It has been a year since I moved to Hyderabad from Delhi. It was on my mind to visit Kerala for sometime and I got this opportunity to visit God’s own country in the second week of January.
We packed our bags and headed for Cochin as the starting point of our tour. I had already made the arrangements through a local Kerala based tours and travel company ‘Paradise holidays’.
We took an early morning flight to Cochin and were received by the Tour operator’s driver. Cochin Airport is known as the world’s first airport fully operated with Solar energy. The airport looked like a vintage film set. We headed to the tour operator’s office in Cochin, paid our dues and got a quick brief for the upcoming 4 days of our tour. We started our journey around 1 PM for Munnar. The first impression of Cochin is of one of the most clean cities I have visited. Munnar is around 125 kms from Cochin. The roads leading to Munnar are full of spice gardens. We mistook Nutmeg (Jaayphal) for lemon trees until we visited one of the spice gardens to know how wrong we were. The road leading to Munnar is painted green by nature. It was so refreshing to see so much greenery specially after living in Hyderabad for an year. Around 3 PM we made a stopover at RASA restaurant, we were told by the driver this is one place where you will get north indian food. Although it turned out to be an average experience, we were longing for Naan and tandoori roti but settled for chapati (this is more or less the same case in most of the restaurants). The average expense in most of the restaurants around and on the way to Munnar is around Rs 500/-. We quickly finished our lunch and headed for Munnar again. On the way there are two famous waterfalls (Cheeyappara and Valara). These waterfalls have a full life around June to August due to rainfall. Cheeyappara was non existent during our visit but we could see a glimpse of Valara waterfall’s original glory. We made a halt for about 10 minutes and moved again. Another 30 minutes in to the journey and we halted for one of the best experiences. We visited Hindustan Spice Garden. The guided tour of the spice garden is for almost half an hour. It costs 100/- per adult. Child entry is free. Our guide very well explained the origin of most spices used in Indian kitchen. It was great a experience to see the cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, clove, kali mirchi, garlic, ginger, cocoa, nutmeg, coffee beans, pineapple and numerous other auyervedic plantations. We bought few spices and home made chocolates from this garden’s produce from its outlet.Refreshed by this enriching experience we headed towards our resort before taking one little break for roadside masala tea. you should taste some of the local snack items along with the tea. The tea was average not only in this place but also at other places in subsequent days. By the time we reached our resort the day had almost ended. Our resort was away from the main town and was in the midst of the tea gardens. It is not known as ‘Tea Valley’ for no reason. We explored this awesome property in the middle of almost a forest before heading to the dance floor. Campfire is arranged on this floor everyday at 8:30 PM.We were having a gala time till we ordered dinner. The food quality was much below our expectations and it was shame for the resort to give away the location advantage with below average cuisine.
Next day we woke up early to explore the awesome property and serene nature. Munnar looked even more beautiful in the early morning. We did a little trekking before going for the breakfast in the resort. I would like to skip the breakfast experience (don’t want to be harsh again). Our driver was waiting for us for the sightseeing tour. We started around 9:30 AM and from our way through main Munnar markets we went towards sightseeing spots. We could see numerous tea estates along our way. It was such a beautiful sight. The reason behind the spectacular visual symmetry of tea gardens is regular pruning. Routine pruning keeps the plantation around 4 or 5 feet tall. There are around 50 tea estates some of them are more than hundred years old.At one point of time most of the tea gardens were owned by Tatas. To reach most of the sightseeing spots you have to go through the Munnar main market which is quite busy market with sea of tourists and locals.
The sightseeing spots include echo point, Matupalli Dam, Photo Point, Rose Garden, Hydel Park and Rajaji National Park. We gave a miss to the national park and hydel park as we anticipated that it may not offer much as we have visited these kind of places in other visits. Our last sightseeing spot was Tea Museum which we were looking forward to. The ticket is little overpriced for the average experience it offers. Though we got to know about the history of tea gardens in Munnar through a documentary and experienced the process of converting tea leaves to tea granules/dust tea by means of visiting the live factory within the museum. We bought some local tea variants of Munnar from this museum. The brand runs by the name of ‘Ripple’, Tata partially exited few years back and the local employees joined together to hold around 70% of the companies’s share. This plantation runs by the name of Kanan Devanhills Plantation company. Tata still owns around 20% of the company.
It was around 3 PM and we went for lunch at a restaurant. The food was upto the mark. We wanted to be in the midst of the tea gardens and what better place than the tea valley itself. We asked our driver to de-board us in the midst of the tea gardens so that we can soak in the energy of the valley. We spend good 2 hours in the tea gardens and took some breathtaking pictures. The walk towards the resort from the tea valley was the highlight of the day and we enjoyed this natural surroundings much better than the sightseeing spots visited earlier in the day. We committed one mistake by not taking food parcel to the resort and our taste buds died thousand deaths again when we had to order the resort food at night. We stayed in our cottage for the rest of the night and watched exciting cricket match between India and England.
