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A peek into the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala!

Periyar Reserve - Kerala Travel Centre

For those who are wildlife and nature enthusiasts or those who are just plain curious, Kerala has a lot to offer. The Periyar Tiger reserve in Thekkady, Periyar is one of the twenty seven tiger reserves in India and is home to a diversity of flora and fauna and is also the home to the national animal of India.  Whilst it is one of the first tiger reserves in the country, today the park’s tiger population is almost negligible and its better known for its other wildlife, notably the Elephants.

Sprawled over an area of 925 square kilometres (roughly 574 miles), the Periyar Tiger Reserve offers a chance for many a tourist to view and observe the tiger in his natural habitat. It is also the largest and most well protected forest in the entire state of Kerala. A medley of tropical evergreen forests and semi evergreen forests, the Periyar Tiger Reserve is an ideal habitat for an assortment of endangered birds as well as animals, as also innumerable types of plants and flowers. The pleasant climate in Periyar provides an impeccable environment for both the flora and the fauna of the forest.

According to research findings, there are about 1966 species of flowering plants in the Periyar Tiger Reserve. These include 171 species of grass, 145 orchid species, and 10 species of palms, amongst others. For those who are more inclined towards botany, the Habenaris periyarensis (from the orchid family), the Macuna Pruriens Thekkadiensis and Syzygium Periyarensis are found only in the Periyar Tiger Reserve.

Deers at Periyar Reserve- Kerala Travel Centre

The assorted habitat of the reserve is home to a number of terrestrial, aquatic and arboreal animals. The expansive forest supports the habitat of sixty four categories of mammals such as the tiger, leopard, the Asian elephant, sloth bears and wild dogs to name a few. The endangered Great Hornbill is also spotted quite frequently in the Periyar Tiger Reserve apart from other birds such as the blue winged parakeet and the laughing thrush.  In addition to this, the forest is an excellent environment for a variety of amphibians, fish and butterflies.

Elephants at the Periyar reserve- Kerala Travel Centre

Tourists and enthusiasts who wish to explore the wilds of Periyar get a chance to do so by means of boating in the lake and trekking in the forest. Besides trekking and boating, there are several other options to discover the beauty of the great outdoors, such as a jeep safari, bamboo rafting and a ride in a bullock cart. Undoubtedly, these experiences remain with the visitors for a lifetime.

Some of the best places to stay in Periyar are Spice Village, Aanavilasam Luxury Plantation House, Lake Palace and Cardamom Country to name a few. These hotels are located in the most picturesque areas of Periyar and are very close to the Periyar Tiger Reserve. There are several activities planned by the hotels themselves including jeep safaris and nature walks. The tourists are accompanied by the hotels’ very own botanists and environmentalists who are extremely well informed about the forest and its flora and fauna.

To plan your very own expedition to Periyar with Kerala Travel Centre, visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call up on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to speak to one of our experts who will plan your tour customised according to your special needs. Click here to view some of the discovery tours planned by Kerala Travel Centre.

Experience the Kerala Breakfast!

Breakfast menus can vary from region to region across the planet, depending on the fruit, vegetables, spices and other resources available in that particular area.  Given that Kerala is the land of spices and produces some really exotic fruits and vegetables, - a Keralan breakfast, not surprisingly, is a sumptuous gastronomic affair.

Kerala Breakfast- Kerala Travel Centre

Kerala cuisine is an interesting melange of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes prepared using various herbs and spices grown in Kerala itself. Breakfast in Kerala mainly is vegetarian, with numerous delicacies that are more than often not very renowned outside the State itself, making every dish on the menu very exclusive. Puttu is a popular breakfast delicacy in Kerala, which comprises of hot, steamed cylindrical shaped items made out of ground rice, layered with coconut.  In some parts of Kerala, people eat Puttu accompanied by rich, aromatic black coffee. Another popular item on the breakfast menu of God’s Own Country is the extremely famous idli. An idli is basically a fluffy rice pancake served with sambar, which is nothing but hot curry made using lentils, spices and vegetables. Other breakfast items include dosa, Idiyappam and appam, all of which are made from fermented rice flour and are accompanied by sambar and chutney. Idiyappam is generally prepared with a little amount of toddy or wine and is served with lamb, chicken or vegetable stew.

