Kerala

You can read my sister’s detailed post from 4 years back when she took a trip to God’s own country.

Our trip began with a visit to an aunt who lives in Cochin. After a hearty breakfast and family time we made our way to Thekkady. By the Pandikhuzi waterfalls we stretched our legs and enjoyed watching the mountains and the milky water snaking down. There were shops thronged by visitors eager to try fresh fruit salads and other local delicacies. We too tasted some and drove on.

Pandikhuzi Waterfalls

Club Mahindra Tusker Trails at Thekkady is located close to the gates of Periyar Tiger Reserve. A trek was organized by the staff at Club Mahindra, who took us through the bustling streets of Thekkady and into the cool and calm interiors of the jungle. It wasn’t such a wild experience; there were people and a Devi temple too. It was a pleasant walk though; we got to bond with the other guests of Club Mahindra.

Then we booked an Elephant ride at Tusker Trail Elephant Ride and Jeep Safari where we rode on elephants on a muddy path strewn with elephant dung between coconut trees, banana plants and fig trees. We didn’t opt for the Elephant bathing experience. Maybe we should’ve tried that!

One chilly morning we went on a jeep safari into the Periyar tiger reserve. The jungle was too green and dense, unlike the dry grasslands we were accustomed to. A misty haze in the air, the tiny glistening ponds, all added to its ethereal beauty.

We stopped at Gavi, an Eco-tourism spot inside the jungle where we went boating on the emerald waters of kochupamba. We then climbed up a mountain, spotting a variety of birds all along, and reached the Sabarimala Viewpoint, where we enjoyed a panoramic view of the Sabarimala temple. At the Valley view, we were treated to breath-taking views of the misty mountains and the wooded valley below. This perfect location impelled the kids to perform some Yogasanas right there! We took a tour of Cardamom plantations where we had to be very careful as the area was thick with blood-sucking leeches! I remember watching many guests at the dining area, warding off these bloody buggers with heaps of salt.

Breakfast, lunch and snacks were served right there and so it was a full-day event.

For a bit of culture, we decided to watch a performance of the ancient martial arts form called the Kalaripayattu at the Mudra Theater for Kathakali and Kalaripayattu. Before the stunts began, the members performed a ritual of prayer. It was dark inside the arena, so a bunch of lights lit at strategic locations provided a suspenseful glow. We watched with bated breath as kids (the performers didn’t look too old) performed acrobatics with swords and fire. They were swift and supple. We sincerely hoped they wouldn’t break their backs or set the whole place on fire!

Our next stop was Munnar, a hillstation, a honeymooners’ paradise. Well, we were in a big group with a bunch of kiddos, so it wasn’t such a romantic experience for us. There was fog all around, which made it difficult for us to see the road ahead or the edges beside. The hills were so steep, it was exhausting to get to our rooms from the reception at the Club Mahindra. But the green tea plantations on mountain slopes, the clouds hanging low, all made for some mind-blowing views and awesome pictures. I would wake up refreshed and do yoga on my balcony, overlooking the hills.

club Mahindra Munnar

There were roadside food stalls, serving steamed dosas and spicy maggi. Water gushed right beside the roads and underneath them which made me so uncomfortable whenever we got down from our vehicle. The poor visibility made me hold my kids closer to me. It worried me to find people posing for pictures on the middle of these roads, where the fog made it hard to tell whether there was a vehicle coming or not.

At the Sun Moon Valley Boating recreations by the Mattupetty dam kids had fun on the speed boats. We went to a beautiful spice garden for a tour. There was a stream running beside as we walked inside the garden packed with herbs and trees. We learnt a lot that day, about trees like cinnamon, (Did you know that bay leaves came from the same tree? I didn’t!), about cocoa sheathed in thick green coats, about medicinal herbs like Adulsa (used for cough and cold). We shopped for some spices and ayurvedic medicines at the store.

We went to Eravikulam national park, native of the famous nilgiri tahr- mountain goats. After a long wait for tickets, and the bus that would carry us up a mountain, we were dropped at a point from where we had to cover the rest of the distance on foot. It was drizzling almost the entire time which made it difficult to spot any wildlife, but the rain-soaked trees on hills and water gushing down them made our walk worthwhile. We saw the Strobilanthes kunthianakurinji or neelakurinji, that blossoms every 12 years. Nilgiri Hills, which means the blue mountains, got their name from the purplish blue flowers of Neelakurinji.

Our guide from Club Mahindra took us to a Cardamom plantation called Gudumbara, where we learnt how the plant is cultivated, harvested and dried to be used as spice. At an ancient, dilapidated building there was a furnace maintained at 60 degree for drying the cardamom for 18 hours.

