Coasta Malabari & Pchy Derm Palace


                                           North of Cochin, Kerala's golden beaches and coconut groves continue for nearly 250 miles to the bordering state of Karnataka. One of the great secrets yet to be discovered by American visitors is the magnificent coastal area south of the town of Kannur, a six hour journey by fast air conditioned parlour car train from Cochin.  The eco-friendly tourist lodge, Costa Malabari, situated a few km to the south of the town, is the obvious place to stay, comprising half a dozen rooms just three minutes from the beach, among the coconut palms. Here you can enjoy an ancient and varied cuisine comprising seasonal fruits and vegetables and rice, modified to western tastes by eliminating the hotter chillies and reducing the amount of hot peppers. It is particularly well suited to vegetarians who, in the space of a few days, might get to taste more than 30 dishes.  Among the Keralan specialities are sambar, a sliced salad of potatoes, carrots, yams, green bananas and papayas, boiled with salt a little tumeric and chili powder to which is added fried coconut paste and coriander seeds; ochra, eggplant and tomatoes with ginger, mixed with a batter of grated coconut, yoghurt and salt, mango and cucumber boiled together and cooked slowly with a paste of coconut and  yoghurt; and among the fish dishes, calamari marinated in tumeric, garlic and ginger. Local desserts include tropical fruit salads and mango ice cream while coffee is made from the owner's own organic coffee farm. What to do here? There are several beaches to explore where you will be the only foreigners and where local people are always friendly (as long as local customs are respected) and begging unheard of. Swim and surf in water that is nearly 90 degrees, observe Theyyam, the unique ritiualistic dancing of the region, at local temples, visit a handloom weaving centre and go bird watching where you will see species such as the honey sucker, cormorands, cuckoos, wood peckers, egrets, Indian minas and drongos. Room and all meals cost as little as $20 a day for two
                                              Behind Kerala's coast are hills of rubber and spices that become increasingly rugged and forested the further inland one goes. Tourist Desk, the same organisation which owns the Costa Malabari, has just opened (September 2002) the five bedroom Pachyderm Palace which has been converted from a 60 year old heritage home on the edge of a wildlife sanctuary, nestling in the Nilgiri Hills,  in the little known Waynad district. This lush rain forest is home to rare plants, including orchids, and many animals including elephant, wild board, spotted dear and sambar while the flora includes rose wood, teak, silver oak and bamboo. Rooms have fan, netted windows, attached western toilets and balconies facing the forest while guided jeep safaris are arranged every morning and evening as well as jungle walks.  A three day package from Cochin including train and car transfers, accommodation food and excursions costs just $90 (4500 rupees) per person.
                                                       Kerala is becoming increasingly well known for its ancient medical treatment, Ayurveda, which allegedly has the answer to almost every known ailment to man. In its simplest form, it is a type of rejuvenative or therapeutic deep massage in which oils made with local herbs are used by masseurs who undergo a rigorous six year training at institutes all over South India.  Many hotels have a resident Ayurvedic team where you can have a deep and relaxing massage for a fraction of the cost of one at home but it is far better to go to a recognised Ayurvedic clinic, more commonly used by local people, where you will have a consultation with a doctor prior to any treatment. If you can spare a week or longer, it is at such places where custom made treatment programs are designed for ailments ranging from chronic headaches and insomnia to osetoarthritis, ear, nose and throat problems, obesity and nervous disorders. Even if you enjoy perfect health, there are overall fitness and longevity programs which include a combination of massage, yoga and meditation that will make a holiday in this special corner of a very special country an unforgettable experience that goes well beyond that of the usual sun, sea and sand resorts.