I am fully aware that you all must have read tons of literature about this Southern paradise of the Indian subcontinent. I wish to take you once more on a virtual trip through the mazes of the exuding beauty of the enchanting Kerala.
It was a bright cool sunny day. We took the Kingfisher flight from Delhi to Trivandrum via Mumbai. The flight was at 8.10 AM. We comfortably reached Mumbai at around 10.10 AM and then boarded the Mumbai Trivandrum flight at around 11.15 AM and finally reached Trivandrum airport at around 1.30PM. From the aircraft hovering at low height just minutes before landing, the most outstanding feature that caught our attention was the verdant coconut green carpet all around as far as the eye stretched.
The peaceful green city of Trivandrum gradually unfolded itself with its narrow roads and neat colourful private houses half hidden amidst the coconut palms. From the airport, we took a pre-paid taxi to our hotel Uday Samudra (popularly known as UDS) at Kovalam – 16 kms from Trivandrum. We were given a sea-facing spacious room with a pool in front. A sprawling property spread over a huge area and we were greeted by happy smiling faces and polite voices. The rest of the day was spent in exploring the property and its gift/souvenir shop. We were tired after our long journey and our two-year old was absolutely exhausted. We called it an early night after having an elaborate buffet dinner, included in our package.
The cool breezy night gave way to an equally pleasant sunny morning. The fresh early morning salty air along with the roaring seas was a charming sight kick-starting our day 2 at Kovalam. The hustle and bustle of activities at the sea shore easily attracted all eyes. The fishermen meant business as they pulled and tugged at his fishing nets and generated enough curiosity to have gathered quite a few bystanders all around them who waited patiently for the net to be drawn in and have a glimpse at the day’s prize. As we continued watching from the balcony, the nets had small fishes jumping and squirming in the mesh, a scene enough captivating to draw excited tourists from the comfort of their hotel suites straight into the beach. The catch was then immediately transported into small luggage carriers and carried off to the market for a price.
Day 2 : Trivandrum City
Day 2 was dedicated to a Trivandrum city tour. The resort front desk (with very helpful and informative personnel but expensive arrangements) had arranged an AC Innova for Rs 1000/- to show us some of the famous tourist destinations. By the time we reached Trivandrum city, it was already lunch time and we invaded a well known restaurant to experiment the chemical reactions between our taste buds and authentic Kerala culinary delights. The food was served on fresh and green banana leaves spread over stainless steel thaalis and they tasted as good as they looked, sometimes even better.The best part was the sweet nimbu paani served as an entree. The restaurant was filled with a mix of thronging tourists and hungry localites. With rumbling tummies, we patiently waited our turn. But the wait was worth and we ate our fill.
After lunch, we were taken to the city zoo.
It had an art gallery adjacent to it. If one can graciously accept the walk along the topographical ups and downs, the zoo offers a pleasant viewing of various species of animals living in complete harmony with nature. It could prove to be an exciting time for the tiny tots. The art gallery had some priceless historical artefacts and stone and wood figurines. There were coins of ancient South Indian ruling dynasties. The surroundings were well maintained and offered a pleasant walk around. From there, we headed towards the famous Padmanabha Temple but unfortunately we could not see the temple as it was swathed in cloth and bamboo structures all around and was obviously under restoration. To unaware souls, wearing a dhoti is mandatory for entering the temple.
Day 3: Kanyakumari and Padmanabha Palace
Kanyakumari was around 80 kms from Uday Samudra Hotel or UDS as it is called locally. It took around 2.5 hours to reach the Padmanabha Palace en-route to Kanyakumari. The palace is geographically situated in the state of Tamil Nadu but administratively managed by the Kerala Govt. The palace is not as magnificent as one would expect an Indian palace to be, with simple almost bare rooms, tiled roofs, peeping through coconut-laden trees; but inappropriately lighted and a bit dark and stark in the interiors.
It will take about one hour to complete touring the entire palace and one has to bear the hardship of walking barefooted all through. Shoes are not allowed inside the palace premises. The next destination was lunch at Hotel Sea View on reaching Kovalam. Good rich tasty food but could not enjoy to the full because of that constant time pressure of any usual guided tour and then we were off to Vivekananda Rock. This was a marvellous, awe-inspiring structure jutting out from a rocky island about 500 metres onshore from the southernmost tip of India where Swami Vivekananda had meditated and had attained his enlightenment. The waves lashed at the rocky edges endlessly and the never ending foaming, frothing, churning and mixing of the three great oceans (Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and the Pacific Ocean) continue since time immemorial. A short ferry service took us to the Vivekananda rock and the same ferry took us to the Thiruvalluvar statue on an adjacent rock after we have completed our darshan.
