As travel bloggers, we cannot afford to be partial or biased towards any destination. However, there are some which keep calling us and we just can’t say no. One of those places is one fondly known as “God’s own country”, Kerala. There are so many reasons why people around the world visit this beautiful state but I’ve not been able to isolate the one reason which draws us here. Is it the backwaters, the tea, coffee or spice plantations, the boat races, the monsoons, the elephant and tiger sanctuaries, the temples, the wellness retreats, the food, or the beaches? Our personal experience spans all of the above and we can state for a fact that anyone of them makes for a compelling reason, leave alone all of them together. As travelers, what we look for in a destination is the experience, everything else takes a backseat. Does it offer us a story that we can recount on our return? For us, it has, every single time we’ve been there and it fails to surprise us even when we return. That is why, this latest campaign by Kerala Tourism – Human by Nature strikes a deep chord with us as well. We’ll share some of our experiences with you – It really wouldn’t be fair to raise expectations and then not deliver.
Humans of Munnar
For some reason, it has left an indelible mark every time I’ve have visited it. On paper it is not different from the many hill stations in India, in fact, it is at a lower height than many of the prominent ones up North. When we think of Darjeeling we think of Tea. When we think of Coffee we might think of Yercaud, Coorg, or Chikmagalur. Munnar is possibly the only place we associate with Tea, Coffee, and Cardamom plantations, all at the same place. The distinct smell of the place can only be experienced, not described. My first visit to this place was an impromptu one with my parents during Christmas, about a decade back. As expected, the place was fully booked without any spare rooms, more so because there was a film being shot and a large no. of rooms were reserved for the crew. The second time we visited was in August, a few years back, where we were prudent enough to book rooms in advance, this time within a coffee plantation. It was all that we had imagined. Think of foggy mornings and misty evenings with a balcony looking out to miles and miles of green coffee plants. Woken up by bird calls and a narrow trail leading to a secluded natural pool where it was possible to bathe and swim. Heaven.
This particular trip was at the end of a particularly long one and my parents wanted a break from the local cuisine. We were discussing options by the road when suddenly a local who might have overheard us discussing our meal options, asked us an innocent question. Were we Gujaratis? A strange question to be asked by a stranger but we replied with an involuntary yes. Apparently his friend ran a Gujarati cuisine restaurant nearby and recommended it to us, sheepishly accepting that he had caught on a few words and decided to help out. The food wasn’t anything special but was simple and good enough to sate our desires for home-like food, the very thing we wanted. Munnar remains a destination I would recommend to people in a heartbeat – especially since it has all the 3 things we look for in a destination – great weather, good activities/experiences, and helpful people.
Humans of Kochi
The Queen of the Arabian Sea would rank high as an Instagram friendly destination if we were to analyze it by the present metrics. Featured in National Geographic Traveler’s ’50 greatest places of a lifetime’, it has plenty to offer to any traveler who hits its shores. The Chinese cantilever fishing nets with the backdrop of the setting sun is widely regarded as the face of the city and can be easily spotted in Fort Kochi. The moment your camera slinging self approaches the vicinity of said nets, you can hear the greetings of the fishermen promising a great shot. They are no strangers to tourists and can easily help you with the best angles and locations to get the perfect shot. Speaking the language helps and trying to speak a few words while being an obvious novice helps more, possibly because they recognize the effort. Over the years I’ve learned to start and end any interaction I have with a local with a greeting and a Thank you in their own language – “Valare upakaram”, in this case. I’ve noticed that it leaves a good impression on the person and helps carry it forward to the next tourist who might ask the person for some help. I’ve always wanted to visit the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, an international exhibition of contemporary art but what really fascinates me the most are the spice markets. You can smell the spices from afar and they can smell the tourist in you from possibly the same distance. My advice to travelers has always been to visit the markets frequented by locals. You can feel the pulse of the city, get to meet locals and get good deals, all at the same time. An interesting experience at Bazaar road in Kochi just helped cement the belief. A marketplace might be home for an experienced eye but it was hell for someone like me who needs to reference Asafoetida online to get its local name (It’s “Hing” by the way). On one such visit, I was trying to navigate the stores asking for prices while nonchalantly acting as if I’ve been buying them all my life. One intelligent storekeeper, who had possibly seen through my façade, managed to almost convince me to buy his wares. While I was still trying to negotiate the price down as any self-respecting Indian male would do, a middle-aged lady entered the store. Possibly figuring out my plight, she took control of the situation by asking me what I was looking to buy. It was as if someone just offered a rope to a drowning man – me. I immediately surrendered to her better judgment and she helped me understand the different spices, its use, and possible health benefits. The lady put her own shopping on pause and on recognizing me as a tourist, started sharing recommendations for everything in Kochi, from food to good Ayurveda massage places. By the time my parents caught up to me, I was already half a local and the lady further haggled with the storekeeper to get us a good bargain on the spice as well. I forget the name of the store and the massage place she had recommended, but it was really good. Although it was unnerving at first, given the drawstring cover-up I was made to wear and copious amounts of oils they slathered on me, it was by far the most relaxing massages I’ve had to date.
I am a firm believer that all humans are fundamentally good and it’s always a pleasure to be proven right by strangers we meet on the road. In general, I’ve found Kerala to be a warm and hospitable place especially so for tourists. Thus it is no surprise that I feel such a strong connection with its latest campaign – Human by Nature. Have you had any such experiences while traveling? Do feel free to share them in the comments below.
P.S. This post has been sponsored by Kerala Tourism but the stories, experiences and opinions shared by us our true and completely ours.