Last Lap in Luxury: Kochi, Kerala, Incredible India

29 Mar

AUD1=48 rupees


I wish everyone could, at least once in their lives, experience staying in a well managed five star hotel. A hotel that not only looks and smells divine, but one where you feel relaxed and taken care of from the moment you walk into the lobby. 

Five years ago I came to Kochi, Kerala, to undertake a damage control exercise for the University. It was one leg of a whirlwind ten-day cross India trip. On my evening off I cruised from Ernakulum to Willingdon Island to sip a G&T in the Matancherry bar of the Vivanta by Taj Malabar Hotel. Staff were friendly, the hotel gleamed with care and the cocktail was generous. I vowed to myself I would be back to stay one day. 

 One day became six nights at the Taj Malabar this week, planned indulgence after the Goa yoga retreat and preparation for re-entry shock to Australia following 14 weeks of travel. Set on the tip of tiny Willingdon Island the hotel faces the river mouth and the Arabian Sea. The view from our fifth floor corner room of the comings and goings of water taxis, ferries, tugs, rice boats, barges, cruise liners and container ships keeps me endlessly amused. The sun rises over Ernakulum on our right and sets over the water and the tip of Fort Kochi. Dolphins play where the two currents meet and sometimes grey fins appear right beside us at the infinity pool. Happily, despite a reliance on fishing as a local industry, river dolphins are protected and thriving. 

           The beauty of this Taj experience is in the myriad small things that surprise and delight. Fresh, floating flowers brighten corners. Precisely lined up varnished wood sun chairs with crisply rolled white and lemon pool towels are topped off with a matching frangipani flower. A pink conch shell is used to indicate if you want the bed linen changed or not. Of course we pay a five star room rate but that includes loads of complimentary stuff every day. High tea with live music at five pm, a sunset rice boat cruise, lawn croquet, Kerala curry cooking lessons, evening Kathakali dance show, and on and on it goes. Participate or don’t, there’s no pressure to do anything. We take a late breakfast every day by the pool and by the second day staff have memorised our order perfectly. 

                   An entire building is dedicated to Jiva Spa. I choose the strongest sounding massage on the menu, a ninety minute ‘warrior’ massage. As I have the choice I request a female masseur, but when the time comes I’m allocated Jesmon, a burly young man. I shouldn’t have worried, Jesmon is a superb therapist. Joints are super stretched, pesky left calf and shoulder knots tackled and the final scalp and facial massage sends me to sleep.

Stuart is so chilled out he doesn’t need a massage. He wanders around barefoot in a white hotel dressing gown, even wears it to lunch over his swim shorts, looking like a hospital patient with a tan. 



Poolside art.   


Yes, that’s my man in his ‘office’.

Our vow to remain teetotal for a further week after Little Cove was severely undermined by an invitation to join the hotel manager and other invited guests for cocktails on the verandah of the Malabar Suite. Two G&T’s slipped down all to easily. 

By chance our stay coincided with the World Cricket Series and the semi-final between India and Australia. We didn’t need to check the score, the pool bar guys kept us updated with match results every half hour or so. They, and the many other nationals we chatted to, took the loss to Australia with grace and humour, complimenting Australia’s batsmen on fine play.


From Willingdon jetty 1 we caught ferries (4 rupee per person single trip) to Ernakulum for western clothes shopping and delicious, cheap curries. A tuk tuk (three wheeler) taxi to Centre Mall on Mahatma Ghandi Street is thirty rupees.  And from Jetty 2 we cruised to Fort Kochi to stock up on silk clothes, Ayurvedic toiletries, essential oils and gifts of handcrafted silver. A masala chai at Loafer’s Corner Cafe gives us a view of Princess Street life. Mother goat and her two babies stroll down the middle of the road and a tea wallah wobbles by on his bicycle, large stainless steel urn tied to the back. He stops every few metres to pour small cups of milky tea for clusters of men.

                Gorgeous Kashmiri salesman, Ahmad with his boss at Indobazar, Fort Kochin.



 Sure, there is a disturbing amount of litter and the waterways are suffering because of it, but South India is relatively prosperous and whilst we see a couple of people sleeping on the street we don’t see a single beggar. Many wealthy Indian families are staying here at the Taj enjoying a mini break from Mumbai and Delhi. Most of the other guests are British, German and US travellers and foreigners who live and work somewhere else in India. The India of today is a vastly different economy to the one Stuart first encountered 37 years ago when this was his patch.


True to his word Stuart has kept up a daily program of one hour of yoga except for today, our final day, which we’ve decreed a day of rest. And if Australia win the series, as they look set to do, we’ll celebrate with a cocktail in the bar tonight and commiserate with our new Kiwi friend, Rob, a loyal Taj Malabar and NZ cricket fan.

I leave you with Chef Karthikeyan’s authentic Kerala recipes for a fish curry, a chicken curry and a vegie stew. To make a vegan curry substitute chick peas for the meat or fish. Enjoy!


               And my favourite meal with Bhindi, yum! 


2 Responses to “Last Lap in Luxury: Kochi, Kerala, Incredible India”

  1. Louise Greenfield March 29, 2015 at 11:10 pm #

    Hi Sharon,

    This sounds idyllic. It almost makes me want another trip to India (has taken a while to recover from the last one!). I have never been to the south and looks as if I have missed a really interesting part of the country.

    Hope the return to Australia isn’t too hard for you to cope with. Look forward to seeing you shortly.


    Sent from my iPad


    • Sharon Tickle March 30, 2015 at 1:06 am #

      Yes Louise, the South is worth a return visit. We could happily have stayed another month in India. See you 8/4 I hope. Sxx

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