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Published: November 24th 2013
Glimpses of Kerala: Summary
In my previous five entries I have described our experience about Kovalam, Kanyakumari, Kumarakom, Thekkady and Munnar.
I feel that a few things have been left out that I wanted to convey, about trip to Kerala.
Presuming that you are reaching Kochi or Trivandrum around noon or in the early afternoon, possible options are:
(1) Backwaters of Kumarakom / Alleppy (1N), Thekkady (2-3N) and Munnar (2-3N): If you want to cover only these three, travel from Kochi to Alleppy to Thekkady to Munnar to Kochi. Kochi local sightseeing? No need for keeping extra day or night.
(2) You can add Trivandrum (2N). Then start from Trivandrum to Kumarakom to Thekkady to Munnar to Kochi and back. No need for more than ½ day for Kovalam. ½ - 1 day for Trivandrum.
(3) If you are interested in visiting historical Vivekananda Rock Memorial or want to see the southern most tip of India where three seas meet: Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Hind Mahasagar (Indian Ocean), then add one full day for Kanniyakumari from Trivandrum / Kovalam.
So, 7N8D minimum. 9N10D better. 10N11D still better.
There are plenty of
options offered by tour operators. Hardly any include Kanniyakumari. Total cost will be higher by 20-30%!a(MISSING)s compared to self planned itinerary.
We planned our own itinerary, booked hotels, taxi and all through internet. We had a few problems because of a poorly managed travel portal (www.cleartrip.com
I had booked Houseboat in Kumarakom through www.keralatravels.com
and had very good experience. It is necessary to inform in advance if you want pure vegetarian food.
At Thekkady and Munnar, your options are to stay near the town (easy access to restaurants, market, transport) or stay at a place on the outskirts in quiet, natural surroundings – with limitations of options for food, safety and accessibility. Home-stays are considered to be good economical options.
I had booked hotels at Kovalam and Thekkady through MMT and at Munnar through ClearTrip (www.cleartrip.com
). There was a marked difference in the services offered by these two portals.
I had selected hotels in the centre of the town (at Kumily-Thekkady and in Munnar) because getting vegetarian food is a problem in Kerala and we wanted to be in a central place to keep options open.
There was a problem with hotel booking
at Thekkady (two nights, through MMT) which they themselves reported to me and offered me another hotel (with higher rates). Only after my consent they shifted the booking to another hotel and DID NOT charge the difference. There was a problem with Munnar Hotel also (two nights, booked through ClearTrip). When we reached Munnar, the Hotel refused to acknowledge the booking voucher issued by ClearTrip saying that they were not informed by ClearTrip. Local agent of ClearTrip accommodated us in an INFERIOR hotel for the first night and still INFERIOR HOTEL (no water supply) for the second night. Breakfast was arranged in a third hotel 1 km away. Thus there were problems with both, but the difference was in the way they solved the problem.
I had booked taxi through www.keralataxibooking.com
. Vehicle was good. The driver was a safe driver. But he did not know English and could poorly communicate in Hindi. This is a common problem. Drivers tend to take you to places where they have some interest, not necessarily the best places (food, sightseeing etc). It is better to have your own detailed plan to go around.
Except for about 30 kms around Munnar, roads all
throughout our journey of over 1000 kms, roads were quite good. Due to hilly terrain and dense population, travel time is more and is unpredictable. Traffic is well behaved and well regulated.
People of Kerala are very nice, modest and helpful in nature. They are very simple. Kovalam:
Kovalam beaches are supposed to be some of the finest in India. The Sagara and Lighthouse beaches, very close to each other are OK but there are many others in India that are much better. In a sense I was disappointed. Beaches of Goa are unbeatably no. 1. Havelock in Andamans is also very good (but too far, very expensive to reach). Nagoa beach of Diu (off Gujarat), or Marina beach of Chennai are better than Kovalam. The sand in Kovalam is black – muddy and smelly, shelf is short and steep. Rocks surrounding the beach result in spray of sea water in the air to such an extent that the atmosphere remains hazy. Hawkers are not allowed on the beach. Good. Guards and policemen were seen keeping watch (unusual)! Benches (with umbrella) were available for Rs. 100 to rest. Food available in nearby restaurants (plenty of them) may
be good for non-veg, but for us, there was not much choice. A couple of hours at Kovalam are more than enough. Kanniyakumari:
Vivekananda Rock is the main attraction of the Kanniyakumari, although the name of the place is derived from the temple of ‘Kanniyakumari’ – Parvati. Gandhi memorial is another place visited by tourists.
Island of Vivekananda Rock is about half a kilometre off the mainland shore (southern-most tip of India) and can be reached only through boat service run by the port administration. Mainly because it was festival season, the rush was extraordinary with a queue of about 1.5 Km to the ticket window (Rs. 34 per person, return fare). It took 3 hours in the sun to reach the ticket counter. Ticket can also be obtained without waiting in the queue on some higher payment (Rs. 169s – official rate). The sad part of the story was not waiting in the queue but the fact that tickets at higher rate were available and we didn’t know. The information is not displayed anywhere except at the ticket counter – which you reach only after waiting in the queue! It is not displayed even at the
gate of the port. Communication with local people is very difficult as very few people speak or understand Hindi. Kumarakom Houseboat:
Our houseboat was named Indraprastha. We entered a little late than planned, at around 1:30pm and were served welcome fruit drink. The houseboat had 3 luxury chairs - sofas, glass top dining table for 6 persons, wall mounted TV with surround sound, two air conditioned rooms with attached bathroom with continuous water supply and a kitchen. Enjoying all this in a boat, floating in back waters is a nice experience. We had typical Keralian lunch of mainly rice, 3 vegetables, mix salad and rasam. On way we saw Chinese fishing net hung for fishing especially during night time. After sunset boats are not supposed to move and we relaxed in the quiet of the evening could hear insects chirping. We had dinner in dim light not to attract more insects. In the morning further round of the waterways and disembark at 9.00. Thekkady:
There are so many things to see, so many things to do, but unpredictable travel time and so many queues to wait in (if it is busy tourist season) with hardly any
communication possible with your taxi driver, planning a perfect trip to Thekkady and Munnar is not easy – unless you have extra time at your disposal.
