Escape to God’s own Country – Kerala
In true sense, travelling happened to me ever since I settled in Europe not long back than 2010. Before that it used to be small excursions or trips within the vicinity of our base just as a weekend getaway. In India, the concept of travelling was not that popular until the boom of Social Media in late 2000. Earlier people use to visit as a Tourist & experiencing the culture in every aspect was never in the agenda. Thanks to the boom in information technology & social media which helped to spread the awareness of travelling among the mass. More & more people are now more enthusiastic & indulged in Travelling. Even if it’s only for their love of photography or to keep up with the upscaling social trend among the peers. Having said that, it certainly has progressed in a good way.
Nearly after 7 years, since my travelling spree has taken a stable momentum, I finally had an opportunity to explore my Home country India. So we decided on one of the most celebrated & exotic destination Kerala. All my peers at work who visited India has asked me about Kerala and its culture. There was always a sense of awkwardness not been able to answer their query or indulge in a conversation especially when the foreigners assume that being an Indian, Kerala & Rajasthan (another equally famous Destination) are anyway must have been covered by all Indians. Somehow they fail to understand that India is almost as big as 1/3rd of Europe and not everybody would have a chance to visit Kerala or the entire country. Despite that, it undeniably prompted my decision to settle for Kerala & I made sure that I enjoy it to the fullest.
We visited there during our annual trip to India in February 2017. The last week of our visit was reserved for Kerala & meticulously planned by one of our Travel agent. We were five in the family including my Parents, my husband Amit & toddler daughter Tiya. Since my aging parents accompanied us, we preferred to have a customized tour by hiring a 7-seater car in order to have a hassle-free relaxed holiday.
The first day of the Trip started from Lucknow to Cochin Flight via Delhi. It was mostly consumed by travelling due to a long halt in Delhi. We reached Cochin around 6 PM in the evening and was welcomed by our Tour Guide cum Driver – Manoj. We decided to have our dinner first before crashing in the hotel after such a long & tiring flight. Our hotel was in center of the city and it was quite a ride from the Airport. Thanks to our guide who actually took us though all the major attractions of the city & quite literally gave us a compact tour of Cochin in no time. Even though we didn’t stepped out anywhere, the brief encounters of the places while sitting in the car was indeed satisfying even though not fulfilling enough. But no regrets as ‘something is better than nothing’. Not to forget the continuous narration of long history by Manoj all along our way. & Voila! We literally finished the Cochin city in just couple of hours.
Day 2 began with a long 3.5 hour journey to majestic Athirapally waterfall in Thrissur. It is often nicknamed as “Niagara of India”. We were lucky to have witnessed the full throttle of the fall as it was not the dry season yet. Although the temperature was a bit hot, playing around with water did give some respite to our burning souls. We spent quite some time there before heading towards our next destination ‘Munnar’.
It was another 3 hours’ uphill journey. Along the way we came across many more small waterfalls. As we cruised to our destination we could feel the growing mildness in the air. Within an hour or so, the temperature dropped to pleasurable scale and the views started becoming more green & picturesque. Beautiful long stretches of Tea plantations throughout the valley became more evident and was indeed the treat to the eyes. Thanks to Manoj who took due care of my parents & kid during the uphill drive & made it very smooth & comfortable especially during steep turns. My apprehensions about motion sickness just vanished and it made the drive more worthwhile.
By the time we reached our hotel, it was already late afternoon. After some rest & refreshments, we headed towards an exquisite evening show of traditional fight art form “Kalaripayattu”. We were amazed & equally delighted to have experienced it firsthand which we usually had seen only in Indian movies & television. All in all, the day ended with a satisfying note.
