After flood, tourism in India’s Kerala left mud-bound

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Onlooks watch a fishermen cast his net while standing on the edge of a road that was breached by recent flooding of the Edava Nadayar Kayal river that connects North and South Paravur in Kollam District in the south Indian state of Kerala on August 22, 2018. (AFP)
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An aerial view shows partially submerged road at a flooded area in the southern state of Kerala, India, August 19, 2018. (REUTERS)
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A fuel station remains partially submerged underwater in Kozhikode, about 385 km north of Trivandrum, in the south Indian state of Kerala, on August 17, 2018. (AFP)
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An elderly Muslim man lights a bidi, or hand-rolled cigarette, after offering Eid prayers at a mosque near a flood affected area on the outskirts of Kochi in the southern state of Kerala, India, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. (AP)
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People wait to be rescued in a country boat in a flooded area at Kainakary in Alappuzha district, Kerala state, India, Friday, Aug. 17, 2018. (AP)
Updated 29 August 2018
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After flood, tourism in India’s Kerala left mud-bound

  • Some 1,500 houseboats are tied up at Alappuzha, going nowhere, with many of the owners still paying off loans taken to buy the boats
  • Last year, one million foreigners visited Kerala, along with 15 million domestic tourists, but state government and industry officials reckon the flood will result in losses for the tourism sector of $357 million

NEW DELHI/ALAPPUZHA: More than a week after the floodwater began subsiding, animal carcasses are still floating in Kerala’s backwaters, and in places a nauseating stench rises like a wall when the wake from a passing boat breaks the surface. These inland lagoons running parallel to the coast are one of the biggest tourist draws in India’s most southwesterly state, but the stain of death and devastation wrought by Kerala’s worst flood in a century will take longer than a season to wash away. The quaint towns and villages scattered between the lush forests and paddy fields bordering the backwaters are now communities in despair.
Houses in low-lying areas are still submerged, roads are waterlogged and the sewage from drains have washed into channels that are too slow-moving to effectively flush out the effluent.
Sudarsanan T.K., a houseboat owner in the town of Alappuzha, had been looking forward to the peak tourist season, but as his home disappeared under 2.5 meters (eight foot) of water his family now have to live aboard the boat he would otherwise be renting to tourists from Europe, China, Malaysia and India. “I’ve nothing left, but this houseboat. I don’t know how I can repay my bank loan in this condition. The bank may take back my boat. I will have nothing at all then,” Sudarsanan, a 64-year-old father of two, told Reuters.
Some 1,500 houseboats are tied up at Alappuzha, going nowhere, with many of the owners still paying off loans taken to buy the boats. Sudarsanan owes about $8,600 on the loan taken eight years ago to buy the boat, and he could have earned up to $7,000 by December if the deluge hadn’t washed away his hopes. Hundreds of people perished in the flood and more than one million of Kerala’s 35 million people were forced to abandon their homes and take shelter in relief camps.
Blessed with natural beauty, fertile land and bountiful seas, Kerala has been dubbed “God’s own country” by its people, but the Marxists running the state government reckon it will need $3.57 billion to rebuild over the next two years.
“Kerala’s GDP growth may fall by 2 percent,” state Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac told Reuters, forecasting growth of 6 percent for the financial year ending next March.
Crops have been lost, the construction industry was dead for a month, and tourism, which contributes 10 percent of the state’s economy but accounts for about 25 percent of jobs creation, has been badly hit.

FESTIVAL WASHOUT
For discerning tourists looking for a more laidback Indian experience, Kerala has it all — long sandy beaches, lazy waterways, charming, historic towns like Kochi and the cool, forested hills of the Western Ghats.
Kerala doesn’t draw numbers like the northern tourist circuit, the so-called “Golden Triangle” running from New Delhi to the Taj Mahal in Agra, and Jaipur’s palaces in the desert state of Rajasthan, but it has carved out a sizable niche.
Last year, one million foreigners visited Kerala, along with 15 million domestic tourists, but state government and industry officials reckon the flood will result in losses for the tourism sector of $357 million.
The floods struck just as Kerala was gearing up for Onam, the harvest festival which is one of the highlights of the state’s cultural calendar.
Festivities, including the spectacular Vallam Kali races involving traditional war canoes, some manned by more than 100 paddlers, were postponed.
“Kerala has lost out on one of the best seasons, as the calamity struck during the 10-day run up to Onam,” said Ranjini Nambiar, who heads a travel consultancy.
Thousands of volunteers have joined a clean-up campaign mounted by the state, and Shilendran M., an executive with the CGH Earth luxury hotel chain, expected some kind of order to be restored within the next few weeks.
“The state administration is working on a war footing,” said Shilendran, whose group has more than a dozen properties in Kerala. “We are limping back to normal.”
Hardly anywhere in the state escaped the calamity.
Ernakulam district, the biggest industrial and tourism contributor to Kerala’s economy and home to the historic city of Kochi, suffered major damage, and its busy international airport was shut for nearly two weeks.
Munnar, a hill resort overlooking the tea and cardamom plantations high in the Ghats was cut off, as bridges were washed away and landslides blocked roads.
Once every dozen years a bright purplish-blue bell-shaped flower called the Neelakurinji, blossoms on the slopes around Munnar — and this was one of those years.
The state tourism had marketed 2018 as the Kurunji year, but people in Kerala are more likely to remember the mud. ($1 = 70.0900 Indian rupees)


