14th September 2018
We had an interview about our Keralan experiencies publish here.
23rd Feb – Hello Dubai
We got off to a stressful start with fog in Dubai delaying our flight 5 hours which meant we missed our connection to Kerala. The Emirates flight was comfortable and high quality but negated by their failure to provide any information about our connection and what we had to do. There was a massive crowd (500+), no actual queue and no staff at all for the first two hours. Tempers were frayed and morale was low.
After long hours of queuing in the Dubai dawn, we were told that our connection would be in 14 hours time. We bought tickets for an airport lounge and waited it out in some degree of comfort. Many people in similar situations were passing through and some stopped to chat and tell us their stories of long frustrating journeys and thwarted travel plans.
We stayed in the lounge for over 12 hours in the end and after many fruitless attempts to find a way to get our new boarding cards, I used the Emirates business lounge which slightly reluctantly agreed to help. Finally, late at night, our Cochin flight was called.
24th Feb – Lost in transit
We arrived in Cochin in the early hours of the morning but despite the earlier promises made by Emirates our luggage was off on its own holiday. Around 80 people had the same problem and the usual scrums formed around the two staff present. We filled in forms in triplicate, tried to maintain our sanity and 3 hours later we escaped the airport with no luggage and promises that it would “very likely” be on the next flight.
Stepping out of the terminal building we were hit by the humid smell of India. Like a greenhouse with a hint of wood smoke. The trip to the Taj Malabar was an eye opener. The feeling of everything being half complete, the ramshackle shops and houses plastered with advertising on every available space. We rumbled through the port area to the gates of the Taj. Our room was a good size overlooking the entrance but quiet and very comfortable.
Breakfast was a selection of east and west. Wonderful views across to the old town with dolphins visible in the river and ferries criss-crossing. After breakfast we asked whether the staff could help. They were absolutely brilliant, especially Sunil the reception manager and a real Mr Fix It. Nothing was too much trouble. A man was dispatched with cash to town to top up our SIM. Best of all, Sunil took over the luggage chasing task and used his own contacts to chase our bags personally. This was a tremendous relief. We were given pyjama kurta to wear whilst our only set of clothes was express washed, and other amenities supplied. We then retired to the infinity pool to relax and staff came regularly to update us.
At last we could try and relax and recover from the journey.
The hotel has a complimentary Tea and Sunset cruise starting from 1700 and this was well worth it, getting a close sea side view of the iconic Chinese fishing nets as the sun set. As we got off the boat Sunil was there waving enthusiastically that one bag had finally arrived! The cruise was followed by classical Indian dancing in the grounds but we sampled cocktails instead followed by the buffet dinner.
Lessons learnt at the Taj Malabar…
- Book the spa and restaurants when you arrive. They were all full on our first day.
- Service is first class and even included a Cyber butler who provided a phone charger
25th Feb – Fort Cochin by tuk-tuk
After our first good sleep for a number of days we walked down past the cement works to catch the locals’ ferry to Fort Kochi for R4 each (4p). In the Old Town we talked to the tuk-tuk drivers and negotiated a rate of R200 for a tour of around 4 hours at our convenience.
We whizzed around the top spots and found the shops Fabindia and Anokhi for some retail therapy. More of an insurance policy for me, as still no sign of the remaining suitcase. We agreed to visit a couple of the Kashmiri shops just to see what they were like and because the drivers get their fuel paid for if they bring a quota of tourists to the shops.
We also stopped at the laundry where photography was encouraged and I’m sure this was where my single set of clothes had been the day before. The workers used coal fired irons then folded the clothes beautifully. The lack of a camera bag and hence no flash hindered some really good portrait shots. Outside were two banks of cubicles where the clothes were beaten to within an inch of their lives before being hung out in a field on twisted rope lines which avoided needing any pegs.
The ginger factory was pungent and interesting with the workers tossing ginger at each other. The ginger is grown north of Kerala as it needs much water to grow large enough. We wanted to visit the Paradesi synagogue but missed the opening times (shut between 1200 and 1500) and so stopped for lunch in the courtyard of the Pepper House Cafe. The food was very good with my chicken escalope juicy and well flavoured.
I would have liked to walk around more as there are some very pretty streets with the houses all different colours and some interesting architecture and shopping streets. We had seen enough of the fort area for now and the Taj pool and spa were appealing. Just as went to the spa, Sunil came running up to say my bag had finally re-joined the holiday having been with 2000 other bags lost over the same period. We relaxed with our Jiva spa massages – a relaxing one for me and energising for Una. It was a solid hour of bliss and well worth the money.
