Saturday, December 24, 2011

Disruption on the border

There is currently a dispute between Tamil Nadu and Kerala over the condition of a dam. The Tamils are dependent on the reservoir for their water and think that the Keralites are not maintaining it properly. The result is that in some places vehicles with Kerala number/licence plates are not able to cross the border into Tamil Nadu. We are doing everything we can to ensure that our customers are able to follow the itinerary we devised for them. But please note that this may mean a slight adjustment to the tour and we ask you to take the advice of our local agents who are constantly monitoring the situation to ensure that the disruption to our customer’s holidays is kept to a minimum.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Qantas Magazine article

In March 2011 we arranged a trip to Kerala for Singapore based journalist Chris Wright and his 8 year old daughter Chyna Rose. Chris had been asked by Qantas (in-flight magazine - The Australian Way) to write an article about Kerala linked to the Booker Prize winning book – The God of Small Things by Arandhati Roy. The magazine is now available on all Qantas flights and the article about Kerala can be found on our Facebook page.
or on the Qantas site:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Australian weds American on Kerala houseboat

Kerala Connections was delighted to be asked to include a wedding celebration on a houseboat as part of the honeymoon package arranged for Jerry Dohnal and Chandra Wilson. This took place on 23 September 2011 and the press turned out in full. Below is the text that appeared in THE HINDU newspaper the following day. Jerry and Chandra also featured on two Kerala news channels.

Australian Jerry Dohnal and American Chandra Tameiko Wilson during their 'Kerala' wedding on a houseboat in Alappuzha on Friday.

Wedding dreams can be of different dimensions, but few get to play it out in their own way. Australian Jerry Dohnal and his fiancĂ© Chandra Tameiko Wilson, a United States citizen, wanted to get married in true “Kerala style” after being enchanted with what they had heard about God’s Own Country.
Though the Kerala connection was missing when they actually exchanged vows in March last, the couple did not let go of the dream and five months later, when the circumstances came together, they headed down South. With Dohnal being a legal professional in Sydney and Chandra Tameiko being an airhostess, arranging affairs through the U.K.-based Kerala Connections travel agency and Companion Holidays was not a tough issue.

And on Friday, they lived the dream, tying the knot in ‘desi’ style in a ‘mandap’ set on a houseboat, floating along the placid waters of the Pampa River at Pallathuruthy here. The wedding, conducted as per Hindu rituals and customs, was at sharp 12.30 p.m. in the presence of a select few friends.

The couple will have a daylong houseboat cruise in Alappuzha on Saturday, before heading to Kovalam for a two-day halt before flying out of the country.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Visa fees increased

We have just leart that the administation costs of obtaining an Indian Visa have increased from today (12 September 2011). The total cost of a six month tourist visa is now £42.20. We do not know what may happen to applications that were in the pipeline when the rate changed. We were not given advance warning of this increase so we are sorry to be informing our customers on the actual day the increase is implemented.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Monsoon Wedding in Kerala

Well it should have been a monsoon wedding in Kerala in June - but the bride and groom were lucky and the rain held off for their special days.

Aysha and her family on her wedding day
Nayana, Varghese, Ajish, Aysha, Baby and Daphne

The wedding was between Aysha the eldest daughter of Varghese (our oldest Keralite friend) and Ajish. Varghese was the man who suggested we start up a travel company to promote Kerala – so if it were not for him there would be no Kerala Connections. We first met him in 1989 and met Aysha aged 4 in 1991.

Aysha aged 4 with her sister Nayana

For a week or two most years we became part of their family. Aysha and her younger sister Nayana got to know us very well and saw us as an extra set of parents during our time there. When Aysha was 13 she came to the UK to stay with us for the two month school holidays. Some of the relations were very nervous about Varghese letting his young daughter go with ‘foreigners’ to a strange land. Now Aysha is 24 and has recently qualified as a nurse.

