Rendezvous with God’s Own Country

Kerala or God’s own country as we fondly call it is a state on the Malabar coast in South India. Featured amongst top ten paradises on earth by NatGeo Traveler, the state is also known for its diversity of climate, geography and culture. To the west lies roughly 580 km long coast and to the east lie Western Ghats. The state is geographically divided into three climatically distinct regions. So, if you are a beach lover you have some amazing options like Kozhikode in the north and Varkala and Kovalam in south and, for hill station lovers there is Munnar with tea gardens, spices gardens & elephants. But wait, wildlife lovers, don’t be disheartened as Kerala houses the famous Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady and Eravikulam National Park in Munnar and many other national parks across the state. Talking about Kerala and not mentioning backwaters is equivalent to committing a crime 😉

Kerala is ideal for slow travel as there is a lot to learn here in terms of its cultural diversity, natural beauty or to find peace of mind cruising through the backwaters. But as we all working class people are bound by limited leaves, we had to cover most of the major attractions of this beautiful abode of nature within a week.

Day 1:

A family full of travel buffs embarked upon their expedition to explore the God’s own country from Mumbai on a beautiful morning. Boarding on an early morning flight to Kochi from Mumbai airport, flying above the Arabian sea and cutting through the clouds, landed at Kochi at 11:30 am.

Our pre-booked cab was waiting at the airport to pick us up. After loading our luggage, we headed straight to Saravana Bhawan which is famous for its lip smacking Kerala style veg thali, to fuel up before starting for Athirappilly Waterfall.

Athirappilly Waterfall, approx. 45 km away from Kochi Airport is a famous shooting spot of almost all Mani Ratnam movies. It is a huge waterfall located on the Chalakudy River, with water falling from a height of approx. 80 ft and is also nicknamed as ‘Niagra of India’. A 15 minutes trek starting from the main road leads to Vazhachal waterfall which is about 5 km away from Athirappilly waterfall. Capturing the beauty of these waterfalls in our hearts, we set out to our next destination Guruvayur.

You know you are in Kerala when you spot beautiful churches, colourful row houses and palm trees along the road. Such is the splendour of the road leading to Guruvayur from Chalakudy.

Guruvayur is a small town famous for Lord Guruvayurappan (Lord Krishna) temple. The temple is famous amongst Keralites for performing marriage rituals. Apart from this there is Mammiyoor Mahadeva temple here which is also famous amongst devotees. Darshan timings of Guruvayur temple are 3:00 am to 1:30 pm and 4:30 pm to 9:15 pm. After darshan is closed, the temple priest carries the main idol on an elephant and performs 3 parikrama (circumambulation) of the temple along with the aarati. This experience is not worth missing.

Special Darshan fee: Rs 2500/- for four people.

However, for us it took one hour in normal darshan queue despite the crowd of Sabarimala pilgrims.

Where to stay: We stayed at Hotel Sripathi Indraprastha which is hardly 1 km from the temple and is a decent place to stay. It also houses two restaurants, 1 pure veg and another non veg.

Important information:

  1. Guruvayur is a very small town where the restaurants close maximum by 9:00 pm so it is advisable to have dinner before that. In case, you are reaching late then it is better to carry food.
  2. One needs to keep all the belongings in cloak room which is available at a very nominal rate. The temple also has footwear stalls so; one doesn’t need to keep their footwear at prasad/flower shop.

Day 2:

After having breakfast and checking out from hotel, we started with Mammiyoor temple in the morning around 9:00 am which hardly took us 15 mins for darshan as there is no queue here. After Mammiyoor temple, we headed to Guruvayur temple where darshan was over in one hour so we headed straight to Munnar.

The best part of being on a road trip in Kerala is that you can see greenery all over and as we were approaching Munnar, the greenery was increasing exponentially. The road to Munnar is full of twists and turns and also has tea estates all along the road. As we were ascending up the Western Ghats, the weather was getting colder.

