Friday, April 4, 2014

Kollam (Quilon), Kerala: Ashtamudi Lake Cruise & Kollam Beach [SP]

Kollam Beach, Kerala
Kollam or Quilon was a trading outpost since the time of the Phoenicians and Romans
After the architectural marvels of Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), the Kerala Blog Express moved up to the district of Kollam, formerly Quilon – an ancient seaport since the time of the Phoenicians and Romans – where we were introduced to the topographical and tourism highlight of the state – the backwaters of Kerala. 

Stretching parallel to the Arabian Sea for more than 900 km, the Kerala backwaters is a vast network of five large lakes and brackish lagoons fed by 38 rivers and linked by man-made and natural canals. Kettuvallams or traditional houseboats ply this watery labyrinth taking tourists on backwater cruises which can last for days. These tourist boats were once used to carry rice and goods between settlements along the extensive maze of waterways, but later became obsolete with the improvement of land transport over roads and highways. The Kerala backwaters crawls across four districts in Kerala: Kochi (Cochin), Kottayam, Alappuzha (Allepey) and, of course, Kollam (Quilon).


Kettuvallam (Houseboat) on Ashtamudi Lake
A kettuvallam (houseboat) floats by cantilevered fishing nets at Ashtamudi Lake
Ashtamudi Lake
View of Ashtamudi Lake from WelcomHotel Ravis Resort & Ayurveda Spa
The luxe lakeside hotel of WelcomHotel Raviz Resort & Ayurveda Spa Kollam whetted our backwater appetites with a marvelous lunch (the pan-fried prawns were unforgettable!) aboard a large houseboat that cruised around Ashtamudi Lake, an octopus-shaped lake, which is the second largest in the Kerala backwaters after Vembanad Lake. 

We spent the entire afternoon floating along coconut palms crowding the lakeshore next to marooned ferryboats, rustic kettuvallams and cantilevered fishing nets. Before docking, we caught an exciting snake boat race along the hotel, then later watched a demonstration of one of the backwater cottage industries of coconut coir rope making. It was an amazing preview of the scenic waterways, and made us all excited to see more of the backwaters as we continued on with our journey northwards across Kerala.

Snakeboat Race on Ashtamudi Lake
Watched a snake boat race next to WelcomHotel Raviz Resort
Coir Rope Making
A demonstration of coconut coir rope making – a key industry of the Kerala backwaters
Our team retired at The Quilon Beach Hotel along Kollam Beach, which also offered a glimpse of coastal village life in the mornings with fishermen pulling in large fishing nets onto the golden shore, similar to my experience at Samudra Beach in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum). Unfortunately, Kollam Beach was littered with trash, which attracted many crows and egrets. Black kites and brahminy kites circled the sky just like feathered counterparts of.... kites. As with the other beaches we visited in Kerala, the quaint village charm makes up for the unappealing presence of refuse, or the lackluster quality of the sand, when compared to the beaches back home in the Philippines. I especially love how Kerala's beaches have so much local character.

Kollam Beach, Kerala
Cattle egrets scavenge for trash and fish scraps at Kollam Beach
Quilon Beach Hotel
The Quilon Beach Hotel is modern, five-star stay along Kollam Beach
WHERE TO STAY: The Quilon Beach Hotel is an accessible, modern five-star stay within the city center of Kollam (Quilon) with commanding views of Kollam Beach, suitable for both leisure and business travelers, while WelcomHotel Raviz Resort & Ayurveda Spa Kollam is an indulgent escape along the jungly shores of Ashtamudi Lake, known for its scenic backwater cruises and luxurious Ayurveda treatments.


This blog post was made possible through Kerala Blog Express, a blogger tour organized by Kerala Tourism that took 27 travel bloggers from 14 countries on a two-week journey from Thiruvananthapuram to Wayanad. The exclusive tour was held from March 9 to 26, 2014.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. I accept advertisers as long as they are relevant to travel, tourism, adventure and outdoors. For advertising inquiries, please e-mail eazy@eazytraveler.com

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), Kerala: Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Napier Museum & Padmanabhapuram Palace [SP]

Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple
Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), Kerala is the world's richest temple!
The Kerala Blog Express by Kerala Tourism kickstarted the two-week bloggers' tour across "God's Own Country" in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram (pronounced tiru-ananta-puram) – still also known by its colonial name of Trivandrum. Besides its golden beaches, historical landmarks are the main draw of Trivandrum.

