At the Spices Village in Thekkady, Andras Jokuti from Hungary was keen to taste everything. So, he had the cloves, pepper and cardamom seeeds. Then he saw the Bird’s Eye Chillie. The guide told Andras it was better to avoid it. But Andras was in the mood to experiment. So he bit into one. Soon, he started crying and perspiring, and became red in the face. “Then I got a hiccup which lasted for a long time,” he says, with a laugh.
The chillies might have not been suitable for him, but he loved the red fish curry with coccum in it. “I enjoyed all the food in Kerala,” he says. “The amazing combination of flavours and spices are unique. In Europe, they use similar spices to make a dish. But in India they use opposing spices. Hence, there are interesting sensations in the mouth.”
Andras was part of the Kerala Blog Express, which was organised by the Kerala Tourism. Around 30 bloggers and photographers from 21 countries were taken on a two-week tour of the state. The aim was to highlight the state through blogs, videos, You Tube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Asked about the impact of blogs, the Malaysia-based Zuzanna Chmielewska, who blogs at zuzachmielewska.wix.com, says, “Blogs are influential. If people see passion in your blog posts and a genuine interest in a place, then they will follow.”
In Prague, Andras highlighted a little-known restaurant called Laci Konhya in his blog, vilagevo.blog.hu. Soon, there was a long queue outside the restaurant every day. “Now I am told that it has received a Michelin High Recommended Award,” he says.
Alexandra Kovacova, from Slovakia, has a blog in English called Crazysexfuntraveler. com. Alexandra, who has travelled to 46 countries, gets an average of 50,000 visitors and 2.5 lakh page views on her blog every month. “I write about adventure, sports, luxury travelling, spa treatments and a healthy lifestyle,” says Alexandra.
And all of them are busy highlighting the varied aspects of God’s Own Country. The London-based Pedro Richardson (travelwithpedro.com) says, “Kerala is the best place for beginners to India. It is not chaotic. In fact, it is an easy-going place.”
Zuzanna has been to North India thrice. And this is her first visit to the South. “I am amazed at the way the tourists are treated here,” she says. “People are made to feel welcome. As a white, blonde solo traveller, in the north, I would get a lot of unwanted attention. While here, I can walk anywhere. I can talk to anybody. This is a big plus. I will come back again and again.”
The Mumbai-based Preeti Hoon, one of only two Indians in the team, says, “This is my first visit. The place is fascinating and mind-blowing. There is no state like Kerala in India.”
Unlike Preeti, Deepti Asthana has come to Kerala multiple times. “Kerala has beaches, backwaters, and hills,” she says. “There are different type of landscapes. And that is its biggest attraction.”
The Amsterdam-based blogger Arnaud Wiehe heard about Kerala only when he was invited to be part of the Blog Express. “However, through my videos I have been able to show readers my experiences in Kerala in a very tangible way,” he says. “My audience is in Holland, South Africa, UK and USA. They have not heard of Kerala. But through me, they are able to see and experience it. This can create a brand awareness.”
Meanwhile, when asked about the improvements that need to be done, Zuzanna says, “There should be cleanliness on the beaches of Fort Kochi. People throw garbage. And there is too much of plastic. In such a beautiful place, it looks bad.” And then, with tongue-in-cheek, she says, “If possible, it would be nice if you can get rid of the mosquitoes.” Says Andras: “There can be improvements in the infrastructure and the roads.”
And as the days goes by, the coverage of Kerala continues. Blogger Adriana Vassilkova has recounted her experiences on Bulgarian National TV, BNT-2. Then another participant, Maria Kofou from Greece, spoke about her preparations for her Kerala trip on Skai TV, a Greek channel. “What we have noticed is that first-person accounts has far more impact than placing advertisements in the international media,” says Anupama T V, Additional Director (General), Kerala Tourism. “Thanks to the bloggers, our reach has increased. They have put up a lot of posts, photographs and videos on social media and blogs. It feels great to learn that they enjoyed every moment spent in Kerala.”
And the Tourism department is also planning to use this material for their own promotion. “We brought out a book and a calendar with the work done by the first Kerala Blog Express participants,” says Anupama. “We may do the same with this group also.”