We explored the plantation which was almost like a jungle with its packed vegetation and an eerie quietness. It was damp everywhere and with leeches festering the place, it was quite an adventure! All memories of this trip fade behind the singular memory of seeing blood oozing from our legs and having to clean out wet clothes and drying them with hair dryers in various rooms we stayed at!

There was ziplining across a small lake, which everyone tried. Trudging our way through wet, muddy roads on a jeep, we went to a windy point. The views of the farms below and the hills around were stunning!

Driving down from Munnar to Guruvayur temple in Thrissur was a feat in itself. The roads were dense with vehicles and fog!

We visited the beautiful but overly crowded Guruvayur temple the next day early in the morning. After the chaos of the visit we strolled about in the temple complex, visiting hotels and shops and purchasing traditional clothes and ayurvedic books to study.

Manasa

In God’s Own Country

When we planned our 3-week trip to India for my cousin`s wedding, we decided to include a trip to Kerala as well. I wanted to show my country to my husband, mother-in-law and our friend, Guido, who were traveling with me. My parents too agreed to join us. I checked many tour packages on make my trip, yatra and other websites, and after a lot of discussions we decided to go ahead with make my trip. The trip was to be for 6 days and the itinerary would include Cochin, Munnar, Thekkady, Alleppey and Kumarakom.

Our package included hotel accommodations, breakfast, the return airfare and a private car for getting around. It costed us around INR 30,000 (around USD 440) per person.

We flew from Bangalore to Cochin (an hour long flight). At the airport, we were welcomed by the manager of the transport company who showed us our car and the driver who would be driving us around for the entire trip. We were slightly disappointed with the car even though it was a 6 seater Innova. There was not enough space in the back seat. Thankfully, everyone took turns sitting there.

We drove from Cochin to Munnar, a 4 hour drive. On the way we stopped to check out the Cheeyapara waterfall while enjoying some juicy raw mangoes and pineapples sliced and mixed with chili powder, which were being sold by a roadside vendor.

Cheeyapara Waterfalls
Cheeyapara Waterfalls

After driving for another hour, we stopped at a Spice garden, where we took a tour accompanied by a guide who showed and explained the characteristics and benefits of different herbs and spices grown in Kerala like cloves, cinnamon, tulsi, hibiscus, eucalyptus etc. It was quite interesting. We could even catch a glimpse of the beautiful Valara waterfalls from the garden. (Entry to spice garden costs INR 100 per person).

On our driver’s recommendation, we pre-booked Kalaripayattu and Kathakali shows (An hour long show each which costs INR 200 per person per show) and an hour of Ayurvedic massage (We chose full body massage with steam which is INR 1800 per person) at the Punarjani Traditional Village. Our rooms were booked at the Misty Mountain Resort. After checking in and freshening up, we headed out to watch the shows. I must say, they were truly mesmerizing! At the beginning of the act, an actress showed the main facial expressions of a Kathakali artist called the ‘navarasams’. It was followed by an enactment of a story. Though we couldn`t understand what the story was about, we enjoyed the colorful dresses, the actions and the music. It is similar to South Canara`s “Yakshagana”,  except that in Kathakali, the artists do not speak. Kalaripayattu is an old and traditional form of martial arts. We were amazed to watch kids and young men showing different ways to tackle the opponents.

We ended our first day in Kerala with a relaxed massage which each of us enjoyed!

Munnar- View from our hotel
Munnar- View from our hotel

The next day we drove around Munnar. I’d never seen so much greenery in one place! Even my Swiss family was awed to see such beauty.

Munnar
Munnar

We visited Eravikulam National park located along the Western Ghats in Munnar. Anamudi (Elephant face), named because of its shape, at 2,695 meters, the highest peak in India south of the Himalayas is inside this park.

(Entrance to the park is 90 INR for Indian Nationals and 370 INR for foreign nationals!!) From the entrance, we were taken in a bus around the hill to a certain height. From there, we were free to walk around the hill. This region has the highest viable population of Nilgiri Tahr (Mountain Goat) in the world. Tea plantations and other variety of flora surround the region. The views are breathtaking!!

They say that wild animals like tigers and elephants abound in the underlying forest, but we are not allowed to enter as it is a restricted area. I highly recommend visiting this park for its stunning views.

