Wild Photography Holidays - Photographic Adventure Travel: Kerala Photographic Retreat – The Malabar Coast, Cardamon Hills & Tea Plantations

Sunrise, Munnar

Kerala Photographic Retreat – The Malabar Coast, Cardamon Hills & Tea Plantations

Highlights include…

  • Coastal photography
  • Chinese fishing nets
  • Bustling markets
  • Tea plantations
  • Misty sunrises
  • Fishing villages
  • Fishermen at work
  • Kathakali performance & make-up
  • Local ferry travel
  • Sunset cruise
  • Fascinating street photography
  • Lovely hotels
  • Delicious Keralan cookery classes (optional)
  • Yoga sessions (optional)
  • Ayurveda treatment/massage sessions (optional)

General Summary

Fort Cochin and the Malabar Coast have long been one of our favourite destinations for photography. Our locations here include include old winding streets crammed with ancient and colourful Portuguese houses, synagogues, palaces and forts all spread over a charming cluster of islands and peninsulas. We explore beautiful and diverse Malabar coastal locations including a variety of iconic Chinese fishing nets. We capture fishermen going about their daily work both on the fishing boats and in the bustling fish markets. A private performance of Kerala’s stylised dance Kathakali allows us close contact with the performers both during the intricate make up stage and throughout the dramatic performance. Rickshaws will take us through narrow bustling streets to make close contact with the local artisans and workers. We will will include spice markets, laundries, sweetie makers, temples and a diverse group of local vendors. In all we will enjoy some immersive and varied street photography experiences. Our seven nights based in just one hotel will allow participants the time and space to relax, focus on their photography with an opportunity to revisit favourite locations. Heading for the Western Ghats we change pace and climate as we leave the Malabar coast by making a magical drive high into Kerala’s Cardamon Hills where the air is cool and fresh. We will stay for three nights in a lovely five star spa hotel atop a hill with superb vistas. Our locations here include misty morning sunrises, spice gardens, coffee and cardamon plantations plus the stunning emerald green tea plantations for which this area is famous. Returning down to the coast we stay for a last night in Fort Cochin. In all, a wonderful combination of the best that Kerala can offer in terms of coastal and mountain photography.

Itinerary

Our daily itinerary whilst in Fort Cochin will be somewhat flexible depending on the prevailing conditions such as weather, guest preference and local festivals which are not always predictable. With this in mind we have listed locations rather than an itinerary. Our days will be well structured, each evening we will gather together for a briefing regarding the following days photography/activities. We will always go out to make the most of good morning or evening light when it is appropriate. Although photography will always be the main focus of this trip there are opportunities to experience some extra activities such as morning yoga sessions, Ayurvedic massage and Keralan cookery lessons. This holiday is also suitable for photographers accompanied by non-photographic partners as most of our locations are fascinating for both.

Day 1: Arrival in Kerala

When you arrive at Kerala International Airport there will be a car and driver waiting to transfer you to our first night hotel. We will meet together for the first time as a group in our hotel at 18.00 for Introductions, welcome drinks and a trip briefing followed by dinner.
Secret Garden Hotel (B,L,D)

Days 2-7: Fort Cochin and the Malabar Coast

There are a huge variety of fishermen and fishing methods to observe and photograph including the bustling four o’clock fish auction alongside the Chinese fishing nets. Also known as Cheenavala, these huge spider like cantilever contraptions are the iconic emblems of Cochin and are in a great location to photograph the sunset. A complete stretch of the seashore along the Vypeen and Fort Kochi coastline are dotted with these impressive nets, which are a legacy from Chinese traders from long ago. Along the length of the coast colourful fishing boats bring their catch directly to the shore where it is immediately auctioned: some great close up action! The larger fishing boats that dock in Vypeen are bringing in big fishing quotas and there is lots of action as the old boats are unloaded. Sorting and repairing the large red and blue fishing nets is fabulous for both abstract and detail photography. We visit a wide variety of beautiful coastal locations including the fishing villages and communities dotted along the Malabar coast. The fishing action here is always accompanied by sea birds such as Bramani kites, Cormorants and Pelicans all vying for their share of the catch, it is common to photograph the birds stealing small fish from the nets or those that thrown back into the ocean.

Jew Town and the Spice Markets

The small but enchantingly beautiful old Jewish synagogue in Fort Cochin features a small exhibition of paintings describing the role the Jews played in Cochin. The synagogue is right in the middle of Jew town and the bustling, colourful old port area where many of the old spice warehouses are located. The mainstay of Malabar’s wealth since 3000 BC has been spices including pepper, cardamon, cinnamon, ginger, sandalwood, sesame and turmeric. Even today these spices are important to the economy of Kerala. When we visit the jungle and mountains of the Western Ghats some of our locations take in the growing areas of these luxury items that are then transported down to the plains and exported around the world. In Fort Cochin we will visit and photograph some of the old spice ware houses where we will see workers cleaning, washing, drying, processing and packing these valuable commodities, rich places for photography.

Kathakali and Kalaripayattu

We are privileged to enjoy a private performance of Kerala’s famous stylised dance form, Kathakali. Dating back to the 17th century this is as enchanting and dramatic as it is unique. In Kathakali we encounter a “story play” genre of art, but one distinguished by the elaborately colourful make-up, costumes and face make-up that the traditionally male actor-dancers wear. The themes of the Kathakali are folk mythologies, religious legends and spiritual ideas from the Hindu epics. We arrange this private performance in the grounds of the Secret Garden where we will witness and photograph the colourful, elaborate make up procedure, intricate costumes and an incredible re-enactment of one of the many classic folk stories. We will also see a demonstration and explanation of the different, subtle but fascinating movements and facial expressions.
There will also be an opportunity to visit the Kerala Arts centre to attend a Kalaripayattu martial arts performance. Originating in ancient South India Kung- fu traces its ancestry to Bodhi Dharma an Indian Buddhist monk and Kalaripayattu master.