Our tour of the city began at the principal place of worship where the city takes its name, Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. Thiruvananthapuram means "City of the Lord Anantha", referring to the serpent on whom Padmanabha or Vishnu reclines, as depicted in a 32-kg golden idol housed within the grand temple. While much of what we see today was built in the 18th century, many believed that the temple was established 5,000 years ago. A recent inventory of the temple vaults has revealed an overwhelming amount of gold coins, jewelry, statues and other treasures – amassed by the former royal family who served as temple custodians – that amount to more than USD 20 billion, making it the richest temple in the world! Unfortunately, we did not get to see its inner sanctum, nor any of the treasures, as  only Hindus are allowed to enter the temple. Photography is also strictly prohibited in its inner quarters. But a walk around the temple grounds and the adjacent affords views of the impressive gopuram or central tower rising above the Kuthiramalika Palace and reflecting on Padmatheertha Pond.


Napier Museum
The Napier Museum is an exquisite fusion of Indian and British architectural styles.
Moving forward to British colonial times, another architectural masterpiece in Thiruvananthapuram is the Napier Museum completed in 1880 with its Indo-Saracenic design, which draws elements from native Indo-Islamic and Indian architecture, combining it with Gothic revival and Neo-Classical styles of Victorian Britain. The museum houses a rare collection of archaeological and historic artifacts, bronze idols, ancient ornaments, a temple chariot and ivory carvings, as well as exotic articles such as Javanese shadow puppets and a Balinese calendar. While photography is prohibited inside the museum, I enjoyed taking photographs of the museum's elaborate exterior. lording over gardens surrounding an old band stand. Our tour guide, Manoj, was quick to point out the blossoming kani konna or golden shower trees, which is the state flower of Kerala.


Padmanabhapuram Palace
Padmanabhapuram was the former capital of the Kingdom of Travancore that ruled southern Kerala 
Padmanabhapuram Palace

Located 50 km away from Thiruvananthapuram, Padmanabhapuram Palace is worth the long drive to marvel at one of the best examples of palatial architecture built by the Kingdom of Travancore, a Hindu princely state which ruled southern Kerala from the 18th century to 1949. Interestingly, the palace complex is located in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu but administered by the state government of Kerala. The palace complex was built in 1601 and expanded by succeeding rulers around a smaller palace called Thai Kottaram or Mother's Palace, built in 1550. Padmanabhapuram was the former capital of Travancore before the kingdom shifted to Thiruvananthapuram in 1795. Among the fascinating features of the palace complex are the 300-year-old clocktower (which still keeps time!), a wooden cot made of up of 64 pieces of a variety of medicinal trees; and a secret passage the royal family would use as an emergency exit leading to another palace.


Samudra Beach, Kovalam
Stay along one of the scenic golden beaches of Thiruvananthapuram
Uday Samudra Beach Resort
Uday Samudra Leisure Hotel & Spa in Kovalam, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
WHERE TO STAY: Most visitors opt to stay along the beaches of Thiruvananthapuram, namely Kovalam, Chowara, Poovar and Varkala. I stayed in Uday Samudra Leisure Beach Hotel & Spa in Kovalam, which has a quaint beachfront that I especially enjoyed where one can watch local fishermen haul in large fishing nets in the morning. Another topnotch option is The Leela Kovalam, perched on a promontory, with spectacular sunset views over Samudra Beach. 

For those looking for an indulgent Ayurveda holiday, go for the award-winning resorts of Somatheeram and Manaltheeram overlooking Chowara Beach. For a backwaters retreat, Poovar Island Resort has an Ayurveda spa village set in a lush estuary. The floating villas here are amazing! Lastly, Varkala Beach is a scenic coastline with red laterite cliffs that offers affordable sleeps for the budget-conscious. If you insist on staying closer to the city center, check out Mascot Hotel Trivandrum.



This blog post was made possible through Kerala Blog Express, a blogger tour organized by Kerala Tourism that took 27 travel bloggers from 14 countries on a two-week journey from Thiruvananthapuram to Wayanad. The exclusive tour was held from March 9 to 26, 2014.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. I accept advertisers as long as they are relevant to travel, tourism, adventure and outdoors. For advertising inquiries, please e-mail eazy@eazytraveler.com

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Scratch Map Philippines Giveaway from QUIRKS! [SP]


I love maps. As a matter of fact, this blog of mine started because of one – the online travel map called Lakbayan, an interactive online map of the Philippines where you can tick off the places in the country you've visited. 

Like a hard copy version of Lakbayan, Scratch Map Philippines is a large, high-quality map with a top foil layer, so you can scratch off the places you've visited to reveal a whole new world below! The map is made by Luckies of London, the same guys who manufacture the best-selling gold-foil scratch map of the world. Awesome huh? Why not log-in and spread the word to get the chance to win this cool map of the Philippines in the widget below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Scratch Map Philippines by Luckies of London (PHP 1,350) is exclusively available at QUIRKS Novelties and Curiosities branches at Power Plant Mall, Shangri-la Plaza, SM Megamall and SM Aura. For their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. I accept advertisers as long as they are relevant to tourism, adventure and outdoors. For advertising inquiries, please e-mail eazy@eazytraveler.com
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