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Thousands gather to worship the Celestial Lights on Makara Sankranti Festival day in Kerala.

There are many festivals celebrated all over the country all around the year, out of which Makar Sankranti is a much loved festival and is celebrated with a lot of gaiety and joy. Sankranti is basically a harvest festival celebrated differently in different regions of India. It is one of the very rare festivals that falls on the same date according to the Hindu calendar every year- and was celebrated on the 14th of January.

For people of the Hindu religion, Makar Sankranti is a very auspicious day for it is when the brilliant Sun God begins his entry into the Northern Hemisphere. The Sun is said to signify knowledge, spiritual enlightenment and wisdom. Makar Sankranti is a sign for the people to look towards the light and turn away from the darkness in life. This day is known by a variety of names and is celebrated in a variety of ways owing to the cultural diversity within the country itself. Makar Sankranti sees children and adults flying kites. There are kite flying competitions organised in villages, towns and cities and the owner of the winning kite is awarded with prizes.

Apart from being a day of celebration, Sankranti is also said to mark the commencement of an auspicious phase of the year. New ventures and businesses are encouraged during this time. Season-wise, Sankranti marks the end of the harsh winter season and welcomes the spring or the harvest season. Sankranti is known as Lohri in Punjab, Bihu in Assam, Pongal in Tamil Nadu and Sankranti in most of the other States.

Thousands gather to catch a glimpse of the celestial lights at Sabarimala

In Kerala, Makar Sankranti is celebrated at Sabrimala which is a Hindu pilgrimage site situated in the Western Ghats. Sabrimala is considered to be the world’s largest annual pilgrimage with around 50 million devotees visiting each year. Legend has it that the Hindu God Ayyappan meditated at Sabrimala after killing an evil demoness. Devotees flock to this sacred place on the auspicious day of Makar Sankranti as they believe it will bring them good fortune and prosperity along with happiness. Like every year, the 2013 Makara Sankranti saw tens of thousands of Ayyappa devotees worship the Makarajyoti, a bright star sighted on the eastern horizon ofthe temple.

To know more about Kerala’s vibrant culture and festivals, click here. To know more about tours planned to Kerala by Kerala Travel Centre, click here. To plan your own holiday to Kerala visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 today!

My Kerala discovery with Kerala Travel Centre Guides!

kerala-travel-centre-guides

Travelling often if not always involves exploring and getting to know more about the region- its history, culture, geography, demography and the way of life of the people. Reading books and magazines related to the region are an insight, but it always helps if there is another person who can answer in detail all the questions curious and enthusiastic tourists may have. This is exactly where tourist guides come into the picture.

Tourist guides are locals who are passionate about their country and their town or city and who explore the lengths of the area over a long period of time. These guides study the history, geography, demography and culture of a particular area and then spend their time in showing tourists around the village, town or city. Being residents of the region they are well acquainted with every nook and corner of the popular tourist spots and are ever-ready to show visitors around.

I have quite a few good memories attached to tourist guides. When I was vacationing in Kerala, my tailor-made tour included a lot of sightseeing, just the way I wanted it. Kerala Travel Centre, who helped me plan my ideal tour, assured me that I would meet a guide at every destination who would make sure I got to learn a lot more about the place than what I already knew or heard from friends who had explored Kerala before me. In Munnar, I met Mohnichan, who turned out to be a friendly, enthusiastic man who knew so much about Munnar and who was obviously very much in love with his beautiful town and everything around it. Passionate about nature, Mohnichan wanted to be a naturalist and was studying for the same while being a tourist guide for the many people who come to Munnar every year to enjoy its fresh tea, the picturesque surroundings, tasty food and to breathe all the pure, clean air. Mohnichan took me on a long walk through tea plantations and to the Tea Museum in Munnar, which provided me with all the information I needed and wanted to know about my favourite beverage- tea. Mohnichan was a great help as he kept explaining as we walked and made sure we got to sample the famous cardamom tea while we were there.

