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Depart London (international flight not included in the cost of the tour).
Arrive in Cochin. Transfer to the Taj Malabar Resort & Spa where two nights are spent. Situated on Willingdon Island with a magnificent view of Cochin harbour, the Taj Malabar Hotel combines old-world elegance with modern day convenience. The heritage wing of the hotel was built in 1935 and houses graceful Victorian interiors whilst the tower wing rooms mix the classic with the contemporary. With varied restaurants and a fantastic swimming pool this is an excellent hotel in which to relax. Dinner under own arrangements.
Walking tour of Mattancherry, the bustling part of Old Fort Cochin and the epicentre of the spice trade for centuries. The tour reveals Cochin’s multi-layered past, a rich brew of Arab, Portuguese, British, and Dutch influences. Begin at the Dutch Palace built by the Portuguese as a gift for the Raja of Cochin in 1555. See St. Francis Church, India’s first European church famed as the original burial site of Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama. Next visit the picturesque Chinese fishing nets, unique to Cochin, introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He in the 14th century.
Lunch under own arrangements. Afternoon at leisure. Welcome dinner at the Rice Boat Restaurant.
After breakfast, check-out and proceed to witness a performance of Kalaripayattu, the martial art form of Kerala and an integral of the Malayali culture. Transfer to Maradu Jetty in Ernakulam (the urban area of Cochin) to embark on the River Cruise Boat RV Vaikundam.
After a traditional lunch on-board, set sail to explore the magnificent network of waterways formed along the coastal belt by the rivers from the Western Ghats before draining into the Arabian Sea.
Amidst the rapid development in the city, the Backwaters of Cochin remain placid, giving life to many island villages. By evening, arrive at the old town of Vaikom in Kottayam, the land of natural rubber latex and spices. Visit the temple of Lord Shiva, one of the largest in Kerala, where following Keralan tradition each element of the temple represents an element of the human body. Dinner on board.
After breakfast on the boat, visit the cultural centre in Vaikom to watch a performance of the traditional dance Kathakali. Cruise to Chenganda village and see the locals making coir, demonstrating how to collect mussels and prawns and their indigenous methods of fishing and coconut farming.
Return to the boat for lunch. Cruise through the Thanneermukkom Barrage which divides the lake into two, one half with perennial salty water and the other with fresh water enriched by the rivers. Arrive in Vechoor village and take a walk or relax on board. Evening visit to a farmhouse located on an island which was made by the men of the house, by reclaiming land from the Backwaters. Take a walk on the farm and enjoy a demonstration of traditional Syrian Christian cuisine by a mother and her daughter-in-law.
After an early and light breakfast, set out for escorted canoe ride to watch the migratory as well as endemic birds of Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary which is made up of a cluster of lagoons of Vembanad lake with a backdrop of mangroves, paddy fields and coconut groves. Waterfowl, cuckoo, owl, egret, heron and the water duck are some of the endemic species seen here. Parrots, teal, larks, flycatchers, wood beetle, and other birds are seen here during their respective migratory seasons. Return to the boat for breakfast. Cruise on to the interior of Kuttanad with its vast stretches of paddy fields, dykes and narrow canals. Watch a folk-dance performance (Kaikotti kali) by the girls of the village.
Lunch on board. Return to the boat and cruise further inland until dusk to Veliyanad village. Dinner on board.
Cruise to Kainakari, another vibrant village in the interior. En route we visit a traditional Ayurveda centre to learn about this ancient form of treatment and holistic way of life and try a massage. Cruise on to Chavara Bhavan, the ancestral home of Saint Kuriakose Chavara, the first canonized Catholic male saint of Indian origin. The ancestral home of the Saint has now been preserved as a museum.
After lunch, cruise to Pulinkunnu village. Get closer to the laid-back, yet harmonious, life, paddling along the narrow canals by country boat, interacting with the villagers. Dinner on board.
Morning excursion by road to Mannar village, famous for ornate locks, lamps and vessels used in temples.
Return to the boat for lunch. Cruise to Champakkulam village, settled more than 1000 years ago by Syrian Christian traders, who later converted to Roman Catholicism under the Portuguese. Their cultural heritage can be seen in the monumental St. Mary’s Church on the riverside, built in 1550. Visit the church, a school and the local artisans and see the village’s Snake Boat. These boats, decorated in Keralan style and used nowadays for races, were once maritime war boats. Cruise on until dusk, passing through the serene canals and arrive in Changankari village. Relax on board or take a visit a local temple, watching the evening rituals and interacting with the devotees. Dinner on board.
After breakfast, proceed to Aranmula village which is home to a family of craftsmen who are skilled at making mirror out of a special combination of certain metals. The secret of the trade has been passed down through generations. Visit the mirror makers, see the ancient temple of Krishna, see the mural art of the local artists and meet a snake boat builder.
Lunch at a local house with beautiful architecture, located on the banks of the Pampa, the holy river of natives. Listen to a talk about the rituals of the annual regatta. Drive to Thottappalli with a visit en route to a temple where serpents are worshipped. Re-board the boat in Thottappalli for tea/coffee with snacks and a short cruise to a tiny settlement. Take a walk to the beach and visit a toddy shop. Toddy is a local alcoholic beverage made from the sap of the flower of coconut palm and usually consumed accompanied by tapioca.
Plant a coconut sampling for the village. Arrive in Karumadi village. Here an 11th century statue of Buddha is preserved in a small shrine. After taking a walk through this quiet and rustic village, cruise to Kanjippadom village to visit boat yard where traditional wooden boats are built and repaired. You might be able to see the art of traditional Kettuvallum or coir rope lashed wooden plank boat building.
After lunch, cruise through Pallathuruthy village and arrive at a small lake (Vattakkayal) amidst paddy fields. Take a relaxing walk and watch toddy tapping. Return to the boat after the beautiful sunset. Toddy will be served during the farewell dinner.
Cruise to Alleppey, the ancient port town, criss-crossed by rivers, lakes, canals, lagoons and paddy fields, named as the Venice of the East. Disembark and take a guided tour of the old part of the town. Visit the markets, temples, churches and mosques and the beach. Transfer to Cochin.
Lunch at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel. Day use rooms will be reserved at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel (one room to be shared between four guests) or one additional night’s accommodation (for those departing the following morning). Dinner under own arrangements.
Transfer to Cochin Airport for your flight to London (international flight not included in the cost of the tour).
It was a great experience and now I have dipped my toes in the Ultimate waters I shall be back for more.- JE, October