We decided to eat at the Rice Boat on our last evening and the staff had put petals on our table. The main course of spicy fish in banana leaf was so good that Una asked for the recipe. The desserts of trilogy of cardamon and raspberry chocolate slice were sublime. We thought they had forgotten about the recipe but at the Taj you never need to ask more than once. Una didn’t recognise one of the ingredients (kokum) and our waiter brought a sample for us. It looked like a dried prune but tasted like HP sauce.
26th Feb – Tiny Tata to the Tea hills
For obscure reasons, our booked taxi to Munnar did not turn up. Sunil chased the Spice Tree Hotel who had made the arrangement and the taxi company who had just hung up on me. Sunil finally went outside and found a local taxi driver willing to make the long trip. He also secured a promise from the Spice Tree Hotel to pay any difference in the cost. The car was the size of a Corsa and we just managed to squeeze our two large bags, ourselves and lunch in. Fully loaded it had about 10% more power than a tuk-tuk and the driver had to turn off the air conditioning on steep hills. We worried that we might have to get out and push.
The 6 hour journey took us through various nondescript small towns into the more dense jungle. The road narrowed to almost single track with potholes and hidden bumps. We got diverted due to the main road being closed and traversed a few hours off the beaten track stopping by a reservoir for a tasty packed lunch prepared by the Taj. We journeyed through the valley until we started to see the tea plantations which are a stunning sight as the sun was beginning to set, skimming the bushes and leaving interesting textures and lighting.
The room was huge with a large jacuzzi and fine views over the valley and setting sun. Una had a go at the hotel manager for the taxi cock-up and demanded a free bottle of wine which we enjoyed over dinner. Sunil called from the Taj to check we had arrived safely. That is superlative service. Taxi problem aside, we were impressed with the Spice Tree hotel. Gorgeous food, excellent service and even a magician to entertain us over dinner.
27th Feb- Rumble in the Jungle
Up a bit earlier ready for a 10am free and guided walk down through the plantations and the local village in the valley. We saw cardamon, mango, jack fruit, pepper plants, cocoa, and coffee beans all with a background beat of loud Bollywood music.
A local festival of Shiva had started, due to end that night with a torch procession but sadly no elephants as only the major festivals have them. We had the pool to ourselves before lunch. The curries were absolutely fresh and wonderful tasting. Rick Stein couldn’t have done better.
We booked the sunset walk to the dolmen stones and views to the Western Ghats. This was preceded by a tea tasting and fried snacks which were very moreish. The walk was claimed to be 20 minutes each way but the whole trip took 2 hours up and down trails and along a big black basalt rock with the occasional tomb-like structures which were used by sadhus for meditation about 2000 years ago. We had a great vantage point for the sunset but a low cloud bank obscured it.
28th Feb- Misty Tea Tips
An early start for the Jeep safari to Kolukkumalai estate: India’s highest tea plantation at 2400 metres. Reviews had said that it was a rough ride …. and it was. 2 hours on a bone shaker, inside a tumble dryer with rocks for company.
The views across the tea plantations were wonderful, the tea plants various, almost luminescent shades of green across rolling hills. Sunlight and mist in a constantly changing pattern. Amazing one moment and dull the next. Tea plants can live for over 125 years and we saw signs giving the year of plantation back to 1919. We zigzagged across the hills to the peak and crossed over in to Tamil Nadu where the 200 acre Kolukkumalai orthodox tea plantation was located. Orthodox in this context means the tea is prepared using wintering, fermentation and rolling rather the CTC method which is highly mechanised.
In the old factory there was a very strong smell of fermenting tea and the various grades were explained with FBOP (flower broken orange pekoe) being the best quality, going through BOP to dust which is used in tea bags to give the instant brew. There is an even finer grade than dust which you get in instant tea drinks. Pretty sure dust is swept off the factory floor.
We went to the acclaimed vantage point to be met with a wall of impenetrable mist. The Ghats would remain forever hidden from us. We descended and re-joined the jeep for another trip down the hill with our bums occasionally touching the seats. We were very happy that we had booked a massage for the afternoon.