From the tea plantation, our tour proceeded to the Eravikulam National Park where we were to try spot the famous Nilgiri Tahr. Mohnichan gave us a lot of information about the forest, its conservation and its inhabitants. As the morning wore on, Mohnichan showed us an assortment of different flora in Munnar and told us tales about the people living in the beautiful town. All too soon, it was time for us to go back to our hotel, Bracknell Forest. Very happy with Mohnichan, we tipped him a little more than we usually do, but there was no doubt that he deserved it.

To know more about Kerala Travel Centre’s value added services please Click here. Know more about tours to Kerala planned by Kerala Travel Centre. Visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to plan your tour today!

Kerala- the first fully literate State in India!

kerala-literate-state-Kerala Travel Centre

Literacy is  defined as the ability of an individual to read and write on his own. Any person who can read and write is called ‘Literate’ and the literacy rate of a region is an important indication of development of the city, state or even the country.

The State of Kerala is famously known as the only State in India with a literacy rate higher than 90%. Recognizing the crucial need for providing basic elementary education, the Government of Kerala launched a number of programmes over several years to administer free and obligatory education to all the people in Kerala. Children receive free education till the age of 14 through these programmes. There are certain plans that provide free education to illiterate adults also. Classes were and continue to be held in the most rural and backward parts of Kerala where there is an absence of educational institutions.

According to the norms of the National Literacy Mission, any State that achieves a literacy rate more than 90% is known as a completely literate State. As per these rules, Kerala was declared to be the first and only completely literate State in India on the 18th of April, 1991.

To know more about Kerala, click here. See some of the tours to Kerala planned by Kerala Travel Centre. Visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to plan your tour today!

Dont miss the Grand Kerala Shopping Festival!

Grand Keral shopping Festival- Kerala Travel Centre

Travelling is an exciting adventure- sightseeing, meeting new people, interaction with the locals of the region, sampling the local sumptuous cuisine and creating countless memories. Although new experiences result into the creation of unforgettable memories, there are some materialistic things that help a traveller keep his memories intact. One glance at the souvenirs and the experiences all come flooding back into the traveller’s mind. Shopping has thus become an integral part of every tour, every holiday and every journey. Buying traditional artefacts or clothes are the most popular shopping demands, since it seems sensible to spend money on something that cannot be bought back in the traveller’s own region, town, city or even country.

To encourage more shopping in Kerala, the Kerala Government has organised a Grand Shopping Festival which is to commence from the 15th of December. The Grand Kerala Shopping Festival, known as GKSF, is organised to promote shopping tourism at a time when the State attracts a lot of tourists. The GKSF, which is in its sixth year, will promote the State of Kerala as an international shopping destination.

Grand Kerala Shopping Festival - Kerala Travel Centre

The Shopping Festival guarantees exciting lucky-draw prizes for tourists, which include a hefty kilo of gold as the grand prize and half a kilo of gold for two runners-up. Apart from the glittering prizes, five lucky shoppers will also stand a chance to win gifts worth Rs. 10,00,000 (about £15,000).  Besides the gifts and vouchers, a 100% refund of the Value Added Tax (VAT) for shoppers from outside Kerala is a great pull for the GKSF.

The GKSF will also have an attraction known as the ‘Global Village’ which will have stalls from the countries participating in the Festival to showcase and highlight their special traditions, culture and arts. The Global Village will be based on the Island of Bolgatty, spreading over 30 acres of land, off the coast of Kochi which happens to be the commercial capital of Kerala. The Festival will continue till the end of January 2013 and will provide opportunities to buy souvenirs in gold, handloom textiles, coir products and other items.

To know more about Kerala, click here. Know more about tours to Kerala by Kerala Travel Centre. Visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to plan your trip to the GKSF and the rest of Kerala today!

Kerala wins Best Travel and Tourism State award!

Time and again, Kerala has earned laurels and awards for being the most preferred tourist destination from prestigious organisations. This year, Kerala Tourism bagged the highly esteemed CNBC Awaaz Travel Award in the ‘Best Travel and Tourism State’ category. The Secretary of Tourism, Kerala, Suman Billa was quoted as saying “It is a recognition of the combined efforts of the public and private sectors in the travel and tourism sectors of Kerala to maintain the State as the best destination for both domestic and foreign tourists.”

