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Its Mega boat race time in Kerala…

Kerala August Boat Race 2014

Kerala’s captivating backwaters are a picture of peace and tranquillity as they cruise lazily along picturesque banks, quaint villages, coconut groves and blankets of green paddy fields. At the Kerala Travel Centre we always advise travellers that no Kerala holiday is complete without experiencing the peace and calm of the backwaters on a luxury houseboat or ‘kettuvallom’.

Yet it’s that time of the year where another type of boat makes news, a time when the quiet backwaters are suddenly transformed into an arena of frenzied sporting activity. It is a time when boats of all sizes jostle for space along the banks of the Vembanad and people flock from far and wide to watch the world’s largest team sport event.

Yes, its mega snakeboat race festival time in Kerala! Picture this; rows of 60-70 meter long, sleek banana shaped boats, brass mouldings decorating their sterns, their brows raised 10 feet above the water, each manned by 100-125 oarsmen. With more than 10 boats participating together, that’s more than a 1000 people competing at the same time making this an event more spectacular than any other. ‘Chundan Valloms’ as these boats are called derive their name from their raised brows which make them look like serpents.

It’s not only the actual spectacle of the event that makes it special; it’s the whole experience that comes with it. To get to the venue of the event, one would have to cruise along the magical backwaters where local life will unfold before you as an unassuming people go about their daily chores, having clearly adapted their ways to the water. As you arrive at the venue, your boat will manoeuvre around houseboats and other motorboats vying for space - to find the right location from where to watch this grand spectacle. As the boats race, battling for supremacy on the backwaters, cheered on by the supporting crowds, the mood is electrifying and the tension evident in the air. If you are travelling to Kerala in August or September then this is an event that you definitely should not miss.

THE STORY BEHIND THE RACES:

The story of how these mega boats came into existence is also very interesting. Legend has it that about 200 years ago two rival kings in Kerala went to war with each other. Being a land of waterways, most disputes in those days were settled on the water. One of the kings ordered his chief architect to build a war boat that could carry soldiers and cannons. The architect came up with a unique design - a boat that could not only carry cannons and soldiers but one that propelled forward when the cannons were fired.

Not to be left behind, when the rival King heard about this, his architect was ordered to build a similar boat. The second architect built a boat that was very similar in design but one that propelled in the opposite direction when the cannon were fired. Over the years the dispute between the kings was resolved the boats remained.

Boats were also the main means of transport for most people in Kerala in the early days. As modern modes of transport evolved, the waterways went quieter. Traditional rice barges were converted into the luxury houseboats that travellers now cruise on. The ‘Chundans’ (snakeboats) however did not fit into the modern scheme of things.

To keep the fierce competitive spirit of the ‘chundans’ alive, they were put to race.  Year after year come harvest time, the Ponnumuda Lake in the backwaters now turns into an arena where the boats compete. In place of where the cannons used to be, you now have two people standing and beating the platform with logs to maintain a rowing rhythm. There are about 25 singers on the boat whose rhythmic chants drive the 100 odd oarsmen into frenzy. The strongest boatmen sit at the front to build and maintain pace while the back of the boat is managed by 6 helmsmen who stand and help steer the boat. The person at the highest point being the chief oars men. It’s a spectacle to watch.

BOAT RACES TO WATCH OUT FOR THIS AUGUST & SEPTEMBER:

The most noteworthy boat races in Kerala are as follows;

The Champakalam Moolam Boat Race, the oldest snakeboat race in Kerala held on the day the deity at the Ambalapuzha Sri Krishna temple was installed.

Perhaps the most prestigious boat race is the Nehru Trophy Boat Race.  Held each year on the second Saturday of August, this boat race commemorates the visit of India’s first Prime Minister, J.N.Nehru to Kerala when four chundan valloms were sent to receive him and a mock boat race was organised in his honour.  Nehru was so fascinated by the race that when he returned to the capital he sent a silver trophy to the winning team and since then this race is held each year. Each year, the races get bigger and better and hundreds of travellers visit the backwaters to witness the event.

