Enchanting Cherai

enchanting cherai

A few months ago, we revisited a place that we had discovered, quite by accident, a couple of years ago. We had so enjoyed our laid back holiday in enchanting Cherai, Kerala that we just had to revisit it!

So here we present Enchanting Cherai

Landscape

Cherai Beach on Vypeen Island, would count as a natural wonder blessed with the sea and the backwaters within a couple of hundred yards of each other at some places on the island.

lake poyil, cherai
Lake Poyil

With the Perriyar river flowing in the east, the Arabian Sea lapping the shore in the west, a backwater called Lake Poyil lies between the two. Cherai beach itself is over 10 kilometers long, which makes it one of the longest stretches of beach in Kerala. And though it is just 25 kilometers from Kochi, as you drive towards Cherai you are transported to a different world.

cherai beach

As a result of the unique geographical proximity of the sea, river and backwater, you have on offer kilometers of shoreline with quiet and secluded beaches, acres of coconut groves and long stretches of backwaters where fishermen continue to use the traditional Chinese fishing nets.

chinese-fishing-nets-kerala

History

The history of Cherai is a reflection of the history of India; European powers like the Portuguese, the French, the Dutch and the English vying with each other to control the spice trade and exploiting the differences between various local rulers in pursuit of their goal.

The Portuguese were the first to arrive in this area around 1500 when the explorer, Vasco da Gama discovered a sea route to India and landed in Calicut on 20 May 1498. Soon thereafter, taking advantage of the rivalry between the Zamorin of Calicut and the Rajah of Cochin, the Portuguese were able to establish a foothold in Cochin or Kochi.

Besides constructing a fort in 1503 and a church in 1507 in Pallipuram at the northern end of the Vypeen Island, the Portuguese also established the famous Vaipakkotta Seminary and Jesuit Monastery in 1574 where the first printing press in Kerala was started in 1579.

As a result of continuing hostilities with the Zamorin of Calicut, the Portuguese hold in Kerala became tenuous and they were eventually ousted by the Dutch in the seventeenth century. The Dutch, in turn, held sway till 1795 when Dutch Settlements in Kerala were surrendered to the British for ‘safe keeping’ to prevent a take over by the French.

Places of interest

The economy of Cherai is intrinsically linked to fishing with several boat yards, ice factories and food processing units situated around the harbor providing employment to the local population.

Munambam, one of the major fishing harbors in India, is at the northern end of the Vypeen island and the best time to visit the harbor is very early in the morning when the trawlers come in with a fresh catch of fish and to witness the traditional auction of the lots of fish that takes place.  So around 4.30 one morning, we left the resort in in an auto or tuk-tuk piloted by Biju.

biju cherai
Notice the ‘Be Kind‘ sticker I stuck on Biju’s auto-taxi!

By the time we reached the harbor, the unloading of the fish was well underway and the auctions were taking place. It was most interesting to look at the boats coming in, being emptied of the catch, being cleaned and the auctioning process. We considered ourselves lucky to have had this experience.

munambum harbour cherai
The catch being sold, bought and getting packed at Munambum Harbour, Cherai

What particularly struck us was the friendliness of those around. No one seemed to mind the two of us scurrying around with our cameras trying to get the best shots. In fact, just outside the wharf, one auto driver asked us to pose together while he took our photo.

at munambum harbout
Our morning faces at Munambum Harbour ! 🙂

Quite close to the Munambam Harbor is the Munambam beach and the Breakwater point, where the Perriyar river flows into the sea and must be visited just before sunset. We spent over an hour at sunset at the breakwater point taking pictures of the local fishermen fishing with rods and tackles as also others in their traditional canoes and small boats with outboard motors. And as you gaze across the estuary you can see the neighboring district of Thrissur.

breakwater point cherai
Breakwater Point, Cherai

Two other places of interest that warrant a visit, from a historical perspective, are the Manjumatha Basilica also known as the Basilica of Our Lady of Snows and the Portuguese Fort, both of which are located in Pallipuram en route to Munambam.

We spent a morning visiting these two places. We found the Basilica and its precincts, including a church that was first built by the Portuguese in 1507 and rebuilt by the Dutch, are well maintained.

