Best homestay in Northern Kerala – Kannur Beach House

The Kannur Beach House is a genuine homestay and owners Rosi and Nazir are your perfect homestay hosts: eating with their guests, at the communal long table, every morning and evening and willingly share their knowledge about local traditions, Malabari cuisine,  and places to visit when they’re asked. As another guest said to me, ‘this is a little slice of heaven.’ I agree. 

This has been a family home for about hundred years and around 2000 they built a replica building, alongside the original, to use for guests.

This is a must book beforehand stay as they have 6 rooms and many guests  – who often have stayed with them before, and many like me, stay for a week or more – so, for much of the time they are full, which is of course a great endorsement. I will willingly return here to do all the things I missed out on – I was there for a week’s R&R over the Christmas period, so was happy to just, successfully, chill.

My balcony

On the Malabar Coast in Kerala, and overlooking a brackish lagoon and Thalassery beach, this beach-house was perhaps the first in the region.

Kerala is a colourful mosaic of green hills, coconut groves, rainforests,  , backwaters, and beaches. Interestingly, unlike much of India, most of the Hindu temples are not open to non-Hindu.

Watch this space for more stories about the Kannur Beach house, food, and of course, only in this area, Theyyam, a ritual dance glorifying the mother Goddess, and which is a mixture of dance, mime, and music.

See an earlier post of photos of some of the birds I saw from the grounds of this delightful homestay.

Learn Indian cooking – hands on – in Kerala, India

‘Stir faster’ I’m told –  it seems Indian cooking is not for sissies.  Jacob, my tutor, said he’s not a good cook which didn’t sound promising, but then went on to say he’s a great teacher which was encouraging.

This hands-on cooking course takes one to ten days and there is no standing back and watching – it is a learn-by-doing course.  I’m here for 3 days and a real asset is having Madhu in the kitchen.  He is a great cook – he is also an expert in preparing everything we need: chopping, measuring, slicing, dicing, peeling, blitzing, and blending the ingredients.  Even better, he cleans up after we’ve done the cooking and taken the glory!

But before the reflected glory, I’m still ‘stirring faster’ and now expect my right bicep to have developed centimetres and strength before I leave Kerala.

the kiwitravelwriter tries to stir faster !

Jacob had introduced me to all the ingredients for my first vegetarian curry – and that’s a trick I’m taking home – this way nothing is left out of the dish.

Ingredients are all in order

All the ingredients are lined up in order of use – each container with the exact amount needed.  This happens every time we cook – we know the name of the recipe, the ingredients, and how to cook it before starting.  In keeping with the learn-by-doing method, we’re not given the written recipe until the dish is complete.

A lawyer for some twelve years, Jacob returned to this family land where, as a solo dad, and with his widowed mother, he farmed Haritha Farm for a while and, impressed by Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, Jacob stopped using pesticides. ‘I’m not an ecocentric or big crusader’ he tells me, ‘I’m human first and just thinking about the next generation.’

The 6.5 acres of land had been in rubber for some ten years and he has slowly ‘. . . turned back the clock. I’m recreating the old Kerala – a small holding which is self-sufficient, plus some to sell’.  The land is now producing many fruits, vegetable, and spices, including coffee, coconut, ginger, banana, papaya, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, and of course jackfruit, a regional, carbohydrate staple.  It’s also growing mahogany and bamboo.  The bamboo is good for holding water and land as well as a cash crop for scaffolding.  He calls it ‘do nothing farming’ and it seems to be working well.

Part of his self-sufficiency and diversified income stream, are four stand-alone bungalows set on the hill behind the main house which he built as homestay accommodation. Sitting on the patio up among the mature trees, birds and squirrels, I realise this is a different type of Indian tourism, eco-agro-cultural. Most cooking classes are show-and-tell, this is a dive-in-and-do-it course.

Over the three days I’m reminded to ‘cook slowly’, to ‘stir constantly’ and, to ‘always have a smile on your face.’  A pressure cooker is essential in an Indian kitchen and I’m also told, ‘cook for one whistle’, or two, or three, depending on the dish.