Indeed, Kerala is the best destination for both domestic and foreign tourists, and with reason. With highlights such as sprawling tea and spice plantations, golden beaches, colourful culture, tempting cuisine, enchanting wildlife, the serene backwaters and friendly people, Kerala attracts people not only from all over India but also from across the globe. Kerala has something to offer for every tourist- fascinating family tours, an ideal honeymoon destination, and stunning landscapes for enthusiastic hikers. The hill station of Munnar, once the summer capital of the British Empire makes a tourist feel as if he has just stepped into an old novel defining British India. With cobbled streets, pretty cottages that are now hotels and resorts, huge trees, hundreds of flowers and lush green tea plantations complete with a little fog early in the morning and cool, pleasant weather throughout the day, Munnar soothes every tourist and can immediately calm frazzled nerves. It is impossible for visitors to even think about stress, work or problems when in Munnar.

The golden beaches of Kerala are perfect for lying around in the sun all day, sipping fresh coconut water and reading a book or just taking a long nap. For those who would prefer to be engaged all the time, the spice plantations provide fascinating walking tours as well as exciting activities such as bathing an elephant or feeding elephants. The vibrant towns and cities have a sense of history along with modernity, and are perfect for those more inclined towards sightseeing, museums and culture. The cuisine of the State, a perfect medley of different spices offers an exquisite taste and is a favourite amongst travellers- both foreign and domestic.

Before this award, Kerala won the ‘Most preferred destination’ prize at the CNBC Awaaz Awards in 2010, along with earning the ‘Best Tourism Board’ laurel. The CNBC Awaaz Awards are based on votes by travellers across the country who vote for their favourite and most preferred tourist destinations based on the quality of service and other highlights.

To know more about Kerala, click here. Learn more about different tours organised by Kerala Travel Centre. Visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to plan your very own tour today!

A “fishermen landing” in Kerala!

a fisherman after selling all his fish at the fishermen landing

Without a doubt, interacting with the locals of a particular region is the best way to know more about that region and find out more about the local culture, the local daily routines and the local life. These interactions can be interesting and fun even if you do not speak the same language as the locals, there is a mutual sign language that speaks louder than words, all over the world. Those who are particularly curious to know more from what they’ve heard and read about an area often get out of their hotels, hire public transport and head towards whatever action they can find.

When I was vacationing in Kerala a few months ago, my mother decided to step out of the hotel one day and simply go over to the little village nearby to interact with the villagers and know more about the land, its culture and history. We were at the Marari Beach Resort in Mararikulam, Allepey, spending the last few days of our tailor-made tour organised by Kerala Travel Centre. A beautiful, luxurious and quiet beach resort spread out over several acres of land, the friendly hotel staff was more than happy to suggest where we could go and interact with the locals and even offered to send somebody from the hotel itself who would accompany us wherever we went.

After a lot of discussion, Mother and I decided to head straight to the village to see what the hotel staff called a “fishermen landing”. This turned out to be a huge sea-food auction where hundreds of fishermen landed on the beach immediately after a night of catching fish. Since it sounded interesting, Mother and I were very eager to see what it exactly was. The hotel arranged for a rickshaw that took us to the “Fishermen Landing” and agreed to wait at the beach until we were done with our sightseeing and interacting with the local fishermen. Armed with my faithful camera and a water-bottle, Mother and I set out early the next morning for the beach.

We knew we were almost there when the air was suddenly full of the familiar smell of fresh fish. The rickshaw driver then stopped and let us off, promising to wait until we were done. We walked towards the direction of the smell and it grew stronger with every step. We greeted a few other tourists from our hotel who were apparently out to interact with the locals and get a glimpse of the local life first-hand, just like us. All around us there were hundreds of fishermen rushing to and fro from their boats, with baskets and baskets of fresh fish in their hands. Groups of potential buyers stood huddled closely around a fisherman or two, loudly declaring the amount of money they were ready to pay for what they wanted. The sellers’ voices were louder than that of the buyers’, declaring the prices of their catch. Fascinated, I kept taking pictures of every sight possible. The fact that many fishermen spoke and bargained in English made it possible for us to know what was going on exactly without even having to ask anyone. Even when the fishermen and the buyers spoke in languages that were unknown, their expressions, gestures and tone of voice said it all.