Then there is the  Payippad Lake Boat Race which will be held in Allepey and the Aranmula Snake Boat Carnival held in the River Pampa  which are both spectacular events as well.

Experience the mega boat races in Kerala with the Kerala Travel Centre this year. If you are planning a holiday in August or September then call one of our Kerala experts today on 0808 178 9799 who will tailor-make a tour to include one of the boat races. These tours will include an exclusive motor boat from which you can enjoy the grand spectacle.

‘Greening the Blue’ campaign to help save Kerala’s fish!

An awareness campaign is being launched in Kerala to protect the fish wealth in the state.

The Kerala State Biodiversity Board revealed that Kerala’s 44 odd rivers have at least two dozen endangered species and about a dozen critically endangered fish. Numbers are fast depleting (largely owing to the use of pesticides in farming).

Climate change coupled with construction of sea walls and infrastructure activities are threatening the habitat of sea-turtles in the state due to habitat destructions, poaching, marine debris and fishing activities.

Thirty percent of the state’s population lives along its coastline which stretches for about 365 miles. About 1.1 million fishermen in Kerala rely on the bounty of the backwaters and seas in Kerala and the timing of this campaign could not have come at a better time.

The Greening the Blue project kick starts on the 22nd of May 2012 in nine coastal districts in Kerala (on the occasion of  ‘International Day for Biological Diversity’)and will aim to educate people about ways to protect the State’s wealth of fish.

Kerala Travel Centre pledges its complete support to the Greening the Blue campaign and hopes that it will create a long term impact on sustaining the fish wealth of Kerala.

£65 Million treasure discovered in Kerala temple’s secret cellar!

Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Trivandrum

Said to be at least 2000 years old, the Padmanabha Swamy temple in the old part of Trivandrum in Kerala is considered by devotees to have protected the old city from all evils and misfortunes.

The temple, which through the ages has received the patronage of the prevailing ruling families and devotees, has a unique architecture which is a beautiful fusion of different Indian styles. Even the idol of the deity in the temple is acclaimed as a marvel. The inner spaces of the idol are lined with around 12000 sacred stones said to have been brought on elephant back from the bed of a river in Nepal while the outer frame is made from the wood of medicinal plants. It is no wonder then that devotees and visitors flock in large numbers to this fascinating temple.

However, on Monday, the 27th of June 2011, the temple had some unusual visitors. A seven member team (most of them officials from the government) who were ordered by the Supreme Court of India to make an inventory list of items at the temple, arrived in the morning for what they thought would a few hours of routine work. Their orders included checking the contents of six cellars (Cellars ‘A to F’) in the temple which had always remained unopened.

The team decided to start with Cellar ‘C’.

The scene that unfolded in front of their eyes could have been straight out of a Hollywood treasure-hunt block buster - only this was real. 450 pots of gold, a golden umbrella, gold vessels, a gold stick and silver were amongst the items that literally dazzled the officials. Each of the gold pots weighed around 1.2 kilograms and are believed to be valued at approximately £130,000 each (INR 90 Lakhs). The total value of the treasure is estimated to be around £65 million (450 Crore Indian rupees)…

…And these are just the contents of Cellar C. The other five cellars in the temple are yet to be checked. Will it hold more treasures???….watch this space for more.

Whilst we might not be able to tell you about what other treasures remain undiscovered in Kerala, we can certainly give you a wealth of information (pun intended) about the region.

Call one of Kerala Travel Centre’s experts on freephone 0808 178 9799 today and we promise that you will be as amazed as we are when you discover the invaluable delights of Kerala.

Kerala Tourism’s ‘Your Moment is Waiting’ video wins the Golden City Gate award!

Kerala Tourism’s Your Moment Is Waiting’ video continued its winning streak with its latest achievement being the Golden City Gate Award, dubbed the Oscar of the travel industry.

The film bagged the award at the world’s leading travel trade show ITB Berlin 2011. The awards were presented during the Golden City Gate competition in Berlin during March 9 – 13.

“We are honoured by the award, which is a prestigious prize in the travel industry. This is the second time Kerala Tourism has received this award,” said Kerala Tourism Director M. Sivasankar.