Day 3 started with a much relaxed pace as the whole day was dedicated to the attractions within Munnar only. Our first stop was the Blossom Garden. As my Father is very fond of gardening especially with flower species, he took a keen interest in watching & observing various plants & herbs and also bought some rare flower seeds for our home in Jorhat. After spending a considerable time there we started for Mattupetty Lake & Dam. It was pretty crowded & the traffic was very slow too. So we decided to park the car a little further than the actual spot & preferred walking to the dam. Later we directly headed for the lake. The Lake was spectacular. The turquoise green water reflecting the blue sky embraced by alluring green mountains was totally breathtaking. Even though Munnar has been heavily commercialized as hotspot tourist destination during last decade, I was pleasantly surprised to see the level of cleanliness around the lake. It was well maintained and totally worth the efforts.
We spent quite some time on the banks of lake in different locations en route our drive including the Echo Point too. Then we started to pursue our next stop – Kundale lake but unfortunately we were informed that it was closed for next couple of months due to renovation & road works. Finally we headed towards Tea Museum to witness the processing of raw Tea leaves into Tea.
By then it was almost late afternoon and we decided to have a small drive around town’s Tea Plantations. & I am glad that we took the right decision. The low clad clouds leaning over the tea plantation was indeed a spellbound experience. Every direction you turn to, you have something to amuse about. Along every twist & turn, there is something to capture. It was absolutely a heavy dose to my everlasting quest of natural paradises & certainly in a good way. By late evening we were back to our Hotel and Amit went to experience his pre-booked slot of Ayurvedic massage ‘Shirodhara and Abhyanga Njavarkijhi massage” within the hotel Spa Center. Since we had heard a lot about it from our friends, we didn’t want to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity. After the session I could tell by his face, that it didn’t disappoint at all & was worth every penny.
Next day (Day 4) we started early morning to our next location Thekkady. The Periyar National Park in Thekkady is a protected area & noted for its Elephant & Tiger Reserves. It was also a long drive of 3.5 hours. This time we covered the other part of Munnar downhill & finally started our journey through spice Gardens, Coco & coffee Plantations. All the small herbs & plants on both sides of roads had now converted into tall mighty trees and mid ranged shrubs. One could easily smell the air enriched with spice & coffee aromas. During this drive, we came across small villages where we got to experience the local culture very closely. Even we encountered an unique & thrilling incident wherein a big Cobra snake crossed the road just couple of meters away from our car. Our Guide Manoj spotted it on the road and stopped the car just in time. According to him it is very common in this area & people are used to live like this in perfect harmony with nature (even if it could be dangerous). Anyway, we continued & stopped at our next location – Periyar National Park.
We were welcomed by the anxious troop of nuisance monkeys which could be seen everywhere from the Parking lot to the Periyar Lake. As we approached the lake, the breathtaking scenery took us aback. Beautiful calm lake surrounded by flora & fauna along the banks makes it such a serene view. After boating & spending some quality time there, we went to the Elephant Junction. We took a twenty minutes elephant ride which particularly my daughter ‘Tiya’ enjoyed a lot. Even though it was also a first time for us, Tiya’s excitement was unparalleled to that of ours. We clicked a bunch of pictures with the Elephant we rode on & thus, one more item checked off from my bucket list.
The following evening I had my golden chance of experiencing ‘Shirodhara’ & ‘Abhyanga’ massage in our hotel while my husband babysat our daughter. It was truly a heavenly experience for sure. The Abhyanga full body Massage was so relaxing & amazing, it took off all my tiredness of past three weeks of India Visit. My massage therapist ‘Amina’ was so warm & experienced, that my initial inhibitions about this session totally vanished in first couple of minutes. There was indeed some magic in her hand. Oh, how I wished to continue it for some more time perhaps a few more hours.
After that came the ‘Shirodhara’, which takes you to whole new level. All those aromatic ayurvedic mixture of warm oil dripping slowly on your forehead is such an extraordinary experience. This obviously coupled with head & shoulder massage was a complete bliss. During this 2 hour massage session, I totally slept during my ‘Shirodhara’ which lasted around 40 minutes. There after I was given steam bath for last 15- 20 minutes to finish off. But as all good things comes to an end, this also had to finish leaving me with such a light head & relaxed body. It undoubtedly stood up to its fame & totally worth every second of your time.