Some friendly fishermen were eager to tell us more about their catch and told us about different varieties of seafood that was easily acquired from the mighty sea, how they priced different kinds of seafood and much more. We kept asking them questions and they were very happy to satisfy our curiosity. We milled around in the crowd asking questions or merely observing the sights for a long time, until the sun was high up in the sky. Looking at our watches, all of us realised that we would miss breakfast back at the hotel if we lingered there even a little longer! We left the beach reluctantly and walked back to our respective rickshaws that were to take all of us back to the hotel. The hotel staff knew from the look on our faces that we’d gotten exactly what we had wished for- an unusual, different, memorable and amazing experience!

fresh fish at the fishermen landing

To experience this and more, plan your tour to Kerala today. Click here to know more about Kerala. To know more about all the tours organised to Kerala by Kerala Travel Centre, click here. Read more of fascinating experiences in Kerala by visiting our blogs section. Visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to organise your tour today!

A holiday to Kerala- the perfect gift for your loved ones!

So it’s the time of the year again when a partner faces a particular dilemma. It’s the time to choose a perfect gift for your partner, something that makes them feel wanted, loved, special and most of all, surprised. You rack your brains for days, at your wits’ end. After all this time of being together, you’ve gifted them almost everything. Your anniversary is just a couple of months away and you need a perfect gift.

Anniversaries are always special. Celebrating an anniversary is as important as your anniversary gift itself. So here’s an idea!!!- why not celebrate your special day in a place that is exotic, beautiful, calm and serene- like Kerala? With its expansive, quiet and sun-kissed beaches, old cities, vast tea and spice plantations, beautiful backwaters and vibrant culture, Kerala is truly Heaven on Earth. If you’re the sort of person who likes peace and quiet and just want away from the noise and pollution of the city, the beautiful hill-station of Munnar, once the summer capital of the British Empire makes sure you get exactly what you wish for. Surrounded by sprawling, lush green tea and cardamom plantations, it is possible to go on a walking tour or just a long drive in these areas. Wildlife enthusiasts may also explore the national parks in the vicinity, home to different wild animals, birds as well as the endangered Nilgiri Tahr, which is a type of mountain goat. The Windermere Estate in Munnar stands at an altitude of 1600 metres (5250 feet approximately) and is known for its exclusiveness and its high-range hospitality. Having a traditional, old-fashioned feel,

The Windermere Estate guarantees a romantic and quiet get-away. More options to stay in Munnar include the Bracknell Forest, the Ambadi Estate, the Sholamalai Bungalow and the Mountain Club, all of which are famous for their hospitality, picturesque surroundings and the peace and quiet. Imagine drinking a cup of tea grown in Kerala in a balcony overlooking the forests and the tea plantations- what a perfect start to the morning!

The picturesque surroundings in Munnar

If spending your day in the sun on the beach is more your idea of a perfect vacation, Mararikulam is the place to be. With its beautiful, calm, bathed- in-sunlight beaches and outstanding hospitality, Mararikulam guarantees a peaceful and a fun vacation. The Marari Beach Resort, voted unanimously as one of the best beach resorts in Kerala is a vast property of cottages set in coconut palm groves leading to its private beach. Complete with a blend of modern luxuries and the style of a traditional fishermen’s village, The Marari Beach Resort is a favourite amongst tourists who visit Kerala every year for the sole purpose for spending time with their partners, their families, their friends or the delightful and extremely friendly staff. Another enchanting place to stay while at Mararikulam is a boutique hotel, known as Marari Villas. With its peaceful location on a secluded beach in Mararikulam, this hotel provides a villa-type accommodation with well-furnished rooms which provide spectacular views of the sea.

