Kathakali is a classic Indian play known for the intricate makeup of it’s characters, detailed costumes, fast gestures and perfectly timed body movement, in tune with intense drumming. The makeup worn by the actors (which were all male) was made from crushed rocks mixed with coconut oil. The makeup alone took more than an hour to fully apply for just three characters. The evil character placed a type of seed from a red flower in his eyes for ten minutes to change the whites of the eyes to red to make him look more demon-like. The costumes consisted of many layers of skirts and pants, each in different colours and with different designs, along with many jewels, bells and elaborate headdresses. Two of the characters, Krishna, and the she-devil, wore very, very wide skirts about 6 feet across, whereas the remaining character was wearing a traditional sari in the colours of red and cream. Kathakali appears to be a mix between miming and acting. There is very little speaking and instead much of the performance relies on body movements and facial expressions. The hand movements reminded me of a sped-up and exaggerated version of ASL (American Sign Language). The movement was perfectly in tune with the drumming, which was very fast paced and loud. There were two drummers and one person that alternated between a tambourine and chanting in Malayalam, the local language of Kerala. The usual length of one performance is 6 to 9 hours, but the one that we saw was only 1 hour and 30 minutes. This short performance was just barely manageable, but I think sitting through a 6 to 9 hour performance would be difficult.
My family and I stayed on a houseboat for two days and one night – the 29th and the 30th of November. We left Palm Tree Heritage early in the morning, and started our backwater adventure at 11:30, from the Kollam Port.
The first part of our trip was a three-hour ride through Ashtamudi Lake. On the way we saw many Chinese fishing nets, shoes floating in the water, palm trees, churches, mosques, Hindu temples and weird lighthouses in the shape of a naked lady. About half way through our trip our captain Mohan let Matthew and I steer the boat. The steering was loose, and whenever you left the wheel in one spot, the boat would turn, so I would have to constantly over rotate the steering wheel to remain on a straight course! It was a lot of fun. A little later, while we were watching the beautiful scenery pass by we had a delicious lunch made by our boat’s cook of fried fresh fish, dhal, rice, beetroot salad, carrot salad, coconut potato curry, poppadoms, tomato riata, and pineapple riata. It was amazing food with every dish cooked and seasoned to perfection.
Once we had arrived at Monroe Island, we got out of the boat and met the young man that was going to be polling us through some small canals in a canoe. We saw many different types of greenery and wildlife:
- kingfishers with exceptionally bright blue backs
- cormorants – similar to the ones that we have in Canada
- kytes – small bald eagles
- prawns that were being farmed in the brackish backwaters
- grazing cows that the people who lived in the backwaters owned,
- pineapple plants – did you know that it takes 6 months to grow one plant and that one plant produces only one pineapple
- suicide fruit – one of the most poisonous plants in the world
- papaya trees
- coconut palm trees
- vanilla vines growing up the sides of trees.
I found it really cool to see how pineapples and vanilla grow, as I had never seen this before. The kingfishers were beautiful, with their exuberant blue backs. We have kingfishers in Canada, but they aren’t nearly as colourful as the ones in Kerala.
The ride to the place that we were going to dock for the night was rather uneventful, though the lake and shore looked beautiful with the sunset. Once we had reached our space for the night we learned that there was a wedding celebration taking place at the five star hotel across the lake, with fireworks blasting and music blaring all night! We weren’t excited as we were sitting down to dinner, but I cheered up when I remembered that we had A.C., as the pier that we were staying at had an electricity hook-up. Our dinner was amazing, consisting of okra curry, chicken curry, rice and beetroot salad. Hats off to Joseph, the cook, for such delicious meals during our stay!
The next morning I woke up from an undisturbed sleep. I had not once heard fireworks or music! I suppose that they turned down the volume? Who knows? We ferried back quickly, as we had a train to catch to Cochin at 11:15.
Our trip was so much fun, and I loved being so close to such a variety of wildlife. Overall, I extremely enjoyed our time in Kerala’s backwaters, especially the polling in the canoe, and completely recommend the experience.
The first two weeks of our time in India was spent on Odayam beach in Varkala. It was awesome!
We arrived in Trivandrum on the 16th of November from Luxor Egypt. We had left Luxor the previous morning, and had a four-hour stopover in Doha, Qatar. With the time change, we arrived in India very early in the morning, with no sleep. At 5 a.m. we took a one-hour taxi ride to Varkala, a town on the cost of Kerala. When we arrived at the hotel that we had booked, we found out that they had no rooms left. YIKES! As it was still early in the morning, we decided to get breakfast at a café on the beach near by. After we had finished breakfast, we learned that Palm Tree Heritage Café where we had eaten was part of a hotel complex. As we were so tired, we decided to book a room for three days. The only room that was available had one king bed. Thus, sleeping was a little cramped, as my mom, my dad and I were all in the king bed, and Matthew got a twin mattress that was brought in and placed on the floor.
The three days that we had originally booked flew by as we played in the surf and relaxed, and we decided to say eleven more. Our routine was pretty much the same every day: wake up at 6:30 for yoga, have breakfast at 9:30 while watching the local fishermen fish, go swimming from 10:30 to 11:30, do homeschool from 12 to 3, take a break in our A.C. room for an hour (it was about 32 degrees outside, without humidity which was virtually 100% all the time), go swimming again from 4 to 6:30, eat dinner from 7 to 8:30 – Palm Tree’s service was so slow, but the food was great (I highly recommend their chicken tikka), go to bed at 9:30. Some days we changed it up (what!) with heading to town for shopping on the North Cliff, or having a sweet at an amazing bakery, New Kerala Café, that we had found. If you ever get there, try the Lemon Dumping Cake even if the name seems odd.
Half way through our say at Palm Tree Heritage we found a family that had a home kitchen/restaurant that friends of ours had recommended (Shout out to Steve, Ann, Kathleen and Robbie!) called Kumari’s House. We had a delicious thali dinner on banana leaves, which consisted of countless vegetable curries and other dishes, such as plantain curry, okra curry, beetroot salad, carrot salad, and more. The food was amazing, and I loved the atmosphere of the place: a cow in the backyard, tropical trees surrounding me, beautiful flowers, and family pictures hanging on the walls.
The two weeks that we spent on the beach were so relaxing, and enjoyable, that if you ever find yourself in Kerala, I highly, highly recommend staying on Odayam beach in Varkala, for at least a few days. It’s not on the North Cliff and maybe not in the action, but instead it is further up the beach and a more relaxed place!