by Hilary Mackenzie
Twenty-three days in Tamil Nadu and Kerala! I had never been to India before, and though I felt a somewhat daunted before setting out, I soon fell in love this part of the world.
We travelled in a small group of six brought together by Mary Butterworth’s company Pure Kerala. We were in air-conditioned 10-seater buses with wonderful drivers who shared their love and knowledge of the area.
We avoided the big cities and instead mainly travelled along back roads and mostly stayed in homesteads, some heritage-listed, in small villages.
The diverse places we stayed were a treat in themselves. They were all set in stunning locations, including a hillside tea estate, an ancient Brahmin compound, a lakeside homestead with the village temple opposite reflected in the still waters, a beachside resort accessed on foot down a winding pathway, and an island resort only accessible by boat.
The hosts were all charming, full of enthusiasm and knowledge about the local customs and history. The home-cooked meals were out of this world! There was always a selection of several delicious dishes, often served on a round metal thalli plate or on a banana leaf. We all quickly learned to eat with our fingers, using only our right hands, of course!
There were many planned excursions on this trip, such as visits to ancient temples, makers of ancient crafts, private concerts, a teak plantation, the French Quartier of Pondicherry, an elephant care facility and of course a houseboat cruise on the famous backwaters of Kerala.
One of the best of these happened the day we heard of a village festival that was about to take place nearby. Off we went in our bus with our trusty driver, and soon found ourselves the only non-locals among several thousand people who had come in from the surrounding villages for the festival. As evening fell, we were invited up on the roof of a house where we had an amazing view of the music, the lights, the dancers and the huge floats.
There were many other chance occasions too, like the times we stopped in at a drum ceremony at a roadside temple, witnessed a funeral ceremony in a small village, called in on an emerging artist, and found ourselves at a collection point on a tea estate where the women were bringing in their baskets of tea leaves to be weighed, along with much colour, chatter and laughter.
Colour was one of the constant images on this trip. The women and children in their gorgeous traditional clothes, in every colour combination imaginable. The roadside stalls strung with flower garlands and multicoloured goods. The markets, full of noise, vibrant colour and smiling, cheerful people.
Smiles abounded everywhere we went. The people are gentle, courteous and friendly. Even though we often lacked a shared language, it was always easy to communicate with smiles and gestures. The children are a delight too, loving the opportunity to practice their English and have their photo taken.
This was a very special holiday and I felt that I genuinely connected with the land and people of southern India. Mary was not only an excellent guide, but the fact that she could speak the local languages added an extra knowledge, depth and dimension to every experience.
So many wonderful, never to be forgotten memories. This truly was the trip of a lifetime.
Thank you, Mary!
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