When we were first told of Aysha’s marriage – we were worried as only English shared parents of an India girl about to enter an arrange marriage can be. We had not met the young man in question – and what if we did not think he was good enough for our daughter? But we should not have worried – our co-parents found a lovely guy and anyway – Aysha is a sensible girl, she would not agree to a marriage if she felt it was not right. But it is hard for us British citizens to understand the arranged marriage system. We think we should fall in love first and then get married. They do it the other way round – select a suitable partner based on religion, family background, education etc, etc. If the two people and their families think it is a good match they get married and then (hopefully) fall in love.

Ajish fitted the bill perfectly – and he is also a nurse. So we are now the proud shared in-laws of Ajish and he seems to be fine with this!

Aysha looked absolutely stunning on the Engagement Day (Wednesday 22 June) and again on the Wedding Day on Sunday 26 June. Ajish looked extremely smart with suits he bought in Abu Dhabi where he works (as this kind of thing is not readily available in Kerala).

The Engagement. A thoughful moment from Ajish with his wife to be looking on fondly

Aysha about to leave for the church

Aysha with her 'two' mothers

At the end of the day - Aysha in the beautiful sari chosen by her new husband and presented to her as part of the wedding ceremony.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Birds of the fields - A wealth of “watching” experience at Coconut Lagoon

Paddy fields, like forests and mangroves, attract a vibrant, seasonal bird life during the different stages of its cultivation. When the field is waterlogged after the harvesting, the little grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) and Indian coot (Fulica atra) are its visitors.

When the fields are filled with water plants such as lilies, lotus and eichornias, it has a new guest: the jacanas (both bronze-winged or Metopidius indicus and pheasant-tailed or Hydrophasianus chirurgus ). They probably have one of the most unique nicknames in the bird kingdom. Called the Jesus bird and Christbird, jacanas have elongated toes and claws that help spread its weight when moving across floating vegetation, and these water plants enable them to walk over the surface foraging their prey and offer a place to nest. The impression that they walk on water, especially when the vegetation is submerged, gives them the nickname.

Different species of ducks also like to accompany them at this time, namely the lesser whistling-duck (Dendrocygna javanica), cotton pigmy goose (Nettapus coromandelianus), garganey (Anas querquedula) and pintail duck (Anas acuta). The Whistling Duck and Cotton Pigmy Goose are residents. They like to breed on the dead coconut trees and other tree holes near the fields. It is a common sight to see the chicks swim around their parents during the post monsoon season, in the fields. The Whistling Duck or Tree Duck, as also it is known, has a wheezy, whistling “seasick, seasick”, call, uttered in flight, and roosts can be quite noisy. The migrants can be seen from October to May from different parts of the world.

They are attracted here due to the warm weather a welcome escape from the freezing European winter. All of these ducks rest and relax in the waterlogged fields in the day time and are active in the night. These summer visitors can be a bit destructive in the fields where seeds are sown. Locally, farmers of the Kuttanad area term their “attack” as “eranda veezhal”, which means the shower of ducks.

Egrets are omnipresent of the fields, but can be seen in thousands when the draining of water starts in the fields. As the fields are below water level, water has to be pumped out from the fields and this creates an easy fishing opportunity which attracts the egrets. There are various types of egrets, Large Casmerodius albu, Median Mesophoyx intermedia, Little Egretta garzetta, Western Reef Egretta gularis, and the Cattle Bubulcus ibis egrets. The sight of acres and acres of fields smeared with these white birds, and terns flying overhead can be quite awe inspiring.. Paddy fields that are a favourite haunt of the birds can provide great photo opportunities. Terns, perched on the electric lines over the fields, look like a swaying garland and make a pretty picture. All the different varieties of Terns that come to Kerala, except for the River Tern (Sterna aurantia), are migrants. Seasonal visitors include Little Tern (Sternula albifrons or Sterna albifrons), Gull billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) and Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybridus).

Waders are another group of birds found here. Their preference for mud flats brings them to the fields, which are a few centimeters of water deep, at the starting stage of cultivation. The Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) is particularly partial to these mud flats. Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), Little Ringed Plover- (Charadrius dubius) and Red Shank (Tringa tetanus) are the other waders who visit the rice fields though the water level is high. Another member in this group, the Black winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus), likes to nest on the mounds in the fields, made by the farmers with the weeds and mud.