We woke up early in the morning and hit the road for our third day of journey. We were excited to visit Alleppey for the backwaters experience on the houseboat. Munnar looked more stunning in the morning minus tourists and traffic. Alleppey is around 185 kms from Munnar and we have to pass through Cochin. It was a pleasant ride for me specially since I love to stay awake for the road journeys. My wife and kid though decided to make up for the lost sleep. We had a quick breakfast along the way and continued the journey. I was expecting some stunning visuals along the way from Cochin to Alleppey but was a bit disappointed as the road was flat. We reached Alleppey around 12 PM and were most disappointed when we entered the houseboat. The houseboat was quite old and the upkeep was too poor. We decided not to start our journey in this houseboat. I called the tour operator and gave my piece of mind to him. We were paying almost Rs 8000/- for the houseboat and we were in no mood to board the sub standard boat.Our persistence paid and a new houseboat was arranged. There were multiple houseboats waiting on the shore. I would advise not to go for a pre-booked option, you can visit the houseboats and choose the best one per your liking. Around 1:30 PM the houseboat hit the lake and after half an hour it was parked on the shore for the lunch. We were longing for good food through out our visit to Kerala and the houseboat food didn’t disappoint at all. It was rather the best food we had in last three days. Gold fish along with local delicacies were served to us. We finally were happy to get a good hearty meal at last. After a hour break, the boat started again and we were surprised to find that it stopped in another half an hour and got parked again. We were told that to enjoy the backwaters you need to take small boat. Along the way they were also persuading us to take an ayurvedic massage and buy local fish. Having enjoyed our own way of exploration of the place, we rather decided to walk the narrow road along the shore to explore the local life and it was a good decision. We spoke to locals and understood their way of living. We found abundance of banana, coconuts trees along the narrow lanes parallel to the shore. Many villagers were seen catching the fish by the simplest methods possible.They were seen performing their daily activities like washing clothes and utensils, bathing, etc. on the small ghats in front of their houses. We had the most refreshing coconut water along the way. We decided not to buy any fish as we were looking forward to the local chicken curry being prepared for the dinner. We got back to the boat and since the sun was about to set and nothing much to do we decided to for ayurvedic massage in the village along the shore.
The massage parlours are quite expensive as compared to those in the city. I guess, the houseboat guys commission is added in the price as our houseboat guy was persistent to visit one particular massage parlour. The day was going good so far when we got the shock of the day. The houseboat driver left for the day and the caretaker advised us to go to our room rather than being on the deck. At first we could not understand why he is advising so but later on we realized that it is to avoid mosquitoes and lizards. The caretaker covered the houseboat with TARPAULIN and switched off the lights to avoid insects and mosquitoes. We quickly realized that we had a big mistake by choosing this way of spending night. All houseboats are equipped with generators and good amount of diesel is required to keep it going. The smell of the diesel and smokes was too suffocating as their were numerous boats on the shore running with the same machinery. We had to close the door and stay inside the room.Honestly it felt like living in a confinement. The caretaker wanted us to have a candle light dinner in the deck but we were in mood to have dinner outside. After some persuasion, he served the food in the room. We had nothing to do, we had the dinner and the after killing sometime in the room, went to sleep. A couple of hours were difficult as I could still feel the suffocation.Anyway somehow the time passed.
In the hindsight, we should have chosen a small boat in place of houseboat as the houseboat only hovers around in the main lake in the day and it is disaster to stay in the houseboat after sunset.
I woke up early in the morning and took a walk to feel the fresh air and enjoy the nature. We were served breakfast around 8 AM and the houseboat went back to the starting point. We de-boarded at 9 AM. Our driver was waiting to take us to the Alleppey beach. Alleppey beach is one of the cleanest beaches I have visited and my son enjoyed to the fullest as he saw the sea and beach for the first time in his life. We spent almost an hour at the beach and headed to Cochin. Cochin is about 50 kms from Alleppey. After visiting Maritime Navy Museum, we headed for Fort Cochin area. Fort Cochin area consists of Churches, Dutch Palace and Jewish Synagogue. For history enthusiasts its a place for going back in the past and know about Jews, Portuguese and dutch reign in Cochin. Based on our previous experience in last few days, we were certain that we have to customize our day in order to have most fun. We exactly did the same and spent the most time of the day in the Fort Cochin beach area. We were fortunate to see the Chinese fishing net operations. We were told that Chinese fishing nets are no longer being used by the fishermen. There is one set which is operational which is only for the demonstration to the foreign tourists. About 3-4 fishermen operated this for some tourists. We then explored the live fishing experience. There were 2-3 fishermen on the shore who were trying to fish during the afternoon. We were lucky to see them capturing few fishes.
Afternoon is actually not the ideal time for fishing on the shore. The best part of watching fishing for my son was not actually the catching of the fish but the colorful, unique seashells fishermen would bring along in the net. My son collected the best looking shells on the shore. We also witnessed the crabs coming out of the shell on the shore. The sightseeing places in fort Cochin was an average experience. You can easily find the most of the information on internet for the Cochin history. It was about 5 PM and we went to Marine drive. It is is hang out place for the locals and not many tourists visit it. The boat rides prices were quite competitive as it was run by KTDC. We also realized that the back water rides would have been a better idea from Cochin as we witnessed the backwaters exactly like we had imagined. This was experienced while driving back to the airport.
Overall it was a mixed experience. What we realized that instead of going with the tour operators plan, one needs to do a bit of research and make his own plan to have the maximum fan. There is everything for all kind of personality types. One can make a bike ride for the countryside or choose to relax on the beach or go for hiking etc. Also, tour operators need to be more creative in providing options for all kinds of people.
We headed back to the airport around 7 PM and boarded our night flight to Hyderabad. For the next few days we had a hangover of the god’s own country. Go pack your bags and have fun. Kerala is definitely must visit place in India.