If you’re planning to visit the state in the near future, I’ve put together a few tips and pointers based on my recent trip. If I had the opportunity to spend a few more days, then I could have probably written a book 🙂 But for now, here are a few suggestions. You can use what’s useful, and ignore the rest (as usual)!
- Unless you are planning to rough it out, plan in advance. Preferably get your hotel bookings beforehand too, since during the peak season, there are a lot of tourists! We found most of the hotels we’d short-listed full when we reached there.
- Nov-Feb is a nice time to visit. It is warm during the day, but cooler at night. The monsoons are avoidable for sightseeing, but the right time if you’re going for an ayurvedic treatment package. The damp rainy season is apparently the best for ayurveda.
- Because of the presence of a number of water bodies, mosquitoes abound in the state. Carry an insect repellant if mozzies like your blood!
- Be prepared for strikes in Kerala. Apparently they are a regular feature, like in West Bengal.
- Small resorts are comfortable, homely and the staff usually friendlier. We stayed at the Keraleeyam resort in Alleppey. We had some teething problems, but once settled in, I found the place quite comfortable. We also met a few of the other travellers during meals, in the patio, waiting to use the Internet! I got talking with a South African couple (of Indian origin) who invited me to their city (another one on my travel list now!). Larger resorts and posh places tend to be a little stiff and you are less likely to make acquaintances.
- Stay in a medium budget hotel (within 1K for 2) if you are planning to do a lot of sightseeing. If you are planning to chill out and enjoy life, then ones which offer more amenities would make sense. In Thekkady we stayed at Hotel Ambadi, which was reasonable (but pretty comfortable except for a strange smell outside!), compared to the more flashy/expensive resorts like Cardamon County, Spice Village, Taj Retreat etc. But, since we spent most of the day outside the hotel, it worked out well for us. Of course, if you’re on your honeymoon or have a lot of money to spend, then do indulge 🙂
- If you are on a package, make sure you get everything that’s included. We had quite a few problems with ours at Keraleeyam and though it was finally sorted out, we had to do quite a bit of negotiating! Also, extras like Internet access are not included. So make sure to ask before you spend hours before the computer. Steph thought Net access was free and was pretty annoyed when we were charged 75 bucks an hour at Keraleeyam.
- For a slightly more personalised experience, try homestays. Kerala is quite organised in terms of homestays and you can get a list from this site. They are usually comfortable and you are well taken care of. The food is cooked to order. And they also organise local sightseeing and are reasonably priced.
- State transport buses are frequent and towns seem well connected, but if you are travelling in a group of about 4, hiring a car to get around makes sense. At about 800-1000 bucks a day, it is quite affordable when split. Most travel agents could organise hiring a car. Or you can contact Chaco Jose at Alleppey, who was very helpful and organised our transport. You can do a little bit of negotiating on the rates.
- A houseboat ride seems to be ‘the flavour’ of Kerala. The private ones will set you back by about 4-8K (a day and night). If you want a more reasonably priced one, you can try Kerala Tourism. Far Horizons India runs some comparitvely reasonable trips (2200 per night). Soma House Boats is another option and offers trips of different types. Meals are usually included.
- People around tourist areas and hotels are sometimes too friendly (and even over friendly). In Kumily, when we were walking outside our hotel, nearly every shop owner tried to coax us inside and asked us our name and where we came from. Either ignore them, or tell them you’re not interesting with a firm ‘no’. They are not as persistent as some other cities, but this I guess this is an annoying by-product of the town becoming a tourist hot-spot.
- Also, nearly everyone we met wanted to know our name, our city and if we wanted a massage (or a plantation visit or a houseboat side), exactly in that order depending upon the town we were in, so be prepared for that.
- Many tourist destinations (for example, Alleppey, Kumarakom, Kottayam) are all within a few kilometres distance from each other. A good idea is to make one your base and then do day trips to the other places by boat or road. We encountered quite a few scenic stretches by road.
- Carry a map of the state! It can be useful when traveling between cities.
- And of course, don’t forget to enjoy yourself while on the trip. You could be all worked up about the fact that the hotel guys did not get your orange juice the way you like it and miss the totally captivating sunset before you. I guess, as they say about traveling (like life), it’s not just about the destination, but the journey.
Mark Tully’s article in the Feb 2003 issue of Outlook Traveller points to an interesting quote by GK Chesterson, a 19th century writer: “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land. It is at last to set foot on one’s country as a foreign land.”
The issue also has seven ‘incredible Indian journeys’ and if you like travel, don’t miss this issue.
The sun setting at Fort Kochi. Photograph taken with a Sony handycam.
Some highpoints from the trip:
- Watching motor/house boats, ferries, canoes passing by from a little perch in front of our lake front cottage in Alleppey. A totally lazy and relaxing way spend an afternoon.
- Catching a sunrise on the first morning. The sky was clear and it made for a beatiful sight as the sun rose over the coconut trees and the water.
- The cruise around the Vembanad and Poonamadu lakes early morning.
- Prawn masala at Keraleeyam. Yummy!
- Boat ride in the Periyar lake. Unfortunately no elephant sightings. But the ride gives you great view of the wildlife santuary. Early morning and evenings are the best time.
- Visit to the spice plantation in Thekkady. Now I know the Eugenia caryophyllus (clove) from the Pimento dioica (allspice)!
- The ride from Kumily to Kottayam to Cochin. It takes you through tea and coffee plantations, spice plantations and then descends to the plains through more water, rice fields and coconut trees.
- The sun setting at Fort Kochi. It looks like an enormous orange biscuit being dipped an immense cup of dark coffee. As the golden ball dipped against the foreground of the Chinese fishing nets, I almost caught my breath. A beautiful spectacle. Not to be missed!