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A nine day trip to Kerala - the God's own country!
Updated 23rd September 2009
(Photo album of this trip can be found here)
Just back from a fantastic holiday in Kerala, and what a trip its been! We visited the land of unending expanse of tea plantations on rolling hilly slopes of Munnar, the land of elephants and tigers amidst dense and lush green jungles and pretty lakes of Periyar, and the beautiful tranquil backwaters of Kumarakom and Alleppey. In all, we believe we did justice to most of what Kerala stands for the beautiful hills, the greenery, and the best of it all the wonderful backwaters.
13th 21st September 2009
Day 1 flight from Mumbai to Kochi, and then proceed by road to Munnar. The taxi was pre-booked from keralataxi.com, and the car would be at our disposal for the whole of 9 days.
About an hour out of Kochi town, we stopped over at a small joint for a quick lunch some idlis and a dosa.
Reached Munnar in about 4 hours time (around 1500 IST) and checked into the hotel Igloo Nature Resort. The hotel rooms were much better than we had expected, and the staff was very friendly with a touch of personal service. The hotel itself is about 15 kms from the Munnar town (in a locality called Chittirapuram), but that is a blessing since there is no hustle-bustle of a tourist city around. All you will hear is the chirruping of birds of various species whole day.
The rooms were spacious, with a small balcony with a view to die for. You could see the mountain slopes not far off, and the resort garden right below. Amazing view!
Having tired ourselves of the journey, and considering that most tea estates close early in the evening, we decided to spend the rest of the evening in the room, and looking at the mountains. We did take the opportunity to walk around in the resort garden, which also serves as a small botanical garden, with the names of the trees stamped on them! We could identify the pepper creeper, and some other plants. The garden is well-kept and there are many flowering plants which add to the charm. We paid a visit to the Ayurvedic centre, but it is too early in the trip to get an Ayurvedic massage done. We will hold on until towards the end of the Kerala trip.
Day 2 - being a Monday, most of tea plantations are closed for the tourists.
So we took the more adventurous trip to the Top Station about 45 kms from the Munnar town, but with a significant altitude advantage. The view point at Top Station offers almost 360 degree panoramic view of the nearby hill sides. You can view the roads of a small village in the neighboring state Tamilnadu, some tribal settlements nestled amidst the hills, and many small waterfalls.
The best part of the trip was the drive itself. Amidst the rolling slopes of tea plantations, eucalyptus trees, small waterfalls and fresh and fragrant mountain air, the drive was a delight.
On way to Top Station, we stopped over at a place for an elephant ride (awesome and sometimes scary!), shouted our hearts out at the Echo Point, and visited the Madupatty dam. The sluice gates of the dam also serve as a bridge to cross the dam. Good location, but not much to see. You can however buy many handicraft items, Ayurvedic oils and cashew nuts from the shops lining both the ends of the bridge.
There was another smaller dam that we had visited after Madupatty and before Top Station, where they had boating and shikara facility in the lake, but cant recollect the name of the place :-(
Day 3: First things first. If you go by what the driver had to say no tourist leaves Munnar without paying a visit to the tea factory!
The Kannan Devan tea factory is among the very few, and surely the largest, tea factory which allow tourists inside. Though you can take a stroll through many tea plantations around Munnar by requesting the manager, visiting a tea factory with a guide is an eye-opening experience.
Though this factory does not allow you to visit the tea plantations, there is a 30 minute video about the 300 year history of Munnar and its tea plantations, and takes you through the history of the company which started it all. The TATA Tea company owns most of the tea plantations in and around Munnar, but the in the late 1990s the company transferred the ownership of the company to the employees, and changed its focus on the brand building and marketing. The TATA Tea company now has only a small percentage of the ownership of the tea estates, and most of it is owned by a newer entity called the Kanan Devan Hills and Plantations Ltd.
