India secrets: Kerala

Bolgatty cottages
It's not that only honeymooners stay at these cottages. Solo vacationers, too, will find heaven in these bubble cottages perched on high pillars with stairways spiralling from the ground. Backwaters lap around these lovely cottages and the setting is just perfect for anyone who just wants to switch off from the world.

This piece of paradise is a stone's throw from the very popular Bolgatty Palace, a mansion-turned-heritage hotel originally built by the Dutch in 1744. The view is spectacular from anywhere you look--so stay put in the room if you are feeling slothful or roam the beautiful grounds when in the mood for some exercise. Bolgatty Island is a five-minute boat ride from Kochi.

Chakolas decorette
Now this again is something that all of Kochi swears by and the world is yet to discover. This neat little boutique is most of the city buys its household linen from and that too at very affordable prices. From sober whites to bright canary yellows, the Chakolas range, mostly cotton, is what you would like to do up your house with.

The smiling yet shy staff is only a glance away and always happy to help you make the right colour combinations. Dharmodayam Building, Shanmugam Road, Ernakulam; Tel: 235 2333, 237 1342

Kethel chicken fry
Walk into Rahmaniya Hotel, its fourth branch in Kerala, and ask for a plate of Kethel Chicken Fry, the signature dish. Spicy, bite-size pieces of chicken, crisp on the outside and juicy inside, these are perfect anytime eats. Served with ghee rice or chappatis, this much-ordered dish sets you palate of fire with its taste of red chillies and freshly crushed pepper.

The chicken offsets the blandness of the rice of the chappati. You may want to wash it down with sugary Naaranga Vellam (lemonade) or be prepared to leave the restaurant with tears (of joy) streaming down your face. Near Jawaharlal International Stadium, Kaloor; www.kethelschicken.com

Chittoor palace

Built more than 300 years ago for the Maharaja of Kochi, Chittoor Palace, only 45 minutes from the city, is still owned by his family. A golden pillared portico leads into gardens surrounded by elegant white buildings with red roofs, balconies and columns.

The two rooms--one double and one suite-are stately with teak pillars and tiled floors, and rosewood four-poster beds. The food is vegetarian and classically Keralan. You could spend a day in the garden's spring-fed pool or visit the Chittoor Temple next door. Take a boat ride from the palace's private jetty. Tel: (0484) 243 1380; www.thechittoorpalace.com

JTPAC Theatre
Locals like to call it the Broadway of Kochi. The theatre, inside the sprawling Choice School campus, has been recently renovated and hosts theatre festivals almost every month. From veterans Naseeruddin Shah to Anupam Kher, Rajat Kapoor to newbie Kalki Koechlin have all performed here.

It is also where Kochi comes for its fill of music--Kavita Krishnamurthi, Dr L. Subramaniam, Louis Banks, rock bands from across the country have held JTPAC audiences in thrall. Even if you don't know the programme line-up, just find your way to JTPAC on any weekend. You are unlikely to come away disappointed. Nadama East, Tripunithura.

Anns
Their Chicken Salad Roll has been the staple dinner for our family train journeys for at least a decade. At the helm of affairs of this bakery chain is Annamma Kottukapally whose love affair with baking started after marriage. It began with making birthday cakes for her children's birthdays and she went on to start Anns House of Sweets.

That's where our cakes, cookies, gateaux, sandwiches and other savouries come from. Anns has now expanded to include spices, breakfast cereals and delicious ready-to-cook mixes. Pioneer Tower, Marine Drive; www.annsindia.com

Kadaloram

A biryani experience in Kochi is as essential as a dekko at its Jew Town. There are many contenders the 'best biryani in town' crown but let's not get into a scorecard situation. For a plate of good fish biryani, go to the Kadaloram restaurant at Hotel Abad Plaza. You will need wells of patience because the food takes forever to come. The chunks of lightly fried seer fish come on a bed of basmati rice. The biryani is moderately spicy with a garnishing of fried onions, cashewnuts and a generous sprinkling of cumin seeds. Tel: 238 1122; www.abadhotels.com

Trinity
A young offshoot of the more popular Malabar House, Trinity is all about three suites. It's ideal for families or a group of friends. With coloured silk cushions on raised double beds, handmade linen and a good collection of contemporary Indian art, Trinity is likely to please anyone with good aesthetics.

