Colombo: A South Asian Stew of Culture & Heritage

Talk about a phoenix rising out of the ashes. Colombo has emerged as a beacon of what’s chic and cool in South Asia. The capital city of the emerald isle, old rubs shoulders with new within the same space, breathing new life into Sri Lanka’s multi-cultural heritage.

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Old Dutch Hospital, Colombo

Take the Old Dutch Hospital, a rambling piece of colonial heritage that hails from the 1600s, smack in the middle of the erstwhile Fort district. The ramparts, which once housed gurneys, are now home to chic boutiques, cozy restaurants and vibrant bars. Its shady courtyard is littered with al fresco diners, and for those who need a break from the buzz, it even houses a spa.

 

A stop at Colombo’s National Museum takes you back in time to revisit Sri Lanka’s heritage from its early Buddhist roots to its later colonial legacy. Ninth century Boddhisattva sandals are juxtaposed against galleries of British era paintings and a series of hand crafted masks, as well as several other well preserved artefacts. Don’t miss a quick stop at Wolvendaal Church with its striking architecture.

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Wolvendaal Church, Colombo

Shaped like a Greek cross, it is home to some of the finest wood craftsmanship carved out of ebony. Pause to visit the Dutch Period Museum. Originally the home of the Dutch governor, it’s a poignant monument to Sri Lanka’s past as this is where the original treaty between Holland and the Kingdom of Kandy was signed.

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Dutch Period Museum, Colombo

Most people don’t realize that the Dutch colonized Sri Lanka for almost 150 years and that Sri Lanka was the battleground for many European empires. The Sinhalese originally courted Dutch help to get rid of the Portuguese. The Dutch had a vested economic interest in defeating both the Spanish and the Portuguese and dominate the trade routes between South East Asia and Europe. However, Rajasinghe II, surrounded by Europeans from all sides, thought he would hedge his bets by giving the fort of Trincomalee to the French. In a game of colonial chess, the Dutch defeated the French at Trincomalee and captured the fort, but the treaty that made Sri Lanka a Dutch protectorate was never implemented. The Dutch brought Tamil slaves from Tanjore (present day Thanjavur) to work the cinnamon and tobacco plantations.

Step out beyond the fort area and you will find yourself approaching Pettah. This manically chaotic district is the hub of Colombo’s colourful markets – and some excellent street food! Golden Sinhalese coconuts stand along side mountains of tropical fruit and fresh veggies as you stroll along the pavements.

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Pettah Market, Colombo

Along side Colombo’s colonial era architecture and its cutting edge contemporary new rise buildings, are plenty of temples particularly of the Buddhist variety. Of these, the Gangaramaya temple is well known, standing on a tree-lined street, in the heart of the city. It is the center of extravagant Vesak celebrations and is not only a place of worship, but also has a well kept museum and library on the premises.

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Gangaramaya Temple Museum, Colombo

Masks are one of the most vivid and eye-catching forms of Sri Lankan craftsmanship. The mask tradition originally came to Sri Lanka from Kerala and South India but took on a life of its own as Sri Lankan craftsmen enhanced the masks with lurid colours and carving. The masks were primarily used in traditional forms of ethnic dance – particularly the devil dance. A privately owned museum in Ambalangoda tells of the many legends behind these elaborate masks, and their myriad uses in traditional folklore. (read more about Sri Lanka’s mask heritage here: https://www.lanka.com/about/interests/masks/)

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Mask Museum, Ambalangoda

Puppetry is another ancient Sri Lankan art form and the Puppetry Museum in Colombo pays a fitting tribute to this rich heritage. A vast collection of puppets, some of which are nearly life-sized, speak of a rich and evocative history.

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Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo

Colombo was originally known as the Garden City – even today it has several beautiful open spaces, green areas, and both lake and seaside waterfronts. Galle Face Green is the arterial promenade which runs along the sea face. Others such as the Cinnamon Gardens and the Viharamahadeva Park are a delightful place to stroll through at any time of the day.

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Galle Face Hotel, Colombo

Accommodations are plentiful in Colombo and there is an exponential growth of beautifully designed boutique hotels that have a quirky charm and plenty of personality. Other stalwarts like the Galle Face Hotel (which has recently been restored) are graceful reminders of Sri Lanka’s long heritage of hospitality. It is also known for its shopping – from designer clothes to local handicrafts.

