiting in India for the past three weeks, took a trip to Singapore--time to take a break from India and experience another part of this amazing world. The trip, however, became quite different than originally expected.

For starters, there was a group of us: Michael, Todd, Tom and myself, who flew on Tiger Airways--and Pam and Paul booked their tickets on Singapore Airlines. Two different flights, but going to the same destination at mostly the same time. Since we all took red-eye flights, we all connected in Singapore the next morning and checked into our hotel (the InterContinental Singapore, which I highly recommend!). Tom and I decided to crash for the morning, get up in the afternoon and see the city. Michael, Todd, Pam & Paul went out for brunch and then slept in the afternoon. When we all met up for dinner that evening, we went hunting for authentic Singapore food and found the Jumbo Seafood restaurant--home of the famous chili crab and delicious seafood known worldwide. How exciting, right? Well, there is just one caveat... I had picked up a little "Bangalore Belly" the week before and was still recovering, but felt good as new. Now just imagine what a night of chili crab, shrimp, a pint of beer, and ice cream will do to a "delicate" system... it wasn't pretty. I spent the entire night sick. Oi. Not the best way to start a vacation!

Even though I was in the hotel room all day Friday and ended up having to visit the hospital to get more meds on Saturday, I managed to have energy to walk around the city and take snaps of the amazing sights including the botanical gardens, riverwalk, Merlion monument, and the Singapore Flyer (Ferris Wheel)--Singapore's answer to the London Eye. Since I was laying low and Tom was on vacation to relax, we ended-up having a quiet weekend, which was very nice. We hung out at the hotel pool, took lots of naps, read, listened to music, watched a couple movies... whereas the rest of our group went restaurant hopping, shopping, and had a completely different trip--in fact, we didn't even end up seeing them until Sunday!

All-in-all, despite having two completely different experiences, we all had a wonderful time in Singapore. Whether your trip is crazy or quiet, Singapore has something to offer. As always, check the online photo gallery for more snaps! More about the Kerala houseboat trip and Bannerghatta safari next week, then back to Sri Lanka and off to Barcelona next month so stay tuned!