Serenity, spice and solitude India and The Maldives

| January 16, 2013

Enid Astley enjoyed the palaces of Mysore, the quiet Keralan backwaters and also took the opportunity to retrace some family history whilst on a Cox & Kings holiday to India combined with the Maldives.

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Indian dawn ... I awake to the sight of a river delta many thousands of feet below as my flight makes its gradual descent into Bengaluru.

A brief stopover in Dubai airport had revealed a cavernous and futuristic edifice with gleaming marble columns, replete with incalculable amounts of gold and jewels for sale.

On arrival in Bengaluru I was met by my driver and guide for the next four days and in whom I would entrust my life among the Indian traffic. I'd forgotten the alarming and highly inventive driving styles...

Arriving in Mysore, the hotel, once the summer palace of a maharaja, was redolent of the faded elegance of 'old' India. I ate in what was originally the ballroom, reacquainting myself with the delights of Indian food.

Coonor was next. The roads contained the usual assortment of animals and livestock together with the accompanying cacophony of horn blowing. The drive through Balimpur nature reserve revealed elephants, monkeys, small gazelles but sadly not the elusive tigers, which were reported to be present. Next time...

My trip to Kerala and the spice trail had taken an unexpected turn when I'd discovered a letter in my late mother’s possessions. The address was Wellington, in the state of Tamil Nadu, where my brother was born in the 1940s. My itinerary indicated I would be staying nearby and an unmissable opportunity presented itself to visit his birthplace.

Coonor is close to Wellington and I was greeted on arrival with garlands of marigolds, cinnamon and honey tea and a fax from my brother. The hotel was charming, an old monastery with bungalow style rooms dotted around the gardens where I sat, drinking masala tea in the gentle warmth, reflecting on the significance of this place in my personal history.

Next morning I awoke to the exotic sound of a mullah calling prayer. I later visited the military hospital where my brother was born and continued to Ooty, a quintessential hill station much loved by the British during their time in India. I returned to Coonor by the small train, still in service and popular with both locals and tourists – a delightfully idiosyncratic mode of transport.

My journey continued by road to the coastal city of Kochi. Leaving the rolling Nilgiri hills and lush tea plantations, we descended 1,800 metres through dusty villages and towns, negotiating hairpin bends and a proliferation of animals and people, eventually reaching the seclusion of a modern, waterside hotel. Fertile landscapes with coconut groves and banana palms, latex trees together with humid heat replaced the earlier temperate climate. A noticeably more affluent lifestyle was apparent – 'rubber rich' as it’s sometimes called. Life expectancy here is 76, another indicator of ‘wealth’, coupled with higher levels of literacy and employment.

Kochi is an old Portuguese port, 'discovered ' by Vasco de Gama and remains a mix of ancient and modern. Chinese fishing nets adorn the harbour against a backdrop of shipping containers hoisted by skeletal cranes like industrial insects, and high rise properties ‘with harbour view’ frame the coastal scene.

The next day took us to the village of Thekkady and the spice trail. Wandering through the dusty village in the afternoon heat, my senses were assailed by the aroma of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, turmeric, pepper and soft notes of vanilla lessening the sharpness of the spice. Perched on an elephant, some tourists were observing from a superior perspective as their ‘beasts of burden' lumbered through the groves of trees and plants, surprisingly dainty in their incongruous setting.

Kumarakom Lakeside resort was a welcome rest. In a blissful setting, with a meandering pool at every guest’s doorstep, we spent three relaxing days, including a soporific cruise along the Keralan backwaters.

My Indian journey ended in Trivandrum, where I boarded my flight to the Maldives.

Arriving in Male, I was transported to paradise by speedboat. A dome of sky above me, surrounded by glistening water and dazzling white sand , I removed my watch and sandals, donned a sunhat and SPF50, positioned myself on a sun bed and watched and listened to the azure ocean encircling this stunning archipelago set astride the equator. Self-taught snorkelling provided me with much stifled hysterical laughter but the rewards were immense; a kaleidoscope of colour was revealed as tropical fish glided among the coral beneath me.

Service and food in the resort were unrivalled and I quickly adjusted to the allure of tropical solitude among these aquatic jewels.

Time in paradise slipped by and eventually I reluctantly reassembled myself for return to a wintry UK relaxed; filled with wonder and a deeper sense of my history.

View Cox & Kings' India tours.

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