Mr. Sivasankar received the award, which recognizes the best in tourism advertising across the world, from Wolfgang Jo Huschert, President of the Golden City Gate jury. There were six categories in the competition: city tourism, hotel, region, economy, spots and commercials and TV-Travel Magazine. The winners were picked by an international jury which considered visual performance, acoustic over impression, emotional effect, value of information, conception and creativity.

The members of the international jury were selected from a wide field, such as tourism, hotel and city-marketing, public relations, music, art, advertising agencies, managers of tourist offices, business and individual travellers, ministers and ambassadors.

‘Your Moment Is Waiting’, a three-minute ad film, premiered in London in September last year, had won an unprecedented three Pacific Asia Travel Association Gold Awards last month.

Click here to view the ‘Your Moment’ is Waiting Video and we are sure you will be inspired enough to plan your next holiday to Kerala.

Following in the footsteps of Kate Humble’s Spice Trail tour! (As shown on BBC)

BBC presenter and traveller Kate Humble embarked on a journey along India’s ‘Spice Coast’, Kerala to uncover the story of pepper, a spice once known as ‘black gold’. Sought after across the world, few know of its real story and origins.

As Kate went from one region to another in Kerala following the spice trail, she discovered the history of this amazing spice and how it enticed European invaders to come to the shores of Kerala. Amongst other things Kate discovered the pepper dance used to shake the berries from the stalk, saw first hand, the use of the spice in cooking and learnt the old secret language of pepper traders while at the same time discovering Kerala.

Kerala Travel Centre is proud to present its ‘Spice Trail tour’ which gives you the opportunity to follow in the foot steps of the presenter and go on a fascinating journey of discovery. As you unravel the many mysteries of spices in Kerala, you will also get to enjoy the region’s many delightful highlights including its mesmerising tea plantations, enchanting backwaters, captivating wildlife and vibrant culture. Explore spice plantations, witness actual spice trading, indulge in some fantastic culinary experiences and visit places that became historical for its spice.

Those who missed the program can view it by Clicking Here.

Call Kerala Travel Centre on freephone 0808 178 9799 or visit www.keralatravelcentre.co.uk for more details.

Kerala Tourism Wins Top Honours at the PATA Awards 2011.

Kerala Tourism Your moment is waiting

Kerala Tourism walked away with four of the top honours at the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Awards 2011 for outstanding achievement announced in Bangkok on Thursday, February 3, 2011. Three of the awards were bagged by the State Tourism Department’s new global campaign film ‘Your Moment is Waiting’. This is the largest haul ever by any state government in the history of the PATA awards.

Calling it an unprecedented honour, Kerala’s Tourism Secretary V. Venu said that the awards were ‘recognition of the hard work by Kerala Tourism, its department, associates and its agencies in managing the Kerala brand and devising an innovative marketing strategy.’

Kerala, which is the only Indian state to have figured in this year’s PATA awards, also picked up one of the four PATA Grand awards in the environment category for its ‘Responsible Tourism’ efforts in Kumarakom. The PATA Gold award in the corporate environmental programme category for best eco-friendly practices went to Kerala’s prominent resort chain CGH Earth.

Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan who also heads the Tourism Ministry apart from his responsibilities as Home Minister was philosophical, saying ‘The grand award puts an even greater responsibility on us to ensure that the achievements of responsible tourism in Kumarakom are sustained and taken to the next level to create a replicable model in tourism practices.’

Launched in September 2008, the ‘Responsible Tourism’ programme was the first such initiative by a tourism board in India. Under the project, ordinary people of Kumarakom worked with industry representatives like hotels and resorts, tour operators, travel agents, home-stay operators, souvenir shop owners, NGOs and government agencies to protect the environment in the high-profile destination.

For more information on Kerala tourism’s initiatives or for more information on the destination call the Kerala Travel Centre on Freephone 0808 178 9799 or visit www.keralatravelcentre.co.uk

Muziris - 3,000 Year old Port City discovered in Kerala!

