India 2017: Kerala & Maharashtra

Categories asia, trip

From: 15/11/2017

To: 07/12/2017

Kerala

Some say it will be a kind of “India for Beginners” trip, as it will not have as much movement as with other larger cities. It is also said that in Kerala you will enjoy more of the nature and hospitality of the Indians than in any other region.

The region of Kerala is in the extreme southwest of India and has more than 33 million inhabitants. This region, which is dubbed the “Land of Palm Trees” (or “Land of Coconut Trees”), is bathed by the Arabian Sea, has channels where more than 1,440 Houseboats sail and have magnificent natural reserves. Here the language used is Malayalam – a palindrome – since it is exactly the same word if one reads the opposite – and has words that have remained of the Portuguese influence, as is the case of a window that has exactly the same meaning in Portuguese.

Kochi

Kochi (Cochin) is not the capital of Kerala but it is its largest city and the one that receives more visitors. This situation does not happen by chance, it occurs because Kochi is indeed a wonderful city and the gateway to explore Kerala state, the Backwaters and the South of India.

Kochi deserves to spend some time there, especially since there is plenty to explore in and around the city. Take at least three or four days to explore. Here is a list of things you should not do in Kochi:

  1. See a show from Kathakali;
  2. Walking on the Mahatma Gandhi beach;
  3. Visit the Jew Town and the Paradesi Synagogue;
  4. Visit the Art Gallery;
  5. Visit the Basilica of Santa Cruz;
  6. Visit the church of San Francisco;
  7. Visit the famous Kochi Chinese fishing nets;
  8. Visit the Mattancherry Palace (Dutch Palace);
  9. Explore the streets of Fort Cochin;

Kathakali shows are the most recognized cultural manifestations of Kerala. Kathakali originates in older theatrical forms but is thought to have appeared more than 300 years ago. Watching a Kathakali show in Kochi is easy and we recommend the Kathakali Center.

Mahatma Gandhi beach is the main beach of Fort Cochin. Do not imagine a tropical beach or with clean sand and clear waters. The beach is polluted, with dirty sands and oils and rubbish to float, but it’s still worth it. It pays to stare at places to walk and date on the beach. It is worth watching the fishermen launch the fishing nets. And, above all, it is worth strolling through the main place of leisure of the inhabitants of Kochi.

Kerala and Kochi are proud to have a Jewish community living here that has never been persecuted and has always lived in harmony with the Muslim communities in the region. Once one of the most bustling areas of life in the city, the Jew Town has almost emptied since 1948, when the state of Israel was created. Today the functioning of the synagogue in the Shabbat depends on the presence of a minimum number of Jews, who no longer exist to live here. Thus, only the presence of Israeli tourists allows its realization. Despite the declining Jewish population, there are still many marks of the presence of Jews in the neighbourhood and are worth visiting.

The art gallery of the city of Kochi exhibits works of local and Indian artists all year round but it is during the “Biennale” period that the gallery opens its doors to the public and crowds fill the corridors and patios of this colonial building.

The Basilica of Santa Cruz is the largest basilica in Kochi and was built by the Portuguese shortly after arriving in India. However, the original building was destroyed and the church that exists today dates from the early twentieth century. Its interior is colorful and well worth a visit.

The church of San Francisco is a must visit for all Portuguese. It was there that Vasco da Gama was buried when he died of malaria in India. Here was about 14 years, when his son decided to undertake a trip from Portugal to Kerala to recover his body and transfer it to the Jeronimos Monastery in Portugal. The church, built by the Portuguese, has some informative panels with the history of Vasco da Gama and the tomb where he was buried. Admission is free.

One of the trademark images of Kochi is the Chinese fishing nets. Kochi was an important commercial city in the Spice Route. From here came spices to the Middle East, China, Europe and even Africa. Many traders came and went to Kochi to bring new ideas and techniques, including the techniques of Chinese fishing that can now be observed on the beach of Fort Cochin and on the canals scattered throughout the region. These Chinese fishing nets are fantastic, and worth getting into one of them to see them working. Fishermen will love to welcome you.

Mattancherry Palace is known in Kochi as the Holandes Palace. Oddly enough, the palace was not built by the Dutch but rather an offer from the region to the Portuguese Raja in the 16th century. However, after the Dutch conquered and seized Kochi, and appropriated all the wealth of the former Portuguese colony, the palace passed into the hands of the Dutch. The exterior of the palace is rather austere and unappealing, yet its interior is rich in murals painted on the walls, representing the sacred books of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Unfortunately you can not take pictures of your interior. It’s worth visiting. You can combine a visit to this palace with the Jew Town, which is just next door.

