Why do we travel? It gives us a sense of euphoria. What is the usual takeaway of our travels? Attractions, markets, adventure, thrills, food and the whole vacation vibe. But with passing years, with fading memories and with new holidays & photographs, what actually stays with us? People stories. From all those overwhelming trips, what we actually remember are the human encounters.
I still remember some of my interactions on the train & flights, the girls who not only helped me with directions but actually walked me to my destination in Paris, the Aunty who served me amazing apams when I was craving for local food in Kochi, the guide who impressed me with his fine art of spinning stories in Hampi, the chambermaid who greeted me with the most amazing smile every morning in Johannesburg, the villager who took me for fishing in Goa and the folks I befriended during the food walk in Colombo. I can still feel the joy of living those small connects with the real people.
I may have several human stories from around the world, but when it comes to my own country, I take pride in saying that we supersede everyone, with our warmth, hospitality and culture. If I had to pick one favorite, I would love to talk about Kerala. The people of this state have always impressed me with their down to earth attitude, their resilience in the times of crisis and the zeal with which they keep their literacy rate high. The way Kerala bounced back from the massive floods of 2018 is exemplary in itself. It could have never been possible without its persistent people.
Below are some of my personal encounters from some of its gem places.
Kochi – The amazing apams
After making the most of a five day trip on an international cruise, which offered the best of global cuisines, the only thing that me and my friends yearned for was some local food. We had traveled from Dubai to Kochi on a cruise ship and were scheduled to fly back to Delhi by the evening flight. We had landed in Kochi ( colloquially known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea) early morning and couldn’t wait to use the day by strolling around. During my earlier visit, I had stayed for four days, in the heart of the city and had mapped the length and breadth of its rich colonial history. The impressions were still fresh in my mind and I was happy to be back to see more.
After the disembarkation and the port formalities, we hired a taxi and traveled to the central part of the city. And from there, we actually started eyeing the local shops like foodies on a mission. All six of us hailed from different parts of India, mostly North, but we were not looking for Rajma Chawal or Arhar ki Daal or Roti, but authentic local food. While the sea-food lovers wanted to dig in fish molee, one of us wanted Thattu dosa with simple chammanthi (chutney), I hungrily looked for Appam and stew.
We did spot a couple of attractive, big restaurants on the way but we dint enter until we saw a very small cafe, that had only five things on its menu. It was run by two ladies and had only three tables and couple of chairs. Somewhere near St. Francis Church in Kochi, we discovered our food haven. Initially, we had to make some space for all of us but as soon as we settled in, we did nothing except hogging. Within 6 of us, we shared 15 appams, 2 fish curries and 4 dosas and all of this costed us less than five hundred rupees. We were full but we were not done. The fish curry was delicious, the appam with chutneys was amazing but the memorable part of this anecdote has to be the warmth of the two ladies, who treated us more than guests. They were busy, they had two more tables to serve but they really took care of each one our demands, despite our language barriers. When I tried to tip them along with the bill, they simply refused. I still remember one of the ladies convey in her broken English, “You all ate so lovingly, we just want that.”
Alleppey – The Local Village Wedding
Who doesn’t know about the backwaters of Alappuzha aka Alleppey? The maze of waterways, popular Vembanad Lake, the luxurious houseboats, the pretty water villages and the gorgeous sunsets make for one of the most laid-back experiences of India. I remember staying on one of the boats for three nights and the experience had been such that I did not want to return to the busy city life. I was so happy on the houseboat where there was no hurry of any sorts, where the days were made of sights of lush paddy fields, indulging canoe rides and where evenings became romantic with sunsets and delicious local food. The breezy weather, the calming water and the interesting sights of people kept me smug and entertained all day.
On the first day, I had loved lazing around on the houseboat but on the second day, I wanted to walk to one of the nearby villages. And one of the memories that has stayed with me is of witnessing a local wedding in the village temple. It was my luck that I ended up reaching the biggest temple of the village, where a wedding function was going on. I witnessed a beautiful affair, with traditional music and drums beating, people dancing, and priest chanting the mantras. The bride looked resplendent in her attire and the couple looked made for each other.
When the villagers saw me and my friends, they happily invited us to join in the celebrations. We made the best of it by clicking pictures and making videos. It was such a rare chance to see a local wedding, get a peek into their traditions and rituals. After the initial inhibitions, we felt as if we were part of the celebrations. This was one enriching experience from Alleppey.
Periyar – The Night Walk in National Park
Periyar is one of the few sanctuaries in India where wildlife enthusiasts can enjoy a three hours night trekking in the buffer area of the forests and be privileged to explore the wilderness in the night. One shouldn’t go for it for the sightings but just the experience. While one goes through many emotions of fear, thrill and ecstasy during the walk, the cacophony of forest noises makes it special.
If you compare it with jungle safaris, the experience is completely different. In the bright day light, we need guides for their experience and knowledge sharing, but in the night, you really have to trust them. I remember we were 8 of us and were accompanied by an Armed Forest Guard and a guide. These two guys were extremely affable and helpful, but they only knew Malayalam and Kannada. I was disappointed when I learned that they did not know Hindi or English as I did not know how to reach out to them in case of any emergency or ask queries. In fact, I even spoke rudely to one of them. But they were extremely supportive throughout the walk. They ensured that I did not feel left out because of language barrier. They even requested one of my local friends to translate some of the things for me.
Though I may not have understood what they spoke for most of the trail, I could feel their zeal for their work. They spoke with so much conviction and joy. They were extremely alert and completed the walk with utmost sincerity. Of course, I have fond memories of that night for it offered a beautiful combination of wildlife, nature and thrill, I also remember it for the guide and forest guard, who made it so enjoyable and fun. By the end of the trail, I was impressed with their sincerity towards their work and their winsome attitude.
Disclaimer – The article was sponsored by Kerala Tourism