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Kerala, a state on the Malabar coast in southern India is probably one of the most popular Indian tourist destinations. It has been popular among tourists - couples, families & backpackers alike for the longest time - perhaps because geographically it is the complete travel package - It has everything from serene beaches to scenic hills, from tea & spice plantations to dense forests & calm backwaters. Apart from scenic beauty, it is popular for Ayurvedic treatments, classical dances - Kathakali & Mohiniattam, Kalaripayattu & of course, it’s delicious cuisine.
To celebrate their wedding anniversary, Roshni and Vikram traveled to Kerala for a week. This is Part I of their story in Roshni's own words.
Planning a trip can get overwhelming, from narrowing down to the place to selecting what to see & do, to all the bookings. Having received mixed reviews from friends & acquaintances, when Vikram & I were planing a holiday, we turned to lonely planet, trip advisor & many travel blogs.
We’ve had Kerala on our bucket list for the longest time, Not wanting to miss out on anything, we planned a tight 9 days trip covering Kochi, Munnar, Thekkady, Allepy & Poovar, planning to stay in each place 2 days & in Poovar for a day
In the first of the two series guide, we will be sharing our experiences from two major tourist attractions - Kochi and Munnar.
Kochi, the largest city in Kerala, has historically been an important port city right from the 14th century - colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch & British at different times in history, the city still preserves an intriguing mix of architecture from its varying colonial past. Ernakulam is the city’s cosmopolitan part where as Fort Kochi is the tourist hub.
We chose to stay in fort Kochi area which is almost 40 Kms from the airport, luckily there are hourly AC buses from airport to fort Kochi.
The fort Kochi area has it own quaint charm, It is buzzing with tourists, but each at their own pace - this part of the city has a ‘homestay’ in every corner! We chose to discover this area on foot since all the places we wanted to see were close to each other.
We first walked to the Chinese fishing nets - Iconic to Kochi, these cantilevered fishing nets are said to be in use since 500 years! these are fixed land installations & each of them is about 10M high operated by a team of 5-6 fishermen. If you wait around, you might get to watch them in use!
Mattancherry is known for spice markets, we visited a local spice store called ‘All spices market’& were in awe of the variety of spices,oils,teas & coffees & felt like a kid in a candy store! I even bought chocolate tea! (which I don’t recommend!). Some of the street stores also sell spices, herbs, soaps & oils.The Mattancherry (Dutch) palace museum is definitely worth a visit. The Murals in the bedchamber part of the palace depict scenes from the Ramayana. It is said to cover an episode from the epic in 48 paintings. Another part of the museum documents the portraits & lifestyles of the rajas of Cochin. One can also find a few items of furniture gifted to the rajas from the Portuguese. The museum captures a small part of Kochi’s Traditional, Portuguese & Dutch history.
Jew street has some very interesting antiques & gifting items, once can find painted cow heads, little house boats & hand made soaps everywhere. Many antiques sold here are not traditionally from Kerala though, I was surprised to find many shops selling handicrafts from Kashmir & Rajasthan not just here but at most tourist attractions in Kerala. The Jewish or Pardesi synagogue is a highlight of this area. This entire area preserves parts of its Jewish heritage. One can also purchase lace & needle work pieces like table runners & matts locally made by the residents of the area.
Kochi also has some interesting Churches, here one finds a unique blend of European architecture (introduced by the Portuguese, Dutch & British respectively) & Kerala architecture in terms of motifs, mural painting or wood carving & there isn’t a standard layout for these churches either. I found the churches of St Francis & Santa cruz basilica particularly interesting.
At night we ventured out to princess street - it is a great place to shop & eat! It rained that evening & being unprepared, we were drenched (it often rains in Kochi, be sure to carry your umbrella when you visit!) One can see pretty houses with flowers on their windowsills & more street art across this area. We ate at Kashi cafe (& art gallery - another recommendation if you are an art buff like us!) Every cafe we visited in the city had great cold coffee & homemade cake.
If you enjoy seafood, Kochi has some pretty great restaurants & cafes - My favourites are Fort house restaurant without a doubt as it had the best food we had in the entire trip; evenings are the best time to visit since it has a great view as well. Kashi cafe (Art & food) & Oceanos (seafood) If you like Art & Seafood - I bet you’ll like Kochi as much as I did!
Here's another article to know more about Fort Kochi: India. Fort Cochin, Kerala
Munnar is a Hill-station on the foothills of the western ghats, One of the most sought after tourist spots of Kerala owing to its scenic beauty - lush carpeted plantations of tea & spices around its hills. It is also the largest tea growing region of the south.
We took only AC KSRTC volvo bus from Kochi to Munnar, Starting from Ernakulam bus depot at 9AM. The journey was scenic but nearly 5 hours long! and all through the way, our bus driver played 90s Bollywood music! So our playlist comprised of - songs from Raja Hindustani, Ashiquie, Darr & other nineties hits! quite a nostalgic journey if you ask me!
I found taxis quite expensive in Munnar & realised the need to bargain (luckily, I had Vikram for this!) Kerala is hot during February, & as I found out much later, it’s not the best time to visit Munnar - the waterfalls start to dry up & the wildlife sanctuaries are shut due to breeding season (Eravikulam national park was shut) so we weren’t able to do any wildlife activities!
Though Scenic, with large properties, resorts in Munnar are far away from the market & tourist spots, we had to plan our entire day well before leaving the hotel. While we were not able to make it to all the places on our list - My favourite was the Kanan Devan Tea factory & museum. Vikram & I have become green tea converts with this trip & ended up buying a lot of tea from the factory store (make sure you carry a big bag here ;) )
One of the things I enjoyed most in Munnar, was stopping on the way & walking through tea gardens, there are many many scenic places to discover by chance & If you are lucky, you’ll get to see tea pickers in action!
The Mattupetty dam was extremely scenic! beautiful, calm & serene. Though it was quite sunny around 4pm, (the Kerala sun is quite harsh, during the day & it gets hot by 9 am! don’t leave your hotel without a hat & sunglasses & carry appropriate sunscreen). Boating at Mattupetty dam is one of the main attractions here.This whole stretch is scenic, one can walk around, boat or even shop for home made chocolates in the stretch of stalls by the lake.
A completely commercialised tourist spot now - it has all the street food one would expect corn, coconut water,peanuts, snack stalls & even Passion fruit vendors! One can club visiting Mattupetty dam with Top station as both these are only a few kilometres apart. On the way back, our cab driver stopped by many places, claiming that these were ‘Shooting points’ or points where some Bollywood film shooting has taken place. although truth be told all of it was equally scenic!
I didn’t enjoy the food in Munnar all that much. I also surprisingly found the coffee & tea very mild & milky here. Munnar was not my favourite of the Kerala trip for sure, but I do plan to come again in the monsoon or winter to visit all the places I’ve missed out on!