We contacted Pirkko Paxton, manager at Aanavilasam guesthouse, to confirm the taxi collection time as we wanted a sleep in. We found out that a workers’ strike or bandh was planned and the district roads would be shut by curfew from 6am to 6pm. We would have an early start for our next journey…
1st March – Bandh Aid
Up and ready at 3am we squeezed our bags into the car. The roads were twisty, dark and at times visibility was only a few feet in the patchy fog. We saw no sign of the impending bandh which was lucky and arrived at Aanavilasam around 0530. The room was huge with a lovely verandah and an outdoor shower area.
Once fed and watered we had a tour of the plantation. The plantation has its own coffee, honey and spices, all used in the guesthouse. We took a walk down to the local village in much cooler weather than Cochin. There was a constant sound of birds chattering in the jungle and the rumble of distant thunder.
The chef gave us an informal cookery lesson before dinner and showed us the local spices and ingredients. Delicious fish curry and a convivial atmosphere in the small dining room as guests chatted.
2nd March – Periyar Tiger Reserve
An early 6 am start but Pirkko provided a full spread for breakfast. Homemade cardamon and banana jam, honey from the hives plus ginger jam to go with the homemade bread. We also had fresh fruit, omelettes and porridge. Rather more western than usual but welcome. The Periyar Park was only a short hop away and we passed typical Indian sights such as cows in the road, small corner shops and big mansions reportedly funded by returners from the Gulf.
The Bamboo Rafting trip started with a 1.5 hour walk through the jungle and the guides pointed out the signs of overnight tiger and sloth bear activity. Very exciting! The rafting turned out to be self-drive to a large degree and the tourists provided a great deal of the motive power.
It was hot and dry so luckily no leeches were seen. The guide said that they can survive for months with no water then rehydrate when it rains ready for their next meal of blood.
We moored for lunch before heading off on another 1.5 hour trek through the jungle. We saw a vine snake, a wild boar family, wild deer, a mongoose and Indian bison. The guides were also excellent at spotting birds and identifying the mysterious calls and sounds. We took a different path back to the park facilities passing many wading birds and black frogs hiding in the grass and under rocks. We eventually arrived back at the start just before 5pm hot and tired but having had an enjoyable day. Hashim came to meet us and take us back to Aanavilasam. He was an excellent driver and we used him extensively during our stay.
3rd March – Where the Wild Things Are
We booked the 7am Green Nature trek at the Periyar Reserve. This started at a hut where we had to put on leech socks then together with a native Meena guide and his student we set off at a strong pace. It was a cool, damp morning. Great for wildlife … and for leeches. The guide was very knowledgeable and spotted birds and wildlife left, right and centre. From giant Malabar squirrels, golden oriel and jungle fowl to the rare Waynaad Laughingthrush. The total for the day was over 18 different types of birds.
The highlight was the mad scramble up a steep hill after the guide heard an elephant crashing through the trees. We approached cautiously until about 30 feet away when the baby elephant took fright and the mother emitted a sonorous deep rumble, pawed the ground and flapped her ears. The guide said to stay very still whilst apparently the student guide had told Una to be prepared to run. The light was rather dim with the early morning cloud and cover plus the elephant was partially obscured by bush so I don’t think I managed to get any good pictures. It was exciting being so close to a huge wild animal. The walk took around 3.5 hours with the elephant detour through a variety of cover from wet grasslands to forests. Well worth it.
4th March – Elephant Power Shower
We booked the 2 hour elephant experience at Elephant Junction through the ever helpful Pirkko. We had a young female elephant called Lakshmi who brought us up a track into the woods before turning around and much more cautiously descending with the occasional complaint and low rumble which set her body quivering. A few sharp words from her mahout and she moved on. We hung on tightly to the metal hand grips and enjoyed the vantage point.
Elephants eat around 10% of their body mass per day meaning upwards of 350kg of vegetation. After the walk we were shown a wood-moving exercise and the immense strength of the animal. The grand finale for the morning was the elephant washing. On entry to the park we had seen a dirty looking pool and had been rather worried this was going to be it. However, the washing pool was hidden by trees and had a chlorinated water supply. Una washed the huge elephant and then sat on top to be power hosed by her, reportedly an exhilarating experience. I declined for reasons to do with potential elephantine snot.
We decided to go to Mr Abraham’s spice garden as this was recommended by Pirkko before going to Kumily to see the fruit bats wake up. Mr Abraham himself showed us around the small plantation which had featured in a BBC programme: Monty Don’s Around the World in 80 Gardens. It was stuffed full of exotic herbs and spices. We saw cloves, the dried unopened flowers of the plant, red aubergines, purple chillis, four types of bananas and so on. We were given dead cinnamon leaves off the ground to taste plus very intense, fresh cardamon seeds, again packed with flavour compared to our dried versions at home which have lost most of the aroma- giving oils.