A trip to Kerala would indeed be a fabulous anniversary gift for your partner. Kerala Travel Centre will make sure your trip is planned just the way you want it, with a lot of careful attention to detail. Click here to see tours organised by Kerala Travel Centre to different destinations in Kerala. Visit www.keralatravelcentre.com to decide what your ideal vacation would be like, or simply call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to speak to one of our Kerala experts who will be more than happy to assist you in planning your ideal vacation!

Spot the endangered Nilgiri Tahr in Kerala.

Spotting an animal in the wild always feels like an achievement, and rightly so. It isn’t every so often that tourists go to natural parks and wildlife sanctuaries to find animals come into open view. No one can assure you an animal sighting which makes it all the more exciting. That is why when an endangered animal comes out on the road, right where you’re walking, the thrill is enormous. That is exactly what happened to me when the extremely rare and endangered Nilgiri Tahr came into sight. A kind of mountain goat, the Nilgiri Tahr is listed amongst the list of endangered species by the Indian Wildlife Protection Act as well as the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The Nilgiri Tahr is endemic to the Nilgiri Hills in Southern India, namely in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The Nilgiri Tahr is a stocky animal, with short, coarse brown fur and a mane. The male Tahr is larger than the female, and both sexes of the Tahr have curved horns.

The Eravikulam National Park in Kerala is home to the largest population of the Nilgiri Tahr. Other significant concentration of population of the Tahr in Kerala is in the Periyar National Park. I was hiking in the Eravikulam National Park when our tour guide told us that if we were lucky, we’d get to spot the extremely rare Nilgiri Tahr. Being a wildlife enthusiast, I was obviously very excited. The beauty of the Eravikulam National Park is mind-boggling, with tall trees on both sides of the road, dense forests and misty clouds everywhere. Situated at a very high altitude, the cool climate of the Eravikulam National Park makes it a perfect hiking destination. Particular areas of the park are open to the public, and many hikers and enthusiasts go in search of the Nilgiri Tahr, or just to enjoy the picturesque surroundings.

As we walked on, there was a rustle in the bushes which stood some distance away from us. We stopped short in our tracks, not moving a muscle. I hardly dared to breathe. Was it what I hoped I would be? More rustling followed, and there it was! The beautiful Nilgiri Tahr stood in front of us, in all its glory. Not seeming the least bit scared or bothered, it gave us a calm, cool look and stared at us for what seemed an eternity. “This one is a male” whispered our tour guide. Casually, as if we never existed, the goat turned its back to us and walked away royally, and we kept watching until it was out of sight. Our tour guide and I were equally excited at having been able to see the precious Nilgiri Tahr, which can be spotted only in the Western Ghats, from just a short distance from us.

The Eravikulam National Park is just a short drive from Munnar, the famous hill-station of Kerala. Some good accommodation options to consider while in Munnar are The Bracknell Forest, The Ambadi Estate, The Mountain Club and The Sienna Village, to name a few. Situated in the once-summer capital of the British Empire, these hotels provide the modern luxurious amenities preferred by tourists as well as have the old traditional charm to them.

To plan your tour to Kerala, visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to speak to one of our Kerala experts who will plan your trip just the way you want it. Click here to know more about tours organised to Kerala by Kerala Travel Centre.

Public transport on the Kerala backwaters!

Public transport- Kerala Backwaters.

Ask anyone about what public transport is and the most common answers would be buses, trams, trains and the like. These being the conventional modes of public transport are popular all over the world and help countless people travel to and fro every day. Reasonable rates for tickets and efficiency make public transport more feasible for people all around the world, who choose to travel this way rather than spending extravagant amounts of money on petrol or gas every month.

Public transport thus always had a limited definition for me, and I never bothered trying to find out if there was anything more to it. The thought never even occurred to me, that is, until the day I spent on a luxurious houseboat in Kerala. My perfectly organised tour by Kerala Travel Centre included a day and a night on a houseboat. The houseboat cruise took me all around the backwaters, only to pause for lunch in between. As we sailed, I got to see a lot of things that I hadn’t ever seen before, such as tiny villages on either side of the backwaters, villagers swimming in the water, children playing on the banks, countless rare and beautiful birds and a lot of paddy fields and greenery. Although I hadn’t seen such beautiful sights before, I had somehow expected to see all this from what I had heard about Kerala from others who had explored the state before me.