Basilica of Our Lady of Snows
Basilica of Our Lady of Snows

Local legend has it that in April 1790 when Tipu Sultan’s invading army was camped on the banks of the Perriyar river near Aluva, the locals took refuge in the church and prayed for divine intervention. And their prayers appear to have been answered when miraculously, a mist spread around the church leading Tipu Sultan to believe he had reached the sea and he withdrew. To honor this miracle, the locals called the church to Manjumatha or Our Lady of Snows.

Maybe the clue as to why the Basilica is so well maintained can be discovered on translating the word Pallipuram, which in Malayalam, means ‘Place around the Church’. According to the records this name predated the arrival of the Portuguese in the area;. it is amply clear that there were Christians living in this area who had constructed a church, around which they lived. Given the fact that the Apostle Thomas came to South India in the first century AD to preach, this is hardly surprising.

old church, cherai
This church that was first built by the Portuguese in 1507 and rebuilt by the Dutch

And in the cemetery attached to the old church built by the Portuguese we discovered on the tombstones of some very recent graves Portuguese surnames, like Pinheiro, leading us to conclude further that there exists a vibrant Catholic community that still take pride in their Portuguese heritage.

Once again, we experienced the innate friendliness of the people of the place; the watchman opened the old church for us to look around and take pictures and I believe even cajoled the verger to ring the bells in the old fashioned belfry a couple of minutes before noon, just for our benefit.

We were given to understand by the locals that the annual feast at the Pallipuram church with an accompanying fair is the high point of life in Cherai and spreads over fifteen days. Some of the major attractions at the accompanying fair are a procession of fishing boats, sale of fishing nets and fire work displays. Fishermen from around believe that nets bought on the occasion lead to good catches. Incidentally, the church was elevated to the status of a Basilica only in 2012 following a decree issues by Pope Benedict XVI.

While the Basilica and its precincts are well looked after, the same cannot be said about the Pallipuram Fort, built by the Portuguese on the banks of a tributary of the Perriyar river, which lies in a derelict state, as can be seen from the photograph.

Portuguese Fort
Portuguese Fort, Pallipuram

The fort was constructed by the Portuguese in 1503 and is the oldest European fort in India. The fort itself is a hexagonal structure. The walls of the fort are 34 feet high and each of the eight faces is 32 feet. The main purpose of this fort was to monitor the traffic on the Perriyar, to and from the what is the present day Munambam port.

Within the fort there is an underground cellar, which opens into an underground passage. Locals claim the passage led to the Kottappuram or Cranganore Fort in Kodungallur, in Thrissur district built by the Portuguese in 1523 at the mouth of the Perriyar river where the ancient Muziris sea port is thought to have existed. However, it is more likely that the underground passage let to the nearby river front and was used to bring in provisions and facilitate movement to and from the fort during hostilities.

It is indeed shameful the way old monuments and structures of historical significance are allowed to deteriorate in India. Maybe its time the Archeological Department is closed down and some private trusts are entrusted with the upkeep of such places.

Though we have visited Cherai twice, there is one famous attraction that we have not visited as yet; the Varaha temple that is famous for its wood carvings of Lord Vishnu, silver palanquin and a temple chariot or rath that runs on wheels. Traditionally, a chariot festival takes place twice a year and involves the rath being pulled by devotees around the temple accompanied by drum beats.

Whilst you may or may not visit these places, the main attraction in Cherai is the main beach. We have been to many beaches in India, but nowhere do you find the same festival type atmosphere like in Cherai.

We spent many pleasant evenings, over two visits, on the promenade of the main beach watching the hordes of people enjoying themselves while fishing boats chugged north towards Munambam with the setting sun acting as a backdrop.

Usually, beaches at tourist destinations like Goa are filled with holiday makers; in Cherai it is different. Soon after noon, buses and cars start arriving and whole families or groups of friends disembark and make a beeline for the shore.

cherai beach
Cherai beach

And they all have lots of fun swimming or just playing around in the shallows, fully dressed, secure in the knowledge that the local restaurants have shower rooms where they can shower and change, for a price. Children play in the sand or fly kites that are on sale. Those who are not in the water relax sitting on the promenade eating ice cream or munching some snacks that are available at the numerous kiosks or street food vendors.