Evidently Kerala cooking is very much like the state – a fusion state he called it.  Over thousands of years trading and the mixing of diverse cultures –  Egyptians, Romans, Arabs, and Chinese – all who bought their religions and food. Coconut, originally from the Pacific, is an absolute staple in Kerala, while rice, another primary food was rarely grown here. Of course, the various churches, mosques and synagogues alongside Hindu temples also show its chequered past as a spice trader.

Pimenta Homestay is about 1 ½ hours inland from Cochin but a thousand miles away in atmosphere.  Starting the day with freshly ground coffee, grown and roasted there, Jacob ensures his guests have an authentic experience of the culture and flavours of Kerala.

In between eating and cooking guests are taken to various places and saw activities in the area: this of course changes with the seasons.  As well visiting farms and food markets, I also saw rubber bands being made in the middle of a rubber plantation; clay pots being made by hand; and the dying art of cotton-weaving. I especially loved watching men decorate trucks with a riot of bright floral motifs, miniature landscapes and messages such as, Save Oil Save India; Prayer is Power; and the common, noise inviting, Horn Okay or Horn Please.

Unlike many tourists’ tours around the world these day trips are personal with nothing for tourists to buy – just great interaction with locals who are rightly proud of their crafts. Well done Jacob, you exude generosity and warm hospitality along with the mouth-watering food lessons.

©Heather Hapeta 2018

 

 

Is ‘black’ or ‘dark’ tourism ethical?

Woman carrying firewood – Agra

Some people chase fire trucks, others follow typhoons to get the best photos, while war journalists or photographers, because of their job, are often in the most dangerous parts of the world, but what about tourists?

As soon as trouble breaks out (dengue fever, earthquake, tsunami, or civil unrest) it’s tourists, often with group travel arrangements, who cancel their bookings, while solo travellers, looking for the differences, the culture and the food of another place, who usually continue with their travel plans. Is it ethical to go to places who have had an earthquake or other disaster? What about places with chronic poverty?

Do you indulge in dark tourism? Defined as travelling to places historically associated with death, has been around for ages.  Concentration camps in Europe; the killing fields in Cambodia; the site of the twin towers in New York; and Pompeii in Italy, just to name a few.  I’ve been to many places that could be considered ‘dark’. The Anne Frank house in Amsterdam; the Colosseum in Rome; John Lennon’s garden in New York, the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated.  I’ve also been to the 1692 site of my ancestors’ notoriety, Glen Coe in Scotland.

Of course, more recently I’ve been a constant visitor to my home city, Christchurch New Zealand, where 80% of the inner-city was lost due to quake damage.  (See more that I’ve about Christchurch – as it was two years ago  2016)

Black or dark tourism is nothing new but when it’s recent many people think it is insensitive to go – or for novelists to write about it, comedians to joke about it, or films to be made.   I believe it depends on the traveller’s attitude – are they chasing fire trucks or cyclones?

Think of slum tours in India, do they help the locals or not? It’s all about ethical travel – are you taking from a place, or are you adding something?  Are in locals involved?  Did they set up the tours with community involvement, or is it someone making money out of another person’s misery or are they interested and supportive?

As a travel writer I am often conflicted about taking photos – sadly, poverty and misery often produce fantastic photos.

In Christchurch tourism dried up just as if tap was turned off and the water stopped flowing.  I heard and read many articles and blogs and sadly, advice given by uniformed travel writers, tourist companies or information centres, advising people not to go, there is ‘nothing there’ or ‘you will only be in the way’.  In the beginning I know locals thought some other locals did ‘get in the way’ of clean-up work and considered  them ‘rubber-neckers’ by other locals who felt their privacy, and misery, were being invaded.

However, ethical travel may just another word for green travel which is about leaving money behind in a community so can dark tourism be ethical too?