Day 4 was the day when we were to say goodbye to Kovalam and to Uday Samudra where we had an awesome stay and started looking forward to our week-long stay booked in the Cambay Palm beach Resort. The day was packed with further temptations. The first was to visit Poovar, famous for its picturesque backwaters and picture perfect floating house boats. We took a cab arranged by the resort and reached Poovar about 30 kms from our resort and it took us around 45 minutes. The boat ride was expensive by all measures. For a two-hour ride they charged us INR 1500 after a lot of bargaining and intervention by the resort driver, Mr. Lalu.
But a few minutes of boat ride and we realized that it was a complete “paisa wasool”. We saw the point where the river meets the sea and creates such magnificent waves and then we entered the narrow canals and saw the fishermen’s village at a distance. The houseboats of the various resorts (Club Mahindra Resort, Poovar) were under renovation, gearing up for the upcoming tourist season. Some wet-coated and glistening water birds were elegantly perched on the blackened bamboos bordering the canals. Cool breeze, fresh air, solitude and complete harmony of nature with the simple-living fishermen lives instilled a feeling of complete restfulness and peace.
From Poovar, we went straight to Kovalam beach. There wasn’t much to see over there. We experimented with some seafood at a beach-front restaurant. The wind was cool and seemed astonishingly forceful intending to blow away the food from our plates. The prawns were very fresh and were sautéed in the rich flavours of coconut oil giving the dishes the inescapable South Indian flavour.
Next, we headed to a friend’s place where the men were caught up catching the nearly fading old time memories and we had a chance to try out some authentic Kerala dishes, appam and fish curry. After a nice long chat and stomachs full with traditional tastes, we set out for our Cambay Palm Lagoon Resort, which was locally known as Vellimon Resort.
It took us around 3 hours from Trivandrum to reach the Kollam resort and it was around 9 PM. The resort we found was inadequately lighted as we groped our way to our cottage. There was not much to do other than order our dinner to be served inside our room then and go off to bed.
We woke up to a pleasant sunny morning, occasionally sprinkled with cool rain showers. The resort looked lovely and sparkling and we spontaneously decided to nestle inside a luxurious silently floating cottage, cruising the huge lake. The waters of the Ashtamudi Lake lapped up to almost the corners of the cottage and the huge glass fronts of the houseboat offered an unhindered view of the vastness and exquisiteness of the lake.
We spent the day enjoying peace and quietude, lazing around the pool and occasionally diving into its cool waters. Poolside also extended us the friendship of another couple who found the stillness of the resort too much to bear and was looking for some company. The rest of the day was spent chatting away, trying the not-so-many varieties and not-so-tasty dishes of the resort and trying to narrow down the risks of ordering the most unpleasant ones for the rest of the stay. There was no other option for eating in and around the resort. Out of the 21 cottages that the resort had to offer, only six of them were occupied by three different families. We hurriedly planned for the next day. Having our dinner beside the dark sparkling lake waters of the lake, we called it a day.
The next day as was planned, we took a cab from the resort to the Kollam city situated about 16 kms from the resort. The resort charges an exorbitant 1200 INR for a half day tour and INR 50 additionally for every extra hour for cabs. We went straight to the Kollam District Tourism Promotion Council, near KSRTC Bus Stand in Kollam to book our half day trip through the mesmerizing back waters. The fresh wet laky air, the cruising cosy boat, the blue sky with soft fluffy clouds, the back water birds diving to snatch away a squirming fish from the lake surface, it was magic in the making.
After our boat cruise, we headed for Joe Alukkas, the biggest brand in Kerala when it comes to jewellery and sarees. It was not difficult to pick and choose from the extremely good collection of the finest of attires and jewellery. But once back on the streets, food was a problem. The cab driver did not understand a word of English or Hindi and by the time we had stopped over at a decent restaurant it was already past 3 o’ clock and kitchens were closed and so lunch was a distant dream. After scouring the streets of Kollam in search of North Indian (preferably non-veg) food, we came back to the Joe Alukkas area and settled for a decent bite at an eatery just outside the mall. Food was decent. There we also had a chance to experience the most unique sandwich one can ever have. It had a mix of vegetables wrapped in a soft dosa-like roll instead of the more common bread base. We then headed for the beachfront and had a nice time wetting our feet in the salty sandy sea waters. We watched the sun set and lingered on for some time, tasting the gol-gappa and masala mixtures. Then it was time to return to the resort after picking some delicious looking baked products from a reputed local bakery and equipped ourselves to face sporadic hunger attacks the next day.
The following day was spent lazily exploring the vast expanses of the Ashtamudi Lake in the luxurious resort house boat. The boat chartered across the Lake with the moist winds creating its magic. Gourmet cuisine was served to order at the plush dining hall of the houseboat. The boat was shared with a noisy huge nine-membered extended family. We even enjoyed the exchanges of view and sentimental outbursts of the beauty-driven minds. Time flew by and the pleasure trip came to an end. We reluctantly left the houseboat to the secluded comfort of the resort cottage.