But as they say, always expect the unexpected. I hadn’t, which I think made it all the more wonderful and amazing for me. From my place in the comforting sun on the deck, I suddenly saw a big boat full of people in the water. It wasn’t a houseboat like ours; it was just a humble row boat. We soon left all those people behind and I promptly forgot about it until the next one came along. Barely had a few minutes passed when I saw a bigger boat, filled with more people who either looked busy, or in a rush or just calm and happy. This one was a motor boat and a particular man kept going up to people and taking something from them, which I guessed was a few rupees. After a little distance the boat stopped at the side of the water and more people entered. “That is so similar to a bus or a train!” I thought to myself. It suddenly hit me then; this was public transport! The boats were just like buses, complete with a conductor who collected the usual fares from his passengers! These boats stopped after short distances at what I like to call Boat Stops.

Villages in the backwaters have less access to good roads, which is why they prefer using boats to travel, mainly for short distances. Like the captain of our houseboat told me, travelling by road for the people in the backwater villages in extremely time consuming. Also, not every family in the village has a private boat. That is why these innovative and bright villagers came up with the next best thing- public transport in boats! This ensures that there is efficient transport for the villagers, there is no unnecessary consumption of fuel and it is environment friendly. The boats also provide a platform for passengers to chat with other people and meet new people while travelling from once place to another.

To explore such amazing sights for yourself, click here to know more about the tours planned to Kerala by Kerala Travel Centre. To see some of the houseboats used by Kerala Travel Centre, click here. Visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to plan your memorable tour to Kerala today!

The whole nine yards. Discover the Kerala Sari.

Indian bridal saree

Wikipedia defines a sari as “a strip of unstitched cloth worn by females, ranging from four to nine yards in length that is draped over the body in various styles which is native to the Indian Subcontinent.” Traditionally Indian, saris have been draped in numerous styles by numerous women over centuries. However, the beauty of the sari does not limit itself to Indian women. A sari beautifully draped is capable of making any woman look like a Goddess and thus it is no surprise that saris are in huge demand by women the world over.

Saris are woven of many different types of cloth, such as silk, cotton, nylon, rayon, and polyester. In the olden times, only rich families could afford silk saris which were woven by hand and had delicate embroidery of coloured thread, gold thread, silver thread or even pearls. These saris were extremely expensive and were considered a good investment of both time and money. The poorer class wore cotton saris which were coarse and didn’t have anything embroidered on them. The more inexpensive saris had block prints or were tie-dyed to give them a colourful and attractive look. Now in the modern times, saris are also woven on mechanical looms and use more of artificial fibre which does not require ironing. Cotton saris are more common in regions with a hotter climate, as also for daily use, since they are very comfortable, whereas silk and other types of saris are worn for special occasions such as weddings.

In Kerala, the Mundu Neriyathum is the traditional clothing for women. A different type of sari, the Mundu Neriyathum consists of a two piece outfit. It is traditionally white or cream in colour, and has a coloured strip at the border of the sari which is more than often golden in colour.

Kerala Saree - Kerala Travel Centre

Many saris have borders in other colours too, such as red or purple which make the saris extremely beautiful and vibrant, with a touch of elegance. In Kerala, the Mundu Neriyathum is worn by women on festive occasions, as also on a daily basis. Most of the female staff in the good hotels in Kerala wears the traditional Kerala sari. During the popular festival of Onam, women of all age groups all over Kerala wear the Mundu Neriyathum and take part in a special dance meant only for women. The fabric of the Kerala sari is always cotton and is always hand woven and small designs decorate the bottom of the sari. The grace and the elegance of the Kerala sari have come to symbolise the Kerala woman.

You can too buy a beautiful Kerala sari anywhere in Kerala at extremely reasonable prices. Click here to know more about tours organised to Kerala by Kerala Travel Centre. Visit www.keralatravelcentre.com or call on Freephone 0808 178 9799 to plan your special holiday to Kerala!