Perhaps travel agents and guide books sell us too narrow a view of places to visit. Along with our tickets they, (and guide books, blogs or articles) often give us a list of sites we ‘must see’, activities ‘we must do’, or places we ‘must’ stay. It’s not for nothing the popular Lonely Planet books have been nicknamed the ‘travellers’ bible’ as many won’t eat, visit, stay or see anything or anywhere until the guide book is consulted.  Sadly examples of unintended consequences can be the six accommodation places are mentioned are full – while three, not in the book, and maybe better, are empty.

This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made by travellers and owners – some places over booked others empty. Tell friends you are going to Bali or Timbuktu, Christchurch or Botswana and immediately you will be told that you should have gone there two, five, ten, fifty years ago, ‘before it was discovered’, or in Christchurch, New Zealand’s case, ‘before the earthquakes’.

So, what can we travellers do? Well, I don’t know what you will do, but what I do is travel slowly, travel cheaply, support local businesses and use their home-grown products whenever I can – and this is even more needed after a disaster whether it’s man-made or a so-called act of God.

I asked on Facebook for people’s opinion about disaster, or dark tourism. One person sent me a link to a blog she’d recently listened to and believe its well worth giving you the link too – BBC World Service: The Why Factor.  In it the reporter visited Auschwitz and the site of the Grenfell Towers disastrous fire in London.  I’ve not been to either – and chose while I was in Poland not to visit Auschwitz.  If I was in London I would also not visit the Grenfell Towers – I don’t need to be at either site to know how appalling the events were.  Others of course will disagree with me.

My father was a fireman in Christchurch New Zealand when they had the worst fire disaster in our history – Ballantynes, 1947.  He was so distressed about attending the fire and having to recover bodies, that our family were forbidden to give the store any patronage – I have broken this rule two or maybe three times.

The Christchurch earthquakes 20101/11 have produced things that also could be considered dark tourism.  The Memorial Gardens at the site of the highest number of deaths, a memorial wall on the banks of the River Avon, and a museum exhibition – which for me triggered the smells of dust that hung in the air – and up my nose – for ages.

Tram outside Arts Centre

The owner of Beadz Unlimited (one of the many shops damaged inside the Christchurch Art Centre – and now in the historic New Regent Street) posted on my Facebook page  where I was asking about dark tourism said ‘actually we desperately needed people to come and put money into the community because we were all hunkered down just trying to survive.  It was a necessary evil.’  She did not clarify what was ‘evil ‘.

In the UK there is an Institute for dark tourism research and they have studied many facets of this topic if you want to delve into it! Wikipedia says “Scholars in this interdisciplinary field have examined many aspects. Lennon and Foley expanded their original idea [1] in their first book, deploring that “tact and taste do not prevail over economic considerations” and that the “blame for transgressions cannot lie solely on the shoulders of the proprietors, but also upon those of the tourists, for without their demand there would be no need to supply”.

New Zealand heritage has website and touring map  for some war sites in the Waikato region and its hoping to eventually have one for all NZ land wars and other fighting – perhaps some will consider this ‘black tourism’ too

What are your thoughts. Do you believe you are an ethical traveller – and why? And, do you indulge in dark tourism?  What black tourism spots have you been to –  after all it seems we all do that at some level.

I’d really love to start a conversation about all this in the topics – so before you board your next flight, or bus or train, will you please join in and add your opinion ?

 

Birds of Northern Kerala – while at the Kannur Beach House

Just some of the birds I enjoyed watching during my week at Kannur Beach House, with Thalassery Beach, a river, plus a brackish lagoon makes it ideal for birdwatchers.

Indian Cooking – and see painted trucks in Kerala

If you are wondering where to learn (hands-on not just watch) Indian cooking, I can recommend The Pimenta in Kerala, India. (Just over an hour inland from Cochin) and I will be blogging about the homestay classes.

However, this post is about one of the many interesting places I visited with Jacob – the owner, and teacher, at the Pimenta.

I had seen many of these colourful trucks on the roads so was excited to see them being created.  Bright primary colours are used to paint 3D flowers and birds, combined with homilies – save oil save india, save water save river, god is great  are a few – and the men are very proud of their work.

