When I updated this website last year, I added a sign up a button for a newsletter with a plan to share discoveries made on my adventures throughout India. Now with travel at a standstill, during the Covid-19 great pause, I finally have the time to create a newsletter. However, I am not in India and unable to return for the foreseeable future, so I decided to present this first newsletter as a collection of interviews in the hope that I can keep my global community connected to and inspired by India.
In this edition, I have chosen to focus on the gorgeous tropical state of Kerala, located in the South West of India, which will most likely be the first state in India to open up to travellers. Many consider Kerala to be the most relaxing place in India with idyllic beaches and picturesque backwaters. I love it, though not just because of the natural beauty, but because of the State’s unique culture, outstanding culinary experiences, authentic Ayurveda offerings and its emergence as an important contemporary art and design hub. In the last few years I have arranged many bespoke journeys for clients to Kerala. A world-famous chef/restaurateur and his family spent a few weeks living in a private lakeside villa exploring local life and I helped a group of food writers, restaurateurs, photographers in getting truly off the beaten track and discovering producers, markets and local cooks. Other clients explored Ayurveda, some focused more on Kerala’s unique crafts and textiles and some, simply enjoyed the sun and the beach to wrap up a longer Indian journey.
Since 2004, I have made many research trips to fall in love with this unique State and am delighted to introduce you to some of the most interesting people I have met. I hope you enjoy these insights into local life and that they will stir a desire to visit Kerala in the not too distant future.
India and Covid-19
On March 15th, 2020 India closed its borders. Then on March 24th India made history, implementing the world’s largest lock down. All of India’s 1.3 billion people were asked to stay home. Since then India has, like the rest of the world, opened up somewhat. As of the end of July, India has reported over 1.3 million cases. The impact on the poor has been devastating and the health system is under enormous pressure.
The Kerala Model
However, within these challenging overall numbers, there have been some success stories. Kerala, a state with a population of 36 million people, under the proactive leadership of K K Shailaja, the health minister, has done extremely well.
Kerala is the most literate state in India, has the highest life expectancy and an impressive public health system. Shailaja teacher (as she is affectionately known) and her team began preparations in late January, immediately on hearing about the situation in Wuhan. Kerala authorities meticulously tested all arrivals into the state and followed the WHO protocol of test, trace, isolate and support. Their response was rapid, intelligent and effective. It was also compassionate, for example, the state accommodated and provided food to over 150,000 migrant workers who were in Kerala from other Indian states.
In the last month, however, the case numbers have increased, believed to be a result of over half a million Kerala residents returning from the Gulf States. However, the recovery rate remains one of the highest in India and the health system has not been overwhelmed.
Experts anticipate that Kerala will be the first destination in India to welcome back travellers. Initially Kerala expects local residents to explore their own state, then they anticipate domestic Indian travellers and then further into the future opening up to international visitors.
I am grateful that the people I approached found the time to talk with me and were willing to share how they are adapting both personally and professionally during these extraordinary times. I enthusiastically made a firm commitment to each of the interviewees about seeing them upon my return to India and am eagerly looking forward to spending more time in Kerala when possible. In the meantime, I hope you join me in some Kerala dreaming.
Founder Cult Modern
Fort Kochi, Kerala
Don van de Pol
Travel Guide, Business Coach, Psychology Student and Hotelier
Ishka Farms, Kochi, Kerala
The Blue Yonder, Kerala
Fort Kochi, Kerala
Sustainable Tourism Pioneer
Industrial Engineer, Islander and Hotelier
Dr Simon John
Founder and Owner Winderemere Retreats