Breakfast is never complete without some hot beverage early in the morning and breakfast in Kerala always includes tea or coffee or at times, both. Tea and coffee are both grown on a large scale in the State and are important and significant parts of the first meal of the day. Tea is available in many different types, such as masala tea, ginger tea, herbal tea, cardamom tea to name a few and are all much loved by the locals and tourists alike.

Kerala Cuisine- Kerala Travel Centre

Kerala cuisine is loved all over the world and alone attracts scores of tourists from all over the world. To know more about Cuisine Tours to Kerala organised by Kerala Travel Centre, click here. For more information on other tours to Kerala by Kerala Travel Centre, click here. Visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to talk to our Kerala experts who will plan your ideal tour. To read more about experiences in Kerala, click here. If you fancy experienceing a Kerala cuisine in London, call us and we would we happy to share our favourite haunts for authentic Kerala cuisine.

Kerala, the land of spices!

Pepper plantations Kerala- Keala Travel Centre

Kerala is the land of spices, as someone rightly observed on their holiday to this beautiful state. Nestled in the lush green highlands of Periyar, these spice plantations never failed to attract visitors and admirers- be it Vasco da Gama, the famous Portuguese explorer, the Arabs, or the British. An urge to own the vast property, to grow a variety of spices for export and domestic sale has been the desire of many. Now, these spice plantations attract visitors and tourists by the dozen- everyone is curious to know why the food in Kerala is so tasty!

Spices like cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, pepper, bay leaves are grown on these vast expansions of land. Often, an elephant ride is offered to visitors for a tour of the entire plantation.  Walking tours are also an option, and are a better opportunity to know more about spices. The knowledgeable and friendly tour guides continuously interact with visitors and provide them with a lot of information. Visitors are given a chance to feel the growing spices with their own hands. The rich aroma of the spices, especially of cardamom, makes certain that the walking tour is a memorable one.
Spices- Kerala Travel Centre

Kerala cuisine uses a significant variety of spices in different dishes. Pepper, also known as the ‘King of the Spices’ is grown on a large scale across Kerala. Black pepper in particular is considered the richest amongst all the spices and was also called ‘Black Gold’ by foreign traders and sellers in the olden days. Pepper was considered as a symbol of status and success, according to history. People paid in peppercorns to pay off their debts in the olden days and rent and dowry was also measured and paid in appropriate amounts of peppercorns.

Another spice broadly cultivated in Periyar, Kerala is cardamom. Famously called the ‘Queen of Spices’ because of its delightful aroma and taste, cardamom is used as a flavouring element in most Indian dishes. Cardamom is also used in a variety of preparations across the world, such as baked products and confectionaries, sausages and curry powder. India is the second largest exporter and producer of cardamom, after Guatemala. Cardamom is the world’s third most expensive spice by weight and market value, preceded only by vanilla and saffron. The Queen of Spices also has a reputation of having several health benefits. According to the wise words of Ayurveda, cardamom aids digestion and helps those suffering from stomach cramps. It has detoxifying properties and is said to be beneficial for people suffering from asthma or bronchitis if taken in small quantities since it improves blood circulation to the lungs.

Spice Store- Kerala Travel Centre

Other spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and bay leaves are also cultivated on a large scale here, and play a big part in the exports of the country. The spice plantations in Periyar often have shops that sell some of their best spices, which are their pride and joy, to admiring visitors. The spices bought here are much larger in size, and have an excellent taste and aroma, which make the sale worth it. There are a number of good options to stay in Periyar who also organise tours to spice plantations and are always ready to assist visitors if need be. Some excellent places to stay near the spice plantations include Spice Village, which offers 52 cottages, which are split into standard and deluxe cottages, Aanavilasm Luxury Plantation House which is a farm house that stands right in the middle of a huge seven acre pepper and cardamom plantation and the Periyar Reserve Bungalow which is a stunning jungle lodge set amidst six hundred acres of leafy green tea and cardamom plantations to name a few.