Muziris- Kerala Travel Centre Blog

Tourism in Kerala, which has so far targeted sandy beaches, lush forests and panoramic backwaters, will soon showcase the glory of a 3000-year old ancient port city. Archaeologists have recovered the remnants of the port city called ‘Muziris’, considered to be one of the earliest of its kind, at Kodungallore.

Located about 27 kilometres from Cochin, Kodungallore had trade links with the Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Chinese, who thronged to buy and sell a variety of spices.

(Pic Above: A peg found at the excavation site)

When completed, the Muziris Heritage Project, which is claimed to be the first of its kind in the country, will turn Muziris into a major destination for archaeological and cultural tourism. Muziris is said to be the place where the Apostle Thomas (of ‘doubting Thomas’ fame) landed on his evangelical mission to India. Muziris is also unique for being home to India’s first Christian church (St. Thomas Church), the country’s first mosque (Cheraman Juma Masjid) and the oldest European structure in India (the Portuguese Fort).

(Pic Above: Cheraman Juma Masjid- India’s oldest mosque)

There are also two ancient Jewish synagogues. Recent and ongoing excavations by archaeologists have yielded substantial evidence including a wooden jetty, wood from which was carbon dated by scientists as being 2500 years old.

The Muziris Heritage Project aims to link all these aspects of Muziris. A series of 27 museums, spread over the heritage region will display articles pertaining to maritime trade, life style, barter system and handicrafts of the period. Five of these will be opened in 2011. Since Muziris had links with many countries, the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation is planning to coordinate with the tourism departments of those countries with the help of UNESCO.

Call the Kerala Travel Centre on Freephone 0808 178 9799 for more information about the Muziris Heritage project. If archaelogy and history interest you, then ask one of our experts who would be happy include a bit of both on your next holiday to Kerala.

Kerala Travel Centre’s ‘Top 10 Places to eat’ in Cochin.

Kerala Travel Centre\'s Top 10 places to eat in Cochin

Cochin is a gourmet’s paradise, and eating out is nothing short of a gastronomic joy ride here. There is a large selection of restaurants that specialize in unique menus offering you a mind boggling variety of diverse and delectable cuisine.

So here is Kerala Travel Centre’s list of top 10 places to eat out while in Cochin. (In no particular order)

History Restaurant - The Brunton Boatyard Hotel, Fort Cochin

Located in the Brunton Boatyard Hotel, History Restaurant is an ingenious concept in stylish travel. The food is exquisite. The menu here offers a wide range of options tracing Cochin’s Jewish, Syrian, Arabic and Portuguese history. These cuisines have been enriched with recipes borrowed from the kitchens of Kochi families. For the main course, one can have the ‘Fisherman’s Stew’, a Portuguese favourite of mixed seafood cooked with kidney beans, herbs and fresh ground pepper; the ‘Kariveppila Kozhy’ which has chicken cooked in Kerala spices with coconut; and the Curry Leaf and ‘Byculla Club Curry’, a dish from the British era which consists of cottage cheese dumplings stuffed with banana and served in a velvety green sauce. The hotel is located in the heart of Fort Cochin but is easily reachable from the main town as well.

Upstairs - KB Jacob Road, Fort Cochin

Located at the street corner near the Santa Cruz Basilica at Fort Cochin, this Italian restaurant serves a variety of pastas and pizzas, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian.  The restaurant occupies the upstairs area of an old structure that has been converted into a one room diner, thus the name. Fabio Batistatti, who was already a cook in Italy, wanted to bring some Italian flavour to the historic town. So he started ‘Upstairs’. The restaurant offers freshly baked bread, celery-walnut salad, blue cheese pizza, bruschetta, and pasta Bolognese, besides a choice of desserts like affogato or apple cake to be washed down with plenty of coffee. It is easily one of the best Italian eateries in India, and is open from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., 12 Noon to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays.

Tea Pot Café - Peter Celli Street, Fort Cochin

Tea Pot is a small tea shop, with myriads of tea pots and kettles in all shapes and sizes from different parts of the world hanging on its walls. What grabs your attention as you enter Teapot is the huge, glass centre table supported by an old, elegant tea bush, about six feet in diameter. The Teapot Cafe has the ambience of a typical old English-garden atmosphere. It is a cosy place, which treats the tea concept with élan. This spot has tea chests for tables, tea paraphernalia as décor and 15 kinds of India’s favourite brew. (There’s coffee too, if that’s what you prefer.)

