An Indian Adventure: Kerala

Sunset over fishing nets in Kochi, Kerala
Sunset over fishing nets in Kochi, Kerala

Do you ever find yourself shouting “Been there” at the TV when the programme is about somewhere you’ve visited? We were shouting rather a lot as we were watching the latest instalment of the Real Marigold Hotel filmed in Kochi (Cochin).

As is so often said, you either love India or hate it, there is no in between. We definitely fell in love.

Chillies, beans and spices
Chillies, beans and spices

It is truly an assault on the senses. The heat, the colour, the people and the noise! In Kerala, Southern India, three religions sit side by side, Muslim, Hindu and Christian, and each morning each either plays music or broadcast the call to prayer at the same time!

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We didn’t have Jacob with us, so we’re not sure what the red fruits are!

We were in Kerala for a week’s vegetarian cookery courses before a few days on the Backwaters. We stayed at The Pimenta Spice Garden Bungalows inland from Kochi (Cochin) at Kadalikad run by Jacob Mathew. Just nine people can be accommodated in the 4 beautiful bungalows. When we were there, it was just the two of us.

Each day cooked learning a repertoire of around 20 dishes that we still use regularly. Granted it was often 35C but we managed extremely well with judicious placing of fans. We loved it. Jacob’s direction is firm and kindly. We had to get out of the western way of cooking and learnt to take time for instance to really cook down the onions before adding other ingredients. We became more confident and even tackled idiappam (rice noodles).

We learnt news techniques and dishes each day at Pimenta Spice
We learnt new techniques and dishes each day at Pimenta Spice

We spent about 3 hours cooking each day, not always at the same time. Jacob then took us out to explore. We visited the enormous market in Kochi – the vegetables so beautifully arranged, flower garlands ready for religious festivals. Jacob was understandably picky and we soon learnt how to pick the best produce.

Sorting and grading pineapples. Notice the ripe ones are being rejected
Sorting and grading pineapples. Notice the ripe ones are being rejected

Another day, we visited the “International Pineapple Market” – simply a courtyard full of pineapples, with workers grading them by size. Then we discovered amazing shops just full of spices or with kitchen utensils.

A trip that truly surprised seeing how Bombay mix was being made in pans over open fires. And then there was a visit to an elephant sanctuary, and seeing a young elephant being bathed.

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Bath time!

We ate what we had cooked with the addition of other dishes. Jacob soon realised we had a sweet tooth and delighted in finding us different Indian sweets for us to try. But the best meal of the day had to be breakfast. The Bungalows at Pimenta Spice are set in a tropical forest. Each morning we devoured that day’s selection picked by Jacob. Sometimes fruit we’d never heard of before; mangoes, papayas,tiny bananas all so, so fresh.

Tea growing country
Tea growing country isn’t it beautiful?

We ventured up into the mountains to see tea being picked and the process to make it into tea. This wasn’t the posh sort of tea, simply what you might find in your tea bags. We had to try the chai tea of course, simply the best we’d ever tasted.

Idli - rice noodles made with the special brass implement behind. Topped with more rice
Idiappam – rice noodles made with the special brass implement behind. Topped with more rice

Eating out, we tried Thali and on another occasion,  the only time we ate anything non vegetarian, fish in a glorious coconut sauce. We certainly didn’t miss meat and we regularly include dishes we learnt on our weekly menu

After our week with Jacob, we said a sad farewell and went to sail on the backwaters of Kerala. So, so relaxing to drift along the waters. We had the boat to ourselves, with staff to cook our meals. A great finish to our holiday.

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Our trip on the Kerala Backwaters

Our top tips

  • Kerala is a good introduction to India – not so full on as other areas
  • We were recommended to use anti-viral spray on our hands (not antiseptic spray) and had no tummy troubles at all
  • Eat vegetarian food rather than meat. It is what the locals do.
  • We loved the chance to visit places you’d never find without a local guide. Do seek one out!
  • Do talk to the locals, you’ll find them very interested in chatting to you.
  • Do try and stay in a Homestay (a little like a Bed and Breakfast) for an authentic experience and good food.
  • Don’t ever think about driving yourself, the driving there is manic – best left to a competent driver.
  • Stay with Jacob if you can, you won’t be disappointed! He offers a variety of courses.
A delicious thali
A delicious thali

Find out more

Pimenta Spice Cookery Holidays website. Pimenta on Twitter

We flew to Kochi via Dubai. It was great to have a stop off on the way.

There are many Backwater Tours. We booked with Lakes and Lagoons.

There are over 1000 homestays in India to chose from.

Travel Loving Family

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Clare Thomson says:

    Oh beautiful Kerala! The rose-pink photo of the Chinese fishing nets is spectacular. I backpacked around India many years ago and have such fond memories of travelling in Kerala and going on a backwater trip. I love the idea of staying in those bungalows. Thalis are so delicious, aren’t they? #mondayescapes

    1. It’s all wonderful. I so want to go back and explore more!

  2. bavariansojourn says:

    That gorgeous little fuzzy elephant!!! I would love to go to Kerala, it looks utterly beautiful. It sounds like you really enjoyed it, such a lovely post! 🙂 #mondayescapes

    1. He was so cute! I can really recommend Kerala as a holiday destination

  3. Lisa (Travel Loving Family) says:

    Oh Danielle, your post has brought back many memories for me! I called into Cochin for one day during our world cruise when I was working onboard P&O Cruises. I absolutely loved the area and watching the fisherman with the nets you have captured so beautifully in your photos. I clearly need to return as I didn’t have time to experience any of the other activities you have listed above. The backwater tour sounds amazing! What an experience. Thanks for linking to #MondayEscapes, I’ll tweet and pin now;)

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