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Ellie & Ravi | Mindful Travel  🌍Travels with Conscience, Journeys with Soul 🐾Responsible travel blog | Are you ready to explore the most sustainable and exciting places on earth??

The backwaters of Alleppey, Kerala (sometimes - albeit tenously - referred to as the "Venice of the East") have become one of Kerala's biggest attractions. Looking at pictures of serene waterways with overhanging coconut palms and villages lazily floating by, it's easy to see why.
This, though, is only part of the picture. The other part is a lot of very dirty, smelly, and black canals in Alleppey itself. Another part is areas of the backwaters (mainly, but not exclusively close to Alleppey) which are so clogged with (tourist) boats, that it's difficult to move.
This season was quiet, so there were rows and rows of houseboats waiting for customers. In other seasons it would be hard to imagine this number of boats all out motoring around, and for a rather crowded scene! In many ways the Keralan backwaters have become a victim of their own success - perhaps like their more famous watery Italian cousin. But like that cousin they are also drowning under the weight of tourist infrastructure that all too often gives little back to locals and damages the environment. As well as not giving back to the local economy (the boat owner plus a couple of deck hands are the only ones getting any benefit) the boats create a lot of pollution, noise, and disrupt water wildlife.
What to do? Tipped off by a few friendly blogs, we took to the local ferry (which this picture is taken from). Seeing as those services are used by locals, hopping on board won't add to the weight of boats on the water.
Another option is to stay on the backwaters themselves - we found some beautiful (and eco friendly) resorts and homestays on the water, and just perfect for enjoying a sunset view out over the waterways... Have you experienced Kerala's backwaters?
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In #kerala it's not all palm trees, coconuts and boats.. there's no shortage of cultural activities to get immersed in - some completely authentic, and some sadly more commercial as tourism has poured in to Kerala.

Theyyam is unique to North Kerala only - I was lucky enough to be able to attend a ceremony nearby Kannur while staying near Thottada Beach. We drove down winding country lanes further and further away from the coast in our auto, into the woods. The further we got, the more frequently our driver would stop and ask villagers for directions. You see, Theyyam is not something that is well publicised or even organised, you've got to find locals who are in the know to find it. The search, however, is well worth it! Walking into a forest clearing (with not a sign of civilisation in sight), we were treated to a colourful and enrapturing display of ritual worship and sacred dance, well on into the night.. plus one of the friendliest welcomes I received in Kerala.

What's the most impressive cultural display you've seen?

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Phew, I've been absent for quite a few days on here... I'm happy to be sharing more pics of beautiful #kerela, but in the meantime I've been mulling over social media, and its role (or lack of) in #mindful travel.
I sometimes find that the more connected I am, the less I enjoy my travel. That's something I especially realised during my recent Kerala trip. Halfway along the Kerala backwaters with stunning views of village life we found ourselves phones stretched out, instagram storying and snapping and scrolling away. It seemed like anything but truly appreciating and enjoying the experience, but instead scrambling to share the moment with the outside world - and of course get appreciation for it. "Whose story/post got more views/likes" is not a new topic of conversation.
And so, I decided the moment was then, to take a step back.
Our social media "obsession" (I don't think there's really any other way to call it) has got to beg the question - is there a place for social media in mindful travel? And really, why are we travelling? Are we travelling to get that perfect instagram shot and grow our number of likes and gain validation, or are we travelling to learn something?
I know that I started travelling to learn something - about myself, about other people, about places I visit, and ultimately in a search for better understanding of how the world works. But somewhere along the way the pressure to 'compete' on social media got a little much.
So what is the answer? For travel to be more mindful do we have to ditch the iPhone model whatever? What is the balance?
All I know is that I haven't found it yet, but I will be striving to travel as mindfully as possible.
I'd love to hear your words of wisdom. What are your experiences with social media while travelling? #soultravelblog

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Any trip to Kerala feels incomplete without a glance at Kerala's beautiful backwaters - this time I was lucky enough to get to experience Kerala's waterways in different ways - but by far the most romantic was at Coconut Lagoon, run by @cghearth , pioneers of Responsible Tourism in southern India.
The resort is a lagoon in the truest sense, on the shores of Lake Vemband - one of Kerala's largest lakes - the only way to arrive or leave Coconut Lagoon is by boat. The resort is completely surrounded by water, and rare breed cows graze the grass in between the canals inside the resort (Coconut Lagoon is doing what it can to protect the species from extinction). It's the sort of place where minutes become hours become days, as you relax to the sound of lapping water and just watching river life drift past.
I was lucky enough to get the chance to dress up in my traditional Keralan Saree, gifted to me in Northern Kerala, for a few pics! You can read all about my time at Coconut Lagoon up on soultravelblog.com.

Have you experienced the Keralan Backwaters? Is it on your Wishlist?
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After my travels in Bangladesh I found myself in need of a bit of r&r and longing for the sea: Northern Kerala - near Kannur to be precise - provided just that.
I spent days at boutique hotel Haris Seashell Inn falling asleep to the sound of the waves and waking to the sound of the birds 🦅, with plenty of beach walks in between.
It was also a serendipitous place to stay as it turns out! From organic vegetable gardens for farm-to-table dining to hot water powered by the sun, this place has got their eco-friendly bases covered.
I loved Thottada beach (nearby) for its beauty, its quietness and lack of tourist hubbub found further south in Kerala.
Unfortunately that may be about to change though given that Northern Kerala has just appeared on Lonely Planet’s top 10 for 2018... Where’s your favourite out-of-the-way beach?
Thanks to @breathedreamgo for this 📷!

