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Many assume, like I did, that Kerala is a vacation one can only take with ample leave at hand. A week at least must be cordoned off for this state people call God's Own Country. As I was to discover to my pleasant surprise, this is not necessarily true. Kerala can be experienced in short bursts too.
Cochin was a welcome respite from the freezing Delhi winters. The coastal town is tropical in climate and the breeze blows through the palm trees in the evening making for excellent evening walks. I would recommend a two-day trip to Cochin as a quick getaway to get rejuvenated and refreshed.
Cochin airport is well connected with all major cities in India. We started our first day with a half-day trip to Alappuzha (Alleppey), the famous backwaters of Kerala. The two-hour drive from Cochin is along a winding road with lush green trees lined on the sides. As you get off at Alappuzha, you will find a line of boats vying to get you on board.
Ideally, you should book the cruise in advance. The 3-hour long cruise winds its way through the backwaters like a lazy reptile. The pace is languid. There is no rushing here. It is a slow crawl as the water snakes through palm groves.
The cruise is aboard a boat, which usually has a covered lower deck with benches that offer a welcome respite from the sun that beats down. The top open deck offers great photographic moments. You will cross thatched houseboats on the way. If one has more time at hand, an overnight stay in a houseboat can make for a great romantic escape. The hourly cruise costs around Rs 700 for a boat that can easily take 10 to 12 people. A houseboat with 2 AC rooms costs around Rs 20,000 per night.
Lunch was at a lovely resort -- Punnamada Serena Spa Resort (http://www.punnamada.com/) -- where our boat docked. The resort is on the banks of the backwaters and offers the ultimate combination of kicking off your shoes, sipping on beer and munching prawns while gazing at the houseboats pass by. Meal for two: Rs 1,000.
The 2-hour journey back seemed to go in a flash and we decided to end the day with the famous Kerala Ayurvedic massage. There are plenty of options for getting the same. We chose to go to the Sahayadri Spa conveniently located on the top floor of a store called Little Kingdom on MG Road. The 45-minute massage was the perfect end to a gorgeous day. The staff was skilled and knew the correct technique of how to apply pressure. I highly recommend getting one -- 45 minutes of pure bliss. And priced at Rs 600, it is a must do.
The next day, we decided to be the typical tourists and set out towards Fort Kochi. The first stop was the Jewish Synagogue built in 1568.
Located at the centre of the aptly named Jew Town, the structure may not be impressive, but is a paradise for shoppers. The area is called Mattancherry and is home to an entire lane of shops selling antiques. It is a collector's dream come true and the perfect place to pick up a souvenir.
The shops were overflowing with brass and wooden antiques, many of which date back 200 years. Remember to haggle hard as they often cut their prices almost 30-40 percent with cheerful bantering.
Though the market has cute cafes on the upper levels that remind one of Portuguese Goa, it is not a bad idea to head off to The Attic, Cochin's own steakhouse. Located on Marine Drive, it is a small cozy place that serves some great food.
The day of walking around Jew Town had left us exhausted so we headed off to take a nap. If you still have some stamina left, you could visit the Chinese Fishing nets in Fort Kochi which are these giant structures that preserve the age old tradition of Chinese fishing. The vendors on the roadside actually offer you the option of catching your own fish and then frying it for you!
The perfect holiday needed the perfect ending. So, for dinner, we set to Taj Malabar, the fantastic property situated on Willingdon Island with a magnificent view of Cochin harbour. Their restaurant, Rice Boat is designed like a Kerala snake boat and one gets the impression of being seated in a backwater houseboat.
Their sea food is to die for and I can personally vouch for the Crab Masala. Eaten with a serving of boiled rice, the crab was absolutely phenomenal and I found myself wiping my plate clean. We also tried the tiger prawns as well as the lobster, both of which were well flavoured and very tasty. A word of caution here do specify the level of chilly you want. To say that Kerala food is spicy would be an understatement.
The food at the Taj, as expected, was priced extremely high, so this can be skipped in case you're on a budget. Meal for two including sea food can go upto Rs 4,500.
Two days, a perfect tan, a relaxed mind and a content smile! Kerala -- truly, God's Own Country!