Enjoy these photos:

 

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Glass half full when travelling and the health benefits of a life on the road

The kiwi travel writer enjoys Fiji cruising

Are you a glass half-full, empty, or full-glass person when travelling?  My glass is full all the time – although on occasional days, minutes, or hours I have had an empty glass in a foreign country –  they are usually associated with tiredness.  A day off from being a traveller,  what I call ‘my housework day ‘ usually fixes it.

My travel-house-work-day consists of taking everything out of my bag, washing, sorting, throwing away unneeded stuff, reading, plus an afternoon nap works wonders.  It’s not possible to be a tourist for seven days in a row for a few weeks – just as if we had to work thirty days in a row in our regular employment.  By the last few days we would not be performing at our best.  Travel is the same – unless you only have a week, in which case you just have to suck it up princess (or prince) and make the most of every, minute, and hour of every day 😊

Those of you who follow me know I’m a great believer in an early and relaxed check in – I don’t want to have to rush to the gate and start that leg of my travel anxious – I use that time with my journal, social media, or a book – or now, my latest must-have, an audiobook.

eclectic reading  – now electronic too

There’s nothing like having a story read to you.  I just shut my eyes and be transported somewhere or even learn something.  I love that my local library has many, many, free audiobooks that I can check out no matter where I am in the world.  On my recent travels to India I listened, en-route, to The History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters ‘ by Julian Barnes. I’m sure I found it funnier in the audio version than I would have had I had it open in my Kobo (e-reader) or had a paper copy on my lap.  As you can see, I’m a promiscuous ‘reader’ in both form and topic.

I’m not alone as I’ve  had many, many people say how much they have enjoyed hearing me read an abridged version of  my book Naked in Budapest: travels with a  passionate nomad ,which has been broadcast on Radio New Zealand – and repeated a few times

Temple elephant: Ernakulam, Kerala

During my last week in Kerala, India and feeling the heat, during most afternoons I lay on my bed, under the fan, having two more books read to me – I can recommend both.  America’s First Daughter, a novel by Stephanie Dray, gave the added layer of a southern American voice and, A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul also had a local accent.  These appropriate voices added an extra something which I enjoy.

I recently read a long piece “25 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Traveling” and the first three benefits  resonate with me … my immune system is great because I eat everything everywhere! My mind is pretty sharp – I was in the winning team at a pub-quiz a couple of weeks ago – and my stress levels are low.  Are these because my years of travel have added these health benefits? I don’t know.  It’s a bit like the Mark Twain question asking if travel make you broad-minded or do broad-minded people travel?  So, am I healthy because I travel, or do I travel because I’m healthy?

Who cares!  I’m going to keep travelling – and writing – about travel for the foreseeable future: as I often say “I want to be like me when I grow up!”

Drummer boy, Ernakulam

Upcoming stories, articles, and blogs, in my to-do pile include, a cooking school in India; up to my knees in water feeding stingray in Gisborne New Zealand; ethical travel; a day at the Taj Mahal; and seven days relaxing over Christmas at the Kannur Beach House.

So – watch this space and I’ll be back soon.

 

 

Waitangi Day and a hangi at the Wharewaka in Wellington

The 6th of February – Waitangi Day – is New Zealand’s most important national holiday and I have a  hangi at the Wharewaka. 

It’s the day our founding document the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. For many of us it’s a day of celebration, and commemoration. (read more I’ve written about the day here)

The day  started  for me at 4 o’clock in the morning when I went down to the Wellington waterfront to watch a hangi being prepared on the edge of Whairepo (stingray Lagoon,  in front of the Wharewaka.

However, for the men cooking the hangi it had started at 2 a.m. I hadn’t been there very long when to the dismay of all , the automatic  sprinkler system to water the lawns began pumping out litres of water – not good when you have a fire going.

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The fire of course is essential for cooking the food and it became scramble to protect the flames which were heating, not volcanic stones as my husband used, but pieces of iron which are also great heat conductors.