Food in Cherai

When on a holiday, as a rule, we try to eat at places which are patronised by the locals. In Cherai, a short walk from the resort where we stayed brought us to the main beach where there are a number of small restaurants, snack stalls and street-food vendors.

On our second visit, we discovered Lilliput, a restuarant which had opened a couple of months earlier and is run by Varghese Paul, a graduate from a catering college, assisted by his parents. We went there on the first evening of our stay and were so taken up with the food and the ambiance that for the rest of our stay in Cherai we ate at least one meal everyday in Lilliput.

What made us keep going back to the place, besides the attraction of eating in the courtyard, was the large selection of local dishes. With the help of Varghese we sampled Nadan kozhi curry (chicken curry), Kanthari chicken (chicken dry fried in coconut oil and small green chillies), Koonthal fry (deep fried squid), meen Mulakittathu Shappu style (fish curry), Vendakka Mappas (okra with a coconut base). We also sampled Vallam curry fish – the kind of preparation the local Vallakaran (boat men) make to carry on their fishing expeditions.

lilliput restaurant cherai
Lilliput Restaurant, Cherai

Besides Liliput, another place to sample the local cuisine is the Holiday Hotel that is located in nearby Cherai Junction, a couple of kilometers from the beach. Here too, the menu has a selection of Kerala food, including a number of pork dishes. If you love your pork with lots of fat, this is the place to visit.

Breakfast, though, can be a bit of a problem at Cherai Beach, since most of the restaurants cater to day tourists and therefore open only around lunch time. So, rather than eating breakfast in the resort, we used to stock up sweet parothas  that we had with tea/coffee in our room.

sweet parotha
Sweet Parotha

When we really felt like indulging ourselves, we either took an auto to Cherai Junction, where we had breakfast at the Holiday Hotel. Or we walked down to Blue Waters a three star hotel just off the main beach that offered a buffet breakfast, which meant skipping lunch at Lilliput.

How to get there

After reading this post, many of you will be wondering how to get to Cherai. But given its proximity to Kochi, which is well connected to the rest of the country by air and rail, getting to Cherai is a breeze.

If you fly in, the airport is around 27 kilometers away with prepaid taxis available. Or if you arrive by train, Ernakulam Station is 28 kilometers from Cherai whilst Aluva is 23 kilometers away. Or after a pilgrimage to Guravayur, you have to drive some 55 kilometers.

Where to stay

And staying is not an issue, with lots of accommodation available to suit every budget; from home stays that offer home cooked meals to three star hotels with conference facilities and five star resorts, you can take your choice.

On both occasions we visited Cherai, we have stayed at the Club Mahindra timeshare property, known locally as the Indriya Beach Resort. This is a five star property where local architecture has been tastefully incorporated. All the rooms are equipped with modern amenities like an air conditioner, television, tea/coffee maker, mini-fridge and 24-hour hot & cold water.

club mahindra cherai
Club Mahindra, Cherai

The eastern side of the property is the Poyil Lake whilst the opposite side overlooks the beach. On our second visit we we were allotted a room on this side and through the large bay window we got an excellent view of the sea throughout the day.

The people – the best reason to visit Cherai

We are frequently asked why we keep going back to Kerala for holidays and I guess that an important reason, besides the sheer beauty of the place that is sometimes also referred to as ‘God’s Own Country’, are the people.

They are friendly, helpful, without trying to exploit a tourist, as is the case in some other major tourist destinations in India. They are quite willing to pose for a photo or assist you with directions. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised when some of the small shopkeepers and vendors remembered us from our earlier visit.

I can see us revisiting Cherai again!

PS: Thanks to my husband, José for organizing these holidays, enjoying them with me and for all his inputs for putting this post together! 🙂

Frangipani Love

I think I first fell in love with this flower when I was a little girl and loved to string these pretty flowers strewn all over our lawn. Temple flowers we called them. They were white with yellow centres. Pretty, with a pleasing fragrance and so easily available.

frangipani2

Somewhere down the line, I associated these flowers with simplicity, a value I sought to have in my own life.

