The Train from Kochin to Kannur
We left Kochi and headed for somewhere a little bit more off the tourist map to a place called Kannur in Northern Kerala. Our five hour train journey was a giggle in our seated carriage, as we were the only tourists there. The children seemed fascinated with us, as did some of the parents, and we had our photographs taken by lots of families who were extremely friendly and helpful.
The children seemed really eager to practice their English with us, so we didn’t really get 5 minutes peace but it was all good fun, although a little claustrophobic at times when 20 people are trying to sit next to you, even though there are seats elsewhere.
Benefits of Staying in a Homestay
We made a conscious decision as part of our introduction to India to stay in some local guest houses and family run ‘homestays’ for the start of 3 month tour of India.
The idea was to get a quick and better understanding of Kerala. Also, family homes offer excellent value for those travelling long term on a budget. The owner at our last guest house in Kerala
had offered some great tips on what to do locally at cheap prices. The major advantage to staying in somebody’s house is they tend to be hospitable and offer a free insight into the local culture and food of a region (as meals are usually included as part of your stay).
They also offer insider tips and advice to the local area or country that you are travelling in. We are always a little apprehensive when staying at a small guest-house or homestay as the host can have a major impact upon the enjoyment of your visit. We weren't disappointed with our choice in Kannur as the property was owned by an inspiring, witty and interesting Indian woman, with a property set in a beautiful and peaceful beach front location. We were given the space needed for some serious relaxation along with company when we sought it.
Staying in a Family Run Guest House
Our hostess Hyacinth is a truly modern Indian woman, perhaps as the saying goes “she was born a generation too early,” thankfully for us though she was. Hyacinth works with and supports sustainable tourism working with the local Muslim community, although she herself isn't a Muslim, and cares for the local environment.
She is a great nature lover and her passion for life and a warm heart is infectious. Guests are welcomed to discuss anything relating to India. Her knowledge is well worth seeking as a passionate traveller she has toured around India and overseas extensively, so is happy to offer advice on your own travel itinerary and can help with arrangements for onward travel.
We didn't realise, when booking the home stay that it was owned, managed and run entirely by women. This is quite unusual for Kerala as most businesses are owned by men. We chose our accommodation based on the ‘hotel reviews’ it had received, it was described as having “million dollar views” and they didn't disappoint. The house which is over a hundred years old, is in good working order and exudes charm and character and has a very relaxed atmosphere. Hyacinth refers to visitors as “my guests” and her dedication and commitment ensures you will have a relaxing time. I guess that’s why rock stars, models and us now (who'd have thought it) have stumbled across this place.
What’s on the Indian Menu Tonight?
One of the many highlights, from our extended stay at the Ezhara Beach House
, was the good and varied meals we enjoyed. South Indian food is pretty great anyway but we were pleasantly surprised at the variety of Indian dishes offered with a distinctive regional flavour using local products.
Hyacinth has a sweet tooth, so there are always deserts and fruit after you have sampled the delicious main course and array of side dishes. Where possible Hyacinth will discuss the menu to ensure you’re happy with what is going to be served up. We particularly liked trying dishes we hadn't come across before such as water buffalo, coconut based dishes such as trying a coconut sprout
, and sampling a custard fruit. The only difficulty in eating here was we always had to share pudding between us as we were always stuffed at that point!
We’ve received a few tweets lately from people saying you’ll get sick of the food (not sick from it) after a few months in India, and at the moment I’m struggling to understand how anybody could tire of food in India, but we’ll see.
Wildlife from your Deckchair on the Veranda
The Kannur home is located in a Muslim area, and the beach is sensitively located between two mosques, so obviously it is not a place for women to sunbathe, although it was OK for us to dry off after taking a few dips in the sea.
Of a day from our large balcony overlooking the beach and coconut trees we could watch the world go by, it was like having your own 5-D wide screen version of National Geographic. We watched the sunrise and fall each day. The local fisherman combing the rocks searching for mussels and crabs, preparing the boats to go fishing and returning with the days catch. We enjoyed the odd cricket match before the final call to prayer for the evening. Watched women hauling and transporting large sacks of coconuts harvested that day along the beach to the nearest road for collection.
The sounds of waves crashing against the rocks, bird song, and nocturnal creatures rustling around just add to your relaxation. I saw my first mongoose here and was rewarded by a few other sightings. I didn’t see any snakes except their trails on the beach were they go to drink the foam from the sea. I couldn't keep my eyes open of an evening to see the local civet cat that visits after dark, thankfully a visitor sent a picture of this imposing picture through to our host which she shared with us.
However for us the greatest pleasure was the tranquillity of our homestay and the feeling of being part of a family in this small rural community.
This is why, if you have the time and don’t object to temporarily leaving the sanitised luxury of a hotel you should use a homestay for the personal attention you receive. We lived like Kings for a few days, on a budget, and learned so much about India and Kerala.
Things to do in Kannur
If you can be bothered leaving the comfort of your Kannur residence, then there are things to do.
Obviously you can partake in the usual activities such as a massage. If you fancy something a bit different there is a special type of massage here using ropes to suspend the masseur as he massages you with his feet.
There are also trips to see local martial arts, theatre and dance here.
We went to Fort Saint Angelo which is the picturesque seafront fort where we held an impromptu English lesson for a group of schoolkids, they didn't really get past "where are you from", "whats your name" stage though. We visited a few local workshops producing textiles and attended a Hindu Temple where we witnessed an incredible dog ceremony with dancing and music in the most colourful and vivid costumes and yes there were dogs involved. All were interesting, but nothing spectacular or amazing from a travel perspective.
I think the main reason for visiting Kannur is to relax, and boy did we do that.
Thank you Hyacinth and your small team (family)