Bangladesh’s waterways are undoubtedly one of the things this beautiful country is famous for: fortunately and unfortunately floods are a frequent occurrence during rainy season in this land: up to 30% of Bangladesh disappears beneath the waterline each monsoon, and that figure has only been increasing of late.
As climate changes, more rain falls in heavier bursts, meaning more damage and also loss of livelihood and life. The same rains that provide vitality and goodness to Bangladesh’s endless rice paddies and crops, are wreaking more distruction.
Bangladesh’s waterways are also silting up: meaning that fewer are now open for shipping navigation. Failure to dredge them properly in turns makes the flooding worse.
It’s another powerful reminder that those who in many ways are least responsible for climate change and benefit least from global development are forced to bear most brunt from it.
And as for water, the situation in Bangladesh is far from simple. As political battles rage for the metaphorical and literal control of the flood gates, one can only hope: that the beauty of Bangladesh and it’s people will endure long into the future.

Anyone for a cuppa??
Where I’m from (London) we hold the belief that a good cup of tea fixes most things in life, so perhaps it’s only fitting that the tea region of Sylhet turned out to be my favourite part of Bangladesh.
And the comparisons with London don’t end there - Sylhettis (people from Sylhet) are often referred to as Londoners by other Bangladeshis given that so many have family members and business connections in the UK. Plus much of the delicious tea from this region gets exported internationally, including to London.
The tea business isn’t all glamour though. The picking is mostly done by women (these ladies are from Odisha in India) and if they don’t pick enough leaves (each bag is weighed at the end of a shift) their already meagre wages are docked.
So next time you have a cuppa, let’s spare a thought for those who worked hard to pick the tea, and who knows perhaps it’s with leaves from Sylhet! #soultravelblog

Faces of Bangladesh.
Visiting #bangladesh was an experience that will stay with me for years to come, and yet one that I still find hard to put into words.
My feelings about travelling in Bangladesh changed from hour to hour, and one thing’s for sure - travel in Bangladesh is not easy from a logistical perspective: there’s very little tourism infrastructure and travel is slow and sometimes hard.
But I didn’t come to Bangladesh to find express buses or highways, I came to see what Bangladesh is like, as a country many of us know so little about.
What I found was a land of smiles: I’m not talking the commercialised smiles of south-east asia, I’m talking about genuine smiles and an overwhelming sense of welcome and hospitality - even when no English was spoken.
As a female travelling solo I wasn’t sure how people would respond to me or if I would face harassment: it turns out that I need not have worried.
For the time I was in Bangladesh I felt incredibly protected: by the families I met who invited me for dinner; by the friends I made who showed me around; by hotel staff who went out of their way and had their family members meet me at train stations... 🇧🇩So that to me is Bangladesh. 🇧🇩
A country whose people welcome visitors with an open heart and a big smile.
It just goes to show: the best places are the ones that surprise you.
Would you agree?

Multicoloured rickshaws of Dhaka! These may be some of the city’s most rickety and elderly forms of transport, but there also probably one of the quickest given the snarling traffic jams that they can weave in and out of.
Clambering into one to explore the narrow, winding streets of Old Dhaka was a great way to see more of this atmospheric, largely Islamic part of the city.
Just remember to fasten your (metaphorical) seatbelt 😉. #soultravelblog

The Sundarbans (which is divided between Bangladesh - the part that I visited - and India) is not only the world’s largest mangrove forest, but is also home to many rural communities and fishing villages; over 3 million people call the Sundarbans home.
In many ways life in the Sundarbans is life on the edge, and also at the frontier of conflict between man and nature: 50 people have died in tiger and more in crocodile attacks in the past years as humans and animals jostle for food, resources and space in this crowded and beautiful part of our planet.
As a visitor, it’s easy to see both sides of the coin.
Sadly, when it comes to conservation of this precious forest and managing tourism in the Sundarbans, Bangladesh has a long way to go. Despite the Bangladeshi Sundarbans being off the beaten track to the outside world, it’s a very popular spot for domestic tours. Whenever I ventured onland during my Sundarbans boat trip, I was greeted with piles of plastic and other litter.
How can we help? If visiting areas like this we can be quiet, peaceful, and show our respect for nature - and do what we can to avoid using plastic and certainly littering.
Every little helps!
#soultravelblog #leaveonlyfootprints

Holy domes! 60 domes to be precise... welcome to the “60 domed mosque” of Bagerhat in Khulna division (Bangladesh).
Otherwise known as the Shat Gombuj Masjid, this mosque was built in the 15th century and is the largest in Bangladesh. The whitewash however is a newer feature - originally this mosque would have been purely exposed brickwork.
The name of the mosque is also highly deceptive! There aren’t 60 domes - there are actually 77... (but there are 60 columns in the mosque). I guess someone got stuck counting? Either way, this mosque was a beautiful, quiet spot to visit en route to the Sundarbans!

Happy New Year everyone!
For this post, I’m returning to Bangladesh, on a trip to the Sundarbans - the world’s largest mangrove forest is among the top reasons many people visit Bangladesh.
Famous for its swimming (and man eating) tigers, we didn’t spot any of its illusive striped and hungry cats - perhaps for the better!
In fact, conservationists and researchers still are unable to put a number on how many tigers are left in the Sundarbans.
But one thing’s for sure - spotting a tiger in this part of the world not only takes a huge amount of luck, but time, patience and respect too. Many boat trips come to the Sundarbans for 2-3 days, but to stand a chance seeing rarer wildlife, 1 week plus is recommended.
Tigers aside, there’s an abundance of wildlife to be seen here, as well as the gentle pace of life on the river 🙏. #soultravelblog

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