When we had our simple wedding, a hundred guests, a very small number by Indian standards, we had these flowers placed on each table, floating in water in small glass bowls. Again we paid nothing for the flowers – they were so abundantly available for free.

It was only later that I learnt its name – plumeria or frangipani.

For the last few years, the flower has adorned the header of my other blog, Everyday Gyaan, simply because I found it so pretty. Later I learnt there was a symbolism behind the  five petals of the flower. Supposedly, they represent five qualities of necessary for psychological perfection: sincerity, faith, aspiration, devotion and surrender.*  A perfect fit for what I try to write about.

frangipani1

When our eyes are opened to something, it seems that we find that thing all around us. So now, I see frangipani and I can’t resist snapping a picture of the flower. I realized too that they come in a variety of colours and the petal shapes differ slightly.

Today I’m sharing my frangipani love with you. Enjoy!

frangipanicollage
What’s your favourite flower? And why?

 

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Today, and hopefully every Sunday going forward, I’ll be linking in here:

Ni Hao Yall

I’m blogging through the 31 Days of October (grab this button from the sidebar if you are too).
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I’m also linking into the Ultimate Blog Challenge and October’s NaBloPoMo

*(via White Lotus Aromatics)

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Flaming Forests

We’ve talked about our trip to Thekkady and Gavi, in Kerala, South India,  before. I was just going through the pictures that my brother, John Campos,  had taken on that trip. I saw a common thread that went unnoticed earlier. I’m not sure whether it was just a coincidence,  but it seemed that most of the flowers that were abloom in the forest during our visit were a shade of red. The forests were truly aflame with beauty!

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thekkady2

thekkady3

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I hope we succeeded in brightening up your day!

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Today we’re on F of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

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Captivating Coonoor!

Last summer we had a family reunion cum holiday in Wellington, a quaint Cantonment town in the Nilgiris (South India) straight out of the British Raj, which hosts The Madras Regimental Centre and The Defence Staff College.

And just outside Wellington is Coonoor, a lovely hill station that does not get the attention it deserves because nearby Ooty tends to attract the tourist traffic. If I were asked to chose between the two towns, Coonoor would win, without a shred of doubt.

But even a day spent in Coonoor will make you want to come back, again and again, to rest and relax. And discover more. Like Sim’s Park. This beautiful park cum botanical garden is situated in a ravine, and was developed in 1874, using the natural contours of the land. It tends to get a bit overcrowded, but to the credit of the staff of the park, the place is very well maintained.

Beautiful Sim's Park
Beautiful Sim’s Park
The flowers in full bloom in May
The flowers in full bloom in May

We had to cut short our stay at the Park because we had to two other important things to do. First, locate Baker’s Junction and second, have lunch at 180 McIver. Actually, we had come across McIver’s on our way into Coonoor from Wellington and Baker’s Junction had been highly recommended for the cheese it stocked.

After driving around a bit, we located Baker’s Junction, which was well stocked with dry goods, provisions and of course, cheese. And we were once again reminded that we live in a small world. Turned out that owner, Cedric Joseph was the brother of an old friend of Corinne.

Having ticked off the items in the shopping lists, we headed to 180 McIver. The 180 in the name comes from the unique location on a cliff that offers a fantastic 180 degree view of Coonoor.

180McCiver
180McIver

180McIver is an old colonial era resort with a multi-cuisine restaurant, La Belle Vie.We had some delicious pastas and pizzas made  from scratch after the order is placed. And the desserts were delectable. Though the food is a bit expensive, the location is so unique, that overall it is a value for money proposition.

180McIver – The Resort

 

The Wellington Gymkhana Club
The Wellington Gymkhana Club

By the time we finished a leisurely lunch and went round the beautifully appointed rooms in the resort, it was almost tea time. We headed to  The Wellington Gymkhana Club for tea.

teaatwellington
My first taste of NonSuch BOP

There  I was introduced to NonSuch tea. And after tasting the NonSuch Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP) tea, I was hooked. I now order it directly from the tea garden to drink in Mumbai. So now we have memories of Coonoor at least four times, everyday! 😉

PS: Thanks to my brother-in-law, John Campos, for the fantastic pictures.  Until he gets his website up and running, we’ll continue to showcase his talent! 🙂
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Today we’re on C of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

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