In Kumily we stopped at Wildernest hotel for a coffee and were persuaded to try the warm plum cake – very good this was too. They also have a roof terrace which is an ideal spot to view the bats. The bats take off between 1800 and 1900 as the sun sets but I think the light rain put them off and we headed back having seen one do a few trial runs before settling back to sleep.
5th March – Lake Vembanad shores
Hashim drove the 150km and 3.5hr smoothly. The worst case scenario on Indian roads is overtaking a lorry, trying to overtake a tuk-tuk, trying to overtake a bike, trying to avoid a pedestrian, all the way across the road whilst there’s an oncoming lorry doing the same.
We passed huge tea plantations threaded by the winding roads as well as small and large towns with beautifully painted houses. One thing that continues to get to me though is the hugely expensive and vast churches that crop up everywhere right next to tin huts where the parishioners live. Couldn’t the money be spent on better works like sanitation, education, health care, jobs and so on?
We arrived at the Kumarakom Lake Resort too early to check in – first time this had been a problem. We wandered around the lovely grounds and once our LPV (luxury pavilion) room (504) was ready, we had a chicken tikka sandwich delivered which was excellent. The room was vast with an adjacent bathroom of the same length which included a jacuzzi. The cool air con was very welcome as it was extremely hot and humid compared to the hill stations. Our veranda looked out over the gardens to the lake. We hope Prince Charles had enjoyed the same view when he spent 2 nights in the hotel last November.
We had a swim in the infinity pool overlooking the lake and then got ready for the chai and cakes on the lawn before the sunset cruise. The boat puttered out into the lake, waited until the sunset and then headed back while the two resident musicians serenaded us with Indian classical tunes.
March 6th – Backwater biking
The hotel had bicycles available and as it was in the mid 30’s we were not competing with any other takers. We cycled up to the kumarakom bird sanctuary about 3km north and this was worth the 300 rupees for two. A shaded path led around a series of canals with the constant sounds of bird life. We saw a number of egrets, a skink, a couple of types of heron and the snake headed fish. The last hide gave us a tree top level view of the egret nesting site and at the far side the trees were packed by Indian fruit bats – around 5000 said the informative film. We wanted to return at sunset to see the bats fly over the road.
We visited the surreal Driftwood Museum on the way back. We had an idiosyncratic tour by the slightly scary woman who had collected the pieces over 25 years after mini tsunamis on the Andaman Islands. She said that it was all natural but some had been patently carved. We continued south until we reached Kumarakom town another 3km or so further on before returning to the hotel more than a little hot and bothered.
We had the usual hour by the poolside before having the tea and cake in the garden. This is really good and not to be missed. Fried banana, ginger cake and vada. After dinner, in the hotel’s Lake Vembanad Fish Restaurant (not great), we relaxed on a hammock watching the distant fireworks and upside down moon.
March 7th – The God of Small Things
We were up early for the hotel speed boat trip at 8am. The water was flat silver and the light very good . Reni took us up close to the mussel fishermen who used long poles with a net of the end to dredge them up or dived down with a scoop. We zig-zagged from one photo opportunity to the next going past the man-made island to the dam which separates the fresh water lake from the saline one which leads to Kochi. We then zoomed back passing the island of Pathiramanal. The shrimp nets capture between 10-15 kg each night in season and this commands a premium. Much more lucrative than mussel fishing. At R2500 for two of us, we thought this was the best trip available from the KLR hotel.
For a backwaters exploration we had booked our own guided canoe trip from the state–run Responsible Tourism project. Their phone number was on signs on the main road but no address. We located their office near the Bird Sanctuary. Easy to miss if you do not know. The trip was booked at a cost of R1000 for two of us and they also arranged us a tuk-tuk collection for R50. Rather a contrast to the R800 the hotel wanted for the same 5 minute journey.
We cycled up past the brightly painted school and the resting houseboats. We had a look at the Taj Kumarakom as the hotel building is the History House as featured in the famous novel, The God of Small Things.