Finally, the Fort Cochin is the original site where the settlement of the Portuguese colony was erected. Today the city of Kochi spreads through other neighborhoods, being the most modern Ernakulam. Fort Cochin is the most traditional and traditional neighborhood, with colonial buildings (mostly transformed into hotels and restaurants), traditional commerce and streets full of friendly and welcoming population. Strolling in these streets is an excellent introduction to the city.

Alappuzha

It is here, in Alappuzha (Alleppey), that the geographic form becomes more incredible while water reaches the level of the earth, giving rise to whole districts on the water and, of course, the scares from time to time.

Alleppey is a well-known area of canals and even dubbed Venice of Kerala. The Backwaters extend through a huge area where the populations make their life by boat and wash in the waters of the lakes. One of the best ways to get to know the region is to embark on one of the houseboats where you can spend the night in this region, closely linked to nature. The houseboats have air conditioning – which is going to be necessary, such is the heat accumulated on the boat and that feels at night – and the rooms are en-suite, with en-suite facilities. In the kitchen, you will have someone always cooking for you the local specialities (and yes they always have spicy. But they are delicious) and another element will guide your boat through the channels … it is an unforgettable trip that you will not want to end.

Varkala

Varkala is a small seaside fishing village that began to be discovered by foreigners in the 70’s and since then they have begun to see the fishing boats being replaced by small lodges and beach restaurants. Most of the lodges and restaurants lie on top of a fire-coloured cliff overlooking the beach. The sea is not emerald, but it is warm and for those who like waves, then it is perfect.

There are stalls selling the usual tunics and necklaces, along with restaurants with a casual air where you can either order a pizza or a chicken tikka masala. Beer is that to ask has to be quiet since most of the sites do not have a license to sell alcoholic beverages. They have two opaque mugs and a bottle of some drinks that we serve under the table. Lunching at Theeram, a wooden restaurant with two floors open to the sea, where there is still some breeze to cut off the torrid heat of one o’clock.

Maharashtra

A trip to Maharashtra that begins with a discovery of Mumbai, sprawling megalopolis and the most beautiful example of colonial architecture. Maharashtra is the third largest state in India, has some of the most iconic sights in the country, ranging from palm-fringed beaches to towering green mountains. UNESCO World Heritage sites and cosmopolitan cities sit side by side in the far east of the state with impressive national parks, including the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve. The troglodyte temples of Ellora and Ajanta, carved in stone, are the most beautiful monuments of Maharashtra. Matheran, a health resort served by a small train, has a certain charm. Pilgrims and inquisitive minds will go to Pune, a cosmopolitan city famous for its “sex guru” and alternative spiritualism. To the west, the romantic Konkan coastline bordering the Arabian Sea is dotted with ruined forts and sandy beaches, the best of which surround the beautiful Malvan, becoming one of the world’s leading diving centres.

Mumbai

There is no shortage of options in Mumbai. India’s largest city offers a little bit of everything from Bollywood to the British architecture of the buildings; from the cosmopolitan lifestyle of a large metropolis to urban forests and giant slums.

It is certainly not possible to get to know Mumbai in two days. Weeks, maybe months, would be needed to unravel the city. But how to do it if time is short? Well, if it is not possible to increase the stay (which would be advisable) there is only one exit: take a taxi from the airport and go straight to the Colaba.

Colaba is one of the seven islands that form Mumbai. Much of what you need to see in the city is in or near Colaba, which makes this region the ideal place to stay. Whether in a luxury hotel or a half-bum hostel, staying in Colaba means crossing a street to be in some of the most important spots of the city. If you followed the tip and chose a hotel in Colaba then just drop off your bags and walk to the Gate of India, an emblematic point of the city that is close to the harbour and facing the sea. At 26 meters high, this arch was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to India in 1911.

Mumbai is not Goa, but a city made up of seven islands could not fail to have beaches. So grab your sunglasses and go to Chowpatty, the beach that is not too far from the rest of the script. But nothing to swim: the idea is just to admire the landscape of the metropolis. Those who prefer can go to Churchgate, where there is no sand at the edge of the sea, but it is possible to walk on the boardwalk and admire the Arabian Sea.

Another interesting building is the University of Mumbai, also built in Gothic style. A library with almost one million books is in the Rajabai Tower, designed in the same pattern as Big Ben.

Finally, take time to visit St. Thomas Cathedral and Victoria Terminus (now called Chhatrapati Shivaji), which is nothing more than one of India’s most crowded train stations. Anyone who wants to go through the anthropological experience of subway riding in the land of the cow has a great opportunity there; normal tourists can only admire this 19th-century building which is also a Unesco world heritage site.

Do not forget that the best part of Mumbai is tucked away on every street corner, not just in the historic buildings. Spend a few hours roaming the campers and street markets of Colaba, where you can buy almost anything.