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Where to stay: We stayed at Winter Castle Homestay at Devikulam which is 10 km from Munnar town and is surrounded by forest. The host Mr. Arun is very courteous and his place is also very well maintained and hygienic.

Day 3:

The day started with super tasty idlis with piping hot sambar and chutney at our homestay. After breakfast, we headed to Eravikulam National Park which is famous for the almost extinct species of goat Nilgiri Tahr. As the ticket counter had a long queue, we bought VIP passes from forest office and directly got entry into the bus. The bus takes you upto 3 km and drops at a point where you need to trek for 1 km. The breathtaking view of tea estates from the topmost point is worth the effort put into trekking up to it.

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View of tea gardens from topmost point of Eravikulam National Park
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Last point of Eravikulam National Park
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Another view of tea gardens from the top

Other information:

  1. The dropping point of bus has a small wildlife museum and a refreshments shop. They serve amazing cakes here but the coffee seemed ok.
  2. VIP passes are not valid during return journey; therefore, you need to wait in the queue in order to board the bus.

After Eravikulam, our next destination was Mattupetty dam, which is a picturesque lake with mountains in the backdrop. After capturing the beauty of this dam in our camera, we proceeded to the boating point and tried our luck spotting the elephants there but to our disappointment, the elephants were having their me-time it seems and didn’t come out.

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Mattupetty Dam
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Mattupetty Dam

The lake is surrounded with mountains and lush green landscape making it a perfect place for boating with spectacular views for clicking pictures too! After spending some time at the lake we headed towards main town passing through beautiful tea estates on the way. And suddenly, we see a bunch of women (tourists) posing to a photographer as the women working in tea gardens with a dupatta tied on head and basket tied on the back. We too took a pit stop there and clicked pictures in different poses and resumed our journey to art center where we were supposed to watch live performance of Kathakali; an ancient dance form depicting the stories of Hindu religious texts like Ramayana and Mahabharata and Kalaripayattu; a form of martial arts in which the use of various weapons like sword, spear, dagger, etc is presented. The tickets cost us Rs 300 per head per show which was all worth it.

After enjoying these shows depicting a part of our Indian culture and history, we headed to our homestay. After having dinner, we crashed on our beds to charge us up for an upcoming tiring drive.

Day 4:

Starting our day with delicious dosa for breakfast we set out on our journey to Thekkady which houses the famous Periyar National Park. Believe me; if you are in Munnar then you must not miss the road trip to Thekkady as it is more picturesque than Munnar town itself. The roads full of twists and turns and the beautiful tea and spices plantations all along are a treat to the eyes.

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Panoramic view of Lockhart Tea Estate from top
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Lockhart Estate

After reaching Thekkady, we quickly collected our tickets for boat safari from Periyar National Park front office and headed to the forest. The tickets for safari can be booked online through official website: https://www.periyarfoundation.online, however, the parking ticket for the vehicle can be bought from front office only.

Various modes of safari are available out of which we chose boat safari.

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Periyar River
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Finally spotted a family of Elephants

The experience of boating here is unmatched as the boat passes through patches of dense forest where we were lucky to spot various animals like deer, nilgai or blue bull, barahsingha or swamp deer, bison, different kinds of birds and of course a family of elephants.

After our safari got over we immediately left for Trivandrum. This was the most tiring patch of our trip which we knew beforehand. After being on the road for almost 7 hours we reached Trivandrum and checked into our hotel at Thampanoor. This area is very close to Padmanabhaswamy Temple and Trivandrum railway station.

Day 5:

After checking out from hotel, we headed to Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple. This temple is thousands of years old and is one of the richest temples of our country. The idol of Lord Vishnu is in Anantha Shayanam posture and is made of pure gold. There are three windows through which one has to take darshan of the Lord. The most unique rule of this temple is that nobody can enter this temple wearing pants or churidar. Wearing a dhoti/saree/skirt is compulsory here. Dhotis are available at nominal rates outside the temple and one can wear the same above their pant/churidar. After taking blessings of Lord Vishnu we headed to Kovalam.