Day 5 started with another long drive to the Alleppey Backwaters. After around 4 hours of journey we reached this another picturesque Gem of Kerala. Often known as the ‘Venice of East’, it is the vast network of waterways with Houseboats which is literally a gateway to witness the local culture firsthand. We rented a Luxury Houseboat with Three Bed-rooms, Common sitting room cum Dining space & a Kitchen. Two Bedrooms were allocated to us with attached Bathrooms & private Patios. & the third one adjacent to the kitchen was being used by the caretaker & cook. The entire Houseboat was Air-conditioned & it really helped us spending some family time together in the living space considering the hot & humid weather of Backwaters. Plus points for keeping away Mosquitos at night too 😉 .
It sailed across the enchanting sceneries of backwaters filled with greenery of paddy fields, flocks of ducks swimming around the banks & beautiful exotic birds flying above in the sky. Meanwhile the cook enquired about our food choices for Lunch & we continued our journey through the vibrant countryside. After around 1.5 hours of sail, we had our lunch & to our surprise it was super delicious. We didn’t expect such a high quality of food in terms of freshness & taste. At last we were fully stuffed & ready for a short siesta.
Post nap, the boat again started sailing towards the delta of Sea Side. By this time the temperature dropped & was more pleasurable. We were sitting & enjoying the view while having some evening snacks (Pakoras) with Masala Chai (Tea). It sailed for around 2.5 hours before stopping in front of local Sea food – Fish market in a village. We all stepped out of the boat to have a better look on the variety. The cook asked us to choose one item that we would like to have for dinner. My Husband was instantly on cloud 9. Even though he is allergic to shell fish it didn’t deter him to go for red Crab. My father on the other hand had chosen for the fresh king prawns. We purchased the live crab & prawns and handed over to our cook. Meanwhile we ventured more into the village for a short 15 – 20 minutes’ walk for sightseeing. Thereafter we continued our journey by boat for another 1 hour before coming to final halt for the day.
It was almost late evening and we decided to take a stroll along the bank where our Boat was parked. It was a budding village with all the simple life amenities at place. Nothing was missing & the life was quite similar to that of us. I was pretty astonished to imagine that lifestyle on the banks of such narrow waterways. It was more or less, well & perfect. After the walk we parked ourselves in the boat, and started to watch TV. The caretaker cum cook facilitated us to watch a Bollywood movie. Around 8:30, the dinner was served & it was once again scrumptious. What delighted me most is that the cook could prepare the wide spread of platter within such a short time including our request of two separate dishes. The crab & prawns were very well cooked & Amit didn’t had any inconvenience consuming it considering his allergy.
Next Day – 6 commenced by squeaking of birds in our attached patio. The sun was by then shining brightly & after freshening up we gathered in the living space where we started our morning with hot Masala Chai. Around 8:30 we were served with delicious Parathas, Idlis & Dosas. By 9 AM the boat again started sailing towards our ultimate destination of pickup in opposite direction. After around 1.5 hours of sail, we arrived at the coast where our Guide Manoj again picked us up. We were again on road towards our next destination Varkala which was around 3 hours’ drive. While passing through Kollam city, we decided to have our lunch & afterwards, Manoj lead us to a very famous Saree store specially known for local Kasavu Silk. I had requested Manoj at the start of the trip to stop in some famous store of his choice so that I could purchase a handloom Kasavu Silk saree. I finally ended up choosing an untraditional colorful saree to add on in my collectibles of Indian Silk sarees. Later we cruised on towards Varkala which is particularly known for Janardanaswamy temple situated up on the cliff & the beautiful long stretches of beach by the foot of the same.
The beach is easily accessible from top of the cliff. The presence of the red soil cliff particularly makes it more unique & quaint. One can easily locate more western faces here compared to any other tourist attractions of Kerala. & the moment we stepped on the beach it was evident enough why most of the foreigner tourists are concentrated here.
