South India's Relaxed Culture
Even though I arrived in the wee hours of the morning into Cochin, in the state of Kerala, I could already tell there was a vast difference in culture from North and South India. Where Delhi and North India are marked by heavy traffic, the incessant honking of car horns, people rushing to and fro, the South is quite the opposite. My first impression reminded me of a tropical island with its swaying palm trees and smiling residents. This was confirmed by my travel host who picked me up from the airport and ensured I was settled into my hotel, The Brunton Boatyard. He concurred that North India is cosmopolitan and hectic and that the South is where Indians come to relax and find peace and a sense of calmness.
North India has many monuments and national treasures that are predominantly from the British rule. The South, specifically Cochin, has a mix of Dutch, Portuguese and British influences. The architecture, the food, and the history showcase the melding of cultures that impacted this region when these European nations sent trading ships here.
As for the meals, it's all "farm to fork" as they say here at Brunton Boatyard. Everything from the fish to the spices are purchased fresh from local markets. There is no preservation of any kind, including freezing, so if a menu item is no longer available in the markets or if supply runs out, the restaurant simply stops serving it. There is also nothing "white" or processed here-the breads are whole grain or whole wheat, the sugar and salt are raw, and the word "buffet" is not on the menu. It's amazing that I can come so far and yet still feel so much at home. The meals are outstanding-rivaling some of the best Northern California restaurants. This just goes to show that we can take care of ourselves and eat healthy, even while on vacation. There is also an Ayurveda Center at the resort which provides a host of massage and body treatment options. Given that I'm going to spend a week at a wellness center in Marari soon, I decided to forego (as tempting as they were) the massage treatments here.
Who says luxury has to be over-the-top indulgence? It can also be found in smaller boutique hotels that still retain the high service standards and beautiful accommodations you would expect, yet have an eye for sustaining our environment and giving back to the local people and economy. That's the new twist on luxury.
A Glimpse of Cochin
Fort Kochi also hosts a biannual event called the Kochi-Muziris Biennale which opens on December 12 and runs for 3 months. This international exhibition of contemporary art is organized by the Kochi Biennale Foundation whose primary objective is to promote art, culture and education in India. The last event in 2014 drew 500,000 visitors from 30 countries. They are hoping to exceed that number with this year's event. I wish I was still in the area in December-it sounds like an incredible experience!