Of course a great hangi master saved the fire and the food emerged after 3 hours – a great 10am breakfast for me.

 

Here are my photos which tell the story from my arrival until I had the food at about 10 a.m.

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Some background about this building

Wharewaka o Poneke opened on Waitangi Day 2011 – and I was there – and during the dawn opening, Wellington’s Mayor, Celia Wade-Brown, said

“It’s a building you couldn’t see anywhere else in the world. Taranaki Whanui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika have delivered Wellington a wonderful asset that reminds us all of their place in the city – their history on the waterfront and their future as well.”

Here are some photos I took at the opening – just a few months after I moved to Wellington, NZ

Sir Ngatata Love, chairman of the Wharewaka o Poneke Charitable Trust, said he was excited to see the Wharewaka open. “This has been planned since the 1990s and I’m delighted we’re now able to bring waka culture to Wellington’s waterfront.”

The outside of the building is based on a korowai (cloak), which symbolises mana and prestige, and mirrors the traditional sails of the waka fleet.

Finally, those of you who follow me on social know the wharewaka  and lagoon is where my U3A group meets for our Monday morning walks.

Waitangi Day: Bay of Islands, Northland – a must attend event

Tomorrow is Waitangi Day – 6th February – and all over the New Zealand people will be celebrating and, or, commemorating the day our country began its journey of two nations learning to live together. And, no doubt, for some it will be just a great public holiday.

Waitangi Day Christchurch
Wharewaka and Whairepo Lagoon. Wellington

I will be joining other Wellingtonians on our waterfront at the Wharewaka, beside the Whairepo (stingray) Lagoon – for a hangi: a tasty meal cooked in the traditional Māori way, underground. If you follow my blogs, or Facebook, you will know that’s also where I meet friends every Monday morning to leave for a walk and coffee. I plan on being there in time to take photos of the process and will blog about it in a day or so.

I urge every Kiwi (New Zealander) to attend Waitangi Day AT Waitangi at least once in their life it’s a fabulous event. (Just make sure you book your accommodation – whether it’s a hotel of campsite –  early!)

A protest button I wore

I hear some people say it’s all protests and activism: my experience from spending 4 days in the Bay of Islands proved this is a false view that’s perpetuated by lazy, mainstream media. Of course, there are protests – a we are a healthy democracy – and I too have been involved in Treaty protests in the past. The Treaty is a Fraud, and Stop Treaty Celebrations we chanted as we complained that our founding document was not being honoured. Things have changed tremendously over the past years and I now love to celebrate our heritage; have we got it right, do we still have much to do? Absolutely. Are we on the right track? Most certainly.

During my only time at Waitangi, Paihia, on our national day, I saw families, tourists, and kiwi all having a great time.  It was a combo of ceremony; navy, politicians, music; opera, jazz, blues, soul, Māori Cultural shows, stalls, sideshows, and of course the gathering of the ceremonial waka.

Some background: the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is the place where Māori chiefs, in 1840, first signed their agreement with the British Crown – Te Tiriti of Waitangi. In the grounds are the historic Treaty House, a carved meeting-house and the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe and of course panoramic views of the Bay of Islands.

Te Whare Runanga

Te Whare Rūnanga (the House of Assembly) is a carved meeting-house facing the Treaty House, the two buildings symbolising the partnership agreed between Māori and the British Crown and the house opened on 6 February 1940 – 100 years after the first signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Te Whare Runanga

Another important feature is the flagstaff which marks the spot where the Treaty was first signed on 6 February 1840. (it then travelled much of New Zealand and many other Chiefs signed on behalf of their Iwi.  The flags that fly are the three official flags that New Zealand has had since 1834 – the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand (from 1834), the Union Jack (from 1840) and the New Zealand flag (from 1902).

 

Here are  few photos I took a few years ago – and one day I will go there again for this unique day.

 

NOTE: For more information about Northland check the official tourism website and to hire a rental car in Auckland I can recommend the company I use:  Rental Cars NZ.

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