The mussels from Brussels: 48 hours in Belgium’s classy capital

City Square in Brussels. (Shutterstock)
Updated 05 November 2018
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The mussels from Brussels: 48 hours in Belgium’s classy capital

  • A quick guide to the Belgian capital, Brussels
  • Not the first destination that comes to mind for a European mini-break, but Brussels turned out to be quite the surprise

LONDON: It’s not the first destination that comes to mind for a European mini-break, but Brussels turned out to be quite the surprise.
With a couple of days to spare in the UK, my travel partner and I decided to find the quickest — and most affordable — trip, and our search took us to the Belgian capital.
Tickets and hotel booked, we jetted off with little expectations except wanting to find the perfect waffle.
Landing in Brussels at noon, we headed straight to our hotel to drop off our bags, and were delighted it was a 12-minute drive from the airport. Our temporary home of choice was the ultra-affordable ($96 per night) Aloft Brussels Schuman in Place Jean Rey, a fuss-free four-star establishment that impressed with its laidback atmosphere and street-art-inspired rooms.

A main street in Brussels. (Shutterstock)

We began our sightseeing at the European Parliament Hemicycle — the main office of the members of the European Parliament. It certainly offered a great insight into the world’s largest transnational parliament’s role and powers. Entry is free, but you’ll need ID.
After that, we headed to one of the city’s most famous landmarks: Grand Place. Breathtakingly beautiful is an understatement; this UNESCO World Heritage Site — home to the city’s Town Hall and main museum — is so impressive it’s hard to take in its true scale.
A few blocks away is the Manneken Pis, a bronze statue that’s too cheeky to feature a picture of, but is so well-known we had to include it in our tour. The sculpture is said to be the best-known symbol of the people of Brussels, representing their “sense of humor and independence of mind.”
You could spend hours exploring this area. We stumbled upon Comic Strip Route, a trail featuring 50-odd colorful murals that represent the city’s comics heritage (Brussels is the birthplace of The Smurfs and Tintin, among others).

It was time to find a snack, and during our walk we passed by a tearoom that had a long queue outside. Surely a good sign? Turns out we were at Maison Dandoy, a Belgian institution dating back to 1829, known for its speculoos and waffles.
It was worth the wait. We had the best waffle we’ve ever eaten: freshly cooked, crispy on the outside, and fluffy on the inside. The addition of speculoos-flavoured ice-cream was delightful.
Later we made a final stop at Frit Flagey for a cone of Belgian frites — another oh-so-tasty local delicacy.

On our second day, we headed to the Atomium, an iconic building built in 1958 and renovated at a cost of €26 million in 2006. It’s certainly peculiar; but it’s the only place that offers a 360-degree view of Brussels. Strike it lucky with clear skies, and you’ll get a great experience.
Next to it is the mildly amusing Mini-Europe, a park that displays, you guessed it, mini replicas of monuments in the European Union, at a scale of 1:25. Cool spots were Big Ben — let’s face it, it will probably be demolished post-Brexit next year — and a real piece of the Berlin Wall.
A short walk away is the Brussels Expo. We came across a “Star Wars: Identities” exhibition that appealed to our inner nerd. Upcoming events include “Walking with Dinosaurs” and the Brussels Motor Show.
With the end of our trip fast approaching, there was just time for an early dinner. We saved the best dining experience to last. Mussels are a must-have, and we couldn’t have found a better place than Le Zinneke, a charming bistro serving up over 69 mussel dishes. We opted for the signature Fisherman’s Style — a delightful pot served in a vegetable and herb mix, with a side of Belgian fries. Each pot contains over a kilogram of mussels and, although the friendly staff may advise you take one each, we’d suggest sharing.
Brussels and its friendly people were a pleasant surprise, and we’d definitely return. And with its most famous foods being waffles, chocolate, fries and mussels, it’s the perfect stop for a halal break.