Kerala – God’s Own Country
One of our “Top things to do before we die” item – touring Kerala – God’s Own Country. We thought, now is the time to start fulfilling our “Bucket List” one by one. We arranged our itinerary. We surfed the Net to find out how we should go about it and finally came up with some good ideas. Our object was to tour all the good places in Kerala, taste its unique cuisine, mingle with local people and experience Kerala in its glory.We booked our train from Ratnagiri (Netravati Express) up to Trichur. We arranged a taxi from Trichur for the entire trip. We suggest that you do the same, instead of going on group tour (nothing against travel companies). Tailor made independant tours will give you a different experience.
- Guruvayoor: Our train reached Trichur at 12:30 pm on 12th December 2009. Our taxi was waiting for us. Immediately, we went to Guruvayoor which is about 40 kms from Trichur. We checked in the hotel at Guruvayoor, freshened ourselves up and went off to Elephant Sanctuary and Training Center. There are, as told to us, about 85 elephants in the Center. We toured around the center. Nothing to worry, the elephants are all tied up. But be aware, don’t wander off close to the elephants, else they get agitated easily. Take close up snaps with elephants only in the presence of mahouts.
It was 5:30 pm and the Center closes. Then we proceeded to Mamiyoor Shree Mahadev Temple (not the Guruvayoor Temple). It was a beautiful temple. All the temples in the South are well kept. They are clean, disciplined and unique compared to temples in the rest of the country. You find a kind of peace of mind when you enter the temples. Remember to bring your dhoti / lungi before coming to Kerala. Ladies should preferably bring saree. Salwar kameez, chudidars may not be allowed in some temples. You will not be allowed in any temples here wearing denims, shirt, pants. Then around 8 p.m., we went to Guruvayoor temple. Dressed in the above described attire, we marched like devotees from our hotel through the bus stand, local market surrounded by people wearing black attire (Shabarimal / AyyappaSwamy devotees). It felt kinda awkward, but slowly we got used to it. I was having trouble wearing the dhoti (fear that it might reveal), so I took help of our neighbouring room occupants and they were very kind to help me out. Alas, when we reached the temple, there was a long queue, which we thought might take us at least 3 hours to take darshan. Hence, unfortunately we dropped the idea. Twas already dinner time. We had heard of the great food (prasadam) being served at the temple. But as it was Ekadashi, there was no prasadam. Bad luck, there too. So, we turned back to return to our hotel. We saw an elephant procession on the way. The procession was full of color, glory and pomp. We had typical Keralian food of rice, sambar, rassam with side dish in one of the hotels and then retired for the day.
- Enroute Cochin: Next day morning, we started towards Cochin. On the way, we visited Adirampally and Wazhachal falls. Adirampally falls is called the Niagara falls of India. Its natural beauty will mesmerize you. You can also get to the bottom of the falls, though tiring, is exhilarating and worth it. Then we moved on to Wazhachal falls which is more like a step falls. We then visited Adishankaracharya Birth place in Kaladi and then Adishankaracharya Math. These places are holy places. Stories and pictorial presentation of Adishankaracharya’s life can be seen here. I remember, seeing a movie on His life, long time back on Doordarshan, so could quickly recall some events. On the way to Cochin, we also saw the newly built, beautiful Cochin International airport, designed on the lines of the Guruvayoor temple, about 30 kms outside Cochin. We reached Cochin and checked in the hotel and retired for the day.
- Cochin and en-route Munnar: Our hotel was on the MG Road of Kochi / Cochin / Ernakulam. As told to me, the sea port is called Cochin and Ernakulam is the name of the city. However, they are both used interchangeably. We had breakfast of Appams and Idiyappams in a hotel called “Ceylon Bake House” on MG Road.
Appam is bowl-shaped thin pancakes made from fermented rice flour. They are white, soft, fluffy and served with side dishes like egg roast, veg stew or any combination of non-veg / veg curries. Appams are my fave dish so far. The hotel we had it in, was famous for appams and idiyappams.
Idiyappam is made of rice flour, salt and water. It is generally served as the main course at breakfast or dinner together with a curry (potato, egg, fish or meat curry) and coconut chutney. It is not usually served at lunch.
Then we moved on to see Dutch Palace, Jewish Synagogue, St. Francis Church. These places give an idea about the colonial past of Cochin. The architecture, design of the buildings in these areas have a Dutch, French and British feel to it. There are many Kashmiri shops of antiques in these areas. But beware to purchase only from authentic shops or else you will be duped. On the way we saw the Cochin Sea Port from an adjacent river bridge.
The next stop was Chinese fishing nets. They are shore operated lift nets and the catch is sold to passersby. We had some photo op with the fishermen. We also got a chance to operate the nets.