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 has a special ‘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.

Plan your visit to the land of spices today. Click here to know more about discovery tours to Kerala organised by Kerala Travel Centre. You may call up on Freephone 0808 178 9799 and talk to one of our experts who will design a wonderful tour for you, or simply visit www.keralatravelcentre.com and handpick your tour!

All that glitters IS Gold in Kerala.

(Photo credit: the Hindu)

The shiny yellow metal that never tarnishes-Gold. From thousands of years, gold has attracted man to it like bees to honey. From Midas, the greedy king who wanted to turn everything he touched into gold to countless rulers who accepted and gave away gold as gifts, from the common man who treated gold as treasure to the millions of traders who used it as a form of exchange for other goods, gold has always seen a steady rise in its value, as well as price.

In a country like India where the traditional attire itself demands a minimum of gold pieces on the body, each and every man and woman has a burning desire to possess gold in some form or the other, be it jewellery, coins or other artefacts. In Kerala,  gold will always be on the top of the list of extremely essential and demanded commodities.

Kerala’s love for gold dates back to ancient times when Kerala, a rich, thriving land full of spices was frequented by traders from all over the world. These traders and merchants were fascinated by the Indian pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and other spices and discovered that their customers back in their own countries were ready to shell out substantial amounts of money or goods in exchange for these spices. This fascination increased so much so that Kerala began to be known as the Land of Black Gold amongst these traders. Black Gold, a name they gave Indian pepper, was literally worth its weight in gold and merchants readily paid Indian traders and cultivators in gold in return for the spices. If a local trader in Kerala owned gold, he automatically acquired a higher status than his colleagues for having done business dealings with foreign traders and merchants. As a result, more and more people looked for chances to earn gold and uplift their status in the ancient times. Royal families also used a lot of this metal in their daily lives, from jewellery to plates to even furniture and clothes (women’s outfits often had gold embroidery on them).

As time passed, traditions and rituals changed but the love and need for gold didn’t. Gold became an important dowry asset and girls whose father owned a lot of gold and who could gift the same to his daughter’s in-laws, were more in demand as brides than girls whose families were poor. Poor men trudged through hell and high water to acquire gold without any sense of regrets, only for status and respect.

Kerala now accounts for nearly 20% of India’s gold consumption, according to a popular news report and is also home to the largest number of gold jewellers in India. It is very easy to acquire gold here, since there are a variety of stores all over the State. With easy payment options, buying gold has now indeed become a lot simpler. Kochi, in Kerala is slowly yet steadily becoming the gold capital of the State with several gold stores in existence and new ones rapidly coming up. Gold is an unavoidable part of weddings, festivals and other auspicious occasions. Recession or boom, the economy makes no difference to the demand of gold. As history has wonderfully shown us, the demand and the value for gold can only go on increasing.

To plan your tour to Kerala, click here to see some of the tours planned by Kerala Travel Centre. Visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to plan your tailor-made tour today.

In Kerala, Ayurveda now goes digital!

Ayurveda is a science famously native to the subcontinent of India and is the study of traditional forms of medicine. Also known as the ‘Science of Life’, Ayurveda was introduced and further developed by wizened saints and ‘vaidyas’ or traditional doctors. Ayurveda is popular for using natural methods for healing and attracts thousands of tourists every year who come to India specially to benefit from the effective, age-old methods of Ayurveda.

