It was the afternoon of 9th August. I was in Madurai, about to catch a train in 10 minutes to go to Alleppey for the famous Nehru Trophy Boat Race, which was scheduled on the 11th of August. I received an update from a friend who works with one of the most efficient Travel companies of South India, about the Boat race being postponed due to heavy rains.
That, was the beginning of the never before ‘Kerala Floods 2018’. Picture Courtesy, Quartz India
Not going into why it happened, thus avoiding from making this post more controversial. It was unarguably the biggest natural disaster Kerala has seen in nearly a century.
I was infuriated and confused at the cancellation of the boat race – with little idea of the scale of disaster that was cooking. I had steered my entire South India itinerary keeping in mind that I must be in Alleppey on the 11th of August for this boat race.
A friend of mine from Australia has also changed her travel plans after hearing from me the splendour of the snake boat race. She was stranded with me – with little or no idea on what to do.
I gave her a plenty of suggestions on Tamil Nadu and changed her course. I took the same train myself, getting off at Trivandrum instead of Alleppey. Made my way to Varkala to see a friend, thinking in few days the rains shall be over and the new date for the race announced. And I shall enjoy Onam celebrations in Trivandrum in the meantime.
None of this happened however, as the floods engulfed Kerala and rains never stopped. I remember news worsened from all over the state, and I started hating the sound of rains, as it poured down more heavily than I have ever seen. Picture courtesy Al Jazeera.
Well, the sun came out finally and I left Varkala on the 6th of September – almost a month after. Since then, I have been touring Kerala which has revived back to normalcy like magic.
Only thing is, it wasn’t magic – it was the spirit of the people of Kerala (first and foremost) and then of their brethren all over the country and the world – whose combined efforts have resulted in this being possible.
Here is an account of my travels, post Kerala floods, to answer your question ‘Is it safe to travel to Kerala now?’
Neelakurinji, The Blue Bloom
Do you know why a range of hills in Tamil Nadu are called the ‘Neelgiris’? ‘Neel’ meaning blue and ‘Giris’ meaning mountains. Because these hills were inundated with a celestial bloom – once every twelve years – lilac in colour.
This bloom is the ‘Neelkurinji’ – the blue flower as the locals call it.
The scientific name of this flower is Strobilanthes kunthianus and it’s a shrub. The flowers bloom only once in their lifetime – coming to their glory and then passing away once they have bloomed.
But as only one life is enough to leave your ever-lasting impact on the world, one bloom is enough for these Kurinjis.
When they bloom, there is nothing else in comparison. Carpets of lilac cover the mountains that once extended from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu to Kerala.
Now, thanks to our mindless modernization – only limited areas remain where you can see this beauty. Well, whatever modernization needs… I really hope we shall learn someday.
This year – the year of the unprecedented floods – is also the year of the Neelkurinjis. The worst and the best – existing together.
The blooming was delayed because of heavy rains, but it didn’t give up. Patiently waited and then covered the hills of Kodaikanal and then Munnar in all its glory.
It was an experience beyond words to witness it from the world’s highest Tea Estate – Kolukkumalai near Munnar. The Tea Estate itself is in Tamil Nadu, but the approach is through Suryanelli near Munnar, which is where I was staying.
The road up was one of the bumpiest I have ever seen in all my travels. Hence, the Jeep drive uphill did test my patience to its hilt, but it paid off – in multitudes.
First with the glorious sunrise with the Neelkurinjis by my side and views to die for! And then with the views of the Tea fields all the way down from 7000 plus feet – it subdued all other Tea Estate experiences I have had – including Darjeeling.
Kerala Tourism has announced a ban towards this area for the coming weekend, but the situation should be normal soon enough. So you could still catch the Kurinjis till November first week – in Kerala and in Tamil Nadu.
Write to me if you are interested and I shall guide you with my updated insider information. The bloom changes very fast though, so consider it treacherous always. Keep few days extra in your hand.
Kerala Travel Mart
Kerala Travel Mart is a biennial Travel Mart that invites Tour companies from all over the world and within India to meet with the top tourism product sellers of Kerala. It is India’s biggest Tourism Mart that focuses on travel only in one state – Kerala.
Because of the heavy rains and the Kochi airport being closed for almost 15 days – there were doubts around it. The Mart is organised in Kochi and very close to the date of this year’s flood.
However, with 1000+ buyers from all over the world and India, it blew everyone off the top by being the biggest mart ever.
The celebrations were grand and the spirits vivacious! The inauguration ceremony brought classical and folk arts from all around Kerala, including my favorite – Theyyam artists.