We then proceeded to Munnar hillstation. On the way, we stopped by to see the rubber plantations and how rubber is formed. There are many small waterfalls on the way to Munnar. The road was winding and soon we could start feeling the cold chill in the climate, away from the humid climate of earlier places. It was refreshing. The landscape was turning into beautiful valleys and high range points and even more greenery. Our resort in Munnar was about 25 kms outside Munnar. It was a good place to be in, as it was situated on a hilltop. We had dinner in the resort and retired for the day.
- Munnar: When we woke up in the morning, we were greeted by the beautiful valley landscape. We had a nice big cozy room with balcony facing the valley. We could see a distant lake shining and reflecting the morning sun light. We had tea on the balcony and savoured the experience. We had breakfast in the resort and off we were for Munnar sight seeing. We drove past the tea plantations. There were tea plantations as far as the eye can see. Munnar is situated in the south Western Ghats, upto 8500 ft above sea level. It was about 5 ° C. It is a sleepy plantation town. As told to us, the growth of resorts and plantations is having a detrimental effect on the flora and fauna of the place. However, the beauty of the landscape cannot be described, and one can only imagine how Munnar would have looked before it was declared as a tourist spot. We took some snaps alongside the tea gardens, waterfalls. We remember stopping the taxi and taking snaps whenever we found a photogenic scape and there were lots of them. We visited Mattupetty Dam and Echo Point. It was foggy and hence we could not see the nature in it entire glory and splendour. We visited a floral exhibition which housed rare species of flowers and plants.
We then visited Eravikulam / Rajamalai National Park. We have to board a bus which takes us to the Park in the mountains. The enroute views were breathtaking. It drizzled and then there was sunshine. We basked in the sunshine looking out in the valley where a rainbow had formed. The sunlight reflected over the trees and water bodies which had a magical effect on our soul. We climbed the mountain road. The
- Park houses a rare species of Mountain Goat. It dwells in the natural habitat eating mountain grass. We could only see a silhouette of the endangered goat due to fog and it was very far away. After the Park visit, we had an opportunity to experience Kerala’s famous ayurvedic massage. We went to a renowned doctor in Munnar who has been practicing massage therapy for more than 25 years. The massage consisted of full body massage with different ayurvedic oils and steam bath ending with a hot water bath. After the massage, which lasted about 2 hours, we were given herbal tea. We felt lighter and in a trance after the experience. We strongly recommend this massage therapy at reputed doctors only. We returned to our hotel in the evening and retired for the day. Due to the massage, we got a good night’s sleep.
- Thekkady: We started our journey to Thekkady – the spice town. Enroute, we had a half an hour Elephant ride near Thekkady. Then we went to Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary which is Tiger Reserve. There is an artificial lake. However, we were disappointed to know that the boat ride, which is the main attraction in the Sanctuary, was suspended due to a recent well known lethal mishap. We loitered around the Park. The Sanctuary is known to house tigers, elephants, deer, sambar which can be seen on the boat ride, though tigers are difficult to spot. We were told that the boating will resume in a month. We then checked in our hotel to get ready to visit Kalari Center to witness another highlight of Kerala, viz: Kalaripayattu and Kathakali. We had booked the tickets in advance just to make sure we get the seats.
Kalaripayattu is probably the oldest martial arts in existence and is believed to be the roots of karate and kung fu in the Oriental. The skills displayed by the performers left everyone with gaped mouth. There were kicks, flexible body movements, fire display, weaponry, high fliers and much more. After the display, we got a chance to take snaps with the performers who were very friendly and offered us weapons and taught us stances of Kalari and even posed for photographs. Then we were off to see Kathakali in an adjacent building.
Kathakali, a form of dance drama is noted for attractive make up of characters, detailed hand and eye gestures narrating a drama through gestures called Mudras presented in tune to playback music and percussion. The make up itself takes many hours and is very cumbersome. The attention to detail is commendable. After the stunning performance, we got photo op with the characters who were too willing to do so. And why not? They were beautiful!!
Then we retired for the day after having dinner.
- Enroute Alleppey: After breakfast, we left for Spice village in Thekkady. The trip through the spice village was a good experience. The place was filled with spice aroma. We saw spice plantations of all kinds of spices. We purchased a few spices as well. Then we were off to Alleppey. On reaching Alleppey, we visited the Alleppey beach. It was sunset time and we waited eagerly for the same. The sun set was beautiful. The sky had turned orange in colour and we watched the sun set till its last tip. We had coffee and then checked in our hotel in Alleppey.
