Places to see: Kochi, Munnar, Thekkady, Kovalam, Varkala, Alleppey
Things to keep in mind:
- Keep Munnar in your itinerary such that it doesn’t coincide with any public holiday. It is a small hill station with narrow roads and you might end up spending most of your time in traffic jams in the city
- There are many trekking options in Thekkady, one of the most popular being the Bamboo rafting and trekking. It is advisable to book it in advance on Periyar Tiger Reserve’s website because there are only a limited spots available
- Houseboats in Alleppey go for a tour in the backwaters for few hours and then come back to the port in evening. Staying there overnight might not be too comfortable. You might consider booking the houseboat just for a day trip and staying overnight in a hotel in Alleppey
- Roads are good but twisty and narrow in Kerala. It might take longer for the same distance to cover than on north Indian plains
Situated on the south-west tip of the Indian peninsula, Kerala has been often called God’s own country, and rightly so, because the land is blessed with mesmerizing landscapes, green hills, deep forests, virgin beaches, kind rivers and backwaters. Traversing through the state, one can see the richness of natural beauty and at the same time experience the local culture and heritage. Flanked by Arabian Sea in the west, which could not resist and made its way into the land forming vast backwaters, Kerala promises a memorable experience to the travellers.
Day 1: Kochi
Kochi is a historic port city in Kerala. The traces of Portuguese rule and Jewish settlements can be spotted here. In the present, it is a major economic and trading centre. The main tourist attraction here is Fort Kochi. It is the old part of Kochi and is a locality with churches, museums and lot of cafes. When Vasco Da Gama died in Kochi, he was buried here in St. Francis Church for few years before his remains were taken back to Portugal. Fort Kochi is a quite and peaceful area, which you can explore by walking around the streets. There is a small beach in Fort Kochi alongside the promenade. You can also see the popular Chinese fishing nets that are fixed in water. Another historic spot in Kochi is the Jewish Synagogue. Also known as the Paradesi Synagogue, it was built in 1568 by descendants of Spanish, Dutch and other European Jews. There is a shopping street near the Synagogue where you can buy souvenirs and other art pieces.
Day 2: Munnar
Kochi to Munnar is around 3-hour drive. The journey is spotted by many waterfalls and flanked by lush green hills on both sides. At many places, we drove inside the clouds. Munnar has large tea plantations, which provide a green blanket to the hills. The green hills, along with the blue skies and the wandering grey clouds make up for a picturesque color combination. The local market has lot of Tea and spice shops. When we were going towards Mattupetty Dam, we discovered some local teashops that were selling tea at much lower prices. The highlight was the different flavors of Tea they were selling.
Mattupetty Dam is another popular destination in Munnar. It is few kilometers away from the main town. It has a huge reservoir surrounded by the hills, which makes it even more vivid.
Other places to visit are Eravikulam National Park, which offer trekking and Safari activities.
Day 3-4: Thekkady
Although Alleppey and Munnar are the popular names that spring up in minds when we talk about Kerala, I loved Thekkady the most there. It is around 100kms from Munnar, but takes 4 hours because the roads are hilly and narrow here. The journey was very scenic, even more so than from Kochi to Munnar. Thekkady is a quite town, much less crowded than Munnar, running at its own pace oblivious to the outside world.
There are many things to do in Thekkady. The highly recommended is the Bamboo Rafting in the Periyar Tiger Reserve. It is one experience, which would be hard to find anywhere else in India. They offer full day and half day Bamboo rafting. Since the number of people in one go are limited (around 7-8), I would suggest booking the slot in advance so that you don’t miss out on this experience. We took the half-day one, as we had to drive to Kovalam in afternoon. The Bamboo rafting starts with a trek of around 4 kms in the Tiger Reserve. We were a batch of 6 people and we had 3 armed guards with us. When we started, they gave us bag with food and water and leech socks. There are a lot of leeches in the reserve and the thick leech socks prevent them from sucking our blood. As we trekked more and more into the jungle, the Green color became darker and darker. The familiar sounds were replaced by chirping of the birds and the sounds of the small streams flowing in the reserve. After about an hour of trekking, we reached a house that is maintained by the Reserve. We had our food there. I also had to peel off some leeches that were trying to pierce my Jeans. Then we set off on the Bamboo rafts that were waiting for us. The huge water body was formed by the construction of a dam in the past. That’s the reason why there are so many tree trunks still around in this water body. After about an hour of rafting, we came back to the spot and started back for the city. If you are lucky, you can spot some elephants and other animals during the trek. The possibility is more during the summers because the animals come to the lake to drink water. In the rainy season, they already have small water reservoirs near them so they don’t need to make this effort. In all, it was a great experience and if you have the adventure streak, you should definitely not miss it.