The staff gave us a tour and the usual Taj-style welcome. We booked dinner for after the canoe excursion and apparently the bats fly over the lake so we looked forward to cocktails watching this. The old Baker family house overlooks a lake with a higher class of bird than the KLR egrets and crows. Oriels, kingfishers and bee eaters. We saw all of these by simply having a cooling Kingfisher beer on the verandah of the hotel. Just after leaving the Taj, I had to walk back after an explosive tyre puncture and it was very hot.
Safely back at the KLR we had a swim and afternoon tea before having our very own sunset cruise with the musicians.
March 8th – Backwaters with the locals
Una wanted to try out the 7am morning yoga by the poolside and it was a quick introduction to a few basic postures whilst watching the boat traffic on the lake.
We wanted to see a little more of the local life so took the bicycles one final time. The guard on the gate advised against going right and said stick to the main roads. We did for a bit until we saw a track leading to St James’s Church a mile away or so the sign said. A rough track led to a canal with two friendly girls washing their clothes. They pointed down the canal after asking which church we wanted. We saw various river life passing by; men mending fishing nets, canoe boats loaded with sand, birds fishing and goats grazing. We finally arrived at an enormous church on at least a couple of acres of land. The priest said it was for a whole 480 parishioner families, was 172 years old and had been rebuilt in 1969.
We returned through Kumarakom and stopped at Zuri and Whispering Palms, both of which refused to let us in for a drink. First time being English didn’t get us in. A hot journey home broken by a stop for a coconut led us back to cool down, swim and prepare for our Responsible Tourism trip. The village life experience canoe trip started just under the bridge 100m north of the bird sanctuary.
The glorified canoe was made out of dark aged jack wood bound together with rope made of coconut fibres. We climbed on board with our boatman guide and paddled off. Another partial self-drive experience again. It was very tranquil gliding silently over the water. We saw many birds including several kingfishers of two species and hundreds of egrets. Our first stop was a family home on the banks of the canal where we were shown roof thatching, mat making and fresh toddy collecting as well as being taught how to climb a coconut tree using a mechanical contraption. We were also walked around their small garden with everything being explained by a young woman, our guide’s niece, who spoke excellent English.
We paddled further on and stopped to look at the rice paddies full of birds and also at a 20-30m long snake boat. We had one further stop at a rope- making family who gave a demonstration. The whole trip was a real insight into local life with charming people. All bar 100 rupees of the fees is fed back to the local community and was a highlight of the trip.
We walked to the Taj Kumarakom just as two VIPs arrived. One the DG of Kerala and the other a well-known jewellery merchant. The place was crawling with security but we passed unperturbed. We sat drinking our cocktails watching the sunset waiting for the promised bats to appear. By 7pm the sky was full of the 5000 bats from the sanctuary heading for lush pickings over the fields. The Taj dinner was excellent as usual with exemplary service. We asked for a tuk-tuk back but were told it had to come from the docks in Kumarakom so we walked out to the main road and managed to flag one down within a few minutes for a fare of 60 rupees.
A full, but fantastic day.
March 9th – On the road to the South
Transferred to Vivanta Taj Kovalam. We squeezed into the little box car which I had laughed at when it arrived and bounced our way for 4.5 hours through mostly a continuous strip of small shops. As we hit the state capital the number of gold shops rocketed, many full with customers.
When we arrived at the Taj Kovalam, our room wasn’t ready even though it was past two. After a complimentary coffee they upgraded us to a sea view room which had a pleasant view across the palm tops to the sea.
Una’s work colleague met us at the hotel and took us for a whistle-stop tour of the key sites of Trivandrum. We watched evening worshippers light lime half lamps in the grounds of a local temple.Then we went to the Sri Padmanabhuswamy temple where 3.5 billions of dollars of gold and gemstones have been found in 4 out of the 5 secret chambers. The fifth chamber has not been opened as it is marked with a cobra and the people fear calamity if it is. The local superstition is that the temple saved them from the tsunami. The adjacent Puttan Malika palace is alongside but closed when we visited.
Back to the hotel and dinner at the Bait restaurant between the lagoon and the sea. We had a table on the sand and could see hundreds of boat lights 15km out according to Dhanish our waiter. He was very chatty and gave us puzzles to solve and vice versa. They gave us dessert free for answering his puzzles correctly. Brilliant service as usual from the Taj. Una’s tiger prawns were the best she had and the 500g of tuna in a simple dressing was excellent. The chef came and enquired how the meal was and promised to give Una some kokum fruit as these are hard to get in the UK.