Bustling and buzzing yet laid back and relaxing, Colombo is full of charm. Culture, adventure and cuisine are all within striking distance of the city’s walls. Road and rail connectivity to the rest of the country make Colombo a great jumping off spot from which to explore the emerald isle – or even a city break weekend in itself.

 

Kenya – A Wake Up Call for the Curious and Adventurous

Umeamkaje? (How did you wake?) is a preface to almost any conversation in Kenya. It makes one stop and pause… how did we wake?

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Was it with the harsh ring of an alarm clock so that we could board our small plane in time to make it to Meru National Park?

Was it a wide-eyed eye opener onto stunning views of Mount Kenya?

While watching a herd of giraffe grazing over the Serengeti?

In Kenya, any of these could have been our umeamkaje moment – or yours.

Arrive Nairobi.

Nairobi is not the reason most people visit Kenya. The city’s reputation lives up to its gritty nature. But scratch beneath its layers of sweat and blood, and you will find a few unexpected surprises – such as its music scene. Yes – the Kenyan capital is one of the hubs of contemporary East African music and its many bands and bustling clubs are a testament to its musical vibe.

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Nairobi’s suburbia is a national park – literally. The Nairobi National Park is just on the outskirts of the city and makes a terrific getaway from the capital’s hustle – not that the rest of Kenya lies far away.

Head two hours south, out of the urban sprawl, and into the magnificent trough of the Great Rift Valley.

The Great Rift Valley. 

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A 6000 kilometer continental fault traverses across continents from Jordan to Mozambique. We know it as the Rift Valley. But it is really in Kenya that its anthropological importance has been magnified as a cradle of Maasai culture and early human civilization. From Hell’s Gate, which supported some of the earliest human settlements on its shores, to beautiful lakes like Naishiva and Nakuru, this is a craggy and serendipitous landscape where vast water bodies, give way to sweeping grasslands, and sudden cliff faces. Flocks of flamingoes, herds of wildebeest, and elephants roam these grassy plains though many animals have moved higher up to avoid the burgeoning populations. While the Maasai once populated the entire Rift Valley, they were pushed deep into the south during Europe’s colonization of Kenya. Today, the most authentic Maasai communities are still in the south of the country.

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Kenyan Wilderness.

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Kenya’s initial draw is usually its wildlife. As you travel down the Mombasa Highway between Nairobi and Mombassa, several of the best and lesser known parks dot the countryside that lies on either side of this arterial thoroughfare.

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2000 meters above sea level, the Maasai Mara is by far the best-known park in Kenya – not least because of its enormous wildebeest migration each year. Herds of these magnificent creatures cross these plains in the thousands. Well watered by ample rainfall, the animals migrate to the Maasai Mara away from the dry lands of Tanzania. No matter when you visit, the Mara is always full of abundant wildlife and one can spot many different species of wildlife in large numbers.

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The Maasai Mara may be the best known, but Tsavo is the largest. So large in fact that it is split into two – Tsavo East and Tsavo West. Tsavo East is the larger of the two, and is largely bush land punctuated by a surreal landscape of Baobab trees. Tsavo’s vastness makes it ideal for those who want to wander off the beaten path. Having waged a massive war against poachers, Tsavo’s elephant numbers are back on the rise, and thanks to its relative isolation, one can also spot several rare species here such as the Kudu or Serval.

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If it is elephants you seek, then Amboseli, though smaller, could be the place to go. Dominated by beautiful views of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background, this park is well frequented by visitors. Stark and uninviting in the dry season, Amboseli’s true beauty comes to the fore during the rains.

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Some of Kenya’s more esoteric species like the Grevy’s zebra and the Beisa oryx are best viewed in Samburu.

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In contrast, Meru is a lesser known jewel among Kenya’s national parks. The landscape alone will lull you into a sense of tranquility as streams rush through its wavy grasses and copses of Doum palms, amid riverine swamp jungle, give it an other-worldly quality. Meru’s animal sightings have increased recently and if you seek to venture off the beaten path, this could be an opportunity worth taking.

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Lake Victoria and the West & The Central Highlands.

If you want to get to know Kenya intimately, without the tourists snapping at your heels, then the western part of the country is well worth the explore. Here the equatorial rainforest teems with wildlife such as Black Rhinos, giraffes, several species of birds and many animals that are completely endemic to the region. Lake Victoria and the many beautiful islands within it warrant a couple of days as does the charming tea-growing region around Kericho.