Dal Roti - Lilly Street, Fort Cochin

Located in Fort Cochin, on Lilly Lane, this place is too good to miss. True to its logo ‘Desi Khana’ ( meaning local food) the menu has a variety of North Indian food ranging from Mughlai Parathas (breads), paratha stuffed with minced chicken and cooked to crisp perfection, Lachidar Parathas served with Lucknowi chicken and others. The setting is lovely especially at night when the whole place is lit up beautifully.

Shala - Peter Celli Street, Fort Cochin

Shala serves delicious Keralan food. The restaurant is in a beautiful and tastefully restored historical building and is quite simply a gem. Its USP is home-cooked food prepared by housewives in the vicinity. The restaurant has a limited menu. They offer barely five dishes — recommended are the Malabar prawn curry, kingfish steak, and the vegetarian special, which changes daily — but they do them well.

Menorah- Koder House, Fort Cochin

If you love your sea food then look no further than the Menorah restaurant at the Koder House in Fort Cochin which is famous for its cordon bleu cuisine. The seafood platter here is to die for. The property’s proximity to the beach and the numerous Chinese fishing nets ensures a steady supply of fresh fish at any time of the day. The Menorah also has the rare distinction of being the only restaurant in India to serve Jewish food.

Grand Pavilion, Ernakulam

The Grand hotel Pavilion is one of Cochin’s oldest and most popular restaurants. The restaurant is part of the Grand Hotel which started in 1963 offering lodging and food. But it’s the restaurant which has become the landmark, and not without reason. The Grand is famous for its Syrian (Christian) food and the Karimeen Pollicahthu (fried pear spot fish) here is highlight. So is the seafood and the Biryani (a rice dish made of herbs, spices and meat).
It can be a tad crowded during lunch hours (not surprising, given its popularity) but if you are looking for true Keralan delicacies at fantastic value, the Grand is the place to be,

Korean Spicy Chicken - Jawahar Nagar, Ernakulam

A fun eatery, Korean Spicy Chicken is the perfect fast food joint serving the most popular Korean dish, Spicy Chicken. Korean Spicy Chicken was started by three enterprising and energetic Korean women living in Cochin, and is the first of its kind in Kerala. The menu consists of a variety of chicken dishes including deep fried spicy chicken coated with a ‘special sauce’ laced with ginseng, and the famed Korean cabbage salad - Khimchi. The small menu is reasonably priced, which makes the joint attractive for families and students. It is the perfect on-the-run food shop, and the ideal hangout where one can enjoy crispy chicken over cups of Sujeonggwa, a typical Korean drink.

Lokah – NH 47 Bypass, Ernakulam

A classy restaurant and café, Lokah in Sanskrit means the world, and that is it what the restaurant provides. What is pulling the crowd in is the unique tagline of the restaurant – ‘the world on your plate’. With an extensive menu offering a variety of dishes from all over the world, you have a lot to choose from. What sets Lokah apart from other restaurants is not just the food and an ensemble of delicacies from such places as Lebanon, France, Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, India, Africa and the US, but the eye catching elegance of its interior décor. Old Latin maps that trace the silk route and spice route are mounted on the walls. It is mainly a travel centric restaurant catering to those who have travelled to different places and want to savour those flavours again, as well as for those who haven’t been able to travel much, but want to try out the cuisine.

(Kayikka’s) Rahmuthala Hotel - New Road, Mattancherry

Practically everybody knows this restaurant and Kayikka, the man behind it, but hardly anybody knows the name of this eatery. Everybody calls it Kayikka’s. Synonymous with Biryani, this family concern is the busiest Biryani restaurant in Cochin and is a local institution. It was established in Mattanchery more than 50 years ago by Kayee. At Kayees the Biryani is cooked in pure ghee. If you go on Friday, you will get fish Biryani and on Tuesday, prawn. On other days it’s chicken and mutton. Another outlet on D.H. Road, Ernakulam is housed in a capacious, old bungalow, refurbished in the traditional Kerala homestead style.

