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The Tharakans are more fortunate than most. They also own a big rubber estate not far away, and prices have rebounded sharply during India's economic boom. But one of the oldest Syrian Christian families in Kerala has seen what was once a mixed rice and coconut farm shrink dramatically -- through donations to village churches, government land reforms and divvying up among heirs -- to roughly five hectares, from 400 in the late 1960s. Each coconut now sells for about four rupees, or about nine cents. Kerala's long-stagnant coconut prices have come under new pressure after the government last month removed a duty on edible oil imports. Do farm walk and learn about the farming activities, inter-crop farming, spice cultivation, Ayurvedic plants etc. Do a wider sightseeing and exploration trip of the countryside on a bicycle. A sketch of the region can be provided and you get to enjoy the pepper farms, cardamom hills, paddy fields, the bush and cliffs etc. In his tourism venture, Mr. Tharakan has kept much of Ayanat House unchanged. It is stuffed with Art Deco furniture, and tall pepper and vanilla vines dot the property. Yet Mr. Tharakan is not above nods to modernity. He has cut out coconut oil from his own diet because of high cholesterol.
About 30 kilometers south of Cochin, Ayanat house offers a few airy rooms for about $150 a night. Further south, Emerald Isle is priced at about $100. A less-expensive option is Village Paradise (http://www.homestayskerala.com) at about $70 a night. A private car, arranged in advance through a tour company, is the best way to ensure your driver will be able to find these tucked-away places. Kerala Home Stay typically provides all meals. But if you want to venture, the best options are in Cochin. Brunton Boatyard (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a refurbished boatyard with a notable lamb curry and extensive desserts. Rice Boat (http://www.tajhotels.com) serves seafood with views of the backwaters, while fine South Indian vegetarian fare can be found at Hotel Dwaraka.
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