Apart from Bamboo rafting, Periyar Tiger Reserve also has the boat riding activity. We went there but regretted it. Those boats were full of people, everyone was given a seat where we had to sit all the time. The crew was very unfriendly and rude. They did not allow us even to stand up to click pictures. The boat was very noisy and it ruined the experience. I couldn’t wait to get out of it.
There are some other small trekking activities conducted by the Reserve. Almost all these activities have different routes and start from different gates of the Reserve.
After an intense and tiring trekking session, what better way could be than to enjoy the local culture and music show: Kathakali. We booked the evening slot and luckily got the first row seats. The show had 2 dancers along with a narrator who was narrating the significance of the dance moves. Kathakali is a very peculiar dance in which every small move has a different meaning. There is extensive use of eyes and hands.
Elephant rides are also available near the town. Overall, Thekkady was the best Kerala offered to me. A place full of adventure and thrill, yet peaceful and serene.
Day 4-5: Kovalam and Varkala
After spending 2 days in Thekkady, it was time to hit the beaches. From Thekkady, it takes around 6 hours to reach Kovalam, which is a popular beach spot near Trivendrum. There are 4-5 popular beaches in Kovalam with accommodation options and cafes at the shores. If you go in the season time, October – March, the ocean is calm. We went in the month of August and unfortunately, it was not the beast time to visit Kovalam. Due to the south-west monsoons, the waters are violent and unsafe for swim. There is also a risk of undercurrents, which are not visible and can pull you down. So it’s better to avoid swimming this time. But nothing stops you from taking a sunbath at the beaches or trying the delicious Kerala cuisines. The fresh sea air, filtered by the coconut trees can be easily distinguished with the polluted Delhi air we have to breathe.
After spending 2 nights in Kovalam, we started for our next stop, Alleppey. There are 2 routes to Alleppey. One is the highway and the other is the coastal road. We chose to take the coastal road. Varkala beach is around 60kms from Kovalam. It is a smaller beach but much more peaceful and quiet. If you don’t like noisy beaches and want less crowds, I’d advice you to stay at Varkala instead. The only sound audible here is that of the waves crashing against the sand.
Day 6-7: Alleppey
The coastal road from Kovalam to Alleppey is panoramic with beaches after beaches lined up near the road. There are small towns, old churches, and abandoned beaches on the way. It is a 4 hour ride from Kovalam to Alleppey, but it took us 6 hours due to our multiple beach stops and leisurely pace. We had already booked a houseboat for our stay overnight there. We directly went to the port, left the car in parking, and hopped inside the houseboat. It was a semi luxury houseboat with 1 room and a dining area in the front. The boat undocked and sailed for the huge backwaters. It looks like a giant ocean, which is calm like a lake. There are paddy fields in the middle of the backwaters. The boat sails for 3-4 hours after which they take it back to the port. I thought we’d be out in the backwaters all night, or at least till the late evening, but the boats return back to the base because the fisherman then cast their nets apparently. Staying in the houseboat overnight was not so comfortable as there were lot of mosquitos in the water and the washrooms didn’t function properly. I would advise you to not book it overnight but only for the day. You can explore the backwaters during the day and probably stay in a hotel overnight or head for Kochi, if you have a late night flight, because Alleppey to Kochi is just and hour drive.