My five day sojourn in Kerela! Day One

It is with a bit of embarrassment that I admit, I had never been to Kerela. Two plans made earlier did not fructify. And it rankled. So it was fortunate that this happened one cold December evening. 

Obsessed with putting that one pin on the map, I made a sad face as I said, “I’ve never been to Trivandrum…” (now known as Thiruvananthapuram TVM for this post). 
SV rose well to the occasion. 
She promptly invited me over. 

While it seemed polite and casual at that time, it was, minutes later, followed up with a concrete plan. 

Come, end of February”, she said, “I’ve planned something.

Here’s where context-setting is important.

SV is a dear friend’s dear sister. And I’ve known her for the last 3 decades or more. We’ve met off and on but (sadly) not frequently enough. Yet the wonderful part is that when we meet we just pick up the threads from where we left off. Of late, we’ve reconnected on Facebook, and I’ve discovered that she’s an avid traveller and I follow her trips with vicarious pleasure!

When we met in December, it was at the reception of my friend’s dear daughter.

Coming back to the point at which I got my invite to TVM, it was a social occasion so I did not actually whoop with joy, what with decorum and all. But to say the least, my inner travel spirit was doing the samba (or probably Kathakali)! 

I was thrilled

That was in December and while this was almost three months away, I really wasn’t sure it would happen.
I got more words of wisdom from SV, “Why don’t you book your tickets, you can always cancel if you can’t make it.”
Sounded like a plan and between travel for work, an offsite, and some time off the tickets were booked and I was ready for my first-ever visit to Kerela!
And so it came to pass.

This year, 2015 from February 21st  to 25th, I spent some wonderful times with SG, my childhood friend, SV and AK her sister and husband – my hosts, in the heart of Kerela, better known as God’s own country.

There are many ways of seeing a new place but experiencing it with the people who know it from their childhood is quite something else.

I’m not the one-place-a-day kind of traveler. I’m not even the must-see-everything kind of person. I prefer to soak in the sights and the sounds, understand the background, pick up a recipe or two, basically dig up the roots behind what we do and how we are and why we are the way we are. 

Throw in a bit of history and legend and my holiday is complete.
As an Indian in India, I was still foreign to the language and culture here and that’s what I was eager to learn. With my three companions (and the several others who hosted me with great warmth) I discovered with unbridled joy what makes this God’s own country.

What follows is an day by day, outing by outing, travelogue of my brief (5-day) sojourn in Kerela – my first time but definitely not my last.

Stay with me…

Day One – 21st February 2015

I was told jokingly, as I waited in anticipation for my flight, by my dear friend that I will have to speak in Malayalam when I get off at the Thiruvananthapuram (say this with the speed of lightning and you’ve got it right) and ask for a prepaid taxi! As a rejoinder I asked, “what’s Malayalam for Hurry up and get me there already!” 

But to my relief English was pretty much understood so before I knew it I was in a cab and off to my destination. We turned away from the airport and I caught my first glimpse of a beach, the sea gently lapping at the brown sands, boats beached on the shore, nets cast and a midday sun making the sea sparkle. The southern coast of India, my first view! Five days from now, I’d be sadly bidding farewell to this very same sight.

Recognised !
In about 30 minutes I was there! Put up at a guest house which was an erstwhile palace, I was greeted with great glee by my friend and taken to our room!

A flight of stairs opened out to a verandah and a hallway and then led to a passage with rooms. Room No 4 was large and spacious with an ante room and a rather large bathroom. While exuding old-world charm it was equipped with every modern amenity – from an air conditioner to a coffee maker.

It’s an old maharaja’s palace,” gushed my friend, SG! I wasn’t complaining. Who would,  when you are recognized as one befitting a palace. While simple and elegant the hall both above and below still had old furniture and large frames of Raja Ravi Verma paintings adorned the walls. The grounds around it were expansive and one could well imagine the days of yore when the place was in all its glory.

An erstwhile private residence of the Maharaja, the Belhaven Palace had been passed on to the British and later on the estate with the palace came to belong to the RBI management who turned it into a guest house. Apparently it had old passages as bomb shelters underneath, which were later sealed during the British rule. How interesting. 

Our evening that day took us to another ‘royal place’. A bit in the shadows but royal nevertheless. 

The Villa Maya (link below) was made expressly for one of the king’s consorts. An imposing multistoreyed structure in fine teak wood and brick, it is now refurbished in all its glory. Now a heritage place for dining and and outdoor events, this is where the evening celebration was on. The place is beautiful. Teak wood and stone stand silent witness to the days of yore as ancient, traditional artefacts still grace the place. Frangipani trees lit with twinkling lights added to the ambience and we had a lovely evening of celebration.

What a wonderful time… and yet just my first day!

(The next day would take us to a lovely beach to witness an epic sunset and a beautiful crescent moon!
But that’s Day Two…)

Want to know more about Villa Maya? Here: