Let’s begin with where on earth Kerala is! I reckon my Malaysian comrades require no introduction about Kerala as everybody seems to know someone whose parents and grandparents hailed from Kerala. One example is Melinda, my officemate, is very excited about me going to keralablogexpress as her mother was born and raised in Kerala before migrating to Malaysia. She had visited Kerala when she was a kid but hesitates to visit Kerala as an adult because of the preconceived thoughts of India in general. Many other second generation and third generation Malayali youngsters in Malaysia have never visited the land of their forefathers. I truly understand the sentiment as we believe what the media portrays to us until informed otherwise.

As a matter of introduction, Kerala is a state in South India on the Malabar coast, bordering Karnataka to the north and northeast, Tamil Nadu to the east and south. There are 14 districts in Kerala – Kasaragod, Kannur, Wayanad, Kozhikode, Malappuram, Palakkad, Thrissur, Ernakulam, Idukki, Kottayam, Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram. During the #keralablogexpress trip, I covered atleast half of the 14.

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Thanks to Silk Air, for flying me from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore to Trivandrum. Kerala is accessible via Kochi or Trivandrum. Inflight experience on Silk Air will be covered in a separate post.

EXTRAVAGANT RECEPTION FROM KERALA BLOG EXPRESS AT TRIVANDRUM INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

I fly with Silk Air on business class from Singapore to Trivandrum with Philippines blogger, Jojo Vito of Happy Trip. It is my first business class experience. After landing in Trivandrum, a ground handling officer ushers us to the fast lane for business class passengers. When told we are holder of e-visa, we queue to the most right narrow lane with few counters, where immigration officers conduct document check. We hand over our passport, return flight tickets and invitation letter from Kerala Blog Express. Indian E-visa is the newly implemented visa system and this is my first time carrying an e-visa. If you wonder how does my e-visa looks, it is just a computer print-out and nothing else. At the counter, the immigration officer keeps the e-visa, stamps our passports and directs our attention to the number she wrote on the stamp. That is our e-visa number. The copy she keeps is my only hard copy of e-visa. Extra hard copy of e-visa might come handy on my next visit to India.

As Jojo and I are among the last ones to leave our respective countries and having seen many other bloggers already jamming the social media on #keralablogexpress feed, we generally have an idea of what the reception would be like. Bouquet of flowers and fancy name placard. But nothing prepares us for extravagant celebrity welcome reception at Trivananthapuram International Airport, especially when we walk out of the arrival hall at 10.50pm local time. There are never ending shutter clicks of camera and a videographer capturing every moment of our short-stint glamorous lives as we receive our Valentines bouquet and name placard. This is just the beginning of what I have to live by for the next two weeks. I can assure you that my face is haggard from long day at work before my departure. It is here that I first meet Sooraj, Jinson and Vineeth, crews for Kerala Blog Express!

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A NIGHT STAY AT VIVANTA BY TAJ: GREEN COVE, KOVALAM

After 30-40 minutes drive, the car slows down as we approach what seems to me street of village houses and backpackers’ lodges. I heave a sigh of relief when the car takes a left turn and stop at private gate for safety check. The luxurious Vivanta by Taj: Green Cove, Kovalam welcomes its midnight guests. Bloggers are placed at different hotels and resorts across Kovalam and the late comers are hosted at Vivanta. The room is lovely and there, I meet Nidhi Thakur of Untravel – Nidhi Thakur, representing India. She speaks about the private beach and private backwater owned by Vivanta and that there is a yoga session at 7am. Torn in between yoga and hotel exploration, I decide to wake up early the next morning to see the private beach and private backwater. Yoga has to wait for another time.

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Cottage-like room at Vivanta by Taj: Green Cove, Kovalam

This guy arranges for a club car to send me to the private beach and backwater.

This guy arranges for a club car to send me to the private beach and backwater.

The club car drops me off for my little exploration and asks me to inform the beach patrol whenever I am ready for a pick up.

It is worth waking up early for the splendid views. My first hotel stay in Kerala has just set a high benchmark for the others.

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The boat is not merely a prop. Complimentary boating is available from 4pm to 6pm for Vivanta by Taj Greencove’s guests. Rumour has it that the backwater is the best place in the area to watch sunset. Birds are hanging out on the thick woods surfacing out of the water. Across the lake, a local man looks on.

This way to the beach. Leftover from last night’s by the beach Valentine’s dinner.

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The view from the sea front restaurant. The benches can be of use should I have plenty of time to spend in the hotel. Too bad!

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The gushing waves are extremely strong. The beach patrol warns me not to step over the yellow line as the beach is on high tide. From far, a group of men struggles to fight the waves. It somehow reminds me of the movie Life of Pi, only that this boat does not have a tiger on board.

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Showered and dressed for the Kerala Blog Express flag off, I quickly have breakfast by the infinity pool which overlooks rows of coconut trees of different heights, backwater and on the far end, the Arabian Sea.

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Meet my blogger team : Nidhi, Raul of Raul Valero & Jojo

Meet my blogger team : Nidhi, Raul of Raul Valero & Jojo

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But first, a selfie to officiate it all…

After 10.30am, I finally get to see our Kerala Blog Express coach bus on which we will be travelling for the next two weeks. It stands out on the road with its deep sky blue colour and lavish exterior design of among others, countries representing the bloggers,  coconut trees, khatakali mask man, catchy phrases of 30 bloggers, 25 countries and 2300kms+.

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Inside the coach bus are 26 other travel bloggers who cheer and greet us as we board the bus. The seats are almost full so I choose to seat beside my chosen roomie, Claire of Curious Claire Travels. We are scheduled for a flag off event and meet and greet session with medias. Also, a quick introduction of ourselves on the stage. Nervous!! We wait for quite awhile before the event begins and people are moving around so as to get to know one another. And of course, to put faces to names are the biggest challenge for the first few days. Most of us are already facebook friends or atleast connected via secret facebook group.

Kerala Blog Express briefing, introductions and welcome speech.

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A photo session during the flag off!

A photo session during the flag off!