The Waves, the Sand and the Enchantment – Cherai Beach Resorts

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As we drove into the Cherai Beach Resorts, the waves crashing in the background, a feeling of serenity accompanied us into the lobby. The decor was, perhaps, a trifle underdone, but the property itself was housed in the midst of lush greenery dotted with pools, winding paths, disused boats, awe-inspiring trees with roots hanging all the way down and a profusion of ancient doors studded with wood and glints of brass.

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We (my husband, my daughter and granddaughter) had two and a half days of relaxation to look forward to and were excited about our room which was supposed to have a pool within. However, on the first day, a mix up with our reservations ensured that we made our way to another room, which faced the resort pool, instead of a pool inside.

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The beach beckoned us welcomingly, as we scrambled across the road, stumbled down a pile of rocks, straight on to one of the cleanest beaches we had ever come across. Vast expanses of sand, the blue grey waters at sunset and the sight of our little granddaughter playing in the sand with her little pots and pans made our hearts swell with joy.

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The meals at Oottupura, the restaurant at the resort, were all buffet-style, and the food did not offer much variety, especially the desserts which were ice cream and fruit salad every single day. However, being on holiday and dipping into the baby pool (the main pool being too deep for me and my daughter!) and the beach, in turn, made us develop a healthy appetite, and we did full justice to the meals, which consisted of at least three non vegetarian dishes every meal.

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The first night, the geyser in our bathroom turned temperamental, and the moment we lodged a complaint, Mr. Raymond, the manager, offered us our original room – the one with a pool within. Off we went, all excited only to find that our new room was right next to the water, and offered us a spectacular view. The pool inside the bathroom was, indeed a novelty, but the weather being nippy, we did not take a chance to jump in. There was a tiny sit-out upstairs, where again, the view was amazing, but the rickety staircase made us a trifle wary of venturing there.

However, despite all the niggling hitches, we did have a lovely time, walking around the property, as the little one spoke animatedly to the equally animated crows that swooped down with no warning and the well-fed doves that drank water from the pool.

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My husband threw his fancy fishing rod into the water in front of our room, but found that he had misplaced a vital part of it somewhere. The intrepid Army officer in him resorted to a ‘jugaad’, as he attached a water bottle to the reel, stuck on chicken pieces as bait and threw it over. However, the fish proved to be even smarter as they whisked away the bait without even a ripple.

 

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For a change, I woke up early enough to view the sunrise, enthralled with the crimson hues that heralded the appearance of the golden globe that drove away the nip in the air. The sunsets were as mesmeric, except when the clouds decided to come in the way.

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At night, the sound of the crickets lulled us into a somnolent mood as the lights from the resorts around shone bright, like a necklace on two levels, the lower half being the dazzling reflection on the dark waters. I spent much of my time, sitting on the hammock outside our room, savouring the fresh, balmy air and the mesmerizing landscape.

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Cherai Beach Resort has been put together by a group of post graduate doctors who own a number of villas. Thus, a line of Doctors’ Villas share space with Club Villas, Illam Villas, Garden Villas and Pool Side Villas, among a few.

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One main draw here is the Ayurmana Spa, a Government approved Ayurvedic Centre, which welcomes you in with a traditional ‘villakku’, a lamp lit at its entrance.

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Alongside the the multi-cuisine restaurant named ‘Oottupura’ is ‘Tharavadu’, a Beer and Wine lounge, for those so inclined. (Pun intended!)

The sheer exuberance of colours painted by Mother Nature, as the sky and the waters took on myriad hues, each more breathtaking than the other, was another feature that kept us fascinated.

One of the purple patches of our stay was the sight of the fishermen in four boats who gave us a spectacular viewing of the way in which they caught their fish. It was like a ballet being staged for our benefit, as they came in from four directions, gave an oral signal and cast their nets at exactly the same moment, four fairy nets shimmering in the air for a split-second.

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By the end of the trip, we were quite euphoric, as the ambiance of Cherai had entered our souls, and we left with full hearts, satiated and relaxed, despite the fact that my husband had not caught a single fish. John Muir’s words echoed in our hearts as we drove away. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

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Cherai Beach Resorts is located at the Gateway of Muziris, around 25 kms from the Nedumassery International Airport.

It is 14 km away from the renowned Bhagavathy Temple in Kodangallur.

Picture credits: Gopi Menon, Priyanka Menon-Rao, Deepti Menon

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THE ENAMAVU – CHETTUVA EXPERIENCE

Picturesque little villages have a history of their own that can quite astound you. As you drive along the length of Kerala, every turn brings with it a scene that is picture perfect. Whether it is a little stream with the typical red-tiled building, or a bridge across turbulent waters, a rustic thatch house flanked by coconut trees or an old, abandoned boat by the road, every sight is music to the eyes, if one can call it so.

