Have you been to a popular destination but found somewhere secluded or unexplored? Maybe you’ve been to an agricultural region in Italy or a little village in a busy country? What about a small wildlife park in Africa that wasn’t the Serengeti or Kruger?
Every centimetre of Earth may now have been mapped by Google Earth, and footsteps are to be found everywhere as well, but there are still places that are less travelled and a very different experience than the representations we see in travel shows and read in books.
When Ebonnie and I were discussing this as a topic for ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast I gave her my example and she said she had been to this country and toured the famous Golden Triangle which for good reason is on the bucket lists for most people who travel or dream about travel.
We’re talking about India. We’re talking about Kerala.
I was drawn to India with radio cricket coverage of heaving grounds and the heaving stomach of Dean Jones making 210. Cricketers tour diary stories talk more about the crush of humanity and the noise of car horns and blocked streets than the cricket being played.
Kochi is the capital of Kerala, a southern state of India and unfortunately lacks a team in the IPL.
The 300 year old Old Harbour Hotel represents a lot of India’s colonial history with the Portuguese, Dutch and English. Across the road are the Chinese Fishing Nets, fresh food markets and around the corner are art galleries and studios. And quiet streets.
I literally walk down the middle of streets and alleyways. I occasionally get the tinkling of a bell from a cyclist and on one occasion I help an old man push a cart that is blocking no other traffic but he needs a helping hand anyway.
As you meander and mooch your way through Fort Kochi you will discover that amongst the cafes, restaurants, churches and synagogues are beautiful local art galleries and textile shops.
To the south of Fort Kochi are the Allepey Backwaters. Often described as the ‘Venice of the East’ I think it should be the other way around. Venice should have to describe itself as the ‘Allepey of the West’.
Watch life on the banks unfold before your eyes. Old men discussing the problems of the world, children throwing sticks into the water for dogs to retrieve and women trying to wash clothes are getting wet by shaking dogs that emerge triumphantly from the river, stick in mouth.
I pull into a little shop by the side of the canal, reverse parallel parking my boat, and make friends with one of the locals, a crested goshawk, who decides to perch on my shoulder and watch me closely. I’m glad I’m not a mouse.
This network of interconnected canals and river systems are over 900 kilometres long. They are naturally occurring and have been created by tides, currents and waves.
It’s one of India’s most popular getaway destinations and this is evident by the size of the houseboats that chug past me. These houseboats are called kettuvallams and most started life as grain barges until transporting tourists become more profitable than transporting grain.
Some are very luxurious and most appear to be airconditioned and great billows of smoke erupt from the stern of many of these boats as tandoor grills prepare the next meal for those onboard.
Leaving the backwaters I head east to the hills of Munnar. A long, winding and ascending road with many waterfalls along the way to stop and cool the feet.
Stop in Munnar to buy the best quality tiffins you’ll ever find.
Accommodation is surrounded by tea plantations and jungle shrouded mountains.
As the morning sun and temperature rise, so too does the fog that has settled overnight in the surrounding gullies and valleys of the forest floor.
In my bright blue Mahindra 4×4 I set about tackling some of the off-road tracks in the area and only stop to buy some fresh jackfruit from a roadside stall.
This is a very different part of India and I’m reminded in many ways of what it’s like to live in my part of the world, Western Australia.
When most people come to Australia the big-ticket items are Uluru, Kakadu, the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House. In WA we know how good it is here but we’re both literally and metaphorically over the horizon for a lot of visitors.
Kerala is a hidden treasure because it’s not what you expect of India. It’s better than your expectations and it challenges your perception of this wonderful country. If I could find a local comparison, it’s a bit like the way we think of Wadjemup.
That feeling of not needing a watch. Not because of anything romantic like time standing still, just because time doesn’t seem to matter. In a bustling country like India this is why Kerala is a hidden treasure and most likely is India’s very own Bonnie Doon.