Land of spices. Part four (last one)

Between generosity and fatalism

The story of India and stereotypes in a way is also a story about Bibi, a former Irish journalist who lives here in Alleppey for six years. Alleppey is a small town settled as a narrow strip between the sea and inland waters. At one point it was the main port of Kerala, until these functions where passed on to Cochin. There’s something elusively real about this city…

Residence of Rahim, which was six years ago bought by Bibi, has been turned into a small eight room hotel. It’s located a bit aside from everything else, on the beach road. Residence was initially build by Englishmen in 1869 and then passed over to Muslim Rahim family. At that time it was well know in whole neighborhood, probably cause of the magnificent wedding hall where wedding ceremonies and other events like political discussions were held. Atypical to Indian families, Rahim family had no children, so the property is in Bibi hands now.

Little bit about Bibi.. he is a women of small stature; she uses a lot of expressive gestures when talking. I find out she has worked as a tv journalist in Ireland and London for years; at one point she was a hostess of a talk show. She was strongly appealed to Ayurveda and was dreaming perhaps some day she will have a chance to visit its homeland – Kerala, but never had the time to do it. One day, after 5 years in London, she decided to quit the job and write a book in countryside. Month later she realized writing was not her thing and decided to move back to London. But, like it happens in such moments, she got an offer from a friend to go to Kerala. She didn’t have to think for a second and accepted the offer. First impression? It was a complete disaster! She is used to and loves beautiful, well maintained roads and clean streets. She was depressed seeing the chaos around. Two or three days and everything suddenly changed, she began to feel that the place had some sort of strange magic.

The idea of a small hotel was born after a year or so. The beginning was very tough; at that time Indian law stipulated that foreigners may own only up to 51% of any local business. So I needed an Indian partner. Now the laws are more liberal, most of share capital can be redeemed. Bureaucracy in Kerela is huge and endless, so in a way she is happy having somebody to help her. And one more thing, people here are not accustomed having a women as a business partner. At first, Bibi thought they simply act very impolitely – didn’t answer my questions, didn’t greet me and simply behaved ignorantly. She was mad, how can it be that after investing so much time and money.. Thankfully everything turned out great…

Even after spending years here, she still is confused by Indian fatalism. Regardless of religion, everything here is in God’s hands. She recalls a youngster who quit job at her hotel to start his own shrimp business. When confronted about possible risk and necessity to mitigate them, he said something like: Look up in the sky, God will take care of me!

Speaking of Kerala, she reveals that life here has taught here a lot of valuable things. For example, the importance of punctuality. In India, no one is punctual; so why should I? Life in India teaches patience, here everything happens slowly and it’s useless to be angry about it. Just go with the flow.

When returned back to the US, I suddenly start to understand the true essence of the Indian peace. Although movement occurs according to its own system (probably frightening one for an American or European), this whole mess is functioning almost perfectly. Nobody is trying to outdo others, they simply need to move ahead and that’s it. Happy to cross out another point from my bucket list.

Land of spices. Part three

Traditions and modern design. Discovery

Read Land of spices. Part two here

Last year for the first time in Kerala waters appeared the first boat with an electric motor Discovery. It belongs to Malabar Escape accommodation chain owner Joerg Drezel. He is one of the most respected Europeans here and an active promoter of socially responsible tourism.

picture of discovery

Discovery is kind a combination of traditional and modern design. It was an ambitious project, 18 tons of wood costing more than $25,000 were necessary to craft the boat hull alone. It’s the only boat in Kerala with a deck; and the only moving quietly without vibration. From a local guide I hear a random fact that here, unlike neighboring Tamil Nadu village, here has been no industrial development at all. Money is spent mostly on education and health care. No wonder Discovery has no competition…

Electric engine powered boat is the fifth project of Joerg in Kerala, for the first time he arrived here 35 years ago. He tells me he have always had friends all over the world and that he has always wanted to do something different than what is traditionally accepted. Fifteen years ago he felt that the time is now. Together with wife he bought Malabar House (FYI where currently I’m staying); the Dutch build colonial style manor which had stood there empty for more than a decade. As of today, it’s the leading Kerala style accommodation in the region. It’s the first hotel in Kerala that has been awarded for tradition and culture heritage preservation.

Interior author is Joerg himself. Back in the day his professional segment was art and exhibition placement design. When creating the Malabar House, he had an idea to make it a cultural mirror of Cochin city. As a place where anyone could feel the actual life here. The interior is full of antiques such as the ancient Maharaja tables, chairs and beds. He had looked for them all across Kerala and combined with modern design. Cochin was once the oldest European city in India, outside which the realm of Maharaja began. Historically here has been peace in all times. 150 years under Portuguese ruling, another 150 under Dutch and another 150 under British.

Is Kerala the mirror of India? Asking this question to Joerg I see a small irony in his eyes; perhaps he has been asked this question for too many times. He starts telling me, that not long ago he was visited by an Italian girlfriend. One day she was looking at postcards to send to her friends back in Rome. None of them revealed what I see day to day living here… Most of tourists who travel to India are looking for ethnic India. Traditions and culture is one things, but looking at things that does not change or develop is something completely different. Last few years India has changed a lot; it’s developing very fast. Super fast. So fast, he gets scared of it. For instance, hotel room price in Banglore on average is much higher than elsewhere in the world, $275 per night. When he needs to do business there, he does not stay for the night there because it’s too expensive.

