Cochin was the base for the 2009 AITO conference, and what better location for a gathering of specialist tour operators and travel agents than this historic area of Kerala, a fascinating vibrant city that offers a really different view of India; slower and more peaceful than the frenetic life of the larger modern cities, perhaps less spectacular than Rajasthan with its grand palaces and historic sites, but so much more relaxed, with the backwaters around Alleppey and Vembanad, the rolling hills of Thekkady, the wilderness of Periyar, and the atmospheric and bustling back streets of Fort Cochin, with its street markets, Chinese Fishing nets, Jewish Synagogue, Santa Cruz Basilica and St Francis Church, the earliest European church in India.
Marari Beach resort was our first stop after the conference, and we were warmly welcomed back for our second visit by the staff and management. Still a lovely resort hotel with good food and friendly service, a beautiful beach that goes on forever, that now has a sharp drop from the palm covered gardens, created by recent storm damage. This coast is lovely for walking and relaxing, but the strong currents mean that no watersports are available and great care has to be taken even swimming in the shallows; much nicer just to watch the local fishing boats and the stunning sunsets.
After transferring to Cochin airport for the Kingfisher flight to the Lakshadweep Islands, we landed at Agatti Island followed by a 2 hour boat journey to the Bangaram Beach Resort, one of very few islands that is inhabited in this tiny 36 island archipelago, lying approximately 250 miles off the coast of Kerala. At last after 3 years of planning, the new Kingfisher service allowed us to visit one of the most scenic and hidden gems of this area of the Indian Ocean.
The Bangaram Beach resort is part of the CGH chain of hotels that includes Marari Beach and Bruntons Boatyard in Fort Cochin; their properties hold a gentle charm that emanates from the laid back and courteous charm of it’s staff, and the background culture that lies at the centre of the group’s success since it was started by George Dominic back in 1957.
The resort itself is extremely laid back with just 20 very simple but adequate rooms (not ideal for those who want five star luxury and complete privacy). Activities on the island beside reading and swimming in the clear blue waters include bird watching, snorkelling and canoeing. This is, however, a very special place for the deep sea diving and fishing aficionados, with several wrecks on the nearby reefs, and regular sightings of Manta and Eagle Rays, whale sharks, tuna, barracuda and turtles – the latter you can even see when snorkelling from the beach. The beach bar is a popular hang out in the early evening with stories of the day’s biggest catch or great sightings of manta ray being discussed before you make your way to a candle lit dinner on the beach – this will be a generous and varied display of vegetable and meat curries, fresh fish, rice + at least one spaghetti based dish.
Kerala is a very unusual region of India, and offers a fascinating mixture of relaxation, history and scenery, where the pace of life is leisurely, the inhabitants very friendly and the food quite superb.
For more information on India call Andrew, Di, Susie or Tina on 01428 658777