The beginning of cultivation in the fields can be marked by the presence of mynas of various kinds. The Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) and the Jungle Myna (Acridotheres fuscus) can be seen wandering around the field at this stage of the cultivation. They eat insects, worms and larvae of many of the pests who devour the sprouts of rice. The Rosy pastor (Pastor roseus) and the Chestnut tailed starling (Sturnia malabarica), who are visitors from eastern Europe, also join the mynahs in the fields during this period. They are highly gregarious and form large flocks. The song is a typical starling mixture of squeaks and rattles, given with much wing trembling. When the rice has grown enough to develop tufts of grains, it is the turn of the parakeets to pay a visit. They convert the fields into a joyful area with their sparkling green wings and sound. There are two species, the Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri) and Plum-headed Parakeet (Psittacula cyanocephala). These birds can be seen right through the cultivation time –from when the crop changes from tender grains and begin to ripen. While the parakeets along with Spotted Munia (Lonchura punctulata), White backed Munia (Lonchura striata), Black headed Munia (Lonchura atricapilla), Baya Sparrow (Ploceus philippinus) and Streaked Weaver bird (Ploceus manyar) are quite destructive to the harvest, they also do their bit to help in controlling weeds by eating their seeds during the non-cultivating time.

The vastness spaces of the fields also attract Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus), Small Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis), Blue tailed Bee-eater (Merops philippinus) and Indian Roller (Coracias benghalensis). The electric and telephone lines that crisscross over the fields are the ideal perch for these birds. From these high vantage points, they can zoom in on prey like dragonflies and other insects. Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) in the thousands decorate these lines from September to May. The birds of prey like Brahminy Kite (Haliastur Indus), Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) and Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) can be seen while they are doing their aerial patrolling. The dead and headless coconut trunks generally double up as a dining table for these hunters.

Illusive birds like bitterns, crakes and rails use the bushes and thickets on the banks of the paddy fields. Black Bittern (Ixobrychus flavicollis), Cinnamon Bittern (Ixobrychus cinnamomeus) and Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis) are the inhabitants of the rice fields. The Ruddy Crake (Laterallus rubber) and Baillion’s Crake (Porzana pusilla) can be seen as a flash in the thickets. If you wait on the bank silently with patience, you can see the peeping eyes of a white breasted water hen. Unfortunately in Kerala, all the paddy fields and marshes are vanishing rapidly with unscientific land reclamation and usage. People do not seem to realise that the conservation of the paddy fields, marshes and other water bodies is very necessary for the retention of water, food safety and also for the birds and millions of other creatures and hence, for our own survival. The guests enjoy the regular morning birding trip from Coconut Lagoon, due to the remaining bit of biodiversity and its conservation gives them and us a sense of joy.

Manoj P or Manu, the naturalist at Coconut Lagoon, is a good guide of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, small mammals and wildflowers. He has published articles and photographs in several prestigious nature journals

Responsible Travel - 10 years old today (of which Kerala Connections is a member) has just reached a couple of milestones - its tenth birthday and $100 million (£66 million) sales. If you would like read Simon Calder's article about it in today's Independent here is the link:

Monday, April 4, 2011


Coconut Lagoon

This is possibly the most popular hotel in Kerala (and certainly extremely popular with our customers). Accommodation is in traditional Kerala bungalows and mansions as well as spacious private pool villas. The resort is set on the side of Vembanad Lake and access is by boat only. The hotel offers a wide range of activities (including nature walks with one of their naturalists, canoe trips, cultural events, cookery demonstrations etc) and these are posted on their notice board each day. This hotel is a CGH Earth property and has a strong eco policy.

Comments from clients this season:

“Lovely hotel”

“Could not be faulted”

"Excellent with good food and nice staff”

“Nothing to fault and the food especially the dinner buffet was superb”


“Coconut Lagoon was very special”

“Loved Coconut Lagoon with lovely gardens”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

American Express

We are pleased to announce that we can now take payments by American Express.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nimmy Paul’s Meen Molee (Fish in Coconut Milk)

Fish Molee is a popular dish in Central Kerala among the Syrian Christian community.