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Enamavu is one such hamlet which was once controlled by the Portuguese and the British.  The exquisite church of The Lady of Mount Carmel reveals a strong Portuguese influence. Legend has it that, in those days, the locals worshipped the Lady of Mount Carmel, calling her ‘En Amavu’ or My Mother, and this is how Enamavu derived its name.

The Enamavu Lake takes one’s breath away as one drives along its periphery and derives its water from the water of the Peechi Dam. Mother Nature preens in all her magnificence as the hues of the blue lake and the greyish-blue backwaters form a striking contrast to the velvety hills and the lush green paddy fields. The Enamavu Dam or Bund was created by Sakthan Thampuran with a vision in mind, which was to prevent the salt sea water from mixing with the fresh lake water. The Enamavu Lake was also natural boundary separating the regions of Malabar and Cochin.

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Kerala has always been known for its secular nature. Here again, temples, churches and mosques exist together in perfect religious harmony, as the inhabitants of the port village believe in the oneness of humanity. As one drives along, one is amazed by the frequent sight of golden domes, imposing chapels and temple art along the way. One can catch a glimpse of the Communist symbol, the sickle, as well. The lake is dotted with fishermen in boats, waiting patiently for a catch, even as they bask in the beauty all around them. Myriad tourists travel along these picturesque paths, putting their cameras to good use, as artists and filmmakers find inspiration for their ventures here.

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After a drive along a road that seemed scarily tiny, we stopped at the Good Shepherd’s Church at Mullassery. Oh, what a beautiful sight it was, as it loomed above us, an impressive grey and white structure with little domes in varied hues.

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Outside, the statue of the Good Shepherd stood in solitary splendour as though watching over the beautiful edifice. A cleverly wrought basket and a white statue of The Good Shepherd completed the scene.

 

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As we stepped into its interiors, a feeling of utter serenity washed over us. It was as though we had been transported to another world, as we gazed entranced at the stained glass windows, the brilliance of the golden altar, exquisite niches with the statues of various saints and depictions of the life of Christ leading to the crucifixion. The ceilings reminded us of the Sistine Chapel, covered with the depictions of a blue sky with clouds, cherubs and angels.

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By now, hunger pangs had set in and we looked forward to a delicious Kerala meal. We did hunt for an elusive Karimeen Resort, but after encountering many puzzled looks and vague answers, finally settled for Thekkini Food Court run by DTPC, Thrissur in Chettuva. The first sight of the riverside family restaurant was a trifle dampening because the so-called riverside view had been shut away by opaque glass windows.

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The whole place had a rather neglected look about it. There was a children’s park that was obviously not being used much.

However, once we had got over the rustic decor, the jarring blue chairs and opened the windows out, we found that the food served was well worth the effort. The chicken biryani, the fried rice and the mutton fry were delicious, and the karimeen (fish) fry was one of the best we had ever had. So, by the time we left, the decor had faded away and all that was left was a pleasant lassitude that warmed the cockles of our hearts.

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It was time to wind our weary way home, though none of us were really weary. The return journey was as picturesque and as green fields and grey-blue waters whizzed by, with silhouettes of house boats, coconut palms, narrow bridges and interesting houses making interesting conversation pieces. As droplets of rain slid down the windscreen, I suddenly recalled the Longfellow quote.

“For after all, the best thing that one can do when it is raining is to let it rain.”

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Enamavu: Distance from Thrissur: 20 km

                    Distance from Guruvayur: 12 km

Mullassery: Distance from Thrissur: 23 km

                      Distance from Guruvayur: 9 km

Chettuva: Distance from Thrissur: 26 km

                   Distance from Guruvayur: 11km 504 metres

Photos: Deepti Menon

The Magic of Muziris

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It all began when my husband unearthed an article that spoke of the old port city that had the romantic name of Muziris, an ancient centre that brought in much revenue through its exotic spices.

The other story that held us in thrall was based on the Ramayana, where Muzaris or Murachipattanam was supposedly one of the spots where the Vanara king, Sugreeva, sent his sleuths to look for Sita, the abducted wife of Lord Rama.

As we read on, we could almost visualize the arrival of the Babylonians, the Assyrians and the Egyptians who landed in Muzaris as long back as in 3000 BC in their stately vessels, cutting a swathe across the seas in search of ‘black gold’ or black pepper, and semi-precious stones in exchange for gold coins. Muziris remained an attraction to myriads of other traders – the Chinese, the Phoenicians, the Arabs, the Greeks and the Romans as well.