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If you are enthused by history and politics, then the Central Highlands of Kenya cannot be missed. This was the main territory which saw powerful clashes between the native African tribes and the European colonizers, especially the British. This was the part of Kenya that saw the most anti-colonial resistance that ended up in the Mau Mau uprising of the Kenyans against British rule. The Central Highlands have long lonesome moors where large cats are known to roam. Some of these are melanistic species of cats such as leopards and serval. The Central Highland region is also where Mount Kenya is situated – a massive volcanic cone that gives the country its name. Spectacular scenery makes this great hiking and walking country, especially along the paths of the Aberdare range.

Mombasa and the Indian Ocean

Where Nairobi is about commerce and hustling the next buck, Mombasa has a far deeper sense of community and culture. Mombasa has a faded charm that seeps through its skin.

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Mombasa has historically been a melting pot of many different ethnicities and influences. This was the central heart of Kenyan’s Swahili culture and even today, you will see its deep roots in the language, dress and culture of the people who live here. Mombasa has also embraced the Arab and South Asian influences that washed up on its shores and as a result there are several mosques, Hindu temples, Sikh gurudwaras and various degrees of worship make themselves felt in chaotic harmony. Mombasa was where de Gama first made his landfall in East Africa and the Portuguese never looked back from here. The Portuguese established themselves until the Omani Arabs overthrew them, who held sway until they in turn were ousted by the British.

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Mombasa is also the entry point to some of Kenya’s most gorgeous beaches and for marine life enthusiasts, a lesser known fact about Kenya is the vast marine diversity that exists among its coral reefs. PADI and SSI Dive centers dot the beaches along the coast and there’s plenty to be seen even just a few feet into the surf!

So how do you choose to wake? Call us today to craft your once in a lifetime Kenyan adventure and wake up the curious and adventurous soul within you.

 

Jodhpur…Romancing the Desert Capital

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Meherangarh Fort, Jodhpur

The Blue City sprawls at the foot of Meherangarh Fort, like the mirage of an oasis at the edge of the Thar Desert. But what appears to be a chaotic maze from up above, is actually a warren of tiny lanes, like rivulets, that wind their way around the indigo stained dwellings of the city. Looming overhead, Meherangarh Fort is perched in its very heart, a powerful testament to an era of courage and bravery – the foundations on which Jodhpur was raised.

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Blue City, Jodhpur

Meherangarh Fort comes alive several times a year, thanks to the current Maharaja of Jodhpur, who is a driving force behind preserving the kingdom’s heritage and culture. From polo tournaments to music festivals, weddings and grand events, Meherangarh’s ramparts echo with spirit and life.

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Polo Tournament, Jodhpur

Founded by the Rathore clan, Jodhpur was named for its dynamic leader, Rao Jodha of Mandore, who grew the city to become a thriving kingdom, under his reign. Even though the Mughals and the British did have some control over the dominion, the Rathores retained a semi independence right up until the Partition of India and Pakistan.

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Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur

Jodhpur is known for its magnificent palaces and havelis (several of which have now been turned into gorgeous boutique hotels). The Umaid Bhawan Palace is perhaps one of the finest examples of palace architecture – and one of the largest residences in the world – in existence today. It’s magnificent gold sand-stone facade is crowned by an enormous dome that can be seen for miles around. The palace has an interesting history. It was commissioned by Maharaja Umaid Singh during a drastic famine in the 1920s, to provide employment to the populace. The exterior is an exotic blend of Indo-Saracenic and European elements, while the interiors are entirely art deco – right down to the wall murals by a Polish artist called Norbilsk. The ship carrying the palace’s first consignments of furniture sank, but once finished, it has proudly stood the test of time to become one of the finest palace residences in the world. Today, it is a luxury heritage hotel that is operated by The Taj Group. Sleeker and more chic, is the “new” Raas – a heritage haveli that has been converted into a Design Hotel. A crisp and contemporary flair emerges out of the bedrock of this gorgeous ancient haveli – which even has its own stepwell restaurant!

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Raas Haveli, Jodhpur

If you’re a shopaholic at heart, Jodhpur is a pleasure to explore. From charmingly discreet antique shops, to old silver and semi-precious stone jewellery, hand woven textiles and ethnic furniture, to camel leather shoes and world class haute-couture – Jodhpur is home to the atelier of top fashion designer, Raghuvinder Rathore – Jodhpur is a delightful place to shop till you drop. The bazaars of the old city have to be explored and here you will find everything from copper vessels to glass bangles.