Seeing thousands of buyers flying from different corners of the world – to show their unabated love for Kerala, gave everyone enough confidence that Kerala is back! Much sooner than expected.
I had 3 super busy days meeting people from across the globe and talking to sellers in Kerala – who were showcasing their beautiful travel products. Each better than the other.
Well, all I can say is – I have a new bucket-list 😉
Backwaters of Kerala, revived
Between Kochi and Alleppey – two places badly affected by the floods, lies Kakkathuruthu. Obviously, it was inundated too.
An Island inhabited mainly by fishermen, Kakkathuruthu saw its nightmarish days and nights of being flooded all over. Manisha, a local and the owner of Kayal Island Retreat told me about her walking all over the island in water high upto her knees to find out if anyone needed help.
She is a passionate and resilient entrepreneur who has made Kayal what it is today – a world class product. Kakkathuruthu was featured in National Geographic traveller as one of the best places on earth. The Nat Geo team stayed at Kayal while they wrote this experiential piece about Kakkathuruthu.
Her resort is an example of how it doesn’t take much of any other kind of effort, but passion to make a beautiful sustainable place, that doesn’t hurt the environment.
All the staff she has is from the Island itself, the décor is totally sourced from local markets – village and handloom. Even waste products are recycled into items of curiosity and the food is home-made with local ingredients only.
Often, her mother takes charge of the kitchen and loves to welcome the guests ashore.
As if this much love wasn’t enough, we went around a slow walk around the Island and saw so many beautiful smiling faces. My evening was totally made with this local boy band that was playing local music like rock stars on their humble plastic waste instruments.
A boat full of young men, posed for my camera in the most amusing ways, flashing their biceps! It was a riot!!
All this topped up by the best sunset chosen from all around the world, by none other than Nat Geo. Well, all I can say is, they weren’t wrong – it did beat the ones I saw on Four Thousand Islands Loas.
World’s best Ayurveda Resort – I was there
Kerala Travel Mart was followed by a series of post tours, that took tour operators from around the world and India into different parts of Kerala. The best way to showcase how ready the state really is for tourism.
I chose ‘Ayurveda Tour’, because that is one thing I never explored properly in Kerala – the state that has preserved this ancient science so well.
So, me and a bunch of people from different countries set out on a voyage which was full of new information and pleasant experiences.
Some of the notable experiences were –
Lecture by Dr. Gopa Kumar
Two times National Award Winner for Best Ayurveda Teacher. He is a man of humble beginnings – a student of the Government College of Ayurveda Studies in Trivandrum. He teaches in the same college now, and the studies are highly subsidised.
In one super-efficient hour, he told us about the basic principles of Ayurveda and life according to Ayurveda. How disease happens and what kind of treatments Ayurveda offers.
An interesting visit to a Siddha medicine factory.
A medicine system made and followed by the people who follow the ‘Siddha’ philosophy – the philosophy of the ‘attained’. They have their ways of living, most ascetic, like not wearing any clothes that are stitched – children included.
They believe that Pranayama (expansion of breath) is the ultimate treatment for everything, and hence everybody in the community practices it dedicatedly. Also, their whole medicine system is undoubtedly based on the same principle.
Somatheeram is world’s first and one the most efficient Ayurvedic resort in the world. They were the first to marry the concept of Ayurveda in all its authenticity and with the leisure and lavishness of a resort. All pictures courtesy Somatheeram
Makes sense to me, because it revived the science and made it big – spreading it across the world and making it more attractive to Indians. Here, you can stay in luxurious spaces, overlooking the Ocean and still have the most traditional Ayurvedic treatments.
These treatments are given to you by the best Ayurveda Doctors and therapists that India has. No wonder, Somatheeram has won thirty-two International, National and State Awards for Excellence in Ayurveda. These include three National Awards as India’s Best Ayurveda Centre.
I stayed in a cottage overlooking the Ocean, sleeping and waking up to the sound of it. The surroundings were full of nature, beautiful flowers, birds and snails!
The meals were all Ayurveda based, but huge variety. And everything served comes with a tag whether it is good for your body or not – as per Ayurveda, based on different ‘Prakritis’.
Went for a series of ‘Abhyangam’ – full body Ayurveda massages. Each massage followed by ‘Shirodhara’ – pouring of medicated hot oils on the head in a rhythmic movement from a certain height. Also face massage and Ayurvedic beauty masks to finish it. This is how all vacations should be!
Conclusion – Is it safe to travel to Kerala now – Absolutely. Kerala is open, are you ready?
If you are, we are looking forward to welcome you. Drop me any queries or concerns that you have in comments and thy shall be answered. Happy travels!