Two of the suites have an extra bed on the mezzanine and the balconies overlook the Parade Ground. The breads and pastries, banana and coconut pancakes for breakfast are absolutely out of this world. If you want some finger-licking Syrian Christian fare, go to Malabar House. Tel: 221 6666; www.malabarhouse.com

Gifts R Us

Everyone buys spices and curios when in Kochi, not to forget the obvious kasavu sari. The lovers of knick-knacks, however, will love the terracotta selection at this small shop. The terracotta and wooden vases are dressed up with bamboo braids, and vary in size. The designs are a mix of the traditional and the modern.

They also have jumbo mugs and cups, which are just regular cups and mugs, and not to be taken seriously. A larger branch of this shop is in the Gold Souk mall in Ernakulam.On Chittoor Road, behind St Teresas College, Ernakulam.

Kochi: Susan Muthalaly
Born in Kerala, Susan works in Amsterdam, traipses around Europe over the weekends, and dreams of family cook Gracie Chechi's fried fish. She's also working on a book of Syrian Christian recipes, and regularly tests out the recipes, to the delight of her appreciative husband.

Outside Kochi: Gourmet & Wellness in North Malabar

Few people have explored Kerala beyond the backwaters and its spice plantations. For an interesting mix of cooking and wellness holidays, head to Kannur in North Malabar. Opt for a spot of ayurveda at Kairali Heritage located on the Kattampally river.

The resort has beautiful river-facing cottages, and, after your therapy, undertake a lazy cruise on the river in one of the surprisingly comfortable houseboats. The next day, move further North, to Kasargod where you will find the Bekal Fort. It's a stunning edifice, facing the sea and was catapulted to fame by Mani Ratnam's Bombay.

But rather than just a quick stopover, you could check out the Neeleshwar Hermitage, a new abode facing the sea. The resort itself is lovely and comfortable, and offers ayurveda and backwater cruises on a network of canals. It also offers a cooking class teaching local delicacies. They may not turn out as well as the best you have eaten, but it is an experience to relish. Log on to www.kairaliheritage.com; www.neeleshwarhermitage.com

Must do: Kerala
Stay: Rainforest Athirapally
Somewhere in the middle of the Sholayar mountain range, in the middle of a forest about an hour from Kochi, the Chalakudy river gushes down in the form of a stunning waterfall. And right in front of it is the boutique hotel Rainforest Athirapally, a nine-room quaint place whose luxury lies in its location. The staff is cheerful and friendly, always coming up for a chat is they see you alone. Tel: (0484) 411 8000; www.avenuehotels.in

Eat: Sadya at any temple

Any temple town in Kerala is a good place to have the sadya, a feast had on plantain leaf, especially served during marriages and festivals. You may find as many as 40 vegetarian dishes--Pullisseri (thin curry of spiced buttermilk), Avial, Thoran (made of vegetables like cabbage, beans, drumstick and yam), Erisseri (curry of banana or yam) and so on. Round off the meal with Paal Payasam.

Shop: Red gold jewellery, Thrissur
Gold with a tinge of red--Kerala's traditional jewellery comes in a range of intricate designs. And Thrissur, which manufactures 70 per cent of the state's gold, is also the best place to go shopping for jewellery. For the traditional look, go for the Kerala odiyanam (belt) and kashimala (long chain with coins).

Alukkas (www.alukkas.com) is a good bet for chic and contemporary designs. If you want more places to look at, there are at least 50 more shops within a two-km radius around M.O. Road and Town Hall Road.

See: Periyar
Sprawled over 777 sq km, Periyar is one of India's best preserved tiger reserves. The centrepiece is the Periyar lake. The beauty of the still lake at this old tiger reserve is accentuated by the bare tree stumps jutting out of the water every few metres. Opt for the Periyar Tiger Trail and stay in tents in the middle of the jungle. Tiger or no tiger, it is a great experience. 4 hours by road from Kochi.

Join us on Pinterest

Featured Blogs

  • Daddy's home: A tribute to my dad
    Daddy's home: A tribute to my dad IT'S A PARENT THING - Wed 16 Apr, 2014 12:59 PM IST

    When my sister and I were little, our dad would announce his arrival every evening by whistling outside the window. It was a ritual; we would hear his Rajdoot motorcycle rumble to a stop, and then the familiar whistle would follow. My sister and would leave everything we were doing and rush out to greet him. More »

  • 12 Ways He Shows You that You're the …
    12 Ways He Shows You that You're the … SHE - Wed 16 Apr, 2014 2:22 AM IST

    RELATED: 18 Signs You're With the Man You Should Marry More »