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Bishnoi Tribal Dance Performance, Jodhpur

A short distance from the city will find you amidst the sand dunes of the Thar, where several members of the Bishnoi and Bhil tribes reside. Discover their tribal way of life, the music and dance, and their arts and crafts. This is a far cry from urban India. This desert wilderness is also home to several species of birds and animals, including the beautiful Black Buck, which roams wild in these parts. Set off into the desert for a picnic or better yet – an evening of tribal song, dance and music amid the sand dunes underneath the stars.

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Black Buck, Jodhpur

Come August and September, when a little rain has splattered this frontier city, the harsh summer sun cools down to a pleasing temperature, the oases and lakes are refilled, and new green shoots dot the sandy countryside. Jodhpur is a terrific destination for honeymooners and families, alike. The city has many layers that can be tapped to suit a range of interests and age-groups. A range of activities from equestrian sports to bicycling to ziplining make it fun for young adults (or just adults who are young at heart!), while those who prefer a gentler pace can literally cool their heels at Jodhpur’s gorgeous hotel spas.

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Zip-lining at Meherangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Travel before the crowds of high season hit. Visit our website (www.wiyotravel) now to plan your Jodhpur getaway.

 

 

 

Cruise Control…The Dalmatian Coast

From the Dinaric Alps in the North to the Mediterranean in the South, the Dalmatian Coast stretches languidly as the Adriatic sea laps at its shores. Dalmatia is a delightful blend of old world influences. Venetian clock towers, Greek fortresses, Byzantine art, and Roman ruins meld into a vintage as mellow as the fine wines from its vineyards.

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Our first favourite port of call is Rovinj. Perched at the western most tip of the Istrian Peninsula, Rovinj is a town steeped in romance. Perched on a rocky outcrop just across the sea from Venice, tall spires rise out of a colourful cloud of charming buildings, nestled among narrow cobblestoned by-lanes. One can spend hours just walking its streets, stopping at local konobas for a coffee or a chilled pint of beer.

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Waterfront View, Rovinj

Rovinj is one of the jumping off spots from which one can visit the Istrian Peninsula’s Byzantine and Roman ruins in places like Porec and Pula, stroll through its vineyards, hunt for truffles in its forests, or take a delightful bicycle ride through its quaint villages where Austro-Hungarian remnants of empire blend in with Venetian and Roman vestiges of history.

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The Main Square, Zadar

Take a turn south to continue to Zadar. This medieval era fortification makes a powerful impression, even today. A walk through this walled city takes you back to another world. But Zadar transports you to another world in a literal sense as well – this is the place from where one can explore the beautiful Kornati Archipelago – thousands of tiny islands that collectively make up a national heritage site. For those who love nature and the water, Kornati is a piece of heaven. Snorkel, dive, sail through the azure waters that snake through these delightful islands.

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The Kornati Archipelago

As we head further south, we pause for a brief moment at Trogir. A tiny island joined to the mainland by a causeway, Trogir oozes charm, serenity and romance. As the church bells toll and the water laps gently at its limestone walls, time stands still. Sunsets at Trogir have a fairy-tale quality – a honeymooner’s delight. Dine on delightful fresh seafood, olive oil and wine from local vineyards. Blissfully peaceful, Trogir is the perfect place to catch your breath along the journey – even as it takes your breath away.

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The Waterfront, Island of Trogir

Smack dab in the center of the Dalmatian Coast, Split’s name suits its location – it literally divides the north of Dalmatia from the south. Vastly dominated by the vestiges of Emperor Diocletian’s roman palace complex, Split is a study in living history. Live, dine, shop, explore and wander among the ancient walls of this magnificent complex that stretches out in the city center for miles. Lively and full of warm friendly people, Split is non-stop fun. The bustling water front is a great place to sit at a café and watch the world go by, even as the boats line up at the harbor from all across the coast. It’s also the ideal place from which to explore some of the best islands in Croatia including Hvar, Brac and Vis.