Kerala, the tiny State located in the southern part of the Indian subcontinent is distinguished for its appreciation and practice of Ayurveda. There are numerous Ayurvedic centres all over Kerala that offer a variety of Ayurvedic treatments and Ayurvedic massages that are known to treat the body, the hair, the scalp and other parts of the body. Ayurveda exclusively uses plants and herbal remedies for the same, making it safe, hygienic, effective and most of all, natural. However, apart from the basic treatments offered in Ayurveda, most people around the world are unaware of its other several benefits and hence, miss out on them. Considering these facts, Kerala Tourism has come up with the innovative idea of launching an e-book on Ayurveda which aim at helping people know in detail about this traditional science of healing and its benefits. These award-winning books, ‘Panchkarma:Ayurveda’s Mantra of Rejuvenation’ and ‘Ayurveda:Mantra of Niramaya’ are now being made easily available in online stores so they can be downloaded and read on computers, laptops, phones or e-book readers. The idea of the e-books is to provide their readers with all the information that they need to know and want to know about Ayurveda. Once the readers are familiar with the benefits and therapies of Ayurveda, they will be able to visit Kerala to reap these for themselves.

E-books can be easily bought on any online book store with a good collection. To know more about Kerala, click here. To know more about holidays to Kerala, click here. Visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 !

Kerala’s magical Coconut Hair Oil

Waking up with dry, frizzy hair is no big surprise for me. I’d tried every trick in the book to make my hair a little presentable, but to no avail. I was fed up. To add to my misery, I was on a holiday in Kerala with my friends and had no intention to create lifelong memories looking like I wore a dirty broom on my head. Exasperated, I dragged myself out of bed, called my sister and told her to go on with the others to the pool for our morning swimming and sunbathing session without me. I got dressed and walked to the reception instead, where I hoped I could get some much-needed advice on how to manage my wild curls from the women here- they all had such shiny, thick locks!

On my way there, the pretty girl from the housekeeping staff happened to see me, complete with my wild hair and my angry face. “Is there anything I can help you with? Is there anything wrong with the room?” she nervously asked me. “Good God, no. I’m just not used to humidity and my hair has taken it the hardest. What do I do? I’ve tried shampoo, conditioners, serums, everything.” “Don’t you oil your hair?” “Oil them? What do you mean?” That was the ultimate question. The girl laughed and dragged me to the Ayurveda centre that the hotel prided itself on. As I sat in front of a mirror, she got out a bottle of coconut oil and poured a good deal of it on my head before I could protest!

As she massaged my head, (this was one of their specialities, a head massage.) she talked about some stuff that I hadn’t even heard about. From what she told me, coconut hair oil was widely used not only in Kerala, but also throughout India by women to maintain their hair. It is known to have anti-bacterial properties and anti-fungal properties that help keeping hair safe and healthy. Coconut hair oil is used for all sorts of hair treatments- from softening, to smoothing, for repairing any sort of damaged hair and of course, for hair to shine. Not only is it good for the hair, but coconut hair oil is also proven to be an excellent moisturiser for dry skin. Specialists recommend a massage with hot coconut oil for best results, at least an hour before washing the hair.

After my massage was over, I rushed back to my room, and washed my hair an hour later. The results were incredible. My hair was soft, smooth and shiny. Although they wouldn’t transform with just one massage, it was a start, anyway. Before leaving Kerala I made sure to buy several bottles of hair oil which I could take back home. And needless to say, my hair is amazing now!

To know more about Kerala, click here. For more information on tours to Kerala, click here. Visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to book your holiday now!

Aromatic and different - the “Masala Chai” from Kerala!

(Image credit: applemint.com)

The weather at home was ever-changing. One moment it rained and the next moment, the sun shone. It was sweltering during the day, chilly during the night. As my body tried to accommodate itself according to the weather changes, the inevitable happened. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling hot and cold at the same time, as well as a stuffy, blocked nose. “Darn it!” I thought. “I have a cold!”

I spent my day in bed with a hot water bottle and tissues. Colds really are annoying, and they refuse to leave before they’ve completed their merriment inside our poor noses. So until it left me, I had to do all I could to make myself feel better. I went to the kitchen, gathered a few things that were necessary to make this and then proceeded to make, what I feel, is the best beverage I’ve ever tasted.

Masala tea is fairly simple to make, has the amazing taste of spices and the soothing effect of tea. All you need is a little bit of mint, a few stalks of lemon-grass, some chai masala (tea masala, easily available in the market), some ginger and milk and sugar. I started with my mission of making myself a cup of perfect masala tea.