Kovalam beach is very scenic and gives a feeling of being on a beach in Goa due to the sun bath beds and shacks here. After playing kabaddi with the waves and drinking coconut water and lazing around on sun bath beds for some time, we decided to have lunch and proceed to Kollam.

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View of Kovalam Beach from a shack

Kollam falls midway between Trivandrum and Alleppey. Alleppey is just 2 hours away from here so we stayed here for night and started for Alleppey next day morning.

Day 6:

Cruising in Alleppey backwaters in a houseboat was the best and the most memorable experience of all my travels. We had booked our 2 bhk houseboat through Elite Houseboats. After checking in we were welcomed by our cook, Mr. Vishnu with welcome drinks (non alcoholic) and a basket of assorted fruits.

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Alleppey backwater ride

Admiring the beauty of “Venice of India” and sipping on orange juice, we were cruising along Vembanad Lake, passing through the villages and paddy fields along the river. The serenity of cruising in a houseboat in Alappuzha is unmatched. The best part of houseboat ride is that you can’t see any powered vehicles till the horizon. The mode of transport for villagers here is boat only. Few people who are apparently well off have their personal boat which they take out whenever they want to go out and others travel by boats which act as public transport, like we have our BEST buses in Mumbai, for them it’s a boat which has a conductor also.

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Cruising through Vembanad Lake

Around 1:00 pm, our boat was anchored for lunch break. Our cook Vishnu was a magician it seems as the food was so amazingly tasty that though our stomachs were full we still felt like eating more. After lunch when we sat in the living area listening to music and what we suddenly spotted was a guy selling ice cream in his boat cum ice cream parlor. As we were already full, we controlled our desire to have it. After a short afternoon nap, we sat in the living area sipping on tea, engrossed in admiring the beauty of nature. As the sun was about to set, the boats were being anchored at a place named Kuppapuram from where one can go to massage centers and get a nice Kerala massage or go tender coconut shopping. After the boat was anchored, our boat used to shake after every other boat passed. The sun had set and the starry sky and a dark night had taken its place. Around 8:30 pm, we were served with dinner. After chatting for some time, we retired to our rooms.

Day 7:

This was one of the most beautiful mornings of my life, after all who would not love waking up in a boat surrounded by water with birds playing in it. After having breakfast our return journey to Alleppey started. Around 9:30 AM we were dropped back to the point from where we had started. The Alleppey Houseboat ride was like icing on the cake in our entire trip. It was the most unforgettable experience of our life.

A family connects through conversations and what can be a better place for a family to sit together and chat with each other admiring the beauty of surroundings.

After our boat ride was over, we quickly headed to Fort Kochi. After roaming around in Fort Kochi area, visiting few churches and Chinese fishing nets, we headed to Mattancherry Palace which is the palace of the king of Kochi. It is converted into a museum where one can see various paintings and things used by the royal family.

Jewish Synagogue is a nearby street to Kochi Fort which has a historical importance. There are colourful shops and houses constructed along the street. This market is more suited for foreigners though. The cafes here serve delicious food.

After having lunch at the Jewish Synagogue, we headed straight to Kochi airport as the trip to God’s own country was coming to a close with unforgettable memories and experiences etched in our hearts.

Important information:

  1. Total trip expenses including flight tickets, stay, food, all entry fees and cab for 5 adults and 1 child was Rs. 95,000 only.
  2. Munnar gets colder with the setting sun so it is advisable to carry a sweater and a shawl for night.
  3. Avoid going to Gujarati or Marwari restaurants in Kerala as the food there tastes awful. It’s better to go for South Indian cuisine when in South India.
  4. Jungle cottages are available in Periyar National Park and it’s advisable to stay there at least for a night and wake up in the forest to enjoy the beauty of nature. We had time constraint so we could not experience it.

 

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