Serves 4
• 8 garlic cloves, chopped, divided
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 2 medium onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
• 3 (4- to 5-inch-long) thin fresh hot green chilies, or to taste, thinly sliced, including seeds if desired
• 1 tablespoon minced peeled ginger
• 1 sprig fresh curry leaves (about 15 leaves; see cooks' note, below)
• 1 (14-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk (do not shake)
• 1 (1 1/4-lb) piece halibut fillet (3/4 inch thick)
• 1 medium tomato, sliced 1/2 inch thick
• Garnish: fried red onions; golden raisins; cashews

• Mince and mash half of garlic to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt, then stir together with spices.
• Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then cook onions, chiles, ginger, curry leaves, and remaining garlic, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in spice mixture and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes.
• Meanwhile, spoon off thick cream from coconut milk (about 1/2 cup) and reserve separately from remaining coconut milk.
• Push onion mixture to edge of skillet and put fish in center, then pile onion mixture on top of fish. Add thin coconut milk and simmer, covered, shaking skillet occasionally, until fish is just cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a platter and keep warm, covered.
• Add thick coconut cream and tomato to skillet and simmer until tomato is slightly softened, about 1 minute. Season sauce with salt and spoon over fish.

Learn Kerala Cookery with Nimmy Paul

While you are in Cochin why not have a cookery lesson with Nimmy Paul? Nimmy has been a professional cookery instructor for more than twenty years, and with her husband Paul been involved in “at home” hospitality for more than twelve years.

You will be taken to their delightful home in Ernakulam. Their reception room is a delightful example of a Kerala home, full of traditional furniture and interesting antiques. Nimmy and Paul belong to traditional Syrian Christian community in Kerala. In keeping with the tradition of their families they enjoy having guests and serving good food.

Nimmy will take you (and any other people also doing the course that day) into her spacious kitchen where she will demonstrate cooking a couple dishes. Discussion about the ingredients and methods is encouraged. If you would like to prepare the food yourself under the instruction of Nimmy, that is also possible but she needs to be informed in advance. Once the food is cooked everyone will sit down together to enjoy the meal.
Some of our clients praise for Nimmy:
“Very much enjoyed the experience. We liked Nimmy a lot and the food was amazing”
“I spent my 50th with the wonderful Nimmy and Paul and will write to them to thank them again”
“Gave us a superb meal - good to have her showing us how she prepared some of her dishes”
“A real treat”

Aanavilasam Luxury Plantation House


Aanavilasam Luxury Plantation House

This stylish property is owned by Salim Pushpanath, a well known photographer and publisher and an old friend of Kerala Connections as we have been buying his photographs for use in our brochures and websites for many years. It has two suites in the main building and two pool villas, and the guest rooms offer spacious accommodation. The property is set in 7 acres of land and is a short drive from the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Salim is a perfectionist and this shows in the attention to detail that he has put into this new property. Salim is not always available but there is a delightful host (Pirkko Paxton) to welcome you and ensure that you are comfortable. Pirkko (originally from Finland) and her British husband John fell in love with Kerala on their first visit, a holiday arranged by Kerala Connections a number of years ago. The food is home cooked and cookery lessons are available on request. With advance notice photography instructions with Salim can also be arranged. Aanavilasam is a relatively new property but it is already a firm favourite with our customers and on Trip Advisor.

Comments from clients that have stayed recently:

“Outstanding in every way and Pirkko went out of her way to make sure we made the most of our stay. The chef, Krishna provided us with amazing meals. We felt very well looked after – house guests rather than visitors”

“Best rooms - spacious, well furnished and spotlessly clean. Best shower in India”

“Perfect – no other words for it – everything perfect!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“Pirkko went out of her way to make it an exceptional stay.”

“We really enjoyed this place and became very friendly with Pirkko and John”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

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Kerala Connections is now on Facebook and Twitter.

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