To begin with, I boiled, with two cups of water, two stalks of lemon-grass, about five mint leaves, and two spoonful of sugar. After that was done, I simmered the preparation for about six minutes until it gave off the aroma and the water content had reduced to half of its original quantity. I then added half a spoonful of tea masala to the preparation and brought it to a boil, again. I then added a cup of milk to the tea and simmered the liquid for five minutes. Now all that was left was the straining, and my tea was ready. As I strained my masala tea into the kettle I could almost see the aroma of the spices rising out of the chai. I went back to bed with my masala tea, which was just what I needed to soothe me and make me feel better from this dratted cold!

Outside, it had started to drizzle. As I sipped at my perfectly healthy yet tasty tea, my mind wandered back to where I had had the tea for the first time. Munnar, a hill-station in Kerala, was a pleasantly cold, hauntingly beautiful place with tea plantations all around. Masala tea was very popular here and the local shops thrived on the sale of masala tea powder. Tourists were flocking at a small tea stall, and I joined them to see what the fuss was all about. As I drank the aromatic liquid from a paper “Power Rangers’” cup, I decided to have this drink as much as I could. I have lost count of the number of cups of masala tea that I had during my entire stay, and the friendly representatives from Kerala Travel Centre, who had planned my holiday, very sweetly took me to the best tea-stalls in each region that made and sold the best masala tea.

Masala tea was such a small yet significant memory of my tour to Kerala that I could not resist but make it as much as I could back home. To know more about Munnar, where I had it first, click here. To know more about tours to Kerala planned by Kerala Travel Centre, please click here. Visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to talk to one of our Kerala experts today!

Make your own Kerala Banana Goodies!

The local cuisine in Kerala is famously exotic, with unusual names that sound magical, an assortment of ingredients and a taste that the tongue craves for years to follow. The dishes on most menus are unique combinations of various spices, vegetables or even fruit. The Banana Pakora is one such recipe. Sweet, raw banana deep fried in batter with a hint of spices makes it a healthy and tasty snack. Visitors to the State who taste the Banana Pakora make it a point to obtain its recipe so as to make the snack for themselves once they are back home. Easy to prepare, these snacks are nothing short of a treat!

As Kerala Travel Centre’s self proclaimed food connoisseur, I wanted to share how you can make your own Kerala banana pakoras;

Ingredients:

· 10 raw bananas.

· 1 tablespoon green chilli, made into a paste.

· ½ teaspoon turmeric powder.

· ½ teaspoon red chilli powder.

· 1 teaspoon sugar.

· 150 grams of flour

· 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

Method:

· Cut each banana into two parts and cook them in a pressure cooker for a few minutes.

· Let the bananas cool. Peel them and then mash the cooled pieces in a big bowl.

· Add the rest of the ingredients, except the flour, to the mashed bananas and mix well.

· Divide the mixture into equal portions and roll the portions in order to form small, round and flat balls.

· Add a little water to the flour till it is thick and semi-liquid.

· Meanwhile, heat some oil. Dip the balls into the flour-water mixture and deep fry the pakoras till they turn golden-brown and crisp.

· Serve hot with ketchup or chutney.

Voila! Your very own delicious banana pakoras from Kerala are ready to eat. A tasty and healthy snack, these are sure to be a hit amongst people of all ages!

Click here to read about Cuisine tours to Kerala by Kerala Travel Centre. For more information on different tours organised to Kerala, click here. Visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to plan your next kerala holiday.

A mythological aspect to the birth of Kerala!

Mythological aspects to the history of every place give it an interesting and extremely fascinating twist. The history of the State of Kerala, in South India dates back to several millennia and has rich mythological chronicles to tell. Ancient stone carvings found in Edakkal Caves in Kerala suggest a prehistoric civilization believed to be dating back to 5000 BC from the Neolithic Man. Mythological versions suggest many different stories about the origin of God’s Own Country.