- Alleppey: Is better known as “The Venice of the East”. Also called as Allapuzha (remember the pronunciation of “zha” is not the same. You will find many place’s names ending with “zha”. It is “la” as in “Tamil”. The intricacies of Dravidian language cannot be expressed in English). It is a town with picturesque canals, backwaters, beaches, and lagoons. Kerala backwaters is a network of natural canals stretching to about 900 kms of waterways. There is also a National Waterway in Kerala from Kollam to Kottapuram covering more than 200 kms! We had booked a “Shikara” to take us from Alleppey to Kollam (about 65 kms or 7 hours), from where our driver picks us up and then to Trivandrum. We sat in the boat which silently waded through the waters, leading us through picturesque paddy fields, coconut trees and back waters. It was an experience of a life time! We saw houseboats on the way. There were towns bustling with activity near the canals like school children going to school, ladies washing clothes and people going on with their daily life. We stopped at a place near the canal where we had a bite to eat like banana cooked in wheat flour, chips and coconut milk. We stopped for lunch in adjacent resort where we had backwater food like lobster, fish curry (Meen Curry), fish fry (Karimeen Porichathu) and Steamed Fish (Meen Pollichathu). The food was sumptuous. Then we continued on till we reached Kollam where our driver was waiting for us. The driver then took me to a place where we had Toddy, which is a mild alcoholic beverage made from the sap of coconut or palms trees. It has a strong coconut milk taste but really good. We moved on to Kovalam, a bustling and scenic beach 15 kms from Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala. We had dinner in a beach hotel. The beach reminded me of Goan beaches as there were more foreign tourists than Indians there. We checked in a hotel and retired for the day.
- Kovalam and Trivandrum: In the morning, we had a typical breakfast of “Puttu” with egg roast and idli and dosa, in a tiny roadside hotel in Kovalam.
Puttu is made by steaming moistened rice powder. It is another culinary speciality of Kerala. Amazing stuff!!
Then, we visited Kovalam beach and other beaches. Then we were off to Padmanabha Swami Temple in Trivandrum. It is a Vishnu temple where the deity is in form of eternal sleep posture. There was heavy rush but there was no chaos inside the temple mainly due to the orderly conduct of the pilgrims. We think that other temples especially non-South temples should learn from temples in the South.
Due to the 7 hour long backwater ride in Alleppey in the previous day, which was unplanned, we hadn’t enough time to cover Trivandrum sightseeing, though we were told that we didn’t miss anything. Hence we proceeded to Kanyakumari. On the way to Kanyakumari, we visited our Driver’s house near the Tamilnadu – Kerala border for lunch. We were offered typical Kerala style lunch consisting of Baked Tapioca(root vegetable similar to potato) dish, karimeen curry, mackerel fry, beans sabji, brinjal sambar with boiled rice. Thanks Mr. and Mrs. Matthews!!
We then visited Asia’s highest water canal (allegedly, i guess). The view from the top was breathtaking with palm trees, coconut, rubber and banana plantations as far as we can see with small streamlets here and there.
We arrived in Kanyakumari and checked in a seaside hotel. We bought some tapioca chips and banana chips to take home. We had dinner and retired.
- Kanyakumari: We woke to witness sunrise from our room’s balcony. It was hazy over the sea and could not witness the same. We could see the Vivekanand Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar statue from our room. We got ready and after breakfast, we went to the southern most tip of Mainland India called “Triveni Sangam” where the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea meet. Compared to our Kerala trip, we found that Kanyakumari was a dirty place with filth strewn all around, mainly due to tourism, i guess, but topped by incompetence of local municipal authorities. There is also the Kanya Kumari temple.
- We then took the jetty ride to Vivekanand Rock Memorial. There is a Dhyan mandir for meditation and a beautiful view of the “Sangam”, and picturesque landscape of the town surrounded by mountains and the sea. Far off, we could see thousands of windmillss (near Nagercoil, i guess). It is said that Swami Vivekanand undertook rigorous meditation on these rocks and attained enlightenment. Then we went to see Thiruvalluvar statue and back to mainland. I had earlier visited Kanyakumari when it was under construction. We felt that the Rock Memorial would have been better off left alone as its has been spoilt due to (in)decision of Tamilnadu government of constructing the statue of the Tamil poet (our personal opinion). Then we went to see wax museum and Vivekanandpuram where literature of Swami Vivekanand’s thoughts and stories are kept.
That was it. We returned to Trivandrum by train to board a flight to Mumbai and then back to Kolhapur. We had an enthralling joyride of Kerala and its beautiful people. The people are very well mannered and helpful compared to people we meet in the North.
We had an exhilarating experience of Kerala and Kanyakumari! Truly said that Kerala is God’s Own Country with all natural treasures embedded like Mountains, Backwaters, Sea, Rivers, Greenery, hot and cold climate, wild animals, deep forests, you name it, Kerala says We have it!!