I’ve always loved exotic destinations, it is a thrill to explore the diverse and go beyond the traditional. Although most of the time it is I who take the lead in planning trips I have to confess that on this occasion it was one of my friends who surprised me. He phoned me and asked me to get together over coffee. When we were finally seated at the table, my friend gave me a curious pamphlet, which had a most alluring cover and he said, here it is, this is our next destination.
Indeed my friend Carlos who rarely steps foot in a church had been in one the past weekend due to a wedding and he discovered this pamphlet in the back. It spoke about a particular saint from India in a place almost hidden in the Southern regions. And as I said before, I am the one who likes unconventional destinations, this time, Carlos surprised me: he wanted us to travel across the world to visit a church! The truth is that basically the brochure was just the inspiration, because very soon we realized that Kerala was a state in Southern India, where Bharananganam is found, one of the most beautiful places on earth. It is a tropical paradise with exotic beaches and unparalleled nature. After seeing a few photo accounts on this exotic destination, it took only a few minutes and we were buying our plane tickets.
Our adventure began officially in New York, there we took the incredibly long flight of 17 hours to get to Mumbai. The flight was pleasant, contrary to what many friends had told me. Air India turned out to be an excellent airline, with excellent inflight entertainment, with a friendly and attentive staff who even went beyond their obligations. They were even very considerate when Carlos realized that although he had opted for only typical Indian food, he could not handle the spice and wished to switch to something more familiar. That’s when we learned a word that would be useful for the whole trip: continental. That means non-spicy food.
It was amazing after so many hours traveling to see the first lights glimmer over the giant city of Mumbai, we got there at night and waited a couple of hours to make our next five-hour flight to Kochi. We landed at Kochi International Airport at dawn in Hernakulam, this is a new and modern airport. George was already there, the man who would be our new best friend throughout this journey. Kotayam is where George is from. It is one of the major cities of Kerala and he is the cousin of a colleague of ours. He was our salvation, because driving here with this fatigue would have been an impossible adventure. We were so tired we almost could not enjoy the ride to our hotel. We got there and immediately we hit our beds and after a few hours, when we refreshed ourselves and opened the curtains of our window we realized that we were at one of the most beautiful places on earth. The Radisson hotel is located near lake Kumarakon, It is like Eden with its pristine tropical gardens and a privileged view of the lake that conveys peace and serenity. It is a surreal place, with pools and waterfalls that evoke the abundance of water found here. And soon we found another phenomenon in India: the rain showers that appear from nowhere. The sky is rapidly filled with dark clouds and rain starts with a force that seems like it will never stop, but five minutes later the blue sky and sunshine return as if from a nice coffee break and of course with renewed humidity. This climate is the reason that Kerala is such a tropical and lush atmosphere with abundant tropical fruits and unmatched flora and fauna.When we started to explore the beauty of Kerala we found captivating scenery, pristine beaches of white sand and tropical vegetation that one would imagine to find only on a lost Caribbean isle.
Kerala is a place that captivates the visitor, it is a real delight for the eyes of those who mostly enjoy only views of concrete and buildings in their cities. Here things move along at another speed, the most important unit of society is still the person rather than the numbers. But is not that people are not entrepreneurial, quite the opposite, very soon we realized that Kerala is perhaps the most prosperous state in India with the highest level of education and the best life expectancy in the country.
Two experiences particularly stood out, the journey we undertook on the lake boat hotels, these are large barges, made from scratch, which feature all the facilities of a small floating hotel. For two days we toured the stunning waters of Kumarakom lake, we ate
native fish and enjoyed local food. The people of Kerala are excellent hosts and theyalways do everything possible to please the visitor. They are genuinely friendly, but above all humble. Humility, peace and quiet are features that we noticed right away in the eyes of anyone who came to greet us.
Of course we could not leave Kerala without first paying a visit and pay tribute to Santa Josefa, yeah! the saint of the pamphlet who gave us our inspiration to come. The trip to this sanctuary was a wonderful experience that allowed us to connect with another of the most important realities of India: religion. In this corner of the country nearly all are Catholics, a phenomenon compared to the rest of the country and lo and behold it happened that this day was the feast of the saint. Thus we witnessed thousands and thousands of people in the most colorful costumes as they prayed and danced. It was a colorful show of faith as I’ve never seen before. The people here are ones who value their faith and religion occupies a top priority in their lives and culture. It took almost two hours to reach the tomb of the saint. I have to confess that when I was there in the silence of my heart I gave thanks for having made her acquaintance in that pamphlet, something that allowed us to know this piece of heaven hidden in the middle of one of the world’s largest countries, it is assuredly God’s own country, (As the locals call Kerala).