The beach was the cleanest one I have ever experienced in entire India. It had a shallow stretch of sand over a couple of hundred meters. People can easily get in & enjoy without any concern of high tides. Also it was not over the top crowded as other popular beaches. In fact it was conveniently free from crowd with everyone having their own sufficient space to enjoy on. Amit & Tiya took the full advantage of being on a beach & were the ones who enjoyed the most. While my parents relaxed & relished the quite & tranquil evening on the shore, I captured some memorable moments & sceneries around. After spending around two hours, we headed back up to the cliff towards our car. I shopped around couple of souvenirs along the way back. By the time we reached the car it was already late evening & we embarked on our final destination Kovalam.
On Day 7 we started early morning towards Poovar Island. It was around 40 minutes’ drive & we reached there by 9:30. We hired a 6 seater Motor-boat to sail around the backwaters. Unlike Alleppey, Poovar backwater are far less crowded & are more rustic in nature. It is for sure the untouched hidden Gem in its full wild glory.
As we maneuvered through the dense swampy mangroves, we witnessed some exotic species of Migratory Birds along with Cranes, Water Crows, Kingfishers & ducks. It was indeed an close encounter with Nature. The waters ways at some point were so narrow that I thought we would get stuck, but thanks to the experienced driver that he could easily cruise across without any difficulty. Coconut trees bending up to 60 degrees & even 30 was a treat to the lens crazy persons. The backwaters opened into a large lake and suddenly the view gets wide open with scenic Landscape.
At some distance one could see the golden sand beach overlooking the Arabian Sea with huge white furious waves. We stopped at the Golden Sand Beach & wow! What a breathtaking sight it was. Getting off to witness the might of Arabian Sea at the Golden Sand beach was undoubtedly one of my best moment of this trip. I have never experienced a place having a lake and sea in the same sight. The clean turquoise & dark blue water of Arabian Sea coupled along with literally Golden color Sand was the utmost feast to the eyes. Because of the depth & magnificent huge waves, it is unfit for swimming. We strolled around & after spending around half an hour in the beach we embarked on our return journey. We picked up some refreshment at the floating restaurant & visited the rest of the small attractions in the vicinity to sum up our final hour. The total tour lasted for a bit more than 2 hours. By the time we reached our car it was already lunch time.
After Lunch, we visited the different attractions of Kovalam Town -. Halcyon Castle, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Shrine, Fishing Harbour, Vizhinjam fishing Village, Vizhinjam Juma Masjid, Edakkallu Rock Garden, Kovalam Beach, Vizhinjam Beach, Rock Cut Cave and Chowara beach. We stopped briefly at each place and within 2.5 hours we covered all on the list. By 4:30 we found ourselves already enjoying the Sea & water again at Light House Beach. Even though It is quiet crowded, it has its own charm specially the background with the Light House.
Amit & Tiya again took all their time building sand castles and playing around in water whereas Mom & I took some leverage in shopping few stuffs from nearby souvenirs shops and around. We finally witnessed the beautiful famous Sunset at the beach. By 7:30 PM, we parked ourselves in the hotel & are ready for dinner. After the meals, My parents went to their room to do some packing & rest for the night. The rest 3 of us, went out to the private beach of the hotel (known as Samudra Beach) to walk & relax under the shining moon. As we walked, the tranquility sat in accompanied with cool refreshing breeze while I was wondering how fast the time flies.
Last Day – 8 started with rather in hustle as we drove from Kovalam To Trivandrum. It was now the time to say Good-Bye. Post Breakfast, Manoj drove us to the Trivandrum Airport where we had to catch a flight to Bangalore. We saw the city from our car only as he chose to route through city center & not through Highway. Even though we didn’t stop anywhere, we got the feel of the city by short glimpses from the car only. As we made our way to the Airport, I was reminiscing the whole trip in back of my mind. Obviously I didn’t want to end it so fast but the superb memories I made will be there for lifetime & cherished forever. May be the connection to my roots & homeland are still very much instilled to let it go. But for now, its Adios… Until next time.