Land of spices. Part two

Floating houses

Read Land of spices. Part 1 here

One of Kerala’s most valuable assets is the inland water system: 45 rivers and 1,500 miles of interconnected lakes, lagoons and channels that are called backwater. While the direct translation of the word means still water (first associations being mostly negative e.g. cloud of mosquitos above the dirty water), actually it’s completely opposite. Backwater is an unique salt and fresh water way system that was historically created for spices and rice transportation from one village to another and is still being used an alternative water path; all of which has been surrounded by hundreds of different shades of green (no exaggeration here!!!).

kerala floating houses

Once the only mean to use this water path was special wooden boats known as local kettuvallom. When roads were build and an alternative transportation system developed, boats gave up the important role to cars. As of today, boats are used only to carry sand necessary for construction or in places cars can’t reach.

Perhaps boats would have fallen into a complete oblivion if some local tourism legend Babu Verghese would not have been struck by a genius idea: turn a random boat into a floating hotel. Traditional sails and oars were substituted with a Yamaha engine and bamboo roof. Floating house project debuted in 1993. Now, everyone who is hard working enough, have build one by himself. It’s now estimated there is around 200 floating hotels – one and two bedroom luxury accommodations – in the waters of Kerala.

People stand in long ques to have a ride with one! Sometimes the motion in the water is so intense that it gets pretty frightening; traffic lights would save the day and my nerves, too…

The surrounding scenery is so comprehensively beautiful that even the biggest cynic would become at least a bit mushy. Some mother washer her child by the shore of the canal, the boy gives me a shy look. I notice the coconuts drying in the sun next to him.. LIFE here is so transparent.. Probably because all villages are clustered around the water.

In some narrow channel our boat was slowly trying to maneuver through the water hyacinth carpet, a moment later flowers retract leaving no trace. Hyacinths are subtle: extremely magnificent on the one hand, but a sign of contamination on the other. Rice fields are generously scattered with minerals in many places, surrounding houses drain their sewerage directly in water, tourist boats have diesel engines and majority them don’t have chemical toilers. The volume of fish has considerably diminished. Moreover, the clean water in Kerala domestic channel system is significantly shrinking, leaving the government with only two options: either to open the floodgates and let ocean salt water into the system so that it could heal everything or watch pollution spreading.

Three years ago the State of Kerala issued an order to control and manage the pollution of inland water system. In reality, it’s extremely complicated task due to small official human resources and there’s too little funding to increase the capacity as well. If a couple of years You could safely swim in Vembanad lake, now it is something only a mad man would do…

Land of spices. Part one

Don’t know how long I sit like this next to the Vembanad lake, because the sense of time is completely gone. Motion has slowed down, my life has sort of froze. In front of me there’s a majestic Chinese architecture installation damaged by the tooth of time. Bleached white wooden constructions have warped and turned rusty brown. Legend says it was brought here in the fourteenth century by the famous Mongolian royal court itself. Local fishermen use this bizarre construction even today. In the morning You can watch different size fish being pulled out as yet another catch.

wembenand lake photo

Lake wind slowly blows flowers closer to the shore. They float like tiny island, gradually forming an unite, lush green and bright purple carpet. It moves rhythmically, as if breathing. Kerala people natural sense of colors may be envied by any designer – their dark, muscular silhouettes are covered in white, sand, cinnamon, pepper, cardamon and saffron-colored clothing. In contrary to celebrations like wedding or funeral, they neither have a stylish haircut nor wear gold and diamond jewelry.

Fishing boats arrive in the harbor, halfway loaded with shrimps and clams. Minutes later they are being sorted and boiled; for export. Surrounding palms are full of crows; sitting in their nests and screeching like they’ve lost their mind. Especially when seeing the fishermen catch.

You’ve guessed it correctly, I’ve fulfilled one of my childhoods dreams – to once again visit my country and see Kerala my own eyes. It’s already the third morning here; without any rush I’m enjoying the beautiful landscape and still can’t get enough of it. The only thing that sometimes bothers me is how my kids are doing back in the US…

Locals say that Kerala is another India; one of it’s most colorful states. 30 million people live here, more than 90% of them have an education. On one side there’s evergreen mountains, on the other side – everblue (Arabian) sea. Geography and history is what makes Kerala unique. There’s always been what the rest of the world has been craving for – spices. Kerala accounts for 90% of world’s spices output; it’s their gold. First it was discovered by Arabs; followed by Romans, Egyptians, Chinese, Portuguese, French, Danes and finally Brits. And all of them have left footprints. Kerala is somewhat like a curry – mix of many ingredients like cultures, traditions, religions and habits; flavor is so strong that you simply get dazzled by it.