Artisans and Workers of Fort Cochin

To observe and photograph the work of others is fascinating, especially in a culture that is totally different than our own. Just one example of many that we will see are the laundry workers of Fort Cochin who are especially interesting. At this laundry there are no washing machines or driers just open aired cubicles where the washers stand knee high in water thrashing clothing on a sloped, piece of marble. Water splashes and sprays around the workers as they wash items ranging from colourful saris to tee shirts and bedsheets. One concession to modernity is a basic spin drier. Clothes are hung on long lines outside or inside racks if it rains.The ironing is done meticulously by very old fashioned electric flat irons or a huge manual iron filled with hot charcoals. This whole process will give us endless photographic opportunities.

Day 8: The Cardamon Hills

Leaving the coast we drive high into the Western Ghats, and Kerala’s Cardamon Hills. This is a fascinating journey which will be punctuated by stops along the way. In particular we will hope to photograph the brick works that spring up in agricultural land during the dry season. In these places we will see bricks being produced in a way that relies totally on human labour, there is no mechanisation just the traditional shaping of bricks, drying and firing. Bricks are carried either on the worker’s heads or in wheelbarrows. The families working here are migrant and mainly from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. Late afternoon we will arrive at our lovely hotel, a peaceful and relaxing haven with magnificent vistas of forested hillsides and tea plantations.
Accommodation Spa Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 9: Misty Rivers, Bazaars and Tea Villages

This morning we will rise before dawn and drive the short distance downhill to our sunrise location, a calm river surrounded by trees and distant mountains. It is common for a gentle mist to form on the river surface as the first rays of sun arrive. Returning to our hotel we will take breakfast and relax for a couple of hours before leaving to explore the bustling local town and old hill station of Munnar. The bazaar, fish and meat markets provide some great photographic material. Following a lunch in Munnar we will walk to visit a village where the tea planters live. Today will be a Sunday so everyone will be at home including the children.
Accommodation Spa Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 10: Tea Pickers and Plantations

Today you may chose to revisit the river again for sunrise, or maybe you might prefer to wander through the tea gardens in close proximity to the hotel, the choice is yours. Following breakfast we spend time reviewing and editing our images in preparation for a small group presentation in the evening. Following lunch at a quirky tea planters club we will set off on a walk through one of the world’s highest tea plantations. Meandering gently through the superb emerald green landscape, we will see that the tea gardens have beautifully contoured shapes which are always attractive for photographers. Today is Monday so everyone will be back at work. Colourfully dressed, deft fingered women weave their way through the tea plants to harvest tea shoots which are carried on their backs in huge baskets, their harvest is weighed around 15.30 and is fascinating to photograph.This evening we will enjoy a presentation of each others images.
Accommodation Spa Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 11: Return to Fort Cochin

This morning after a leisurely breakfast we will make the return journey down to the Malabar Coast and Fort Cochin. We will pass through coffee and cardamon plantations, huge expanses of symmetrical, emerald green tea plantations and granite domed mountains. En route we will visit a spice garden to see how all the different spices are grown. We will arrive in Fort Cochin late afternoon with maybe a little time to do some last minute souvenir shopping, our hotel is very well situated. In the evening we will enjoy a last celebratory meal together.
Accommodation Spa Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 12: Airport Transfers

Following breakfast WPH services finish with an included transfer to Cochin’s International airport for onward flights.
(B)

Accommodation

We have chosen accommodation carefully to allow us both access to some exciting locations and as peaceful good standard retreats from the hustle and bustle of daily life in India. We will be using two different hotels as our bases in Fort Cochin and the Cardamon Hills…

Secret Garden Hotel, Fort Cochin, Days 1-7

Our first hotel in Cochin is close to all our best locations but hidden away in a quiet peaceful lane in Fort Cochin. The Secret Garden is a lovely, tranquil hotel with just nine rooms, all with a very chic but homely feel. The rooms are located around a lovely pool and furnished with impeccable taste by Thora the Icelandic owner. The elegant style is a fusion between very traditional Kerala and the best of the west, such as good linen, free wifi, reliable drinking water, homemade bread, and bikes for guests to use freely.

Amberdale Hotel, Cardamon Hills, Days 8-10

Situated on the top of a hill our five star luxury spa hotel is set in its own tea garden with wonderful vistas out over forested hills and deep valleys. We are close to our photographic locations and the air is fresh and healthy. Our rooms are spacious and all have balconies where we will be able spend time looking out over the Cardamon Hills or working on our images. The hotel restaurant serves a variety of delicious Indian and continental cuisine and the staff are always on hand to help in any way possible. Spa treatments are available.

Joining arrangements and transfers

Participants generally arrive at different times of the day/night, as they will book their own flights opting for the best deals available. Participants should fly in and out of Cochin International airport to arrive by 18:00 on Day 1 You may wish to extend this holiday either before or afterwards, we are able to give you lots of ideas for this, just get in touch with Gary at the office.

What’s Included

  • All meals
  • Hotel 11 nights
  • Sunset cruise
  • Yoga
  • Keralan cookery classes (1 included)
  • Ayurvedic massage (2 ×1 hour sessions)
  • English tour guide/co-coordinator
  • All entrance fees
  • Camera fees except for any video equipment
  • Transfers from/to Cochin International Airport Days 1&12

What’s not Included

  • International flights
  • Travel-/medical Insurance
  • Alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, snacks between meals
  • Tips for local staff
  • Indian visa
  • Any spa treatments unless specified above