March 10th – Argie bargie on the beach
As a pre-breakfast stroll, around 0830, we walked down a dusty track to the “Waters Edge” hotel, much raved about in the guidebooks but not very clean-looking. The fishermen were hauling in a massive funnel net singing as they went. It took them about 30 minutes to haul the catch to the beach with two men entering the water to scare the fish deep in the net with splashing and some form of tool to create a loud whooshing noise. The catch was pretty poor and various discussions ensued in heated Malayalam. The guide book says this is due to over fishing by large mechanised boats from other countries.
After breakfast we took another tuk-tuk down to Lighthouse beach and walked along the promenade past all the hard sell shops and restaurants. Not too pushy but more than we have experienced to date. We stopped for a coke in the German Bakery before finishing the promenade and walking back along the beach with our feet in the bath warm water. Fine sand ran between our toes as the surf pounded in. The swell was about 1.5-2m with a strong undertow. A life guard kept blowing his whistle if he thought people were too far out. We chilled for a bit back at the hotel using the Jacuzzi and pool before heading off back down to Lighthouse Beach for the sunset.
Dinner in Curries which was so cool compared to the hot terrace restauant. The staff were very helpful and the chef came to check everything was to our taste.
March 11th – Sucking the last juice from India
To maximise the last day we planned a trip to watch the fishermen, breakfast then canoe in the lagoon to see the wildlife for one last time. This was followed by lunch, a couple’s spa massage, a sunset hammock on the beach then dinner again in the Bait restaurant.
The fishermen had better luck today with a bigger haul but there was a clear pecking order of who got what fish with the smallest going to the fishermen themselves. Middlemen would shout and argue about which buyer got what selection and how much, with the fisherwomen pushing in to grab their quota. Some heated debates but eventually all the fish were allocated. The catch is much reduced from overfishing and pollution and life looks hard for these people. Even elderly pensioners were pulling the nets from the sea, 15 or more people on each end.
It appears that there is another short beach at the end of the Taj lagoon past Bait and we wandered up there to see the boats. All the fishermen were waiting there for their next catch at around 1630.
Reception were a little hazy about what time we could hire a kayak but they collected us and after the obligatory form filling we set off on a plastic two man kayak across a green lake. Dettol definitely needed afterwards. We circumnavigated the lagoon in about 30 minutes getting up close and personal with Brahminy Kites and egrets.
The Spa treatment in the Couples room was excellent. I had a deep tissue massage and Una a lymphatic drainage one. Very relaxing.
We wanted to watch the sunset from a hammock near the Bait restaurant and sat chatting listening to the crows deciding on their sleeping arrangements before they settled down around 7pm. A good view of the stars before another excellent dinner at the Bait restaurant.
March 12th – Home as The Crow Flies
The hotel wanted R1300 for the airport transfer but a guy (Shija) outside the gate only wanted 600 at a fixed price. He said he would come to reception at 0715. The Taj buffet doesn’t start until 0730 but room service can deliver breakfast anytime. Shija (098 4750 6817) was on time.
Security can be a little intense at Indian airports … we passed through 11 checks of our tickets from entering the airport to entering the plane. We had a minor problem not having individual tickets to enter the airport building, but a check of the passenger list sorted this. There’s also a 100 rupee charge per person to enter the airport.
A brilliant trip, around a beautiful part of India, which was a very gentle introduction to India and all that it offers. We have only explored a tiny fraction of this great land and will certainly be back when time, money and opportunity arises. However, there are many more places on our list that may come next.
Words to the wise…
- In India if someone says they will call you back then they are fobbing you off.
- It took us a little while to get into the tipping habit here as it is not always explicitly stated. Sometimes there is a tipping box. Generally the rule is slip them 10% in your hand.
- It is worth booking a driver for the entire trip. We did enough side trips and had enough hassle to make it worthwhile. It was our only real regret of the trip as the various taxis added up.
- It is really hard to fault the Taj hotel group on quality.
- The best food we had was at the Spice Tree Munnar, a gem of a little hotel in the hills. Aanavilasam Plantation house was the best overall for service.
- Watch what currency they use on credit cards. We asked for rupees but a couple of times they still put it through in pounds and you can’t tell as the machine only displays a request for the pin. KLR particularly did this.
- Split your clothes across both suitcases to reduce hassle if one goes astray.
- Kerala has regular strikes which paralyse the affected districts. Ask about these and make plans accordingly as no road travel is possible on these days.