Next day, a day-long trip was planned to the Neyyar Dam. Neyyar was around 100 kms from the resort and took around 3 hours to reach. The loveliness of the dam site came in as no surprise.
The serene beauty of the manicured gardens of the picnic spot created to attract the localities, and the tumbling waters through the open dam gates, the cool placid waters of the Neyyar River on the other side of the dam was interspersed with the occasional roaring of an angry male lion coming from one of the not-so-distant islands amidst the lake. Hence, we headed for the lion safari park situated at the other side the hillock.
It was nearly 1 o’ clock and the government ticket booking office of the Neyyar safari trip was closed for lunch. We had a long wait and utilized the time by finishing up out packed lunches carried from the resort and rounded it up with some coffee at the adjacent coffee shop. The safari is conducted by the Kerala tourism and needs a minimum of 10 persons in the 20-seater ferry, which would cover three spots.
After a 2-hour wait when it was only a total of 6 people from two families, we decided to split the fare of remaining 4 people among us and get along with our exploration. The ferry took us to a nearby island from where we presumed all the roaring was filling the air.
We entered the gated arena in a caged bus in the Jurassic Park style. We fed our eyes and senses with the lions sunbathing majestically, least bothered by the human interventions and the prying curious eyes.
The lion was teased and urged to change his posture and to give us a better view of his maned royal face and a chance to click our cameras furiously. Next stop was a crocodile farm where scientists research on the behavioural aspects of these vicious reptiles and breed them in captivity to be released into the Neyyar River later on. A glance at the flowing waters of the river and I shuddered with the thought of the lurking hungry crocodiles. The trip ended with a view of a host of spotted dear huddled in a fenced area on another side of the island where we reached trekking through densely covered forests and thick undergrowth. The safari ended and with it our day trip ended too. We made our way back to the resort and reached around 9 PM. very tired and hungry.
Next day was again a lazy day, fishing by the lake and taking pool plunges, watching the water birds diving in and out and fishing boats cruising past. The sand dredging boats had colourful sails and could be seen skimming and gliding across the lake waters. Good rest and sumptuous meals were the highlights of the day.
It was a thrilling day filled with anticipation and expectations of the mystery of the Munroe Island. We took the day trip straight to the KTDC where we book our half day trip to the Munroe Island.
They guided us to the Island which is again an hour’s drive to the lake side. There we were transported to a small narrow canoe at the mercy of a boatman, who spoke broken English. The boat trip started with a lot of apprehension but by the time we reached our first stop we were feeling extremely comfortable and safe in the hands of our knowledgeable and caring boatman. He made us familiar with the various local flora and fauna, carried us to the interiors of the islands and acquainted us with the simple village folks. We saw the coconut fibre being turned into the coir or ropes and the lady was graciously spinning the Gandhiji’s Charkha weaving a small length of the coir, which she gifted to my small kid and made him feel overjoyed as he collected his bounty of the rough coir.
We also saw a sand-dredging boat in the making, which takes around three months to be carved out of the wood of jackfruit trees. And the way the slices of wood were sewn with pieces of nylon tread was unbelievable. It takes about a 100 craftsmen to give the boat its final shape. The master craftsmen informed us each boat sells for about 2 lakhs of rupees and he produces 4 boats a year. We immediately started calculating his earnings per annum in a joking note. He threw a coy smile wrapped in pride.
We also saw the community collection of coconut fruits and the flesh being scooped out and heaped in a pile. The shells are separated to be sent off to be crafted into pretty ornamental show pieces.
The flesh is stored in a warehouse to be transported to the Kochin factories for oil extraction. We saw a huge tamarind tree, a pepper tree creeping onto a jackfruit tree, chillies dangling from a chilly shrub, ginger and pineapple trees, picked some fruits to be carried away as souvenirs, drank some cool coconut water, saw the innumerable export-quality prawn-farming ponds covered by nets to protect them from birds, had ‘chai’ and refreshments in a small tea stall.
Alas time flew past and we bid adieu to the fantasy island and gradually headed back through the winding canals. The calmness of the atmosphere was actually unnerving. The silence was broken only by the water splashing at the sides of our canoe and some chirping birds. It was already dusk and the car was waiting to take us back to the resort.
The following day was our departure. We booked our cab at 10 AM and checked out of the resort with heartening goodbyes and wishes from the happy faces. We reached Trivandrum well ahead of our flight schedule.
We were bound for the Kingfisher flight to Delhi via Mumbai. The flight irritatingly got delayed at the last moment due to congestion at the Mumbai Airport. We spend some time in last-minute shopping from the airport stall and spent the rest of the time at the plush café on the first floor. The flight back to Delhi was smooth and we reached back Delhi at around 9 PM.