Arabs once helped Kerala to set up spices, coffee and tea plantations up in the mountains. And later, in exchange for gold and silver, brought spices to Venice which was the spice market monopoly for many years. Then this golden path was noticed by Portuguese which began to fight for the influence. City of Cochin and its port is still a great mix of Portuguese, Arabic, Dutch and British styles.

Kerala is truly God’s land! I will continue to search new acknowledgments not only in architecture and nature, but also in people. To be continued…

Bad luck turned inside out

Guys get some snacks! I am going to tell you about one adventure I had while attending the OHM Meeting in Phoenix 2016. Teaser alert – it involves my car, a nice big dent and paintless dent repair job by Dent Removal Phoenix, llc! While now I can look back at it with a smile on my face, feelings during the ordeal were quite opposite.

I had decided to visit some family in Arizona, so decided to take a road trip with my car to the OHM Meeting in Phoenix 2016. I arrived in Phoenix the day before the meeting was to start, and since the weather was really hot, I decided to kill the time walking around and doing some shopping in one of the malls. Once done with the shopping and ready to go to my nice chilled hotel room, I find my car in the parking lot and with it – a nice, clearly noticeable dent on my cars front passenger door! Have a look for yourself!

dented passenger door

To say the least I was in shock. Of course my first thing to do is to call my husband. He was calm about it, and told that the only thing that needs to be done at the moment is to talk to our insurance agent, and that he would do it. A couple of minutes later he called back to say that the insurer was notified, and I could actually leave the accident spot, and the car would be taken care of once I return home. This last bit didn’t thrill either of us, and he suggested I talk to someone at the hotel’s reception maybe there is a shop that could repair my car while I attend the meeting.

Once at the hotel’s reception a really nice lady, to my greatest surprise, was actually able to help! She knew a very special company that repaired those sorts of dents, and other type of car damages like bumper dings and hail damage, with some new technique that took a fraction of the time and cost way less than regular repair jobs involving paintwork. She gave me the number and I called right away.

The company was Dent Removal Phoenix, and the technique they work with is paintless dent repair, and it actually is the preferred method to remove the type of dent my car had gotten. The owner of the company came over to the hotel to have a look at my car, and looking at it he explained that the paintless dent removal uses special tools to press out the dent from the back of the panel, then a special adhesive tool is used to pull the remaining ding out. Finally with yet another special tool the edges of the damaged area are tapped, and this leads to a perfect result that leaves no indication of the dent. Looking at my damage, he told me that the paintless dent removal job would take around 6 hours, and he would prefer to do it at his shop to stay out of the heat. We agreed he would pick the car up the next day and have it repaired while I was at the OHM Meeting. Things couldn’t not have worked out in a better way.

The next day, when I got to see my newly repaired car, I could not believe my eyes. There was completely no mark from the dent, the paintwork was perfectly intact! Here is the after pic!

door after paintless dent repair

So the thing I learnt, and want all of you to take a note of? If ever your car suffers from a dent, a ding, gets a damaged bumper, or is hit with hail damage, look for the closest repair shop offering paintless dent repair, and in case you are in Phoenix, definitely go for Dent Removal Phoenix, llc!

Kerala Bride. What makes her special?

Meet the Kerala Bride

As you know, India like USA is land of many cultures and traditions, each of both has their own unique features. This time I want to speak with you about one particular tradition – weddings; not only the ceremonies and locations are very different, but also wedding outfits. And here I am not only speaking about the outfit of groom or bride, but guests, too. For instance, I bet You would not be able to distinct a Bengali bride from Tamil bride, even knowing that outfit belongs to an India culture. Every Indian bride wants to showcase her culture, clothing and jewelry. As I don’t have enough time to cover all bridal apparel, we’ll take a look at one particular – Kerala bride outfit and compare it to others.

Cassava, Kerala wedding attire and jewelry

Typically wedding dress distincts one Kerala bride from another. Some brides choose to have a red or yellow dress, but the most popular color is the white. White silk saree with golden edges are the most wanted attire among all Kerala women.

kerala jewelry

Jewelry for brides is usually crafted from gold and diamonds. Interestingly, the gold is more favorable than diamonds or any other gemstones. Kerala bride is poured off with gold to show the family wealth. The more the gold, the richer and powerful the women and her family. Jewelry set typically consists of many necklaces in different lengths, the shortest being closer to neck and the longest reaching her waist. They are supplemented with a modern design earrings and bracelets around the wrists.

The hairstyle and makeup

Usually brides hairstyle is a simple tail, in some occasions a plait. To make the look more complete and more appealing, hairdressers can add an artificial or genuine flower.

2 haircuts

Kerala women mostly choose a light, minimalistic makeup; heavy and vibrant look is not favorable. Each lady comes up with her unique style, there is no boundaries, but usually the end result is very natural and low profile. Favorite colors are pink, gold and light brown. All emphasis is on the dress and jewelry.

bride makeup

Little makeup and as much gold and gemstones makes it an interesting paradox. This feature makes them among the most interesting brides around the world – they have a special signature style and looks. Kerala bride with her refreshing look seems to contrast with the surroundings. But it’s the whole point to make the fiancee stand out, right?