A Mountain Tahr
A Mountain Tahr

A short drive from there, we visited the Kannan Devan tea museum. It was small but we learnt about the company’s history, what procedures the pluckers employ and the processes the leaves undergo to make Tea. We walked out of the museum relishing cups of tea. (Entrance fee is 90 INR per person)

Munnar Tea Plantations
Munnar Tea Plantations

Later we stopped at the Mattupetty and Kundala dams.

Next day, we drove to Thekkady. It was a 3 hour drive and we stopped at all the scenic spots to have some nice pictures clicked. As we drove from Munnar, the scenery changed from green hills and plantations to brown mountains.

Way to Thekkady
Way to Thekkady

We went to Periyar national park. (Entrance tickets cost 25 INR for Indian Nationals and 300 INR for foreign nationals plus there is an additional cost of 50 INR for the car as well. This ticket does not include boating). Periyar is pretty huge and vehicles are allowed only until a certain point. As you walk around, our ancestors will greet you, and by “ancestors” I mean “monkeys”; one even tried to jump on Mike! We bought our tickets for boating inside (it is 125 INR per person). The hour-long ride was amazing!

Boating at Periyar National Park
Boating at Periyar National Park

After the ride, we checked into our hotel “Michael`s inn”. The rooms were quite big and tidy. In the evening, we went around the small town, looking for souvenirs and gifts to buy for family and friends.

It is a 4 hour drive from Thekkady to Alleppey and we drove early in the morning, after breakfast at the hotel. We reached our houseboat by noon. The boat had upper and lower decks. There were 4 rooms in the lower deck and 2 in the upper. We were allotted 3 rooms and another family (who hadn’t arrived yet) the rest. Our rooms were quite spacious. There were 5 men to serve us food and care for our needs. There was a dining hall in the upper deck. As soon as we reached, we were served a glass of fresh juice followed by a delicious lunch. Later, we were taken on a short ride around the Punnamada lake.

Houseboats in Aleppey
Houseboats in Aleppey

Room inside Houseboat
Room inside Houseboat

After the ride, the boat was brought back to the original location to pick the other family who had finally arrived. We were again taken on a 3 hour ride around the lake. It was pure bliss. After a hectic schedule with family functions and travelling, this was just  what we were looking for, some unwinding time. We spent all that time reading, chatting, watching the birds fly and relaxing. We stopped at a small island, got down and walked around enjoying the beautiful sunset. Over dinner, we sat together and discussed the functions we’d attended, our present and future….

Chilling on the Houseboat
Chilling on the Houseboat

Enjoying the Sunset
Enjoying the Sunset

The next morning, the houseboat drove back to the pickup point as we enjoyed our breakfast. From there, our driver drove us to Kumarakom. (Houseboat was included in our tour package)

Our hotel in Kumarakom, “Ashirwad Heritage”, was again a nice hotel with spacious rooms. After checking in, we drove to a city called Kottayam, which is 20 km away from Kumarakom. It is similar to Mangalore or Bangalore, busy with traffic, lots of shops around. We bought some freshly-made banana  and jackfruit chips (famous in south India). We were mostly looking for authentic Kerala stores, but we found very few.

We took another boat-ride on the backwaters of Kumarakom (What?! Kerala is famous for its backwaters my dear!). We booked a whole boat for 900 INR (which can accommodate up to 8 people) for a one and a half hour ride. We drove a small part of Vembanad Lake spotting birds like Kingfisher, heron and even a water snake.

Backwaters of Kumarakom
Backwaters of Kumarakom

Next morning, we left early to Cochin, from where we would be flying back to Mangalore. Sadly, we couldn’t visit the beautiful Jewish Synagogue or the famous Dutch palace in Cochin as our flight was scheduled for noon and we did not have enough time. In the limited time we had, we went to Lulu Hypermarket and St. Joseph’s church.

Kerala… What can I say… The beauty of the land, its culture, the people truly makes it God’s own Country. We simply fell in love with it!

God's own Country
God’s own Country

Points to consider when visiting Kerala

  • Better drink tea rather than coffee as Tea is widely grown here
  • If you want to include Kumarakom in your itinerary, better make it a half day trip, as there is nothing much to see. Instead visit Cochin.
  • It is hard to find Vegetarian restaurants in smaller cities. You’ll have to make do with Veg/ Non-veg restaurants.
  • Please try to leave it as clean and green as you’ll find it.
  • Do try to stay in a houseboat for atleast a night, even if it is a bit expensive. It is totally worth it!
  • Our driver was good as he showed us a lot of places. Make sure you choose a good car and a driver.
  • And last but not the least, do inquire what all your travel package covers. We didn’t know ours didn’t include the entry tickets to various parks! Shop around (a lot) before you finalize the package!

Cheers,

Madhurya