KERALA REGION, DELHI AND AGRA, INDIA – 2020
Spice Trail of South India and Beyond January 2020
Produced by Brittney Melnick
Probably the ICAEF’s most exotic tour yet! It was certainly our longest CLJ and our furthest. Twenty-seven of us were met at Cochin’s airport and escorted to our hotel. For many of us, it was an 18-20 hour flight… but even arriving in the middle of the night, our tour leaders from Trinetra Tours, met us and welcomed us with a traditional blessing – and a cold beverage.
In Cochin, our hotel was right on the waterway so our first stop was to visit with the fishermen who were using unique Chinese fishing nets. None of us knew what to expect with the cuisine of southern India – and were amazed as each meal appeared – with the sheer variety of food and quantities of “pickles” or chutneys available at every meal. After Cochin, a short boat ride took us through the backwaters to the incredible resort of The Coconut Lagoon. Greeted with flower garlands, festive hats and cool coconut water, we felt like very, very VIP guests. A sunset cruise with wine followed. The resort was magical. With a bit of free time the following day, many chose to explore the resort while others opted for the most hilarious Ayurveda Massages and treatments – no one will ever forget that experience. While the relaxation of the massage slowly faded, the emotional scars will last forever!
One of the very special meals prepared for us was an authentic ‘Sadhya’ (vegetarian wedding feast) of more than 45 items served on a banana leaf. While 45 tastes may seem excessive, what made the meal most unique was the fact that no flatware was provided – so diving in with our fingers brought howls of laughter from the group. This resort was so incredibly exotic and beautiful.
Our next stop was in the mountains of Periyar and the resort of Spice Village. Again, another welcome ceremony greeted us, as did dozens of friendly monkeys. We rode elephants, visited sprawling tea estates and went to spice plantations of cardamom, nutmeg, peppercorn, mace and so much more learning about the ecosystem that keeps the spices plentiful in this region.
Trekking and bamboo rafting through the Periyar Tiger Reserve was exhausting. That night we were treated to another fabulous buffet dinner, with over 20 varieties of entrees. A Tribal Art performance of the indigenous communities of the forests came as a delightful surprise.
A short flight took us north to Delhi – and a whole new world of cuisine. Before a rickshaw ride through the crowded streets, we were brought to the Imperial Hotel for a high tea. This magnificent hotel was our home in Delhi. The streets of Delhi provided a distinct change from the peaceful calm of the south. The sights, sounds and aromas were all new and exciting. We stopped several times in the market for a variety of tastes.
Driving to Agra we experienced another incredible multi-course, multi-plated meal complete with entertainment – again without flatware. At dawn we rose to glimpse the Taj Mahal as the sun rose. Standing in the Taj, surpasses any dreams you may have of it. It was a vision and an experience that we believed would never be surpassed…. until we were took another rickshaw parade to our final luncheon in Agra. Located on a bluff overlooking the Taj, musicians and Bollywood dancers greeted us and walked us to what was to become yet another fabulous feast in another unforgettable location. The only question left unanswered on everyone’s lips was, “When can we possibly return here to continue this experience?”