There are numerous geographical and cultural myths about Kerala’s birth. One such myth is the revival of the land of Kerala from the mighty sea. Parshurama, the famous warrior sage who was in fact believed to be one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, was said to throw his axe into the water and the impact of the action brought up the submerged land and thus the State of Kerala came into being. Lord Vishnu is believed to take the form of a warrior sage in order to vanquish arrogant, evil kings and banish all cruelty from the Earth. There are some tales that boast of the great warrior sage spending a lot of his life in this region and hence Kerala is also known as ‘Parshurama Kshetram’, meaning the Land of Parshurama. Some of the earliest Sanskrit texts also mention Kerala, especially in the two great epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana as an important lieu during some important events.

The birth of Kerala’s favourite festival, Onam, is also surrounded by age-old traditions. The festival is associated with the mighty and legendary demon king Mahabali who was believed to rule all of Earth and other planets from Kerala. His kingdom boasted of prosperity, immense wealth and happiness. However, his kingdoms were taken away from him by Lord Vishnu and he was granted rule over a planet in the Netherworld, or hell. The people of Kerala celebrate Onam as a day when their beloved king Mahabali is said to visit Kerala and bless the people with prosperity and happiness.

Mythology indeed makes history more interesting than it already is. To know more about Kerala, click here. For information on tours to Kerala by Kerala Travel Centre, click here. Visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to book your holiday now!

Kerala and Food Tourism!

food-tourism- Kerala Travel Centre

Tourism today is more than just travelling to a place, sight-seeing and going back. People now look forward to learning a new culture, absorbing the ways of living, dressing, language, defense and so on of the destinations they pay a visit to. One such aspect of tourism that has taken a stronghold is food tourism. Cuisine is rapidly becoming a vital aspect in the progress of tourism. With the advent of various cookery shows and the simple fact that we all have a stomach that is extremely food-loving, one can’t help but be on the lookout for newer, tastier delicacies to add to one’s plate.

In God’s own country, Kerala, tourists look eagerly towards magnifying their travel experience through learning about the native culinary techniques. Nimmy Paul, a housewife turned cookery instructor since more than a decade now, has catered to a number of enthusiastic food-loving people from several nationalities. “When I started catering to tourists, I was not only a teacher showing my guests how a dish was born, but I was also a hostess”, she says. In Kerala, the dining tables are usually decked with a wide variety of dishes, each dish the aftermath of accurate planning. When the main aim is to teach a novel culinary technique to people who might be hearing of it for the first time, it is important to focus on the quality and not the quantity. So as to capture the essence of the food, experience the joy of having discovered a new delicacy, let it stay and take it home to let it spread. The flavours usually remain intact in Western cuisines since food is usually served course wise. Here, the technique to keep alive the play of flavours is achieved through an appropriate balance and blend of spices.

One also has to keep in mind certain factors like health consciousness and unfamiliarity while teaching culinary enthusiasts from abroad. Adding elements from their culture and successfully fusing them with ours instantly makes the outcome relatable and exciting. Paul has adopted other foods and made them our own. Like pies with desi flavoured fillings of chicken or fish; or a ginger cake for dessert. This doesn’t have to adulterate our originality in any way though, since there is a difference between adaptation and imitation and as long as we aren’t losing our pride, experimentation will always be encouraged and accepted.

Apart from simply the cooking techniques, aesthetics also plays a major role and is, without a doubt, an art on its own. The ability of making food look scrumptious and mouthwatering successfully turns it from something edible to an edible work of art. What makes the teaching even more delightful are the eager, excited learners that are so keen to know all about your food. It definitely makes the whole experience feel like a personal triumph, for the teacher. Paul looks avidly towards the promising future for food tourism. India has always been the ultimate destination, be it Yoga or Ayurveda. When it comes to food too, one cannot help but feel proud of a place so enriching with an alluring mélange of cultures that make their presence known with just one single morsel of an appam.

To know more about Kerala, click here. For more information special cuisine tours to Kerala organized by Kerala Travel Centre, click here. Click here to know more about other planned tours to Kerala. Visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or simply call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to plan your tour today!