‘Spice gardens’ are a plenty on way to Thekkady and between Thekkady and Munnar. They grow specimen of many plants having medicinal value or which are used as spices. They also sell the spices, but we were reluctant in buying from them due to a bad experience (poor quality) several years back, of buying flavored tea from a tea garden in Ooty (a hill station in Tamilnadu).
In the afternoon of the first day in Thekkady we took elephant ride and saw Kathakali dance drama and Kalaripayattu Martial Art shows.
Kathakali – Keralian style of telling story through dance, music and gestures (of face, eyes and hands – in particular) – is worth watching. If you take the first show (usually around 5 pm), you get to see how the artists put on their makeup and dresses. That is perhaps more interesting than the dance part. The song was in local language but the compeer had explained the story beforehand (otherwise it will not make any sense). Kalaripayattu Martial Art show
was ordinary exhibition of gymnastics (at Mudra Culture Centre). Can be omitted.
Close to Thekkady is Periyar Lake and Periyar Tiger Reserve. Private Jeeps are available for Forest Safari (5 am to 7 pm). It is possible only if you have full day spare for that. Seeing wildlife is always a matter of chance. Alternatively, one can go for boating and trekking.
KTDC has many interesting packages for exploring the Jungle and the Wildlife, ranging from 3 hour guided ‘Nature Walk’ to over-night camp-fire. The problem is that all these are managed in the typical Govt. style. Means, no information is available except at the Boating site ticket window on the Lake. We were interested in taking the ‘Nature Walk’, last batch of which was due to leave at 2.30 pm from the Lake. But the booking for the ‘Walk’ is not done at the Lake – it is done from some place in Kumily called ‘Ambadi Junction’ – as per a poster at the Lake. My suggestion is to go for trekking first thing in the morning and take boat ride in the afternoon, last boat leaving at 4.00/4.30. .
suitable vegetarian food is a challenge in South India. Since Gujaratis throng tourists spots all over India during festive season, a couple of so-called Gujarati restaurants have come up in Thekkady (and Munnar) – although they are not really of Gujarati style, they serve food that somewhat resembles Gujarati and North Indian taste. Best option for Gujarati tourist therefore is to have huge breakfast of Idli – Dosa – Uttapam – Sambhar which is served in all hotels (only in the morning) – and survive till the next morning on rice and rasam. Munnar:
Munnar is a hill station in Kerala, at about 1500 mts, located close to Tamilnadu in the Western Ghats. It is a beautiful, picturesque place with sprawling tea gardens all around, a number of large water bodies and waterfalls.
Like almost all tourist spots in India during Diwali festivals, Munnar was also full of Gujaratis, easily identified by their loud behavior.
We had second exposure to typical Keralian lunch (first one was in the Houseboat at Kumarakom) in a small restaurant called Sarvana Bhavan. Food was served on banana leaves. We had good experience of the people of Kerala so far; their
helpful nature and soft mannerisms; we enjoyed that the most at Sarvana Bhavan, where despite the fact that we were not having our preferred meal, we enjoyed the food.
Next was visit to Tata Tea Museum. There is not much of a museum there except few historical photographs and a short film on early days of the Kanan Devan Hill Plantations and how tea gardens came up in this area.
Hydel Park is a small quiet place to relax, close to Munnar town.
Eravikulam National Park in Devikulam/Munnar. It is a sanctuary for Nilgiri Tahr (mountain goat). From the base of the High Ranges hills of Western Ghat, the Park management runs mini buses to take you to the Rajamala tourism zone at the height of about 2000 mts, through a 20 minute ride.
In the National Park there is a well paved slope to go further up on foot for about 1½ km. The place is cool, quiet, and beautiful and you can see Nilgiri Tahr moving freely. How much time you can spend here depends on your appetite for enjoying the scenery all around. Best part was numerous forest guards to keep plastic and
litter away and to prevent tourist interference with free moving Tahr. And they were doing their duty well.
The highest peak in this area is Anamudi Peak (2690 mts) situated in the State of Tamilnadu. You need an extra day to visit Anamudi and due to interstate tax on commercial vehicles, taxi operators generally discourage you from going there.
Returning from the National Park, and on way to Mattupetty Dam, there is a wonderful horticulture garden with hundreds of varieties of flowers and colorful plants. A must see in Munnar.
Mattupetty Dam: It is a major tourist attraction in Munnar. Boat ride, speed boat, pedal boat etc. is available. From Dam site one can go further to the boat jetty, still further to a spot called Echo Point (don’t know why?) and still further is Kundala Dam. Still further is Top Station – we didn’t go there, we had a full day.
It is just not possible to go to every place in Munnar in 1½ days.
Although the time we spent in Kerala was less than optimum, we could see, experience and enjoy almost every aspect of Kerala, its beauty, its people, its beaches,
its roads, its climate, its food, its hills, its jungles, its lakes, its wildlife, its backwaters…….almost everything.
Returned from Munnar via Kochi.
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