On your next holiday to Kerala, make sure to look up Kerala Travel Centre’s list of top 10 places to eat out in Cochin. If you have any further queries, call us on Freephone 0808 178 9799. Food connoisseurs may also want to check out our cuisine tours. Bon appetite!

Houseboats: The Luxurious Leviathans of Kerala’s Backwaters

Kerala Houseboat

An overnight cruise on the mesmerizing waterways of Kerala is possibly one of the world’s best and most tranquil experiences. Embark on an experience where the grandeur and the magnificence of what you see and experience will fill your soul. Lose yourself to the serene sublimity of it all. And as the night falls and the stars speckle the skies, let the gentle lullaby of the lapping waters lull you to sleep. Kerala Travel Centre tells you why this is one experience not to miss…

A houseboat cruise is the best way to experience the tranquillity of the waters, to see glimpses of the lives of people who are shaped by them, to gape in awe at nature’s best kept secrets, to find recluse from the urban grind.

The houseboats in Kerala are huge, exotic, slow moving barges used for leisure trips. They are reworked Kettuvalloms, a word which literally means ‘boats tied with knots’, referring to the way they are built. Not a single nail is used in their construction. Kerala’s houseboats are the most popular tourism products in the country today. They offer the best way to experience the labyrinth of meandering waterways, canals, streams, and lagoons forming the famous backwater system of Kerala.

In earlier times these houseboats were used to carry consignments of grain and other produce along the waterways. The kettuvalloms of yore were famous for the way in which they were built. Huge planks of Jack wood or Aanjili (Artocarpus Hirsuta) were sewed together with coir. The hulls were then coated with a caustic black resin made from boiled cashew kernels. These days brass nails are also used to improve the longevity of the boats. While converting Kettuvalloms into houseboats, care is taken to use only eco-friendly and traditional materials, retaining the bamboo matted roofs and coir matted floors.

Houseboat Kerala

These houseboats are innovatively designed and incorporate the best of the old and the new. They come in various sizes, with some of them having as many as seven air-conditioned, bath attached bedrooms, conference halls, open lounge deck, dining area and kitchenette. The crew comprises of oarsmen, a cook and a guide. The houseboats are generally powered by remarkably unobtrusive inboard diesel engines, allowing one to cruise along the backwaters at a gentle pace. Most of them are equipped with chemical toilets. Some even have solar panels.  Authentic Kerala food is served onboard.

You can choose from a wide selection of beautiful routes to cruise and experience the bewitching beauty of Kerala’s backwaters. Whichever route you choose, the sweeping vistas that unfold before you at every turn are beyond description. You need to see it yourself. We could go on and on about this magical experience. Which is why every one of our Kerala tours includes a houseboat cruise.

Call the Kerala Travel Centre today on freephone 0808 178 9799 to discuss this experience of a lifetime.

Sting wows audiences as Kerala hosts International Hay literature festival!

Boomtown Rats

It was an unforgettable night for music maniacs and literature enthusiasts alike in Kerala. The occasion was the finale of the three day 23rd international Hay literary festival which was held in Kerala this year and attended by renowned authors from across the world.

Irish musician and political activist Bob Geldolf and his band ‘Boomtown Rats’ were performing in India after 32 years and the excitement in the atmosphere was already palpable. As if this was not enough, Geldolf announced a ‘surprise guest’- Sting! Yes, the rock legend in flesh and blood sat in the audiences with his wife enjoying the show until he was called on stage where he wowed the maddened crowds with his classic rock number “Everyone’s got a home to fill”. It didn’t get better than this for music buffs in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivadrum for the uninitiated).

Sting, Kerala

One of the world’s largest literary festivals- the 23 year old Hay Festival was hosted in India for the first time this year and this years venue of choice was Kerala. Charlie Walker, Director Programmes from the British Council said ‘Kerala was the obvious choice. The idea behind the location was to make sure it had a strong Indian audience along with a strong international presence. It also has to do with the fact that Kerala has the highest literacy rate, which makes it an apt choice for an international literary festival.’