Southern India’s natural riches have been keenly sought after by outsiders for centuries. Yet despite many European, Asian and Western influences, the Indian people have remained true to themselves.
“I have always been drawn to countries where there still exists a strong ‘non-white, non-western’ cultural heritage. India is one of those countries,” says Claire Martin, a nationally recognized TV meteorologist. “The people of India are welcoming, friendly and very funny and I can’t wait to go back.”
Martin was introduced to Indian hospitality when she led a small group of Canadians on a healing journey through Northern India last fall. The trip successfully raised $6,000 towards a second digital breast imaging machine at Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH).
Martin is a survivor of melanoma and a two-time survivor of breast cancer. She has beaten the odds and credits early diagnosis, support from family and friends, and a strong focus on personal well-being for her survival.
“It was the connection, the spirituality we all felt at the end of the trip that was the most surprising gift from our time in India,” Martin recalls. “The group felt like family at the end, and India our home.”
This time, her 14-day Essence of South India tour, departing on Oct. 4, 2012, will provide travellers with the opportunity to explore the vibrant and spicy landscape of Southern India while raising funds for life-saving equipment at RCH.
From the backwaters of Kerala (rated in the top three tourist destinations by the World Travel & Tourism Council and listed in National Geographic Traveler’s 50 Places of a Life-time), to the sandy beaches of Goa, the Essence of South India tour will unwind your soul.
The tour embarks from Cochin (Kochi), a breezy sea-port town flanked by the Western Ghats on the east and the Arabian Sea on the west. For centuries, Cochin has been a port of call for British, Dutch, and Portuguese voyagers, which is reflected in its blended colonial-style architecture, including the highly decorated Santa Cruz Basilica and 16th-century Dutch Palace.
Trust your nose to lead you down narrow streets through the old districts of Mattan Cherry to colourful, pungent spice markets. As Martin can attest from her last visit, a tour of India is as much a spiritual journey as an olfactory one.
“On my last trip, I was impressed most by the people and the smells! The food being cooked on the streets literally makes your mouth water. Walking past small shops in the mornings and breathing in the smells of fresh chapatis being made was fabulous … and don’t get me started on the curries,” she quipped.
If you’re looking for a breath of fresh air, make your way down to the waterfront for sightseeing in Fort Cochin. There, you can see that early Chinese voyagers also left a parting gift in Cochin, in the form of enormous fishing nets that line the shores like course sails on a fleet of tall ships.
Continuing in the path trod-den by leagues of past European explorers in search of spices, the tour moves inland to the tourist places in Munnar Hill Station, 1,600 metres above sea level. Once the summer resort of the erstwhile British administration in South India, it still retains its colonial charm and is famous for its tea plantations, most of which are privately owned. With its sprawling estates, rolling hills, sparking waterfalls and undulating valleys, Munnar is an idyllic retreat.
Over hill and dale, you will travel to Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, a reserve on the Kerala/Tamil Nadu border that is surrounded by tea and spice plantations. A lush forest with a vast lake at its heart, Periyar National Park is a protected elephant and tiger reserve. With an estimated population of 50 tigers and 900 elephants, you are not likely to miss spotting one of these exotic creatures on a guided walk through the reserve at early dawn or on a tranquil lake cruise in the afternoon.
Leaving behind the flora, fauna and wildlife of Periyar, your tour takes you into the impossibly beautiful Kumarakom, a cluster of tiny islands surrounded by a labyrinth of tropical waterways. “I know travellers to South India that consider this the ‘journey of a lifetime, an absolute must,’ ” relays Martin. “To be able to leisurely drift along the beautiful back waters of brackish lagoons, lakes and canals will definitely be a once-in-a-life-time experience.”
Used for both accommodation and transport since ancient times, the country houseboat in Kerala is referred to as a ‘Kettuvallam’. These eco-friendly houseboats are made from locally sourced materials like bamboo poles and coconut fibre, and can stretch up to 23 metres long and sleep several passengers. There is no more fascinating way to experience life in the Indian ‘bayou’, than from aboard one of these luxurious vessels. Pass farmers bathing their buffalo; watch fishermen and vegetable growers sell their wares by boat; and admire the sunset before being lulled to sleep by the gently lap-ping water.
This is a Kerala Tour experience posted in Vancouver Sun