Room Keys: Kerala Hotels
The Taj Malabar
Location: Willingdon Island, Cochin
Phone: (011) 91-484 266-6811
Reservations: (800) UTELL
Rooms: 97, many with water views; two deluxe suites; seven executive suites in the Tower Wing
Rates: $215 to $425
Hotel Bolgatty Palace
Location: Bolgatty Island, Cochin, in Ernakulam harbor
Phone: (011) 91-484 275-0003
Fax: (011) 91-484 275-0456
Rates (through Feb. 2006): $80.25 for lakefront cottage, $168 for palace suite.
India is many separate countries. When
Americans take their first trip there, they almost invariably want
to see the Taj Mahal, the palaces of Rajasthan and the great
spiritual center of Varanasi.
But the far south
of India, shared by the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, is another
land entirely, popular as a destination among Europeans but almost
unknown to Americans.
Tamil Nadu is
still recovering from last Decembers tsunami, but Kerala was
untouched. The land rises from coconut palm-fringed beaches along
the Malabar Coast on the Arabian Sea to the heights of lush tea and
spice plantations. The climate is warm and pleasant from December
through February but extremely hot the rest of the year.
probably the most accommodating place in all of India for Western
tourists, who never fail to be amazed at the preponderance of
understand English very well, but they themselves may be difficult
to understand. The local language is Malayalam, which sounded to me
as though its all one word. The written language also appears to be
all one word and looks something like an explosion in a noodle
Kerala has the
distinction of having one of the worlds highest literacy rates and
one of the worlds first democratically elected communist
governments. Red hammer and sickle flags flutter everywhere, but
not to worry. The ambience is blatantly capitalist.
billboards promote what are apparently the citizens three greatest
desires: gold, diamonds and financial planning. This is the most
prosperous state in India, and while there certainly is poverty, it
is not of the nature seen in Delhi or Calcutta. Every other little
open-fronted shop seems to have an Internet sign, enabling you to
spend an hour on a computer for less than one U.S. dollar.
You can fly
nonstop from Delhi or Mumbai (Bombay) to Kochi (Cochin). (The new
names are correct, but in India youll see them used
interchangeably.) The airport is about 12 miles from Ernakulam, the
busy commercial part of Kochi on the mainland. Almost all the
historical sites are in Fort Cochin (still called Cochin) and
Mattancherry on the southern peninsula, a more tranquil area than
Two luxury hotels
on islands in Ernakulams harbor are the Taj Malabar on Willingdon
Island and the Bolgatty Palace on Bolgatty Island. With one of the
worlds best natural harbors, Ernakulam is slated to become a major
port for the shipment of oil.
Church, built by Portuguese Franciscan friars in 1503, holds
explorer Vasco da Gamas tomb, although da Gamas body was removed
and brought to Portugal 14 years later. Its now an Anglican church,
with services in English at 8 a.m. Also, Santa Cruz Basilica and
the Indo-Portuguese Museum preserve the heritage of one of Indias
earliest Catholic communities.
Kathakali dancing, which has nothing to do
with Catholicism or Christianity, is performed in community
centers, theaters and sometimes at hotels. The dance, set to
thundering music, is about ancient legends and pagan gods and
In Fort Cochin,
you can watch a traditional Kathakali dance-drama performed by
elaborately made up and costumed artists. Get to a performance an
hour before it starts to watch the actors put on their spectacular
makeup on stage.
Jewish quarter in Mattancherry, with its synagogue built in 1568,
is famous for its blue-and-white Chinese tile floor and a ceiling
bedecked with chandeliers donated from all over the world. The area
around it is the center of the Kochi spice trade.
Palace (also known as the Dutch Palace), built in 1555 by the
Portuguese, is adorned with spectacular murals depicting scenes
from the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabhrata.
From Kochi, a
tour should include Munnar, a hill station amid a seemingly endless
expanse of tea plantations. It was the favorite summer resort of
European settlers for centuries. Three rivers meet in the heart of
the town, and nearby is the highest mountain peak in south
destination should be Threkkady, one of Indias major wildlife
areas, to see the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, home to tigers,
leopards, elephants and 323 species of birds. The animals can be
viewed from boats on the man-made lake, which the wildlife areas
encircle. Get there early in the morning if you want to see the
Near the small
town of Kumarakam, clients board a private houseboat for a serene
journey into the scenic backwaters of Kerala, a network of rivers
and canals flowing to the Arabian Sea.
vaguely Indonesian in style, are constructed of wood and reeds on
the pattern of old rice barges, but they all have private bedrooms,
bathrooms, outdoor dining and lounging areas, plus their own
captains and cooks.
get off the boat whenever there is something interesting to see on
are a high point of any visit to Kerala and should not be missed.
The boat trip ends at Alappuzha, which is usually referred to as
After that, its
time for any of the beautiful beaches along the coast of the
Arabian Sea. Kovalam is an especially appealing one, with miles of
silvery sand bordered by coconut palms.
the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].