We had gone to Kerala with our 2 kids (7 and 5) this Dussehra break for 5 days. Had focused on the backwaters. It was relaxing, we got to spend time together (with almost no laptops, internet and blackberry) and were wow’ed with the amazing nature, culture and ecology. Thought would share some highlights...
Backwaters are network of 900 sq kms of interconnected rivers, lakes, canals and lagoons. It is mostly fresh water but in parts during the dry season, the sea water mixes in and there are also sea water lagoons. It has it’s own ecosystem and are like roads for folks living around there. We stayed at the CGH properties (known for being eco friendly) like Coconut Lagoon and Marari Beach resort and one night in the houseboat. Coconut Lagoon is in Kumarakom on the lake Vembanad (India’s longest lake and about 200 sq km area) part of backwaters. You arrive there in a boat. Marari beach resort is near Alleppey near a fishing village. Some sea-side fun as well.
Fun lessons and insights in ecology
At the risk of sounding like an ad for the CGH properties, was really impressed with the resorts. Truly eco-friendly and good local flavour (of course with all the comforts). Not just lip service. For example:
- They had serious (masters in zoology) etc. dedicated naturalists who were there to take you on personalized tours and share their wisdom any time.
- Thanks to the naturalists, we saw amazing varieties of butterflies, dragonflies, plants, trees and birds. Kids even had their favorite butterfly (blue tiger) and dragon fly (picture wing) species by the end of the trip. We saw different varieties of birds. For example, the kids saw that there are different kinds of kingfisher birds. These city brats realized that kingfisher is not just a plane, but a bird. Another big hit, were the weaver ants that weave a nest with leaves. Even ants make nests!
- The resorts do a lot of eco stuff
- The resorts use organic fertilizers and encourage local plants and flowers. This further encourages bio-diversity—different insects, birds etc.
- State of the art water purification plant. Takes water from the lake and purifies for drinking water. Kids were taken in when they saw the dirty lake water sample and the clean water that comes out of it. This was at the Coconut Lagoon.
- Bio gas. The food waste and compost gets used for cooking gas for the staff kitchen
- Sewage treated for organic manure. Kids loved this bit about “potty” used to fertilize the soil.
- Solar power. The geysers in all the bathrooms were heated by solar power. This was an interesting concept for the kids.
- Rain water harvesting
- Kids loved the demos of Kalaripayattu (Kerala martial art) at Coconut Lagoon. My boy especially was transfixed by all the “dhishum dhishum”. Of course I tried to emphasize not to use on his sister and that it was self-defence like Bruce Lee’s judo...
- Both the hotels respected local traditions. So Coconut Lagoon had the Kerala style heritage housing and Marari Beach Resort had huts resembling fisherman style thatched huts. The big hit were the open Kerala style bathrooms—an open courtyard. Clean, natural luxury and fresh air.
Houseboat (Kettuvallam) and the backwaters
This was a highlight especially for the kids. Very relaxing and beautiful. Just gazing at the water and seeing life go on in the backwaters—kids going to school, kids even rowing boats themselves, watching birds...We stayed at night as well. These houseboats are very comfortable and have a staff of navigators and a good cook.
Note: The houseboats dock at around 6 pm (because of fisherman’s nets being laid out after that). You cannot get out of the boat. There is no TV, you cannot really see much in the dark. Luckily we had taken lots of books, drawing stuff etc. for the kids and they play a lot together. They got inspired and made drawings of the backwaters. ;-) They dozed off early. We too had good books and there was beer on board. So we were set. ;-) But otherwise it might have been a little slow. I still think it was a memorable adventure but just a day on the houseboat might be fine as well and a night in the resort might be more comfortable. They did have carom board etc. in the houseboat. You could check. Also, lots of mosquitoes. They do have kachua chaap but take Odomos as well.
When to go
Kerala is always expensive. But last few days in September might be optimal—high season starts Oct 1 (prices shoot dramatically), it is still not so warm or rainy and the kids have Dussehra break. Also, end Jan or early Feb might be okay. Check with your agent. Peak season (really really expy is Dec 21 to Jan 11). A travel agent friend had told me that there are lots of great homestays and good moderate price hotels as well.
Do not forget
- Binoculars for birds etc. Book on Indian birds
- If night in houseboat: stuff to keep kids busy and stuff to keep you busy. Books on kerala. Books set in Kerala. Arundhati Roy’s “God of small things” or Anita Nair’s books. Maybe ipod to listen to some soothing music would be very nice.
- It is warm even in October. So take all the light and airy cottons.
- Odomos for mosquitoes
Of course we had our share of ayurvedic massages, Malabar cuisine, fun in the beach and the pool...lovely! Please share your travel experiences as well...