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Diocletian’s Palace, Split

Imbibe the island vibe the minute you step foot on Hvar. In July and August, the lavender fields bloom in purple splendor, giving the landscape a heady fragrance and dusky hue. Clearly we aren’t the only ones who think Hvar is something special. The Romans, Spaniards, Venetians, Greeks, Byzantines and Ottomans each staked their claim in Hvar at different points in time. As a result, the island is a historical patchwork of architectural styles, history, and culture. It’s also grown into one of Central Europe’s hottest party spots and the sleepy village by day turns into a vibrant hot spot at night as you dance your life away under the stars.

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Lavender Fields, The Island of Hvar

They don’t call it the Pearl of the Adriatic for nothing – Dubrovnik continues to charm all those who visit. The glorious Southern European sun bounces happily off the white limestone walls of this city steeped in history. Dubrovnik has a picture-postcard quality to it – red tiled roofs overlook a quaint harbor and the sparkling serenity of the Adriatic Sea. One can wander its streets for days on end and still not see it all. It is a city full of serendipity – impromptu street performances, a church concert, an art gallery tucked into the side of an old monastery, a gelateria that makes you swoon, this is Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is an architecture lover’s delight and its stunning facades and interiors tell of many stories.

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Old Harbour, Dubrovnik

Fascinated already? Travel with us to discover more.

 

 

Kerala… A Sojourn for the Senses

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Flashes of green iridescence, a cool wind at your neck, and droplets of water sparkling in the sun.

It’s the first week of June and the heavens have opened in God’s Own Country. Kerala comes into its own with the onset of the monsoon.

Whether you are up in the heights of the Western Ghats or meandering down the backwaters towards the Arabian Sea, this tropical paradise awakens after its summer slumber.

Cosmopolitan. Cochin.

Kerala’s capital city oozes charm. Our favourite district is Fort Cochin – a melting pot of cultural influences for centuries. Wander among antique shops, pause at local art galleries, lunch on the fresh catch of the day against the dramatic backdrop of the Chinese Fishing Nets, explore the Dutch Palace, and pause for a moment at the world’s oldest Sephardic Synagogue, browse through the aisles of the Mattancherry Spice Market. Cochin is a revelation for all those who visit. Don’t miss it.

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Chinese Fishing Nets in Cochin, Kerala

Authentic. Ayurveda.

The ancient science of Ayurveda has its roots in Kerala. There’s no better time to experience its maximum benefit than during the monsoon, when the moisture in the air allows the medicinal oils to soak deep into your skin. Learn more about yourself as you relax. Discover the correct diet for your body type – and your personality. Detox your organs, circulate your blood, and breathe fully, with a series of massage and oil rituals that leave you feeling serene. Emerge healthier in body, lighter in mind, and more fulfilled in spirit.

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Ayurvedic Therapy, Kerala

Mystical. Munnar.

The highlands of the Western Ghats of Kerala are a nature lover’s paradise. Lush foliage, tea and spice plantations, and a riot of flora and fauna collide to form a stunningly picturesque landscape. Munnar lies at the center of it all and there’s no better place to base yourself if you want to take long walks through the forest or simply watch the clouds gather overhead and be blessed by a gentle drizzle. Munnar is also a stone’s throw away from the Erivakulam game sanctuary – one of the last natural habitats of the Nilgiri Tahr (a rare breed of Ibex). Munnar is also a bird-lover’s paradise and several species are endemic to the area.

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Nilgiri Tahr, Kerala

Beach. Backwaters. 

Kerala is blessed with one of the finest coastlines in the world, and several of its beaches are pristine. From Bekal in the north to Marari in the south, long stretches of sand run into the Arabian Sea. Towering cliffs topped with fortress ruins dot the coastline, from where many battles were fought (and many a movie has been shot!). Whether you want to indulge your energy in water sports or unwind at the spa, stretch yourself with a spot of beach yoga, or just rock yourself to sleep in a hammock, Kerala probably has what you need.

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Marari Beach, Kerala

Running through God’s Own Country is a meandering series of canals that zig-zag their way across the landscape. Dotted with coconut plantations and tropical foliage, these are the streets of India’s south. Slip along these narrow waterways and explore the quaint settlements on either shore. You can also overnight in a kettuvellam – a traditional houseboat – if you’re so inclined. Our favourite time of day – sunset. The backwaters are truly at their best when the sun dips towards the horizon, casting its serene glow over everything.

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Backwaters, Kerala

Convinced already? Visit our website (www.wiyotravel.com) to create your Kerala sojourn today.