The guided tour of the factory takes you through the various processes of plucking out tea leaves the orthodox method and the mechanized CTC method. It also takes you through the full CTC process, from the method of drying the tea leaves, all the way up to the final consumable black tea. You can see the machinery at work, and theres a shop from where you can buy some of their produce, including tea plants.
What was most amazing for me to know was that many of the tea plants around Munnar are more than 100 years old, and produce new leaves every 15 days! Imagine the commercial utility of the plant. To top it all, the slopes of 30-45 degrees are ideally suited for tea growing, and the deep running roots of the tea plants prevent soil erosion on the mountain slopes. To top it all, the tea crop does not compete with any other crop, and hence is the de facto cash crop in the hills of the region.
After visiting the tea factory, we proceeded on to Rajamala for visiting the Eravikulam national park the home of the endangered species of Nilgir Tahr. The animal, which resembles a light colored goat, is on the verge of extinction, and a majority of its world population is found in the Eravikulam national park. The animals here are, however, copious in number and roam freely among the humans and provide adequate opportunities to photographers.
After visiting the Eravikulam national park, we went on a rather longish drive to Marayoor. And I must admit, the drive was the best part of the journey. The drive takes you up and down two hills with some of the best views I have had of the tea plantations and the hill sides.
The Marayoor town itself is quite non-descript, but when you enter the town do pay attention to the fenced jungles on both sides of the roads. These are the only natural sandalwood growing regions in Kerala and are well protected by the forest department. There are even some sandalwood trees growing outside the fenced area and they are protected by spiked spiral wires running up to 6 feet or so. Quite a precious wood this one!
Anyways, the reason for visiting Marayoor was to visit the Muniyaras or Dolmenoid burial chambers. These burial chambers belong to the new stone age the Neolithic age dating back between 4000 to 3000 BC. They are basically single chamber tombs, usually consisting of 3 or 4 huge upright stones supporting a single large flat horizontal stone, called the cap stone. These Dolmenoid burial chambers are found in many of the European countries, and in India, are found near Marayoor.
Though there are many Dolmenoid clusters around this region, the ones I visited were set atop a huge rock near a government school. The chambers can only be viewed when you climb up the rock and the climb can be a tough one! For the visitors for whom the Dolmenoid chambers are a disappointment after a tough climb, the solace is the amazing panoramic views of the Marayoor village, and the surrounding hillsides, that can be had from atop this rock!
After returning from Marayoor, we visited the Christ church in Munnar the oldest church in town dating back to the British era. The church attendant gave us a good tour and allowed us to see the 150 years old bible copy placed in the church. The church itself is rather small, but the plaques on the wall remembering the prominent, but now deceased, members of the church tell its history.
We then visited the Hydel park in Munnar, offering an attractive garden with exotic flowers, large open green spaces, and water ways. A good way to spend some quite team with mother nature, with the tea laden mountain slopes in the backdrop!
Day 4: After breakfast, leave Munnar for Thekkady. Though the distance itself isnt much (~130 kms), but the mountain roads will take you about 4 hours. The fist half of this journey is through mountains slopes with almost all of them having tea plantations, and the second half is through the spice plantations.
There is another waterfall on this route, which the Sabarimala pilgrims use to bathe themselves.
If Munnar is the tea country, then Thekkady is the spice country. As you approach Thekkady, you will find many spice plantations along the road side offering you spice plantation guided tours, and selling their produce.
We took one such spice plantation tour, and had a good time. Not only was it enlightening to see our table top spices in their elements, not yet plucked from their plants, but the information and utility of the spices shared by the guide was equally interesting.
Having significantly delayed our trip due to the stop over at the waterfalls and the spice plantations, we reached the hotel the Wild Corridor only in the early evening. And having tired ourselves out, we decided to stay put in the hotel and not venture out.
However, the tourist in us was not at rest. And a bit later in the evening, we decided to venture out to see a Kalaripayattu performance. This is amongst the oldest fighting systems in the world, and many of its movements are found in Judo and Karate.
