Chethy And Vechoor

Chethy and Vechoor Best for Homestays – It`s here that I experience that old traveller’s cliché – the one where you travel hundreds of kilometres to find yourself at home. Azheekan’s Homestay came strongly recommended as a true village homestay on the backwaters. I appreciated the handkerchief-sized, neatly-swept courtyard that opened up onto the backwaters, the beautiful, traditional Keralan wooden rooms and the utter lack of formality. But it was the food that came out of the simple kitchen onto the even simpler white plastic table that elevated the place to the sublime.

The homestay is less than 20 km away from Alleppey but I’m so impatient to get there, to taste the ripe sweetness of the passion fruit juice, the lingering heat of the peppery Kerala beef and the yellow Katti Paippu Daal made creamy with ghee, to see the baby-faced granny and listen to the patriarch, babu`s advice on the medicinal properties of the house plants.

Nearby Chethy Beach is spectacular. Photos of a sunset on the nearly deserted, softly-curved beach remain on my phone as does the one taken from a small bridge of a narrow backwater draped by coconut trees, leading to the sea.

We spend an afternoon with Mohan the village elephant, a huge tusker who’d assessed us with steady brown eyes, not nearly as impressed with us as we are with him, and another chucking bits of bread at the ducks paddling around the stretch of backwater that passes by the Azheekan home.

Philipkuttys Farm – set on an island on Lake Vembanad, and reached by Vallam (country boat) after a drive from Kochi – is a more polished option. At this homestay, set on a working 35-acre farm, the two major draws are the family and the food. The Mathews – Anu, her mother-in-law Anniamma, and her children Philip and  Anya – welcome you into their homestead and the six waterfront villas as if you are family friends; the food will make you wish you were. All meals are eaten communally in the covered patio or the family dining room; and both vegetarians and non vegetarians will retire satisfied after.  Appams with chicken stew, fried  Karimeen (pearl spot), beef with fried coconut chips, string hoppers, prawns, karela or tondli fry – and, of course, payasam and very fresh fruit.

All made more brilliant by the use of coconut – either as a cooking medium or as a garnish. The villas themselves are traditional, with carefully chosen furniture and artifacts  There is no TV and no air conditioning; the silence is broken only by the sounds of farm work and birds. A part of the homestay experience is an exploration of the family’s organic farm and a sunset cruise on Lake Vembanad (weather permitting).

If you must do more than lounge and eat, Vechoor Village across the stretch of water is worth a wander through – take in the 13th-century St Mary’s Church, the Shaivite Sri Kandeshwaram Mahadevak Shetra Temple, and stand on the Taneer Mukham Bund that separates the fresh water and the saline in Lake Vembanad.

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