TRIP COACH

India

After attending a friend's wedding in Delhi, a couple wants to see elephants and tigers--and maybe stay in a tree house.

Following a few days at Green Magic, the Kiebas are heading south to Kochi, known as the Venice of India for its network of waterways, or backwaters. The Kiebas can either ride a five-hour train ($25 in first class) or grab a half-hour flight on Indian Airlines or Air India (about $85). Booking trains online is complicated, as it's necessary to know the train and station numbers, and there's no easy way to figure these out. We strongly recommend buying train tickets in advance through a travel agent.

"A coworker who travels to India a lot mentioned catching a Kathakali show," says Max. In the traditional dance-dramas, elaborately masked performers act out choreographed epics. The See India Foundation includes an English-language synopsis with its performance, and patrons can come 45 minutes before showtime to watch the actors put on their makeup and costumes.

To tour the backwaters, many visitors drive south of Kochi to Alappuzha (Alleppey) and board a double-decker tourist boat. Max and Courtney are interested in getting exercise and going off the beaten path, however, so we urge them to take a half-day guided canoe trip with the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC), right in Kochi. As for a cute, affordable place to stay in Kochi, we recommend a boutique hotel in the Fort Cochin district: Fort Heritage, a 17th-century Dutch mansion.

"We both love to cook, so we're excited for Indian cuisine," says Courtney. In Delhi, they'll probably eat plenty of Mughlai food, Muslim-style cooking that's heavy on spicy kebabs and creamy sauces. Kerala's cuisine centers on fish and coconut-infused dishes. The Fort House, an open-air restaurant in Fort Cochin, serves fantastic fried prawns, braised seer fish, fish baked in banana leaves, and other entrées that cost about $4 each. The excellent History Restaurant has a menu that covers the various ethnicities (Portuguese, Arabic, Jewish) that influenced Kochi during its days as a key trading port. For a homey experience, Nimmy Paul hosts cooking classes and meals with her family. "We really like this idea," says Courtney. "Mingling with fellow travelers should be fun, too."

In Morocco, the Kiebas bought a Berber rug, a small iron vase, and spices from the markets. "Courtney is the bigger shopper of the two of us, but we do like to come home with something unique," says Max. Tons of shops selling crafts line the old Jewish district. Crafters Antique, where local hoteliers buy their antiques, offers everything from wood carvings to tiles and brass jewelry boxes.

We warn the Kiebas that haggling is generally the norm in India. "We were a little uneasy at first haggling in Morocco, but we eventually got the hang of it," says Courtney. "At the same time, we also enjoy going to the flat-rate-price shops, at least for the sake of comparison." With that in mind, we steer them to the government-run Kairali for curios and handicrafts at decent fixed prices.

As if the Kiebas' itinerary weren't full enough, we offer up a final option before they fly back to Delhi for $210 on low-fare carrier Air Sahara. The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary--home to some 40 tigers and 800 elephants--is six hours from Kochi. They could hire a private car for $100 a day or book the Periyar Tiger Trail package--transportation, guides, meals, and camping--from $545 for both of them via Tour India, the same company that reserves rooms at Green Magic resort.

Operators

  • Hari World Travels 773/381-5555 (in Chicago), hariworld.com
  • Transportation

  • Air Sahara airsahara.net
  • Lodging

  • Green Magic Nature Resort 011-91/471-233-0437, tourindiakerala.com, double from $140, with meals
  • Hotel Fort Heritage 1/283 Napier St., Kochi, 011-91/484-221-5333, fortheritage.com, double from $75
  • Food

  • Karim's Old Delhi, 011-91/11-2326-9880
  • Bellevue Agra, 011-91/562-223-1515
  • The Fort House 2/6 A Calvathi Rd., Kochi, 011-91/484-221-7103
  • History Restaurant Kochi, 011-91/484-221-5461, entrées from $8
  • Nimmy Paul Kochi, 011-91/484-231-4293, nimmypaul.com, cooking demo with meal $25
  • Activities

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    Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
     

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