A week in Kerala, Southern India

Trying to 'do' india in six days is like trying to teach a John Sergeant to tap dance. You can't. After wasting too much time on the internet trying to get a handle on where to go, I did the obvious thing and asked an Indian. I told him I didn't fancy schlepping out to the Taj Mahal just to buy an ice cream and a postcard, and he recommend a few lazy days in the south. Cochin in Kerala to be precise. It turned out to be great advice. I found the most perfect home stay (bed and breakfast) called The Gramam on a coconut plantation about 20 minutes out of town. They have only two rooms and as I was the only guest, Jos (pronounced “just” without the “t”) the owner, upgraded me to the Lake View room. For less than the cost of a Travelodge I had a little house by the river. Huge bedroom, gorgeous outside bathroom and fitted kitchen which I never used because Jos' wife cooked the most delicious meals for me every day.

Jos with my driver and his Ambassador car in the background

Her cooking was sublime. I have never been overly keen on Indian food in the UK but this was something else. So many flavours and gentle spices infused in every dish. Healthy too. Desert was always bananas, pineapple or coconut, all grown on the premises. And yes, I even enjoyed curry for breakfast. I read that 70% of travellers get the shits in India and I had lots of advice from friends on what to and what not to eat. As it was I ate and drank everything that was put in front of me. I had meals in tiny street cafés and fruit juice for breakfast and never had any problems. Truth be told I did have some dodgy movements on the flight over to Dubai, but that was from an iffy lamb casserole I’d had in Hitchin the night before.

Less than the price of a Travelodge

Jos organised whatever I wanted including a day to Fort Cochin to see the famous Chinese fishing nets and St Francis Church from 1503, believed to be the oldest Europeon built church in India. We then stopped at Mattancherry Palace (aka Dutch Palace) with it’s remarkable Hindu murals and finally to Jew Town for a look at the old synagogue there. I spent a good hour browsing through the astonishing antique shops with unique furniture and ornate carved doors at a fraction of the prices in the UK.

Other highlights included a boat ride at twilight, teaching a class of 15 year old kids in a local school and a saucy Indian massage. The local visit to wash the elephants was also a real treat.

Bathing the elephants in the river

A ride for $4

Best of all was a visit to a local prawn farm (yes, the grow them on farms!). I told Jos I wanted to meet a family in their home so he sent me to a tiny two roomed house on the banks of a river where the same family had farmed prawns for over 100 years. The mother, father and two boys welcomed me with coconut milk and big smiles before showing me around the farm and demonstrating how they catch the prawns, both with small nets and through a sluice gate every night. I then sat down for a wonderful dinner (guess what the main dish was) and masala tea. Such warm, lovely people. An honour to be welcomed in to their home.

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Casting the net

You have to hold on to them tightly or they jump out of your hand

Inside the fisherman's shed

Sunset over the prawn farm

Warmth sums up the people I met all over Cochin. For someone now used to London, where making eye contact with a stranger in the street is an invitation to a stabbing, their smiles and easy conversation were disconcertingly natural. That alone made me reflect on the social price of all of our monetary wealth, and how much we’ve lost as a “developed” country. India is changing and the West’s influence is advancing with some positive and some negative results. I say visit the sleepy parts of India now while they’ve still got it right.

The Chinese nets by twilight from my boat ride