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Thus, Muziris which is in Kodangallur, Kerala, made its presence felt in the world trade map and held sway for decades and decades.

However, in 1341, the mighty Periyar river changed its course, and the ensuing floods and earthquakes sounded the death knell of this once-flourishing city.

Forts have always written their own history, and the Cranganore Fort, located in Kottappuram is no exception. The word ‘Kottappuram’ itself means ‘a place around a fort’. In 1523, the Cranganore Fort also known as the Kodangallur Fort was built by the Portuguese. In 1661, the Dutch occupied it. Sadly, it was later razed by Tipu Sultan, as the legend goes.

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Today, the prestigious Muzaris Heritage Project by the Tourism Department of Kerala has created a protective umbrella over the remains of this ancient fort, conserving and preserving it for future generations. Excavations were done from 2007 to 2013, and painstakingly, the vestiges of the fort were brought to light.

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The Central and the State Governments have lovingly nurtured this project, to recreate the ambiance of the earlier shrines, markets, churches and cemeteries, just as they appeared in the hoary past.

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Isn’t it fascinating to think of how the ancient story was pieced together with the help of the excavated objects that were discovered in the vicinity? The foundation of the fort was laid in 1503 and it was created in all its magnificence in 1523. History was narrated with the help of the excavated artifacts, chinaware, and iron objects that found their place in a museum set up nearby.

We stopped to buy tickets to the fort. Right before us were fishermen busy plucking fish out of their nets.

As we walked towards the ruins of the fort, we were hailed by a lady in pink from the State Archaeology Department. Her name was Lalji and she was a walking encyclopaedia of information about the ancient town of Muziris. She pointed out interesting details like a well that had been part of the fort, the ‘kodimaram’ (flag pole) and an inscription in 1909 describing how the Portuguese had set up the fort. She spoke animatedly about the various archaeological finds, the dimensions of the old fort and the impressive work being done by the Muzaris Heritage Project.

 

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The front face of the fort was towards the confluence of the Periyar and the Chalakudy rivers. Earlier the fort was spread out over ten acres; today its remnants cover only two and a half acres.

In 2010, the skeleton of a young man, below the age of 20 years, was discovered. At the time the head was visible, but he had no left arm. Today, the preserved remains reveal the torso and one distinct tooth where the face must have lain before it crumbled. It is believed that in 1540, when the fort was under the Portuguese, many more bodies had been discovered, leading to the conclusion that there must have been a church with a cemetery in the vicinity. One can only hope that the spirits lie in peace within their sepulchres.

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Walking along the waterfront was a pleasure, with the silhouettes of the Chinese fishing nets, the gentle waves undulating alongside, the motor boats that broke the silence, and the colourful eateries that dotted the borders. The picture postcard perfection of the landscape quite took our breath away.

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My husband and I had worked up a healthy appetite and decided to walk into the most picturesque little riverside cafe, aptly named Portuguese. In no time at all, the food arrived, as we watched the waters swirl around us, the movement almost lulling us to sleep. However, the piping hot Kerala parathas, the chicken curry, the mutton roast and the plate of fish fry awoke us from our somnolence. The food was served in small portions, but large enough for us to ask for a doggy pack. Replete, we asked for one cup of payasam which came in a tiny cup, but was enough for the two of us.

After lunch, we walked along the riverside, savouring the balmy weather, and our hearts rejoiced to see ‘God’s Own Country’ in all its pristine wonder. The cobbled pavements were clean of litter as the buildings blended seamlessly into the ambiance of the place.

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What added to the charm was the beautiful blend of religions, with the Marthoma Church, the Kodangallur Mahakali temple, the Jewish synagogue and the Cheraman Juma Masjid, all in close proximity, denoting the harmony of all faiths.

This harmony continued like a motif as we walked on, admiring the red-tiled restaurants and the colourful graffiti on the side walls that revealed how consciously the architects had retained the old-world charm of Muzaris.

 

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As we drove back to Thrissur, it was with full hearts and a feeling of immense satisfaction. We needed to return one day. There were many more worlds to be explored, many more sights to be seen. And thereby hangs another tale!

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“Give some tree the gift of green again.

Let one bird sing.”

From ‘When Autumn Came’ by Faiz Ahmad Faiz

Translated by Naomi Lazard

Photographs: Deepti Menon

How to get to Muzaris:

Guruvayur: 50km                                Aluva: 28km

Thrissur: 39km                                    Chalakudy: 26km

Kochi: 29km                                         Irinjalakuda: 17km

Angamali: 28km

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