As with all martial arts, the Kalaripayattu is distinguished by quick but graceful movements, and require enormous internal and external discipline to master.
Day 5: In the morning we went for a boat ride in the Periyar lake and spotted some animals Sambars, Indian Bison, water otter, wild dogs, and many birds.
The Periyar lake is a man-made lake, constructed by blocking the flow of a river at one end. You can see above the trees, mostly dead wood, which has been standing amidst the lake for over a century.
In the evening, we decided to go to see a Kathakali performance, and had a good time. The show was performed by two male artists one playing male and another female. The dancer performing female role was too good, and his demonstration of various mudras, and eye movements was just unbelievable. A must for every Kerala visitor!
Day 6: After breakfast left for Kumarakom the backwater country.
Though Alleppey is considered by many to be the centre of backwater tourism in Kerala, there are not many resorts or high-end accommodation available there. Hence, many tourists stay in Kumarakom, and explore the surrounding backwaters, and then drive an hour to Alleppey for a taste of its backwaters.
This is what we did as well. We checked into the hotel - the Backwater Resort - around noon, and in the early evening, chose to take a 1 hour boat ride through the canals of Kumarakom, promising ourselves to take a longer tour the next day morning!
Day 7: We took a 4 hours boat ride in the Kumarakom backwaters, and what a ride it was!
The boat first took us on a tour of the Vembanad lake the largest lake in Kerala and the island in the centre of it called Pathiramanal. The island itself is uninhabited but is has a beautiful dense forest and many species of birds. A walk through the island is a walk through paradise, and you cannot but marvel at the beauty of nature. The island also offers beautiful views of the surrounding Vembanad lake, and is among the best places to view a sunset.
The boat then took us to a small village in Alleppey district where we visited a toddy bar and tasted some fresh toddy. Good natural drink this one is!
Then we proceeded for a typical Kerala meal, at the Cruise N Lake home-stay, right on the edge of the Venbanad lake. This was among the best Kerala lunches we have had the view from the table was awesome, with many fishing country boats floating around, and the lush green paddy fields and coconut trees all around.
After the lunch, we returned to the hotel, and had a late evening Ayurvedic massage Kalari marma style!
And the sunset this day across the Vembanad lake was a spectacle!
Day 8: Post breakfast we left the hotel for Alleppey, for the final leg of the journey the houseboat stay.
We checked in to the houseboat at around 11 am and the boat started sailing straight into the Alleppey backwaters. We had a coconut as a welcome drink and the boat anchored itself on a bank of a lake, facing the paddy fields. Another sumptuous Kerala meal followed, with the amazing view of the back waters and the paddy fields.
We started sailing again after the lunch break, and I tried my hand at the steering of the houseboat. I must have done that for about 30 minutes, but the bright sun light was too much for me, and I returned to the sofa for a comfy evening high tea.
The captain of the boat was quite informative about the areas we are going through and pointed out many things of interest which we would not have otherwise noticed.
We anchored in another small village for overnight stay. But since it was not too late, we took a ride on a small country boat through the narrow canals of Alleppey. The sun set was amazing, and so was the id-ka-chand in the night!
The dinner was as good as the lunch, and we retreated in the bedroom for a floating sleep.
Day 9: We woke up a bit earlier than usual to soak in the beauty of the early morning rural life. We took a walk along the banks and chatted up with the locals, who too were starting their day. The houseboat started sailing at 8:30 am, back towards the Alleppey boat jetty and we disembarked at 10 am or so.
Post the houseboat trip, we spent some time shopping for the famed banana chips, tapioca chips, and jackfruit chips at a store, and proceeded to Kochi.
Since we had some time left in Kochi, we visited the Jews Street, the Kochi harbour (for the Chinese fishing nets) and had a lunch at the Kaustubh restaurant (inside Dwarka hotel on MG Road). Then it was time to head for the airport, and bid adieu to Kerala, with a promise to ourselves to come back soon!